Food vs. Food: Boomer Food Always Had Competition

Throughout the boomer years, innovations in food science and technology — as well as the advent of TV mass marketing to a newly-minted generation — filled supermarket shelves with products that young boomers knew by name. Boomers formed a highly competitive demographic even then. It seems like as soon as one brand became popular, another would want to get a piece of the market action. In other words, for every Coke there was a Pepsi, for every McDonald’s there was a Burger King. Here are a few products that showed up on Mister Boomer’s radar. See how many you remember:

Hydrox vs. Oreos
The Sunshine company (later Sunshine Biscuits) introduced Hydrox cookies in 1908. The cookie consisted of two chocolate cookie discs sandwiching a vanilla creme center. Oreos were brought to the consumer market by Nabisco in 1912. It grew to be the biggest selling cookie in boomer times, most likely due to clever marketing that got kids to twist the cookies apart to lick the filling off, then dunk the chocolate parts into a glass of milk. To cookie aficionados, Hydrox was the better of the two because the cookie was less sweet and crunchier, so it stood up to milk longer than Oreos.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Oreos was the hands-down winner. Mister B’s sister preferred them, and his father enjoyed snacking on them, too. Hydrox showed up on rare occasions, but the bag lasted a lot longer. Mister Boomer was never an Oreo lover: the filling seemed too sugary and the cookie, far from chocolatey.

Heinz Ketchup vs. Hunt’s Catsup
Heinz introduced their bottled ketchup in 1876, while Hunts joined the market in 1888. Both were decades away from being boomer products, but Heinz was considered the premium brand of the two in the 1950s and sixties. Hunt’s marketed their bottled tomato condiment as “catsup” east of the Mississippi, and “ketchup,” west.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Mister Boomer was a big ketchup eater in his formative years. He put it on sandwiches, steaks, boiled potatoes and even scrambled eggs. As such, he greatly preferred the taste and consistency of the Heinz. Yet in a budget-conscious family, Hunt’s was the cheaper brand, and often won out over Heinz. Mister B was always confused and amused by the multiple spellings of the word that amounted to a young boy’s impression of, “catch-up” or “cat’s-up,” depending on your prerogative.

Mountain Dew vs. Kickapoo Joy Juice
The current formula of Pepsi’s Mountain Dew debuted in 1958. Maligned by some for its high caffeine content (decades before Red Bull) and bright yellow-green color, it was first marketed with hillbillies on the label. The Monarch Beverage Company brought Kickapoo Joy Juice into competition with Mountain Dew in 1965. It had a similar citrus-y flavor and unreal color like Mountain Dew, and even mimicked their hillbilly marketing. The name originated in a L’il Abner comic strip, though the drink in the comic was alcohol-based.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Neither soft drink made it into his home, but out and about on a summer’s day, Mister B and his brother tried both concoctions at least once. Mister B didn’t like either one. The neighborhood kids called Mountain Dew “monkey pee,” and as far as Mister B was concerned the Kickapoo tasted even worse.

Post Toasties vs. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes
Chronologically, Post’s version of toasted corn flakes came first in 1904, then the name changed to Toasties in 1908. Kellogg’s entered the market in 1906. In 1952, sugar was added to corn flakes to make Frosted Flakes, and Tony the Tiger was born.

In the Mister Boomer Household: While the occasional Post cereal found its way into the kitchen cupboard, Mister B’s house was squarely in the Kellogg’s camp. His father loved Corn Flakes, though Mister B and his siblings couldn’t stomach the dry, crumbly cereal without adding some canned fruit cocktail or fresh banana. Mister B’s sister, however, couldn’t get enough of Frosted Flakes, to the point of eating them out of the box like potato chips.

Ovaltine vs. Nestle’s Quik
Hitting the U.S. market in 1915, Ovaltine is a milk flavoring made with malt extract, sugar, cocoa and whey. It had what seemed to be an “adult” taste, meaning it was less sweet than the competition. Nestles Quik, on the other hand, was a true boomer product, introduced in 1948. You can guess the age of a boomer by which Quik commercials he or she remembers. The ventriloquist dummy named Danny and puppet dog called Farfel sang the classic TV jingle in 1955.

Danny would sing: “N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestle’s makes the very best.”
And Farfel would finish with: “CH-O-O-O-O-CK-LAT” and his wooden jaw would snap shut as the final exclamation point. Younger boomers instead recall the Quik bunny in commercials, and the strawberry flavoring.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Nestle’s Quik was the big winner with Mister B’s family. They had the powder in the house throughout the fifties and sixties. Ovaltine did find a place in Mister B’s kitchen in the late sixties for a short time. The company also made PDQ Chocolate Flavor Beads, which were fun to spoon out of the jar and into a glass of milk, over ice cream or directly on the tongue.

Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup vs. Bosco
Hershey’s brought chocolate syrup to the masses in 1928. It came in a can, which is the way Mister Boomer first remembers encountering it at his aunt’s house. As it turns out, Bosco was also introduced in 1928. Taste-wise, they were about the same. Both were used for making plain milk into chocolate milk, and both were equally delicious over ice cream.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Mister B and Brother Boomer drank a lot of Quik, but by the time his little sister got to have a say, Bosco took over as the undisputed king. Hershey’s made a guest appearance every now and then, but it was Bosco’s show.

Cheez-It Crackers vs. Cheese-Nips
Sunshine introduced Cheez-It crackers in 1921, while Nabisco brought Cheese-Nips to market in 1955. Cheez-Its were tiny squares of cheddar-cheese flavored cracker with a sprinkling of salt. Cheese-Nips were slender sticks of cheesy cracker that had a similar flavor and texture.

In the Mister Boomer Household: With this snack, it was Mister B’s father who made Cheez-It the top brand for the family. A voracious snacker, he really liked Cheez-Its and attempted to always have a box on hand. Mister B’s sister also liked Cheez-Its, so the deal was sealed. Cheese-Nips came and went, but Cheez-It was the preferred brand.

Royal My*T*Fine Pudding vs. Jell-O Pudding
Royal first sold their boxed pudding mix in 1918. Jell-O followed in 1936. Both mixes required stovetop cooking with milk, meaning it was a task only for boomers’ moms. Instant puddings from both companies were released in the early 1950s. Then even boomer children could make pudding, because all that was necessary was to add the mixture to cold milk and stir.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Jell-O was the winner. It seems like Royal was around only if it was on sale, or the store was out of Jell-O brand. Chocolate flavor was numero uno, though Mister B and his father enjoyed the occasional butterscotch. Dessert wasn’t a regular thing in the Mister B house, but when it wasn’t a holiday, pudding was most often the choice. The kids could make it, which made Mister B’s mom happy. She’d tell the kids to place plastic wrap on top of the dessert dishes before they were placed into the refrigerator, but the kids protested. Putting plastic over the dish prevented the layer of skin from forming, which was the most prized part of the pudding.

PC or Not PC, that wasn’t the question when Pillsbury marketed Funny Face drink mixes as a competitor to Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid in the 1960s. Mister B’s sister loved the Goofy Grape, so it was the flavor most often found in the house.

Flavor Aid vs. Kool Aid vs. Funny Face
The Jel Sert company began selling Flavor Aid drink powders in 1929. They also made Royal pudding. Meanwhile, Kool-Aid had beaten them to market by two years, appearing in 1927. The Kool-Aid marketing blitz that boomers recall began in 1953, when it was sold to General Foods. In the fifties and early sixties, both required moms to mix in their own sugar with the flavor pack. Pillsbury’s Funny Face differentiated itself by not needing added sugar.

In the Mister Boomer Household: Like most premium brands, Kool-Aid cost a bit more than the others and was therefore generally an also-ran in the supermarket race for the Mister Boomer family. His mother made lemonade from concentrate, and iced tea, when Mister B and his brother were young. By the time his sister reached pre-teen, the mixes did enter the house. Boomer Sister did latch on to Funny Face; she liked that the Goofy Grape turned her tongue purple.

Oscar Mayer Wieners vs. Hygrade’s Ball Park Franks
Certainly frankfurters — hot dogs to us boomers — had been around for many decades before the Boomer Generation. Like many other food products, however, regional brands played a role in a family’s choice of hot dog. Two brands that gained national fame in boomer decades are Oscar Mayer wieners and Hygrade’s Ball Park Franks. Hygrade’s released Ball Park Franks to the country in 1959, but didn’t really catch national attention until their commercials debuted the catch phrase, “They plump when you cook ’em,” in 1966. Oscar Mayer had their first Wienermobile on the road in 1936, but it was in 1965 that they introduced the jingle every boomer can sing: “Oh I wish I was an Oscar Mayer wiener…”

In the Mister Boomer Household: Both brands shared time in the Mister Boomer family fridge. As with many brand products of the time, however, it was Mister B’s sister who often chose which to take home. When she wasn’t eating bologna, SpaghettiOs or Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni, she was eating hot dogs. Mister B’s family often had a meal of beans and franks, too. Mister B’s mom would drop a can of pork and beans into a pan and set hot dogs on them. Each hot dog would be slit across the top and cheddar cheese stuffed into them. Then strips of raw bacon would be wrapped around the hot dogs and secured with toothpicks. Popped into the oven, dinner was ready as soon as the bacon was crisp. It was an economical way to feed a growing family of boomers.

What brands fought for shelf space in your homes, boomers?

Boomers Say, “Make Mine a Double”

Many boomers recall that in their early movie-going days, theaters presented two movies for the price of one — a double feature. During the intermission between films, there was usually a couple of cartoons along with coming attractions tossed into the mix, too. While some theaters began to discontinue this practice in the 1960s, others continued into the seventies, and it was a staple of drive-in theaters throughout the boomer years.

