by Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein, Borden, Frito-Lay
In 1964, Borden purchased The Cracker Jack Company from Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein. At that time, Frito-Lay lost the bidding war to Borden.However, Borden finally sold the Cracker Jack brand to Frito-Lay in 1997. Since 1912 when it was still owned by Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein, The Cracker Jack Company put prizes into every box of Cracker Jack. The prizes were low quality, garnering a much-deserved status as cheap. References to the value of the prizes, “…it came in a Cracker Jack box,” is a long-standing testament to their quality.
Someone might say, “What a lousy driver. Where did she get her license, in a Cracker Jack box?” Or, “I would have bought her a better engagement ring than that one. It looks like it came from a box of Cracker Jack.”
Even professional baseball was in on the act. Back in the day, Cracker Jack was afforded free publicity in the song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer. The song was released in 1908 with the line “…buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!”
In 2004, the New York Yankees baseball team replaced Cracker Jack with the look-alike Crunch ‘n Munch snack at home games. Public outcry prompted the Yankees to quickly change back to Cracker Jack.
Nowadays, the little toy and trinket prizes have been replaced with paper prizes including weak jokes and riddles. The cheap prizes of the past have attained somewhat of a collectible status. In my opinion, this is due in part to their scarcity and in part to the fact that their value is light years ahead of what Frito-Lay is currently delivering in boxes of Cracker Jack.
The original tagline for Cracker Jack was “Candy coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize.” Now it’s “Caramel coated popcorn & peanuts” under Frito-Lay. Maybe rightfully so since the “prize” is nothing to brag about. The switch to the politically-correct “caramel coated” from the old “candy coated” fits in with the lack of a prize – or at least a prize worth mentioning.
Now, Cracker Jack ships a small fold-and-tear comic or paper device as its prize. These chintzy paper tidbits are punched from sheets, and can be produced much more cheaply than the cool plastic figures, pinball games, puzzles, spaceships and rings of the past. The paper prizes are not just cost-saving to the Frito-Lay company. They’re an insult to those who knew the good ole’ Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein or Borden Cracker Jack toy prizes of the past. I’ve seen the disappointment in the eyes of 4 year-old and even 10 year-old kids because of this “gotta-save-a-penny-at-any-cost-even-if-it-means-disappointing-the-customer” approach. In the days of Rueckheim Bros. & Eckstein and Borden’s Cracker Jack, kids looked forward as much to the prize inside as to the great taste of the snack in the box.
The prizes are bottom-of-the-barrel. Does anyone actually enjoy these? Does the prize encourage anyone to choose Cracker Jack over something else? And has Frito-Lay actually saved even more money by decreasing the quality of the actual Cracker Jack itself, with fewer peanuts and less candy coating? Really?
Thanks, Cracker Jack. Thanks for what you were. Thanks for the good times and the memories of something special. Unfortunately, now you’re just another choice in the sea of snacks, sitting on the shelf beside the Crunch ‘n Munch with nothing special to make you stand out. You’re no longer the good ole’ American traditional Cracker Jack of the past.
Maybe the Yankees were right after all.
The Descent To Mediocrity
Miniature MLB Trading Cards
I’ve read that in 1991, David Stolz of Stolz-Mead Advertising sold Borden the idea of packaging miniature versions of Topps baseball trading cards into Cracker Jack boxes. Evidently, this campaign was a huge success. Sales exploded with Series 1 selling over 75 million boxes. Series 2 sold 60 million more. Dealers supposedly loved the uncut proof sets they were issued as sales promotions since they knew the proofs would be instant collectibles. Total consumer card album orders reached more than 25,000 mail-ins.
Borden management, in an effort to cut costs, screwed this up, allegedly opting to go with Fleer for the baseball cards instead of Topps in 1992 (although I have seen some 1992 Donruss mini Cracker Jack Series 2 cards online AND Topps Series 2, 1992). Wikipedia states that Donruss partnered with Coca-Cola, Cracker Jack and McDonald’s to create special card series. Either way, smooth move if you know baseball cards. Obviously, Topps is tops. In 1993, Borden boogered it up further by opting to cut costs again: they decided to eliminate the $500,000 royalty to MLB players by issuing reprints of their 1915 cards. This new set of cards went into only 50 million boxes.
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. acquired Borden in the mid 1990s. For years, Borden had managed to keep the cost of each prize to around a penny. According to Peter Dunn, general manager of Niche Grocery-Borden Foods, Borden really started to reduce the cost of the toy prizes inside when they started trying to sell off the Cracker Jack brand. Dunn even said that when people found out what he did for a living, they’d actually get in his face and demand that he fix the Cracker Jack prizes!
Trading Card Value
One source claimed that, according to crackerjack.com, a near mint, complete set of Cracker Jack’s original 1915 card set has been valued as high as $60,000.
From a Chicago Tribune article from March 20, 1997:
Cracker Jack, the candy-coated popcorn with peanuts that dates to 1893 and has strong Chicago roots, is apparently no longer a prize possession of Borden Foods Corp.
The Columbus, Ohio-based company intends to sell off Cracker Jack, its ReaLemon juice brand and others because of a commitment to what it describes as products that fit its core portfolio, according to a company memo.
…Cracker Jack once was headquartered at a plant on South Cicero Avenue just south of Midway Airport, until its 1964 acquisition by Borden. Cracker Jack’s consumer-products unit was shifted to Borden’s headquarters in 1984.
…Cracker Jack’s sales have been slumping. According to Information Resources Inc., a grocery-business tracking service, Cracker Jack sales through supermarkets, drugstores and mass merchandisers totaled $31.5 million for the 52 weeks ended Jan. 26, a decline of 10 percent from the year-earlier period. Borden, however, says sales are higher than those reported figures.
The brand holds a nearly 11 percent share of the $300 million ready-to-eat popcorn business.
Decades ago, Cracker Jack’s sales were at much higher levels, thanks to popular prizes, mainly tiny toys. This premium strategy has changed over the years to include fuzzy stickers, tattoos and even dog tags.
To shore up Cracker Jack in recent years, new varieties were introduced, but without much success.
…Cracker Jack may well need a 21st Century marketing approach to get children, primarily those between 6 and 11, and their parents interested again.
Research indicates that mothers consume 60 percent of the Cracker Jack they buy for their youngsters…**
Here’s the no-longer-believable quote from the Cracker Jack page at Fritolay.com:
“Cracker Jack brand has been an American favorite for more than 105 years. The delicious blend of caramel coated popcorn and peanuts is just as good as you remember. And who can forget the thrill of opening the toy surprise inside!”
Sorry to say, Cracker Jack, but The Thrill is Gone.