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Food Mascots

Sivi Sekula

From cute cartoons to happy humans, food mascots cheer on cereals, rice, and snacks. Let’s look at some of the best food mascots out there

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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Gimme a “B,” gimme an “A,” gimme an “M-B-A”! Goooo, Bamba!

For decades, major food companies have been using mascots of all kinds to promote their products. Somewhere along the line, someone realized that sticking a picture of an animal or character on the package gets the product selling like hotcakes. From cute cartoons to happy humans, food mascots cheer on cereals, rice, and snacks. Let’s take a look at some of the best food mascots out there.

A Cereal Story

Some of the most beloved food mascots are the ones we see first thing in the morning on the breakfast table. Virtually every kids’ cereal has a mascot cheering it on. How many cereal characters can you name off the top of your head? Ever wonder how they got onto the cereal box in the first place?

The very first cereal mascot was Sunny Jim, a well-dressed gentleman with a top hat and cane. He became the face of Force, a cereal that was the fave in the early 1900s. Force had been represented by a gang of manly men wrestling with chains, but buyers didn’t buy it. Literally. Clearly something had to be done to bring sales up. In 1901, jingle writer Minnie Maud Hanff and artist Dorothy Ficken created a sad-looking character called Jim Dumps who miraculously became all smiles after eating Force cereal, and dramatically transformed into Sunny Jim. Hanff wrote catchy jingles to tell Sunny Jim’s story, which were printed in newspaper ads. People loved Sunny Jim so much that sales of Force went through the roof. Other companies quickly created mascots for their own cereals, and that’s how mascots became a vital part of the cereal industry.

The gr-r-r-reatest cereal mascot of all time? Tony the Tiger, of course! In 1952, Kellogg’s held a contest to see which mascot would be the most popular for their Sugar Frosted Flakes, as it was called then. The contestants: Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant, Newt the Gnu, and Tony the Tiger. Tony won hands down and he’s been on the cereal boxes ever since. But the Tony of the 1950s didn’t look quite the same as he does today. Back then, he had a football-shaped head and looked more like a harmless cat than a strong tiger. Gradually Tony became taller, leaner, and stronger, and his eyes changed from green to yellow. The one thing that’s never changed: the famous red kerchief he wears around his neck. Tony is now 65 years old, but don’t expect him to be retiring anytime soon. He’s still busy with his number one job — encouraging kids to lead a healthy lifestyle by playing sports.

Think Tony the Tiger is old? Guess what? Snap, Crackle, and Pop are even older! Snap is the oldest of the trio. He was born in 1933, when illustrator Vernon Grant heard a Rice Krispies ad on the radio and was inspired to create a character based on the jingle. A few years later, his brothers, Crackle and Pop, joined Snap in ads and posters, and finally, in 1941, they appeared together on the Rice Crispies’ box, where they’ve since spent their mornings entertaining kids of all ages.


The three gnomes are famous all over the world, but did you know that they have different names in some countries? In Sweden, they’re called Piff, Paff, and Puff; in Germany, they go by Knisper, Knasper, and Knusper; in France and Quebec, it’s Cric, Crac, Croc, and in Mexico, they’re Pim, Pum, and Pam. I kid you not! Next time you’re abroad, check out the cereal aisle at the local supermarket to see what other names those gnomes have been given.

Real Faces, Real People

Not all food mascots are cute cartoons. Some are actually real people. You know the girl with the red bonnet on the Sun-Maid Raisins box? Yup, she’s real. Her name was Lorraine Collett and she lived in Fresno, California. In the winter of 1915, the city of San Francisco hosted a massive expo to showcase the city’s long-awaited recovery from the terrible 1906 earthquake. One of the exhibitors was a new California company — Sun-Maid Raisins. A few local girls, one of whom was Lorraine, were hired by the raisin company to hand out samples of raisins to visitors at the expo. The girls wore white blouses with blue piping as well as blue bonnets.

Blue bonnets?!

So when was the iconic red bonnet introduced, you’d surely like to know? Well, one sunny spring day several months after the expo, Lorraine was spotted by a Sun-Maid executive while drying her hair in her backyard. She was wearing her mother’s red bonnet, which looked striking against her black curls. The other execs at Sun-Maid liked the idea of having a young girl in a red bonnet as the face of their company, so Lorraine, wearing her mother’s red bonnet and holding a basket of grapes, posed for a portrait, which has been printed on every Sun-Maid raisins box since.

Sun-Maid presented Lorraine Collett with the original watercolor painting, which she kept in her home together with her mother’s bonnet. Throughout the rest of her life, Lorraine appeared in public to promote Sun-Maid. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 660)

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