Super Sugar Crisps in Mad Men. Eggos in Stranger Things. Big League Chew in The Goldbergs. When done well, audiences rarely notice the careful curation of props in a television series or movie based in the past. Have you ever stopped to wonder where Hollywood art director’s turn to find food packaging for products that either no longer exist or have undergone changes throughout the years?
That’s where Jason Liebig comes in. Equal parts historian, collector, and archivist, Jason has amassed a collection of food packaging that includes over 10,000 items. A large portion of that collection is confectionary wrappers. He shares his love of confectionary packaging on his blog CollectingCandy.com. As his blog celebrates its fifth anniversary, Jason reveals how his obsession began, what keeps him hunting for elusive items, and how the confectionary industry has changed over the past several decades.
Like the tagline says, it’s a pop-culture celebration of confection – its packaging, history, marketing, and the people behind it all.
I see it as the fifth pillar of geek culture. We have comics, cartoons, video games, and toys. Candy fits perfectly into that framework; it’s a pleasurable experience from our childhood that we love to re-visit. In the case of candy, it’s history is not well documented. Very few consumer packaged goods manufacturers keep archives of their products. The history gets lost. I’ve amassed a collection of confectionery wrappers that provide a glimpse into our culture from a certain vantage point.
How has the marketing of candy evolved over the decades?
There are a few ways in which the marketing of candy has changed:
Target market – for decades, candy was marketed to children. That changed with the rise of childhood obesity. Packaging matured to make it less obvious they were pandering to kids. The images on the packaging were updated to appeal to a wider audience – an older audience. Having said that, you do see some of that kid-focused marketing sneaking back onto packaging. Mascots seem to be gaining popularity again. Kids love mascots. It’s a tricky time for candy manufacturers; they can’t alienate kids because they want to nurture brand loyalty but the subtly needs to be there. Ultimately, good packaging needs to appeal to kids and adults to achieve long-term success.
Food trends – we now see some candy being marketed as gluten-free. The candy may never have contained gluten but because the gluten-free movement has gained popularity, confectionary manufacturers want to capitalize on that trend.
Geek culture – like I stated earlier, candy is really the fifth pillar of geek culture. Candy manufacturers are slowing starting to acknowledge this. Some brands are beginning to create packaging with retro design elements that appeal to this specific demographic.
If you’re interested in nostalgia, candy, vintage packaging, or collecting, check out Krazy Kids’ Food by Dan Goodsell and Steve Rodden. The book is a wonderful ode to vintage food graphics. It’s published by Taschen. Dan went on to create the Mr. Toast series.
How do you store your collection?
My wrapper collection is stored very much like a proper comic collection: bags and boards.
It’s surprisingly time-consuming to properly store items for the collection. I remove the candy to avoid it contaminating the packaging with residue. That means I have to be really careful opening the package so I don’t ruin it. Candy packaging is made to be easily tearable so preserving the integrity of the wrapper can be a challenge. For some of the stickier candy, I either put it in the freezer or use a blow dryer or hot water to loosen the glue-like hold it has on the packaging. Then I flatten the wrapper before bag-and-boarding it.
My collection is stored in water-tight totes to avoid damage from moisture. About 95% of my collection is irreplaceable so I do take the extra steps to ensure it’s well-preserved.
What’s your most prized piece in the collection and why?
One of my most prized pieces is the classic 1970s Mars Marathon bar that I tracked down in 2009. This chocolate bar made a regular appearance in my house growing up. It disappeared before I knew it and I really just wanted a bar or wrapper as a piece of nostalgia. I wasn’t collecting candy packaging at that point in time. It took me years before I finally acquired a Marathon wrapper. After that, I was hooked. I began hunting for all sorts of vintage candy and wrappers so I could create an archive.
My other prized finds include Nerds Hot and Cool candy and my collection of international Snickers packaging.
If you could take a trip to any candy store in the world, where would you go?
There isn’t one specific place. I can tell you that my favourite haunts are small corner stores. They are havens for unique candy; things that are only available regionally or have come and gone from major retailers. I’ve also come to appreciate private-label brands. Private-label packaging has really evolved over the years and the designs on the packages are quite unique. I have a few Kmart candy packages that I treasure. Retailers such as Target and Walmart have private label brands that release exclusive tie-ins with movies and also offer seasonal releases of candy. I always pick those up.
I would really love to go to Japan to visit the Japanese 7-Elevens and scour the city in general. Japanese design is fascinating. I’d like to grow that part of my collection.
Jason’s other hobby is collecting vintage Christmas catalogues. He’s just re-launched wishbookweb.com, a site dedicated to sharing Christmas catalogue content from as far back as 1937.
Look into the minds of movers and shakers in the play industry – five questions, one fascinating person.