News last week that a takeover of the Arnott’s biscuit brand by private equity behemoth KKR could see a number of their much-loved products disappear. Don’t worry Tim-Tams are safe for the time being, Chinese tourists love them too much, but it could be curtains for such long-time favourites as Milk Arrowroots and Orange Slices. If you thought it was bad when Polywaffles were taken off the shelves, only to make a somewhat belated return, stand by for a virtual genocide of our culinary heritage.
There are various reasons why certain products do disappear, mostly to do with changing tastes and lack of patronage. Then again there are those items which are deemed unsuitable for children, politically incorrect and in some cases even racist. Arnott’s Golliwog biscuits were a popular choice during the 60s, when Enid Blyton’s golliwog books were still read to children and toy golliwogs were abundant in shops.
In the mid-1990s, the name was changed to Scalliwags, although the biscuits still looked the same. By now ‘golliwogs’ were seen as racist and demeaning of coloured people and within a few years, the product was withdrawn forever. A similar fate befell chocolate cigarettes which in the 50s and 60s were all the rage with school kids out to emulate their constantly puffing parents. Needless to say, as smoking became a genuine health issue, the chocky fags were soon targeted as something that might encourage youngsters to try the real thing.
When products do disappear or are threatened with commercial extinction, there is often an outburst of nostalgia regardless of whether they were originally bursting with sugar or in some cases could even destroy your health. The latter was certainly the case with the widely used BEX and Vincents APC powders of the 50s and 60s, an everyday ‘pickup’ that contained the rather nasty drug Phenacetin, later identified as a cause of renal failure and today sometimes used to bulk up batches of cocaine.
Yet sugar content and toxicity aside there is indeed a long list of discontinued Australian grocery and confectionary products that are very much a part of our social, cultural and political history. Maybe Coles could cash in with their next range of minis, aiming at their older customers, with a set of miniature long-gone products.
Included would surely be Chocolate Yowies (our version of the Kinder Surprise), the Paddle Pop Frozen Thickshake (an alternative to the ‘Pop’ on a stick), Space Food Sticks (did astronauts really snack on them?), Sunny-boy Orange Drink (no doubt drowning in sugar but that pyramid style packaging looked awfully cool), Scorched Peanut Bars (as hard as a rock, and almost guaranteed to take a tooth out if you attacked it too vigorously), Tasty Toobs (God knows what was in these cheesy snacks but their unique shape meant you could almost wear them on your fingers like a ring) and Funny Feet Icey Poles (not only an ice cream but a treat for all foot fetishists!).
And then, of course, there is the frozen TV Dinner, a product we hope will never return to our supermarket freezers, but still deserves a prominent position in the Museum Of Discontinued Products. Born of an age when TV was still very much a novelty in Australia, the TV Dinner, which looked a bit like a bad airline meal (and tasted the same), meant you would never miss a moment of your favourite evening broadcast. Put simply they were disgusting, anti-social, loaded with salt and fat and probably the promoter of excessive flatulence.
Today, of course, we simply tap an app for a pizza or Deliveroo, if preparing the evening meal could mean missing your favourite TV show. In another 10 or 20 years, even this display of convenience might be superseded. More and more of today’s once cherished products will be lost through the ruthless decisions of those global corporations who have now acquired most of our iconic brands. Politics aside, oh for a chocolate ciggie and a Golliwog biscuit!