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That time when Toronto got the Munchies and nothing else would do

Posted by Ed Conroy / June 21, 2013

Hostess TorontoThere was a time locally when only one brand of potato chips mattered - Hostess Potato Chips.

Owned by powerhouse General Foods, Hostess Potato Chips monopolized the snack food industry between 1959 and the early 1990s with strong flavours, and stronger favor. If you were a kid during that era, you may remember Hostess being revered as the almighty God of chips.

According to the current owner Frito Lay's website: "Hostess Chips had its beginning in 1935, when a young Beaverdale farmer began cooking potato chips on his mother's kitchen stove. Little did he realize that the finest potato chip manufacturing operation in Canada was to grow from this humble beginning. The youth's name was Edward Snyder; the company he founded became known as "Hostess."

Through a deft blend of simple colour coded branding, quality control, and an aggressive distribution strategy, Hostess were kings of all things chip related: Blue was Regular, green was Sour Cream & Onion, yellow was Salt & Vinegar, and deep red was BBQ. Eventually Ketchup, BBQ Chicken, and Sour Cream & Bacon joined the hallowed ranks. A bag cost roughly 25 cents, and came in a no frills tin-foil packet. Salt was bountiful, and the burning vinegar taste packed an unforgettably savoury wallop. It was truly finger lickin' good.

Their greatest boon however came as a response to their greatest blunder. In the late 1970s, in a marketing manoeuvre on par with Coke's inexplicable decision to change their billion dollar taste, Hostess released three new, fruity flavours of potato chip - Cherry, Orange and Grape. The retching, heaving sound of disapproval can still be heard (and felt) to this day - with many people taking to the internet claiming that even after almost 40 years they still cannot get the awful taste out of their mouth.

Hostess TorontoBorn out of this howling dud in 1981 were the Munchies, 3 goblin type creatures created to cheerlead the brand and its booming new tagline - "When you got the munchies, nothing else will do".

Throughout the 1980s the loveable trio of Munchies were woven into that uniquely warped tapestry of immortal Canadiana advertising mascots, rivalled only in ubiquity by Captain Highliner. They appeared not only on TV, but in local parades, at the CNE, at shopping malls, and even in commercials for convenience stores like Beckers. Plush replicas of them slept in many childhood beds as they traversed the landscape of 1980s pop culture - video games, heavy metal, Michael Jackson and breakdancing.

Also memorable were the collectable stickers you could find inside bags of Hostess chips. Baseball, wrestling, and rock band themes were the most popular, but the endless cycle included TV show and movie tie-ins as well. Occasionally in thrift stores you can come across ancient household appliances adorned with half scratched off Hostess wrestling stickers.

As the 1990s dawned, Hostess Chips fell victim to what Wikipedia terms "brand erosion with the introduction of various "upscale" brands such as Kettle Chips and Miss Vickie's". By 1996, they were gone, replaced by the dull packaging and even duller taste of Lays.

Hostess TorontoYou can still find Hostess at Food Basics and Price Chopper, or online at Canadian Favourites, however they are HINO (Hostess in name only): Lays chips bagged in Hostess branded packages so that Frito Lay can maintain its trademark protection on the Hostess brand, which has long been dropped by the corporation.

The real deal is gone, and sadly when you got the Munchies, nothing else will do.

Retrontario plumbs the seedy depths of Toronto flea markets, flooded basements, thrift shops and garage sales, mining old VHS and Betamax tapes that less than often contain incredible moments of history that were accidentally recorded but somehow survived the ravages of time. You can find more amazing discoveries at www.retrontario.com

Discussion

21 Comments

Hurst / June 21, 2013 at 09:12 am
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Those foil bags were crazy. Potato crumbs.
4ChanApologist / June 21, 2013 at 10:05 am
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Hostess Dill Pickle chips with those temporary tattoos that made your skin smell all weird.
Hoss / June 21, 2013 at 10:10 am
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I love how the munchies have guts from hammering all those potato chips down their gullets.
Todd Toronto / June 21, 2013 at 10:27 am
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"Lays chips bagged in Hostess branded packages"

Are there any potato chip afficinados here who can tell me the difference between a Hostess chip and a Lays chip. Or between any two mass produced potato chip brands?
Hostess chips enthusiast / June 21, 2013 at 10:40 am
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>>As the 1990s dawned, Hostess Chips fell victim to what Wikipedia terms 'brand erosion with the introduction of various "upscale" brands such as Kettle Chips and Miss Vickie's'.

I agree, but this is not the only reason for the downfall of the Hostess monopoly. Hostess had built their potato chip empire on a foundation of tried-and-true flavours, namely regular, sour cream & onion, BBQ, ketchup, salt & vinegar, and dill pickle. Starting around 1993, they began to experiment with flavours like smoky bacon, Italian pizza, etc. Public reaction to these new flavours were mixed, at best. Even worse, they began to tinker with the recipes for their tried-and-true flavours. In particular, the ever-popular BBQ chips were altered from their savoury paprika-esque flavour to a sweeter, honey-like tone. It's true that Kettle Chips and Miss Vickie's had an impact, but there were also supermarket-brand and low-cost chips proliferating on store shelves. Even though they were cheaper than Hostess, Kettle, and Miss Vickie's, most consumers had the idea that Hostess flavours were better than these low-cost alternatives (one could easily convince himself or herself that they were watered down in flavour). However, when Hostess began tinkering with its own flavours, many people found comfort in the low-cost alternatives which had worked hard to mimic Hostess' original flavours. Starting from about 1995, if one wanted to enjoy the original BBQ flavour, one would have to buy No Name or another similar low-cost brand.