The idea of showing two movies for the price of one began long before the boomer age. It was, in fact, an invention of the Hollywood studios during the Great Depression. Since so many people did not have extra money for movie-going, the concept was to entice people into the theaters by telling them they were getting two movies for the price of one. Up until that time, an evening at the movies consisted of one film, live acts and comedians, newsreels and shorts.

Unfortunately for theater owners, however, the studios dictated what movies could be shown as double features since they sold them as a package. If a theater wanted movie A, they would also have to take movie B. Therefore, the introduction of the double feature was also the dawn of the B movie. Like the B side of a 45 RPM record, the second movie feature was often of lesser quality, with little or no star power, and definitely made with a smaller budget.

In 1948 a landmark court case was brought against Paramount Pictures challenged the way Hollywood studios controlled which theaters would show what movies. Studios often reserved their own films to be shown exclusively in the theaters that they owned outright or in which they were in partnership. That meant that studios, in addition to having all the actors and staff on contract necessary for making films, also wrote, produced, directed, distributed and showed their own films. By 1945 the studios owned 17 percent of the theaters in the country, which accounted for 45 percent of their film rental revenue. A group of independent theater owners decided to challenge the Hollywood studios for the practice and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the studios were in violation of U.S. antitrust laws, thus marking the beginning of the end of the Hollywood studio system.

Theater owners continued to show two movies for the price of one in the 1950s. Whether they felt patrons expected a double feature, or it was an incentive to make more people go to the movies, because of the court ruling they could pick and choose what movies they would show on a double bill. The result was the B movie was elevated to high art with the first-run science fiction thrillers we all know and love, along with films of the horror genre and re-runs of classic monster movies.

Mister Boomer recalls attending many double features in his early days. Sometimes the whole family would take in a double feature. Those family outings often meant going to the drive-in to see Disney films like Bambi, Dumbo, Pinocchio and Snow White, though Mister B can’t recall which of them were the A or B film. By the time Mister B reached the age of nine, he would go to Saturday matinees with his siblings and neighborhood friends.

Drive-in theaters offered double features and often had a children’s playground situated up by the base of the screen. Families could attend with the kids, and let them play until sunset, when the movies would get underway. Half-way through, you’d get a reminder such as this trailer that the concession stand was open for business. Can you guess who sponsored this groovy clip?

Mister B’s city’s one theater (there was a drive-in theater in the next town over) was about a mile-and-a-half walk via the neighborhood shortcut. This shortcut that all the kids would take entailed walking the railroad tracks across town. The tracks cut a diagonal path across the gridded streets, shortening the route. It also bypassed the busiest intersections with overpasses, so there was no break in the stride due to waiting for traffic signals. Instead, a leisurely, uninterrupted stroll was the order of the day, where rocks could be tossed, sticks picked up and stories traded. They only had to stop if a train was coming. Inevitably, someone would lean down and place their ear to the track in order to ascertain if a train was on the way. When one was visible, someone in the neighborhood group would usually want to set a penny on the track while the remaining travelers waited a safe distance away. Once the train passed, a hot, squished Lincoln was always worth a chuckle.

A typical movie matinee Saturday went like this: Mister B’s father would give him and his siblings 75 cents each. At around noon, anybody in the neighborhood that was going that day would gather and the group would get underway. A few blocks down, right before the area where the railroad tracks were readily accessible, there was a convenience store that sold penny candy. The group would enter the store and, one by one, tell the counter person what they wanted. Mister Boomer and his siblings would allot 25 cents for candy, reserving the other 50 cents for the price of admission. Mister B allowed himself one large candy purchase, like a Snickers bar, Chunky, Mallo Cup, Turkish Taffy or Almond Joy, and the rest was divided among candies that gave him the maximum amount for the least cost. Root beer barrels, candy dots on paper, licorice whips, caramels with a white swirl in them and any candy that gave more than one quick bite for a penny was selected and dropped into a small paper bag. By the time each member of the group had finished, they all held a brown paper lunch bag brimming with candy. It would offer quick sustenance for the track trek ahead, with enough left over to carry them well into the double feature.

Arriving at the “show,” as Mister B’s mother used to call it, what was on the bill was never a consideration. The group would go inside with the hordes of other children out on a Saturday. Once the lights went down and the flickering of the projector could be heard, Mister B was hooked. Pictures he saw in those outings included some old-time classics like Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Wolf Man (1941) and The Mummy (1932), along with more contemporary fare like House of Wax (1953), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), The Blob (1958), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and The Screaming Skull (1958).

This clip is a classic that a good portion of Mister Boomer readers are going to remember! Goobers and Red Hots, anyone?

In Mister B’s neighborhood, the double feature was alive and well throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s. Whether at the neighborhood theater or drive-in, the double feature was an inherent part of the boomer movie experience. What memories do double features bring to mind for you?