The Candy Wrapper Museum's extensive online collection of, yeah, candy wrappers has long made it one of my favorite retro design sites. Two companies tower over all others in terms of a whimsical yet unified visual aesthetic: Ferrara Pan (makers of Lemonheads, Boston Baked Beans, et al.) and Just Born (best known for Mike and Ike and Peeps). Today, they finally go box-to-box to determine the all-time cheap 'n' chewy box-design champion.
This is not a new fixation for me. When I was a kid, I even went so far as to start a collection of Ferrara Pan boxes. Not only did I love their pantheon of mascots, but each box was just a dime and, oh yeah, there was candy inside of them, too. But I'm sure if our corner store had stocked the Just Born line instead, I'd've collected those. So no preconceptions or biases here, except my bias in favor of charming package design. Let's get it on!
Grape Division: Alexander the Grape vs. Jolly Joes
Each company brought their A game to their respective grape-flavored candies. The presumable Jolly Joe, a banjo-pickin', apparently drunk clown with impeccable fashion sense, makes a formidable case, no doubt. Alas, he has the misfortune of going up against the torso-less Macedonian conqueror of the candy kingdom, and that's no fight for a clown. Hard to believe nowadays that there was a time when kids knew who Alexander the Great was.
Winner: Alexander the Grape (Ferrara Pan)
Hot Hot Hot Division: Atomic Fireballs vs. Hot Tamales
There's a nuclear holocaust in your mouth and everyone's invited! I gotta admire FP's moxie in casually invoking atomic warfare to sell candy to the kiddies. But the blah execution doesn't do much for me. The loving detail in the Hot Tamale guy's hat, serape, and desert background is too hot for the fireballs to handle.
Winner: Hot Tamales (Just Born)
Bowtie Division: Lemonhead vs. Mike and Ike
Don't let their gentlemanly looks fool you: this was the toughest, hardest-fought bout on this fight card. With the quaint, primary-colored attire of a Batman villain, Mike and Ike are an almost unstoppable tag-team of candy style. But if anybody can stand up to them, it's the venerable and well-groomed Lemonhead, who manages to stay chipper despite his tragic deformity. Bloodied and exhausted, the competitors stumbled out of the ring after an inconclusive brawl. But they still looked great.
Green Division: Johnny Apple Treats vs. Cool Kids
Johnny, we hardly know ye. An inspired character idea is squandered on a rushed, awkward execution - a rare missed opportunity for Ferrara Pan. The Cool Kids aren't sweating it. They know all they have to do to win is to not make any mistakes, and they don't.
Winner: Cool Kids (Just Born)
Unorthodox Flavor Inspiration Division: Boston Baked Beans vs. Jack and Jill
Fortunately, Boston Baked Beans taste nothing like baked beans; they're peanuts with a brownish-red candy coating. Jack and Jill wrap their candy coatings around chewy bits of black licorice. I'm a sucker for the brick facade. If Jack and Jill brought a little more inspiration to the table, they'd have a shot. But while they're charming, the hill-climbing, water-fetching tots are too bland to leave much of an impression.
Winner: Boston Baked Beans (Ferrara Pan)
Tiebreaker: The Importance of a Deep Bench
So far, so even... but while Just Born's roster is depleted, Ferrara Pan's not done yet. Cherry Chan alone clinches the title for FP. (It would later be renamed "Cherry Clan" when somebody at Ferrara Pan realized no kids knew who Charlie Chan was. The chop-suey lettering remained.) The manic Mr. Melon doesn't add much, but it's all about showing up. And we haven't even looked at the company's more bland packages, like Jelly Beans, Fruit Cocktail Imperials, and Jaw Busters. Ferrara Pan rolls deep to the championship.
Winner and champion: Ferrara Pan
Do these legendary mascots still roam the candy aisles? Sadly, no. In recent years, each company followed a parallel strategy of folding all of their candies into their most recognized brand. So at Ferrara Pan, where Lemonhead rules the roost, their other brands followed suit: Alexander the Grape turned into Grapehead, Cherry Clan became Cherryhead, etc. The success of Mike and Ike convinced Just Born to rebrand all of their chewy boxed candies as different flavors of Mike and Ike. E-excuse me, I-I've got something in my eye...
Maybe that decision made some kind of business sense. But dammit, these candies aren't supposed to be about synergistic branding. They're supposed to be about anthropomorphized fruit, archaic outfits, naive ethnic caricatures, and whimsical re-imaginings of historical figures. Let this blog post be a call to these companies to stop trying to squeeze all of these candies into one box. Bring back the Cool Kids! Free Johnny Apple Treats!
Share your own nostalgic candy wrapper memories below...
All images courtesy of The Candy Wrapper Museum. Thanks!