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Fruit Snacks

I have had a longstanding obsession with fruit snacks. Logic would say this is due to the fact that these sweet treats were the closest I got to candy as a kid (Mom was kind of a health nut). But the truth is that to me, fruit snacks were high art. With so many fantastic shapes and flavors to enjoy, these edible sculptures were often reflections of the current pop culture at the time. So let's take a trip down the retro supermarket aisle and enjoy the sights.

When it comes to the "original" fruit snack, I always award that honor to Sunkist Fun Fruits. Taking the form of oval shaped vitamins, these little wonders were packed full of concentrated flavor. It was like they compressed a fruit roll-up into one tiny pill for astronauts or something. Though I usually went for Strawberry there were so many other fruit flavors like Grape, Orange, Cherry and mixed assortments.

I loved popping 4 or 5 in my mouth and flicking them around with my tongue until they started to melt. It was even better when they introduced the yogurt covered variety called, Creme Supremes, YUM! Just imagine those yogurt covered raisins that are still around today, but way better, because , y'know, there were fruit snacks in the middle! Then there were the commercials that played in between cartoons.

Each commercial started out with a group of kids wandering around a dark forest until they came upon a grove of trees with animatronic human faces. Upon being discovered the fun Fruit Trees would start laughing and raining fruit snacks on the young adventurers. These trees always reminded me of a cross between the evil "apple throwers" from the Wizard of OZ and the Apple Pie Trees from the McDonald's playland. These 30 second episodes made a simple snack better, but then Sunkist got all fancy on us.

Releasing Fun Fruits in Number, Letter and Animal shapes was fine, but the real excitement came from their Space and Dinosaur selections. Biting into a generic Spaceman, Rocket Ship or Stegasaurus enhanced the entire snacking experience. Of course their Funny Feet variety with horse shoe and paw print shapes were pretty unique as well. But Sunkist impressed me with more than just the variety of themes. Something about the Fun Fruit recipe caused them to be more dense than the competitor brands, which made Fun Fruits the bar by which I measured all future fruit snack purchases.

As the 90's rolled around competing brands pretty much knocked the old school Fun Fruits off the shelves and no one tried harder than Farley's. While their style of fruit snack was much "gummier", they really won the race by getting the licenses of popular cartoon and toy brands. C.O.W.Boys of Moo-Mesa, Creepy Crawlers and off-brand Trolls may not have been the hottest kids properties, but chomping on a gelatinous version of the Cowlorado Kid or a Grasshopper was way more fun than the letter "A".

Of course Farley's biggest money maker had to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fruit snacks. Anything those 4 pizza-lovin' dudes touched was a guaranteed best seller, especially in grocery store aisles. Hostess already had a hit with the "Ooze" pies, so Farley's must have paid a pretty penny for this marketing edge. There's really no way kids weren't going to beg their parent's for these things as the shopping cart rolled by, which I absolutely did.

The fact that they gave you Leatherhead, the mutant alligator's head as a shape was enough to win me over (he was one of my favorites in the toy line), but what really got my attention was the wacked-out artwork on the box. It always struck me as totally bootleg, since it didn't match the character designs from the cartoon. Doesn't it look like something that would have been on an unlicensed t-shirt at a swap meet? Still, this was an iconic product to me during the Ninja Turtle invasion of the late 80's and early 90's.

One of the most impressive licensed Fruit Snacks in my opinion was the Garfield and friends brand. Where most fruit snacks inspired by TV or movie characters had the chosen design on the front of the snack with a flat back, Garfield gave us a fully sculpted representation of everybody's favorite lasagna loving cat. Little legs and arms were gleefully bitten off by sadistic 4th graders and as a bonus, they actually tasted great. Like deliciously so. But creating edible pop culture icons wasn't the only way to make your fruit snacks the talk of the schoolyard, a clever gimmick could get the trick done just as well.

