Snacking plays a much larger role in our society than you might realize. Snacks are more than just a little nosh to tide us over between meals; Unhealthy snacks are rewards, indulgences that we can treat ourselves to after a long day or when we need a little pick-me-up. And for children, they’re nothing short of one of the highlights of existence. And healthy snacks are something we’re constantly on the quest for, scanning supermarket shelves for quick bites that can give us the satisfaction of their less-healthy relatives while not falling into the “junk food” category. Our innate desire to snack hasn’t changed much over the years, but the snacking options available to us certainly have. To try to understand how, we’ve tracked down when the most popular processed snack foods throughout the decades were introduced (with some help from the intrepid folks at the Food Timeline).
Oreo Cookies, introduced in 1912, were the biggest snack food development of the decade; they ironically were introduced to compete with rival Hydrox (1910), which many now think of as an Oreo imitator. Others included individually wrapped chocolate Tastycakes (1914), Lorna Doone (1912), marshmallow fluff (1917), Whitman Samplers (1913), Nestlé milk chocolate bars (1919), and peppermint Life Savers (1913). Most foods were still sold in bulk with limited branding and advertising, and the concept of mass-produced processed snacks was just beginning to catch on. Up until the mid-1920s, most snacks were still home-made or sourced locally.
Jarek Tuszzynski/Wikimedia Commons
The processed snack food industry really shifted into high gear after World War I, and the stock market boom gave rise to plenty of new snack foods as well as the leisure time to enjoy them. Popular snack innovations during the decade included Eskimo Pies, and Oh Henry! Bars (1920); Chuckles, Baby Ruth, and Cheez-It (1921); Girl Scout Cookies, Gummi Bears, Mounds, Charleston Chew, and Clark Bars (1922); Popsicles, Milky Way bars, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (1923); fruit-flavored Life Savers (1924); Honey Maid Graham Crackers, Charleston Chew, and Mr. Goodbar (1925); Milk Duds (1926); Pez, Raisinets, and Mike & Ike (1927); Velveeta cheese, Peter Pan peanut butter, Butterfinger, and Heath bars (1928); and Colombo yogurt, Slim Jim, and Twizzlers (1929). Wrapping and packaging individual servings of food was also perfected during this decade, which made five-cent candies and snacks ubiquitous across the country.
Larry D. Moore/Wikimedia Commons
Even though the Great Depression ravaged the economy of the 1930s, plenty of new snacks hit the shelves during the decade. These included Twinkies, Mott’s Apple Sauce, and Snickers bars (1930); Tootsie Pops (1931); Three Musketeers bars (1932); Ritz Crackers (1934); Kit Kat bars (1935); Chunky and Fifth Avenue bars (1936); Rolo and Smarties (1937); and arguably the undisputed king of snack food, Lay’s potato chips (1939).
Wartime rationing and the postwar recovery meant that the ‘40s wasn’t a banner decade for snacking innovations, but there were still some notable inventions during the decade, including Dairy Queen soft serve and Mike & Ike (1940); M&Ms (1941); Junior Mints (1942); Reddi-Whip and Almond Joys (1947); Cheetos (1948); and Kraft American cheese and Fritos (1949).
The ‘50s ushered in what we can call the “modern age” of snacking, thanks to the arrival of so many processed foods during the decade. Popular snacks introduced during the decade included Dunkin’ Donuts (1950); Ore-Ida frozen potato products (1951); Cheez Whiz (1952); Pepperidge Farm cookies and Eggo waffles (1953); Peanut M&Ms and Marshmallow Peeps (1954); KFC (1955); refrigerated cookie dough (1957); Ruffles (1958); and Häagen-Dazs (1959).
New snacks on the scene in the turbulent ‘60s included Fruit Stripe gum (1960); Goldfish (1962); Chips Ahoy! (1963); Pop-Tarts, Buffalo wings (invented at Buffalo’s Anchor Bar), and Bugles (along with their sister snacks, Whistles and Daisys) (1964); Cool-Whip, Jelly Belly jelly beans, and Spaghetti-O’s (1965); Bac-Os, Hundred Grand Bar, Easy Cheese, and the legendary Doritos (1966); and Chunky Soups and Pringles (1969).
The snack train kept on rollin’ right through the 1970s, with new products including Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn (1970); Quaker Oats Granola (1972); Egg McMuffins and Cup O’ Noodles (1973); Mrs. Field’s Cookies and Yoplait yogurt (1974); Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies and Combos (1975); Pop-Rocks and Starburst (1976); Twix Bars (1977); and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Reese’s Pieces, Whatchamacallit (1978), and Ring Pops (1979).
Popular snacks introduced during the 1980s include Jell-O Pudding Pops (which are sadly no longer produced) and Tostitos (1980); Tofutti (1981); Bagel Bites, Kettle Chips, Skittles, and Vienetta (1982); Hot Pockets (1983); packaged Chex Mix, Smartfood popcorn, and Sour Patch Kids (1985); Pop Secret microwave popcorn and Handi-Snacks (1986); Hershey Kisses with Almonds and Dippin’ Dots (1987); and Lunchables (1988).
The ‘90s were a fascinating decade for snacks, as anyone who grew up during the decade can tell you. There were tons of new snacks, but some of the standouts include Doritos 3D, Bubble Jug gum, Shark Bites, PB Crisps, Dunkaroos (1990), Gushers (1991), Pizzarias Pizza Chips, Crispy M&Ms, Butterfinger BB’s (1992), Push Pops, Fruit By the Foot (1991); Go-Gurt (1999); and Milk ‘n’ Cereal Bars. Two of the decade’s most infamous processed snacks were Snackwells, which were released in 1993 to capitalize on the low-fat craze; and potato chips (like Lay’s WOW! and fat-free Pringles) made with Olean, an oil substitute that ended up giving consumers serious digestive issues.
The early 2000s saw people finally begin to take note of all the unpronounceable ingredients and trans fats in processed packaged snacks, so they gave them up for good and replaced them with cupcakes, fro-yo, Greek yogurt, and smoothies. Or it certainly seemed that way, at least. A boom of “natural” and organic snack brands kicked off in earnest in the early 2000s and is still going strong today; brands like Annie’s Homegrown led the charge. Other popular snacks introduced during the past 17 years include Stacy’s Pita Chips, Pretzel Crisps, Popchips, and Pop Corners; 2013 also saw the arrival of Hershey’s first brand-new candy in 30 years, Lancaster. But if there’s been one snacking trend over the past couple decades, it’s been a return to natural (or at least minimally-processed) foods. Go-Gurt won’t be around forever, but ants on a log definitely will be.