Competition for shelf space is fierce in the candy industry, where only the sweetest survive. Trying to capture the attention of children—a notoriously discriminating, albeit nose-picking crowd—has led to some creative, curious, and downright bizarre confections and promotions.
To help navigate this foil-wrapped underworld, we turned to Jason Liebig, candy authority and operator of CollectingCandy.com, home to thousands of archived treats. Check out these 15 candies that dared to be different.
1. Cadbury Wriggler
While Cadbury was famously preoccupied with Easter in the U.S., its New Zealand division had other ideas: fruit-flavored “jelly worms” pockmarked this chocolate treat in the 1990s. In a strange case of life imitating bar, the BBC reported in 2003 that Cadbury’s India arm had come under fire after consumers alleged they found live insects in one of their products.
2. Goofy Groceries
The Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corporation knew the gum market was a merciless territory, which is why they placed an emphasis on wacky packaging. Their Goofy Groceries line from the late 1970s consisted of parody boxes of popular supermarket items, including Hamburger Helper (above), Ritz and Tide.
3. Giant Boss Bubble Gum
Another brainstorm from Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp., this ad from September 1969 introduced kids to the grown-up world of TMJ syndrome. “Giant bubble gum sticks were produced by a number of companies around this time,” Liebig says, “though this may have been one of the biggest.”
4. Space Dust
This spin-off of General Foods’ own Pop Rocks was powdered rather than granulated and proved to be a popular target for candy bootleggers who sold it outside of the company’s test markets in the late 1970s. Criticized by parents for being nutritionally bankrupt even by candy standards, the product hit a snag after the company discovered “space dust” was slang for the dangerous street drug PCP, a.k.a. "angel dust." They later changed the name to Cosmic Candy.
5. Boston Baked Beans
Not a bean and not made in Boston, these treats from Leaf were actually peanuts wrapped in a candy coating. You can still find them today from the fine people at Ferrara, though the little legume getting a suntan appears to have retired.
6. Quicksand Bubble Gum
Via some kind of chemical reaction we didn’t learn about in school, Fleer’s Quicksand was powdered bubble gum that congealed when it got wet. The novelty was popular enough to last from the 1960s to the 1980s, though it never worked quite as advertised. “To my recollection, you never got as much chewing out of it as you'd hope,” Liebig says. “A lot of powder turned into a relatively small gob of gum.”
7. Wonkalate Bar with Nerds
Once again, it’s foreign markets that have all the fun. Nestle introduced this Frankenstein creation in 2000, blending a purple chocolate base with “snozzberry” flavored Nerds candy. Resembling a lump of Technicolor vomit, the Wonkalate quietly slid off shelves after a six-figure ad campaign.
8. Kojak Pops
Who loves ya, baby? Certainly not your oral hygienist if you overindulged on these lollipops endorsed by Telly Savalas’ iconic ‘70s television detective. Manufactured by Four Star Candy for Universal, the pops were flat, not bulb-shaped, and joined the show’s merchandising efforts which included a board game and a dapper action figure.
“Yeah, Crackheads was real,” Liebig says. “It was only really distributed to candy specialty stores as well as places like Spencer Gifts.” The energy treats are still being sold and boast as much caffeine as six cups of coffee. If you like the idea of never sleeping again but find the packaging offensive, manufacturer Osmanium offers the same product under the name Jitterbeans.
10. The Charleston Chew Pony Contest
You wanna move some candy? You’d better be prepared to give away some livestock. In the 1970s, Charleston Chew held a contest in which entrants could send in their wrappers for a chance to win an actual pony, “or a horse if you prefer.” Earlier, the candy bar made a similar offer for a live monkey that came already dressed.
11. Willy Wonka’s Watermelon
Whether Willy Wonka specified this oversized jawbreaker was “seedless” as a joke or legal obligation is lost to history. Sold in “crate” packaging and able to change color from green to white to red like the real thing, the Wonka Watermelon stuck around for a good chunk of the '80s.
12. Dip-It Lock and Key
When a new candy takes off, it’s likely to spawn lots of imitators. After Fun Dip mania seized the nation, Topps released Dip-It, a combination lock-and-key novelty that allowed sugar fiends to use a key to scoop candy from the padlock. “I recall the key was edible,” Liebig says. We’re pretty sure he’d remember if it wasn’t.
13. Big League Plug
Big League Chew, which used shredded gum to mimic chewing tobacco, was popular enough in the 1980s that the company branched out to the chocolate market. (The "plug" was the blob of chocolate chew oozing from your mouth.) The idea was that the bar could be snacked on in intervals and stuffed in a back pocket without melting. The idea was not a good one. It lasted a year.
14. Mr. Bones
Fleer resurrected this 1970s offering for Halloween 1993: interlocking pieces of hard candy that could be assembled to make a skeleton. But not all of the necessary pieces were in each coffin-shaped package, meaning you might need to buy more than one.
15. Garbage Can-dy
What kid doesn’t like to pretend to eat trash? Topps issued this plastic garbage can stuffed with candy shaped bottles, old boots, tin cans, and fish bones in different fruit flavors. The waste bin-themed offering didn’t last long, but Topps persevered: not long after, they introduced the Garbage Pail Kids.
Hungry for more candy archaeology? Head on over to CollectingCandy.com.
All images courtesy of Jason Liebig.