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Not Your Dad's LifeSavers

August 31, 2003

Once upon a time, there was a father and a little boy. Both loved cherry LifeSavers very much. As you know, in five-flavor LifeSavers rolls, cherry comes along every five pieces. So the father and son played candy roulette, taking turns opening the brightly colored little rolls of holed goodies. Whenever the father opened, the first one always seemed to be cherry, which he promptly popped into his mouth. Whenever the little boy opened the roll, the first was always lime -- of all things! -- which he ever so politely but promptly offered to a nearby mother.

The puzzling, biased appearances of cherry and lime were immutable, an important early lesson on the injustices of life. But now that can't happen anymore. Starting Monday, LifeSavers is changing three flavors in the familiar five-pack. Lime is history.

Never mind blackouts, spats with France or who's running for president. It's one thing if Johnson & Johnson banishes little red threads as openers for Band-Aid wrappers. This LifeSavers change is an outrage! Every year, some 500 new candies come out. Great. Swell. But here we have a variety pack of five candy flavors that got successfully sucked and crunched just fine for 68 years, free of change.

You too may have missed the groundswell demanding this radical candy switch. But the folks at Kraft Foods, LifeSavers' owners, say they detected one. If you believe that, go suck the other two disappearing flavors -- lemon and orange -- together. What Kraft execs probably did detect was the continued melting of the hard candy business before commercial offensives from sour things, mints and chocolate, which needs no changing because except for the melty part it is the perfect food.

Kraft tried to change the flavor mix once before, in 1999. Online voters rejected that crude coup attempt, throwing pineapple LifeSavers a lifesaver.

This year's Web balloting, which drew nearly 2 million participants, according to Kraft, set change as a given. Now what five flavors do you want in the traditional 14-piece pack? Besides the original five, Kraft offered, among other candidates, tangerine, mango melon and green apple. Right, those sound a lot tastier than a Hershey with almonds. The winning replacements were raspberry, blackberry and watermelon. (Did they maybe count the ballots in Florida?)

So, now, thanks to LifeSavers' "election," parents and children can still compete for cherry. But the loser gets watermelon? Not even a kindly mom would take that. Wait a minute. Speaking of elections and changing flavors, California has this thing called a recall. Do you think maybe ... ?

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