A pastel package of Oreos stopped me in my tracks last Sunday. I was bee lining toward the veggie aisle at my grocery store with a mental shopping list: kale, arugula, baby lettuces, herbs and spring asparagus. The Oreos were sitting at the end of the cookie aisle, so I couldn’t help but notice them. They were oblong, like an Easter egg, and filled with purple cream. They probably tasted exactly the same as regular Oreos…but still.
I’d read about these online just a few days ago (I hadn’t meant to, but the headline jumped out when I was scrolling through MSN), and here they were already—right in my grocery store. Had anyone else spotted them yet? I felt like I’d stumbled upon buried treasure. I usually never eat processed sugar, but...oh well, just this once. I threw two packages in my cart.
Some foods transform again and again. They’re pink for Easter, red and green for Christmas and galaxy-themed for the anniversary of the moon landing. Oreos are one of these foods—they’ve been playing limited-edition dress-up for years. Starbucks is another. (Case in point? Ariana Grande Frappuccinos, circa 2015.)
And over the last few years, even more products are getting in on the game. Cheerios just dropped a springtime blueberry flavor. Ocean Spray has new pink cranberry juice. Birthday Cake Cool Whip is now a thing. And, not to be outdone, Heinz concocted Cadbury Crème Egg-flavored mayo, just in time for Easter.
I recently listened to an NPR podcast about “planned obsolescence”—the idea that products are designed to break. The concept goes back to the 1920s, when a group of businessmen decided to make light bulbs that burn out quickly, forcing people to buy them more frequently. (Yes, it’s possible to make light bulbs that never burn out. Mind. Blown). But because General Mills can’t exactly break the Cheerio, perhaps their solution is to make a new, flashy blue version that everyone will want/buy, even if they haven’t bought Cheerios in years?
Maybe it’s all a PR ploy. New flavors = more free coverage from MSN (and PureWow, too, let’s be honest). Instagram accounts like @junkfoodmom are dedicated to spotting and announcing new food flavors. And here’s the thing: News articles and Instagram content about new, wacky foods go viral constantly. Everyone wants to click.
When I was scrolling through @junkfoodmom’s feed, I spotted a recent photo of Unicorn Kraft mac and cheese. My reaction? “Whatttttt?!!! Noodles shaped like stars, rainbows and unicorn heads? That you can drown in cheese? I can’t believe I’m falling for this…but it’s such a cute idea.” It’s exactly how I felt when Oreos with purple cream beamed at me from across the supermarket.
Both of these products have something in common: They’re junk foods. Serious grown-ups don’t eat them. I eat asparagus. I meal prep every Sunday. But change up the familiar treat with new colors, shapes and flavors…and I’m simultaneously delighted by the novelty of trying something new and getting a big dose of childhood nostalgia. I transform into a 6-year-old kid in candy land and Mom’s not around to tell me no.
Next week, I’ll buy an extra bag of kale. But tonight, I’m scarfing down a sleeve of purple Oreos.