These 10 classic food brands from your childhood could be disappearing soon
Big changes are underway in America’s pantries.
Brands that were once household staples are falling out of favor with consumers. One reason is a broad shift away from national brands—shoppers have increasingly shown a willingness to eschew them in favor of lower-price private labels like Kirkland at Costco, Great Value at Walmart, and nearly everything sold at Aldi.
Analysts say that one of the impacts of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods is that there will be even more pressure on national food brands, as the supermarket is likely to increase efforts to sell its own house labels like 365 Value. Meanwhile, a new startup called Brandless has been getting attention lately for its brand-bashing business model, which is based on selling no-name organic, healthy toothpaste, peanut butter, mac-and-cheese, and other household items—each for a flat price of $3 apiece.
As consumers come to place higher importance on fresh, healthier foods, and no longer feel compelled to stick with the grocery brands from their childhoods, the sales of plenty of old-fashioned classics are suffering.
Here are some of the iconic food brands that America is falling out of love with—and that might not be around by the time your kids do the grocery shopping.
The Wall Street Journal reports that various Hamburger Helper varieties accounted for 40% of dinner mixes sold in the U.S. last year, compared to 61% a decade ago. A report from 2013, meanwhile, showed that Hamburger Helper sales dropped 14% in one year.
One reason for the brand’s struggles is quite simple: Americans are buying less ground beef, so obviously there’s much less demand for mixes that go with ground beef. There’s also a general sense that packaged food mixes don’t resonate with today’s shoppers, who place an emphasis on healthy, fresh, organic food.
General Mills, which owns Hamburger Helper and says it still generates consistent profits, isn’t giving up on the brand. In fact, there have been many efforts to try to help Hamburger Helper to win over today’s hip foodies—sometimes in hilarious fashion. The company relaunched Hamburger Helper in 2013 as simply “Helper,” and boosted the number of mixes that pair with chicken rather than beef. The brand also released a five-track rap album on April 1, 2016, with song titles like “Watch the Stove” and “In Love with the Glove.” Perhaps strangest of all, people thought the album was so good they weren’t sure if it was an April Fool’s gag or not.
Packaged food giant ConAgra has singled out the pasta brand Chef Boyardee as one of the main reasons sales have been poor in recent years. This summer the company announced it is closing down a factory in Pennsylvania where the canned pasta brand is made—and where there’s an actual statue of Chef Boyardee, whose real name is Hector Boiardi. Industry insiders say that Chef Boyardee could be sold off as ConAgra tries to adapt to changing consumer preferences.
Tootsie Roll, the Chicago-based company that owns Sugar Daddy, Junior Mints, Tootsie Roll (duh), and other classic candy brands, has been facing headwinds in the marketplace for years. The Washington Post reported in 2015 that “Candy land is in chaos,” with the company’s market share declining for a decade straight. A quarterly earnings report released a few months ago showed sales were down 11%.
Analysts say that consumers may be turning away from old-fashioned candies like Tootsie Roll because of a shift to healthier snacks. The Motley Fool reported that Tootsie Roll sales have declined because people are “more conscious about eating sugar and a general trend away from brick-and-mortar shopping to online shopping.”
In other words, one of the effects of online shopping is that people aren’t browsing store aisles and never feel their stomachs rumbling while waiting to check out at the cash register. So they’re a lot less likely to be tempted to buy candy, soda, and other stuff they know isn’t good for them.
Earlier this year, General Mills reported declining sales across many of its major food brands, including a particularly big dip for Yoplait yogurt. The company’s yogurt sales fell 20% in the U.S. during a three-month period ending in February, and Yoplait sales dropped 11% overall in 2016.
Among the reasons given for Yoplait’s fall is the broad shift in consumer preference to Greek yogurt brands like Chobani. As of last year, Chobani jumped ahead of Yoplait in terms of U.S. market share for yogurt sales. Dannon is still in the top spot, with 34% of the market, while Chobani accounts for nearly 20% of yogurt sales and Yoplait is at 19%, down from 25% as of 2011.
Soda sales have been slumping for years in the U.S., as consumers turn more to bottled water and other healthy drinks—or, if they want a caffeine fix, coffee or energy drinks. Diet soda in particular has been a victim of these trends, and none has been hit harder than Diet Pepsi: Sales fell 9.2% last year, compared to a 4.3% decline for Diet Coke and a 0.8% dip for carbonated beverages overall.
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Big companies like Kellogg’s and General Mills have taken many steps to try to boost flagging cereal sales. They’ve launched new brands (Tiny Toast), removed artificial ingredients, and even opened a gourmet cereal café in Manhattan’s Times Square.
But cereal sales remain, well, pretty soggy, largely because young consumers in particular have shifted to quicker on-the-go breakfast options like protein bars or fast food. In one survey, 40% of millennials said cereal is too difficult to eat because it requires preparation (add milk), two hands (rather than just one for a breakfast burrito), and the need to clean up afterward.
Wheaties, once a standout in the cereal market for boxes featuring iconic sports heroes, is one of many cereal brands that has been dying a slow death for years. And sure enough, General Mills, which owns the “Breakfast of Champions” brand, has attempted some bizarre marketing initiatives with the hopes of gaining Wheaties some attention in today’s noisy marketplace. Not long ago, the company introduced a limited-edition Wheaties-theme craft beer, called HefeWheaties.
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
The iconic box of Kraft mac-and-cheese is still very popular: Some 50 million boxes were sold over a few-month span after Kraft quietly removed artificial dyes, flavors, and preservations, and the brand is now sold in more than 50 varieties.
Still, “healthier” brands of mac-and-cheese like Annie’s have challenged Kraft’s preeminence in the marketplace. According to Euromonitor, Kraft’s market share of mac-and-cheese sales fell 2% from 2012 to 2016.
I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter
A revival of butter has been years in the making, with butter consumption hitting a four-decade high in the U.S. in recent years. The flip side is that sales of margarine and other butter alternatives have gone soft, so to speak.
This past spring, Unilever announced intentions to sell its butter alternative division amid continued declining sales for brands like Country Crock and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. The Economist reported that margarine sales have been forecast to stay flat or even drop further, while butter sales are projected to rise 9% worldwide over the next five years.
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Pepperidge Farm Bread
First it was the Atkins diet causing consumers to avoid carbs—pasta and bread in particular. Then came the gluten-free trend, which pushed bread sales down as well. A survey from 2014 indicated that more than half of U.S. consumers said they were cutting back on white bread in particular.
It’s unsurprising, then, that bread sales for major brands like Pepperidge Farm, a subsidiary of the Campbell Soup Company, have taken a hit. According to a report released earlier this year, while sales have been strong for Pepperidge Farm cookies and snacks like Milanos and Goldfish, the brand’s breads have been on the decline.
Bazooka Bubble Gum
Among the reasons for consumers kicking the habit: They’re turning to healthier, more natural snacks, and more people have been popping in discreet mints to freshen their breath rather than chewing gum. In many ways, gum has simply come to be seen as old-fashioned, and few brands have seem as behind the times as Bazooka. Can you imagine a company naming a treat marketed to kids after a high-powered deadly weapon today?
According to the New York Times, Bazooka bubble gum sales dropped nearly 50% from 2007 to 2012, when the brand decided to give itself a makeover and get rid of its classic comic strip wrappers. Efforts to save Bazooka are still underway, with the introduction of a sugar-free version last year and the recent launch of Juicy Drop Gum, which comes with a liquid sour gel that kids drip on the gum to extend the flavor.