Happy birthday, Frappuccino! Starbucks’ premier beverage – proof that a milkshake by any other name really would taste as sweet – just turned 20. That means that this year’s incoming college freshmen never even lived in a world without the frap. Good for them. Who would want to?
Okay, I’m not actually a hardcore frappuccino enthusiast. However, I can remember what a big deal they were when they first came out, during a time when “iced coffee” was spoken in such a tone that you could actually hear the quotation marks around the phrase. The frap brought coffee and espresso beverages to a whole new season (summer) and a whole new demographic (children). I felt super grown-up ordering a Venti Mocha Frappuccino with Whip at Barnes and Noble in 6th grade while perusing James Cameron’s Titanic book for the third time because that shit costs $19.99 and my gift card is only for 15 dollars, and this became my gateway drug into the world of caffeinated drinks. Starbucks, at least in me, you have created a monster.
The mid-90s were actually a big, weird time in processed food history. While you’re sipping your signature Birthday Cake Frappuccino today, raise your glass to these other treats that turn the big 2-0 this year.
Stuffed Crust Pizza – Pizza Hut
Two of my childhood obsessions – pizza and mozzarella sticks – combined into one food? Pizza Hut, you shouldn’t have. I can still remember my excitement when my friend Patty’s mom ordered the stuffed crust pizza at a sleepover. There was a marinara dipping sauce, and despite the resemblance to mozzarella sticks, her mom didn’t remind me not to choke and die like my mom always did. [There was, like, one well-publicized news story about a kid choking on mozzarella sticks, and I’m pretty sure it was a baby, but moms grabbed onto that information and wouldn’t let go.] The commercials said that you would want to eat your pizza “crust first” but that’s not true. You’d save the best part for last. Stuffed crust pizza was at once entirely unnecessary and seriously so necessary.
DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza
What about when it’s NOT delivery? In those cases, it’s probably DiGiorno. In 1995, the rising crust pizza burst onto the scene and while I wouldn’t say I ever confused it for delivery, it was a hell of a lot better than Boboli. Remember Boboli? Anyway, the main pitfall of the frozen pizza – the flat, crispy crust – faded into the past, and suddenly it seemed a lot more respectable to dish out the frozen pizza at a slumber party. Just not AS respectable as Stuffed Crust*.
*Don’t worry, the future is now and you can currently buy DiGiorno stuffed crust.
Next time you pour a handful of M&Ms, take a good look at the color selection. Then imagine if all of the blue M&Ms were tan instead. Yes, tan. Prior to 1995, M&Ms were significantly less colorful, like the first part of the Wizard of Oz, but after a popular mid-90s contest, the candies brightened up, like the second part of the Wizard of Oz. There was a big, pre-social media campaign to name the new M&M color, but the other entries – purple and pink – were obviously not as M&M appropriate. I voted blue and was thrilled to see the Empire State Building lit up blue after the winner was announced (we’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: the 90s were weird).
Here’s a curveball. Shortly after the contest, my mom noticed that the M&M-sponsored worksheet she’d been using in her classroom for years referred to “blue M&Ms.” So, did they know it was going to be blue all along? Had the worksheet guy time-slipped into the future? And why was my mother using an M&Ms handout to teach fourth grade?
Fruitopia celebrated two decades in 2014, or it would have if the bev hadn’t died with pogs and sunflower hats. It’s hard to believe that they could bottle so much 90s into one little drink. It had psychadelic branding, “natural” juice that … wasn’t, Gen X-y marketing, and Peace And Love(TM) product names. Remember begging at the gas station for a bottle of Strawberry Passion Awareness, The Grape Beyond, or Fruit Integration? Those NAMES, oy. Coca Cola retired the Fruitopia brand in 2003, folding some surviving flavors into their Minute Maid flagship. Yeah, although Fruitopia was for awesome skaters who hung out under wall tapestries and Minute Maid was for moms who make the bed by billowing a crisp, white sheet into the air near an open window, they were basically the same thing.
Twizzler Pull n’ Peel
The mid-90s was all about taking time-honored junk food and doing weird stuff to it. Enter the Twizzler Pull n Peel. I have to say, I was never a huge fan of Twizzlers, but something about breaking the hard, flat rope into a twisted mass of smaller, softer round ropes was absolutely delicious. You could savor a single Pull ‘n Peel twist for ages, or you could bite through the whole thing for a whole mouthful of Twizzler. These bad boys are twenty years old and show no signs of slowing down.
French Toast Crunch
French Toast Crunch was just one of many high-concept, dessert-y cereals, like Oreo Os or Cookie Crisp. If the idea of toast and syrup condensed into cereal-sized nuggets and doused in milk doesn’t appeal to you, that isn’t surprising. For nearly a decade – from 2006 until the recent past – the product was off the shelves. But it’s back now, so if you want to relive the 90s head to your nearest grocery store. Be warned: this crap had some sharp corners.
Arch Deluxe – McDonald’s
Looking a bit ahead, next year we will be celebrating the 20th birthday of the most adult burger of all time. Do you remember this? McDonald’s marketing concept was to bill this as a “grown-up” menu item, even though it was just a regular burger with bacon and some sort of sauce on it. It worked, I guess, because I was so offended that McDonald’s thought kids would hate the Arch Deluxe that I begged to try it. It was okay, not great, but at twice the price and twice the calories of a traditional cheeseburger, it didn’t last long.
Pop Tarts Crunch
Like I said: the mid-90s saw a lot of tinkering with junk foods to create Franken-junkfoods. Pop Tarts were already so unhealthy that I was only allowed to eat them for breakfast after I’d had an acceptable breakfast. I think this was actually worse than just letting me eat them for breakfast, since not only was I eating PopTarts, I was also eating two breakfasts. But I digress. What if you couldn’t choose between pop tarts and cereal? For a brief, shining moment from 1994- 1995, that’s not a question you ever had to answer. Pop Tarts Crunch cereal combined all the sugary unhealthiness of Pop Tarts with all of the sugary unhealthiness of kids’ cereals. What a time it was.
Doritos Tacos – Taco Bell
Wait, aren’t these new? Yes. And no. Taco Bell launched the Doritos taco shell a few years ago, but the shell was invented by advertising interns in 1995. I am not at all surprised. Doritos were THE Food in 1995, and we were obsessed with morphing our snacks into other snacks. Plus Taco Bell was super cool at the time – just not cool enough to incorporate Doritos into their fake Mexican experience.