My how time flies, who would have guessed that Life Savers, those ring-shaped mints and fruit-flavored hard candies has reached the ripe old age of 100. The candy was a ground breaker in its day for many innovations, not least of which is its distinctive packaging, those aluminum foil rolls, which by now we all take for granted, but when they first came out were radically new.
What are they?
Life Savers are those hard candies shaped like their namesake; round with a hole in the middle, that come in a variety of flavors. An urban legend persisted that Crane invented the candy to prevent children from choking, as his own child choked on a hard candy.
A Bit of History
In 1912, candy manufacturer Clarence Crane of Garrettsville, Ohio, invented Life Savers as a “summer candy” that could withstand heat better than chocolate. He did not have the space or the machinery to execute his plan, and first contracted a pill manufacturer to make the shapes. The first flavor was peppermint, then called “Pep-O-Mint”. After registering the trademark for the name, Crane sold the rights to the candy to Edward John Noble for $2,900. Randomly, Clarence is the father of the poet, Hart Crane.
Instead of using cardboard rolls, which were not very successful, Noble created aluminum foil wrappers to keep the mints fresh, offering an innovative solution over the cardboard option. Tinfoil replaced aluminum foil in 1925, in another bid at product innovation. This was a manual effort until Edward’s brother, Robert Peckham Nobel, an engineer, developed a manufacturing facilities. He went on to run the company as its CEO for more than 40 years, selling it in the 1950s. Edward Noble when founding the Life Savers Candy Company in 1913 made some key marketing moves to expand sales by installing Life Savers displays near cash registers in restaurants and grocery stores, for the price of a nickel. He shrewdly trained the owners of the establishments to always give customers a nickel in their change as doing increased sales of Life Savers.
Since their inception many different flavors of Life Savers have been produced, with the first five-flavor roll appearing in 1935.
Life Savers, long a subsidiary of Kraft Foods, was purchased by the Wrigley Company in 2004 to expand their confectionary line. Since then, flavor options have expanded to include Gummi Savers (known as Life Savers Gummies). Other flavors and variations include:
- Pep-O-Mint (1912)
- Wint-O-Green, Cl-O-ve, Lic-O-Riche, Cinn-O-Mon, Vi-O-let and Choc-O-Late (1919) they remained the standard flavors until the late 1920s.
- Life Saver Minis (1992)
- Creme Savers (1996)
- Life Saver Fusions (2001)
- Malt-O-Milk (1920) – only lasted a few years
- Life Savers “Cough Drop” was introduced with menthol but not successful (1931)
In 1921, the company began to produce solid fruit drops, and by 1925, they had the technology to create a hole in the center of the fruit candies. They were introduced as the “fruit drop with the hole” and came in three flavors: orange, lemon and lime, each packaged in their own separate rolls. Unlike the opaque white mints previously produced by the company, these new candies were crystal-like in appearance, and quickly became popular with the public. The new flavors of anise, butter rum, cola and root beer, were introduced in the clear fruit drop style, but alas they did not prove to be as popular as the original flavors. The company continued to periodically introduce new flavors with varying degrees of success, for example, a new variety of mint, called Cryst-O-Mint, made in this same crystal-like style was introduced in 1932.
In 1935, the classic “Five-Flavor” rolls were introduced, offering a selection of five different flavors (pineapple, lime, orange, cherry, and lemon) in each roll. This flavor lineup was unchanged for nearly 70 years, until 2003, when three of the flavors were replaced in the United States, making the rolls pineapple, cherry, raspberry, watermelon, and blackberry. However, orange was subsequently reintroduced and blackberry was dropped. The original five-flavor lineup is still sold in Canada. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, four new mint flavors were introduced: Molas-O-Mint, Spear-O-Mint, Choc-O-Mint and Stik-O-Pep.
During WWII, other candy manufacturers donated their sugar rations to keep Life Savers in production so that the little candies could be shared with Armed Forces as a tasty reminder of life at home.
In the Marx Brothers comedy, Horse Feathers (1932) – Life Savers was one of the early product placements in cinema.
In 1981, Nabisco Brands Inc. acquired Life Savers from the E.R. Squibb Corporation, and several of the early mint flavors, including Cl-O-Ve, Vi-O-Let, Lic-O-Rice and Cinn-O-Mon were discontinued due to poor sales. Nabisco introduced a new Cinnamon flavor (“Hot Cin-O-Mon”) as a clear fruit drop type candy, replacing the white mint flavor Cinn-O-Mon which had recently been discontinued. The other original mint flavors have never been revived except by Wrigley. A number of other flavors were also quickly discontinued, after Nabisco took over, in order to make the business more profitable. In 2004, the USA Life Savers business was acquired by Wrigley’s which introduced two new mint flavors (for the first time in over sixty years) in 2006: Orange Mint and Sweet Mint. They also revived some of the early mint flavors (such as Wint-O-Green).
Do do you have a favorite flavor or LifeSaver memory? For me, it was the LifeSaver books we used to swap at Christmas.