Monday, November 1, 2010
Life Savers were introduced in 1912 by Clarence Crane. They came in one flavor, Pep-O-Mint. Crane made chocolate most of the year but wanted a candy product that could withstand the summer heat and have a long shelf life. So he innovated the Life Saver. At first he was just trying to create a mint disk, similar to a Necco Wafer. But the pill maker he took his contract to had trouble making a plain, thick disk that didn’t fall apart. So they put a little hole in the center to stabilize the production. The look of the little white hoop of candy reminded Crane of the life saver found on boats, so that’s what he named the mint.
Within a could of years Crane sold the company and rights to Life Savers to Edward John Noble who saw the great potential of the candy. They were sold in little cardboard tubes, he streamlined things and packaged them like they’re sold today, in a roll wrapped in waxed paper and foil with a little paper label.
Noble was an excellent salesman and introduced techniques to his clients, such as telling them to make sure that customers always had at least one nickel in their change and to display the rolls on the counter by the cash register. Life Savers were positioned as an impulse buy. Early packages were all one flavor and consisted of the standard mints (wintergreen & spearmint), cinnamon, violet and even licorice. It wasn’t until 1935 that Life Savers in the Five Flavor roll came out.
In the late 1968s Noble sold the company to E.R. Squibb Corporation (yes, the drug people that later became Bristol-Meyers Squibb who make Plavix and Coumadin) and then they sold to Nabisco Brands Inc in 1981. Nabisco in turn was taken over by Kraft in 2000 and Kraft sold their candy interests including Life Savers off to Wrigley’s in 2004. Wrigley’s was acquired by Mars in 2008.
Life Savers Pep-O-Mint themselves are simple. A little loop of compressed sugar with some strong peppermint flavoring. It’s all held together with a dash of stearic acid. There are 14 in the standard rolls these days.
Instead of the smoothness of a boiled candy mint, these have a little bit of a chalky texture to them. They’re not as grainy as Altoids (and not as strong) but they’re not as airy and melt-in-your-mouth as Buttermints or After Dinner Mints.
It’s quite a simple little candy. I like to crunch them, but they also dissolve slowly if you’re patient. I’m not patient and can crunch through a whole roll on a drive home from work.
Just as Life Savers have gone through plenty of owners, the wrappers have been designed, redesigned and undesigned time and again. The packages I’ve featured in this review are from the new “throwback” release of the Pep-O-Mint and Wint-O-Green rolls that are available in convenience stores. (Here’s one article about the most recent redesign shortly before Mars acquired Wrigley’s.) Here are some more photos of the different designs & flavors of Life Savers over the years.
I like the classic look of these packages, but really it’s the size and shape that probably compels me. It’s the one consistent item no matter what year it is.
Wint-O-Green Life Savers were introduced in 1919. They’re probably best know because of the cool feature that you can create a luminescent spark when crunching a Wint-O-Green Life Saver. (I can’t capture it with a camera, but here’s a guy who has.)
They’re smooth but quite aromatic. After eating about half a roll I tend to get a strange numbness, like Cepacol or other topical anesthetics can cause. It’s not all about medicine and therapy though, it reminds me of classic Bazooka Bubble Gum and Root Beer soda.
I don’t really like the smell of wintergreen that much, because of some of the more unpleasant associations with pain relieving rubs, but I do like the strange tingly flavor and how different it is from the standard peppermint or spearmint.
Both flavors are classics and still made in the classic way, though now in Canada where sugar is cheaper. I’m glad Wrigley’s hasn’t mucked around with anything aside from the packaging.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.