Lunchables Were Invented To Solve A Meat Problem
When we think of '90s foods, a lot of us remember deliciously unhealthy fare like Fruit Roll-Ups, Handi-Snacks, Fudge Stripes, and Lunchables. Lunchables, especially, have a place of honor for everyone who remembers the ritual of putting their meal together in the cafeteria. It seems like a product tailored to prey on children. But it didn't start out that way.
Lunchables started out, about 30 years ago, because Oscar-Mayer had a very specific problem: Consumers weren't buying enough bologna. Oscar-Mayer churned out a lot of bologna, so falling bologna sales spelled real trouble. American bologna, of course, is a type of cold cut that tastes mostly of salt and water, with less flavor than just about any other meat you can buy. If people were buying less of it, you might think that's a good signal that the company should shift to making something else ... but that's because you're not thinking like a marketer.
Oscar-Mayer figured out that the key to palming off all that unwanted bologna was to package it with enough other stuff that you'll just roll it all together and eat it without thinking. The target audience for these new "Lunchables" was not children. It was adults, who were already long familiar with the similar concept of frozen TV dinners. It took a little more market research to realize that kids love playing with their food, and kids don't have very refined palates, so they'd totally eat Lunchables up.
The shift to kids is why Lunchables ended up including a bunch of salty and sweet snacks, instead of, say, a side of peas with every meal. They did try including healthier options, though. "Lunchables with fruit" didn't sell well, and nor did "Lunchables with yoghurt." "Lunchables, except with EXTRA calories" did sell well (the actual name was "Lunchables Maxed Out"), but these attracted enough negative publicity that Oscar-Mayer discontinued them.
Lunchables still do exist, by the way, selling like $1 billion of product every year. Every one of those "90s foods" we listed earlier still exist. Go to the most colorful aisle of the supermarket and go nuts, if you want. Just avoid any of the Lunchables that come with bologna. Keep a little dignity.
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