There is a long history of celebrities endorsing products. Typically, manufacturers ask people to endorse items with which they’re associated… sneakers for basketball players, for example, or tools for home repair gurus. When the items in question aren’t directly associated with whatever made the person famous, they overwhelmingly fall into one of two categories: clothing and food. Everyone wears clothes and everyone eats, so the endorsements retain a ring of authenticity.
One noteworthy exception is the George Foreman grill – neither food nor clothing but cookware. Still, the general rule exists, and one of most common representations of it is the sports star candy bar.
One wouldn’t logically associate “candy” with “athletes”, but manufacturers recognize that many children love sports and they also love candy. Putting the name and face of a sports star on candy packaging is an easy way to boost sales.
Whether it’s Bubblicious issuing “LeBron’s Lightning Lemonade” or Muhammad Ali’s Crisp Crunch bar, these confections are typically as short-lived as the fervor around a particular star. Even what might be the most successful of them, the Reggie! bar, lasted only a little over three years on the market during its initial production run.
Moreover, many of the candies named for sports stars are produced for local markets. While there was perceived to be enough support in Cleveland for a Mark Price bar in the early 1990s, it lasted less than a year on the shelves and wasn’t distributed nationally. Many people wouldn’t even know about the candy bar if it hadn’t been for Cavaliers fan Tim Brady making national headlines in 2015 by pledging to eat one he’d stored in his freezer for twenty years if the Cavs won the championship. (In 2015, they lost. But when they won the following year, Brady followed through on his pledge.)
Of all of the regionally produced candies… and there have been many… the worst of the bunch was the Ken Griffey Jr. Milk Chocolate Bar.
Griffey was new to the Seattle Mariners but was among the hottest rookies in baseball. He was athletic, friendly, and a fantastic fielder with a great hitting arm and a flair for stealing bases. The early statistics on him were impressive, and a local company, Pacific Trading Cards, decided to get with a candy manufacturer. They purchased the chocolate, used their existing machinery to press them into the shape of baseball cards, printed up wrappers with the sports star’s image on them, and distributed them to stores in the Northwest.
For promotional purposes, Ken Griffey, Jr. was given some of the first bars to roll off the production line. He ate them in front of photographers before a game… and proceeded to go four-for-four during the game – four at-bats, four hits.
The chocolate itself wasn’t the reason the bars were terrible; by all reports, it was a fairly standard milk chocolate. It wasn’t the notion of eating the player in the form of a baseball card. It was simply the player chosen to commemorate in this way.
Griffey, it seemed, was severely allergic to chocolate. Nothing of a life-threatening sort, but enough that a single chocolate bar of any sort was known to make patches of his skin break out in hives. The 19 year old sports star was well aware of his dietary restrictions, but the promise of a lucrative reward was too much for him.
Luckily, the swelling didn’t fully develop until after the game, and they had a couple of days between games for his reaction to dissipate. When your namesake food is poisonous to you, it’s time to redesign it. If it had to be a candy bar, perhaps it could have been something more akin to a Payday, with peanuts, caramel, nougat and some preservative salt…. except Griffey is even more allergic to peanuts.
Maybe he should have looked into grilling.
Question of the night: What is a discontinued prepackaged food you wish were still around?