At first glance, Shark Bites looked like your average animal themed treat, but Fruit Corners/Betty Crocker had an ace up their sleeve. They created "chaser" fruit snacks. Do you remember how getting a star on your Tootsie Roll Pop wrapper or a hologram in your pack of Marvel Universe cards was a cause for celebration? So was finding a "Great White" in your bag of Shark Bites. "Sand Shark, Hammerhead...YES, GREAT WHIIIITE!" Truth be told it wasn't that rare to find the "Albino Jaws", but it was short packed just enough to keep you on the hunt and make you jealous of your friends that found one before you. They tried the same thing by adding a striped Tiger Shark, but why fix it if it ain't broken?

The extra money spent on making the bags shiny was a stroke of genius as well, even before you opened it you felt like you were a holding a valuable treasure. They tried to repeat the formula with Thunder Jets to similar acclaim. Swapping out sharks for jets and making the Stealth Bomber your "chaser" was a pretty safe way to keep kids who grew up on Top Gun and living through Operation Desert Storm coming back for more. Do you remember how big the B-2/Stealth Bomber was back in the day? It was like the Lamborghini of the sky, but I digress...

Eventually Fruit Snacks started taking on blatantly candy like attributes, such was the case with Soda-Licious. Shaped like little soda bottles, these thing were coated in grains of sugar which gave them a really fun texture. They were basically Sour Punch Kids without the kick, so I can't believe Betty Crocker thought they could get away with selling them to Moms packing their kid's lunches. I really appreciated the cross-promotion with the 7-Up Cool Spots, since my family were dedicated consumers of the regular, diet and cherry flavors. Plus, the Spots were so cool, cruising around with their Sunglasses and Mickey Mouse gloves.

I never did jump on the Gushers bandwagon like the rest of my schoolmates, though I did convince my Mom to buy them once so I could be "in the know". In the end I found that I didn't need additional sugary goo to make my fruit snack experience more fun, the simple combination of great taste and fun shapes was enough for me. Now I know I didn't even touch the topic of fruit roll-ups, because that is a journey unto itself, but tell me, what was your favorite fruit snack growing up? 

Want to send me a picture of your old fruit snack boxes? Hassle me on Twitter @hojukoolander
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Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 09, 2015 at 11:02 PM

@massreality I think "Fruit Snakes" was a missed opportunity for Betty Crocker ;)

massreality Posted on Sep 07, 2015 at 02:48 AM

I love all the Betty Crocker fruit snakes now. I usually buy the Scooby Doo ones, but recently they started making Star Wars so I tend to buy them now.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 06, 2015 at 03:02 PM

@pikachulover I have a vague recollection of the Pegasus fruit snack, but it's so weird that the brand doesn't ring any bells. It sounds like a fun fruit snack concept though.

pikachulover Posted on Sep 06, 2015 at 09:08 AM

Berry Bears were like the girl counter part to shark bites. They had girly shapes besides the bear family they had Pegasus and birthday cake shapes. They were elusive like the special shark pieces. I think there are some Berry Bears commercials on youtube.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 05, 2015 at 04:11 AM

@pikachulover Tell me about Berry Bears, that's a brand I never encountered.

pikachulover Posted on Sep 04, 2015 at 11:43 PM

Soda-licoius has to be on my sorely missed nostalgic food list. I loved the sugar coated snacks it made them seem fizzy. The sugar covered cola bottles are ok, but not the same. I really like the Berry Bears and Pudding Rollups.

Mr Magic Posted on Sep 04, 2015 at 09:28 PM

I loved Fruit Roll-ups and Fruit by the Foot.

One you can eat pictures and the other you can eat like it's a chewy candy bar.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 04, 2015 at 07:38 PM

Those Fun Fruits truly were as good as it gets as far as taste, and the commercials were all very memorable and catchy. But man, those Garfield shapes... how did they do that? You don't see anything like that anymore on store shelves... not in a fruit chew form anyway.

As far as Gushers, I did like them a lot, but like you I kind of preferred my chews without the slimy goo in the middle. I liked the texture and taste of the "Fruit Roll Up" style Fun Fruits.

Mr Magic Posted on Sep 04, 2015 at 07:27 PM

Ahh, Gushers. I still have memories of those commercials where the kids have heads that get turned into fruits! XD

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