Does anyone remember the summer of 1993 when the small bags of Hostess chips had Super Nintendo cards inside them? If you could collect enough to complete a picture (e.g. of a particular game, or of a SNES) then you could mail in your cards to win that item. I kept trying all summer to get a complete Super Nintendo system, but alas, there was one corner of the picture that was just impossible to get, no matter how many chip bags one bought!

Anyway, great article! I love these retrontario pieces!
John replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / June 21, 2013 at 10:54 am
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Trust me I was at a grocery store and bought some for nostalgia sake and they were not what I remembered. The Salt & Vinegar Hostess chips use to be very tangy...today's were lame.
SockySocko replying to a comment from Todd Toronto / June 21, 2013 at 11:00 am
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Lays are thinner. Hostess were a little more substantial.
aj / June 21, 2013 at 11:03 am
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The Hostess hot BBQ chips that are found in Price Chopper today are almost 100% the same flavour from the early 90s. I am a bit of an aficionado of Hostess chips.. and these are them.

I cant speak to the other flavours
RobertB / June 21, 2013 at 11:31 am
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Lays may call them potato chips because they are made from potatos...but they are NOT potato chips. They have no flavour.
jennsanerd / June 21, 2013 at 12:55 pm
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I don't know how I managed to eat those things by the bagful when I was a kid and not go into a sodium coma. Soooo good.
Hostess chips enthusiast / June 21, 2013 at 01:30 pm
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I should also point out that the rising popularity of Doritos in Ontario in the early 90s also contributed to the dwindling of Hostess' fortunes (even if Doritos were manufactured by Hostess-Frito-Lay themselves!).
steve / June 21, 2013 at 03:26 pm
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I hate Lays chips. I find them greasy and kind of mushy. My personal favourite were the Humpty-Dumpty brand chips that have since been rebranded as Old Dutch. I don't eat chips often, but when I do it's gotta be Humpty Dumpty / Old Dutch (No Dos Equis reference intended. Terrible beer)
Hostess chips enthusiast / June 21, 2013 at 05:15 pm
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I should also point out, as others have pointed out, that Hostess was vastly superior to Lays, and its has to do with the greasiness (Hostess was less greasy) and the thickness (Hostess was slightly thicker). Hostess also had fewer raised air pockets on the chips.

I have to agree with steve above though...Humpty Dumpty chips were awesome!
LaysHater / June 22, 2013 at 06:57 pm
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Loving all the Lays hate in this nostalgia thread. Lays are a boring waste of money and calories.
Chris / June 22, 2013 at 11:18 pm
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I love how brands like Hostess disappear and I don't notice until 20 years later when there's an article like this. I'd forgotten all about Hostess. Thanks for the reminder, and the update.
Hostess chips enthusiast / June 23, 2013 at 10:23 am
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I think that Hostess also fell victim to brand consolidation. I would bet that the Frito-Lay company decided to switch Canadians to their flagship Lay's brand, in order to cut material costs and time, and certainly to cut down marketing costs. Why make two ads for two different groups when it was possible to just make one? I can remember seeing a new television commercial in 1994 or 1995 for Lay's: it was airing on local Ontario TV channels but featured the New York Rangers!
Sandra / June 24, 2013 at 08:48 am
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I remember--sadly--buying the grape flavored Hostess Chips in the late 70's what an abomination! I ate a couple then threw the rest out. In the 80's it was either Hostess or Humpty Dumpty, Ruffles, Pringles or Maple Leaf brand generic chips.
IG / June 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm
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Anyone else remember the Hostess "Fries" or "Crispy Fries" in the early 90s? I think they lasted all of one summer...
Jeff / February 24, 2014 at 10:51 am
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I worked for Frito-Lay from '85-'90, the demise of the Hostess brand was intentional, and started in '88 when PepsiCo (Frito-Lay) bought Hostess. it was sold as a merger, but it was a take over. Consolidating factories, warehouses, and sales people was the end game. Prior to the merger, Frito-Lay held their own in the large bag market in Ontario with Ruffles being top dog, but Hostess owned the small bag market. Hostess probably out sold Frito-Lay 10-1 with the small bags (45 and 60 g) in the variety stores. Hostess chips had considerably more flavouring and the kids preferred them, even the Taquitos beat Doritos for zesty cheese taste. With the merger, the Lays brand ended up with Murphy's as part of Ontario's anti-monopoly rule, but the brand returned to Frito-lay a couple years later.
kim / June 7, 2014 at 08:27 pm
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Yes. I remember the crispy fries. They were the best.
katie / June 20, 2014 at 03:49 pm
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i remember when it was getting harder and harder to find Hostess brand chips. i just thought that Lays were more popular and moving in on the Hostess market. But to find out it was just a company buying out another company kinda says it didn't matter about the quality but just what one person (company) wanted. Too bad though because i rarely buy potato chips any more. it's a gamble if you are going get a good bag this time or will be the regular crap they always put out. So i just don't risk it.

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