Did the Choco Taco Play Us All?

Late last month, when Klondike announced it was discontinuing the Choco Taco after 30-plus years, people loudly and openly grieved like they were mourning the loss of a pop singer or an influential thought leader. “RIP Choco Taco” T-shirts and stickers instantly went on sale. I just heard through a reliable source that Klondike’s gunned-down frozen dessert will be in the in memoriam segment of next month’s Emmys, and I’m fully expecting colorful Choco Taco murals to be plastered onto brick walls all across gas stations in the Midwest. It’s also worth mentioning that celebrity deaths happen in threes, so don’t be surprised if we see the mysterious demise of Combos and Otter Pops later this year. More than anything, though, the Choco Taco confirms a thought I regularly have: We are all so, so stupid, and brands love to prey on us.

I fall for just about every brand trick in the book. Case in point: As soon as I see that bear-shaped bottle of honey I think, “This honey was literally harvested from a bear, and therefore organic,” and I immediately buy it. If you’re a company not putting your honey in a bear bottle, why not? Put it in the damn bear! The honey bear phenomenon makes an overarching point about consumerism: We are putty in the hands of food companies. If I see green packaging or recycling arrows, I assume that product is good for the environment and I don’t ask any further questions. If there’s a chef with a mustache and a floppy hat giving pinched fingers on the front of the label, that product must be as Italian as Paulie Walnuts counting hundred dollar bills on a stereo speaker in heaven. The point is, branding works, and it comes in many forms. For example, let’s say, taking a nostalgic dessert away from a devoted fanbase.

“I’m really being discontinued, it’s not a PR stunt,” said this tweet from Klondike, which manufactured the Choco Taco. But why would I believe them? The Choco Taco’s departure from the market benefits their brand too much. Deliberately taking away a popular product to drum up business would be a reckless move, sure, but also an effective one. It creates an advertising platform out of something we have in abundance: internet outrage. With every meme, tweet, and Choco Taco tribute, we did all of Klondike’s ad work for them. You, me, Andrew Zimmern, Chrissy Teigen, and Mr. Owl? We all work for Choco Taco now, waxing about its greatness and producing our own personal brand of commercials to hurl into the zeitgeist. And they don’t even pay us. Was this by design? Did Klondike see the products’ sales dwindling and suddenly threaten to take it away from us? I think it’s plausible that, yes, they did.

Nostalgia is a major weakness among millennials, and the rise of the Choco Taco happened smack dab in the ‘90s, when millennials were coming of age. The Choco Taco news hit me, too! I have fond memories of opening up the frozen cooler of my local corner store, Tic Toc, and grabbing a Choco Taco on a hot summer day in the 1990s. Nostalgia for the ‘80s and ‘90s is a rampant influence on current pop culture—even the Sporked office features a wallpaper design reminiscent of Saved By the Bell

So, did Klondike prey on us? Was the discontinuation of the Choco Taco all part of a carefully orchestrated attack on our achilles heel of childhood nostalgia? I obviously can’t say for sure. But I do think Klondike played its hand well by abiding by the axiom that you should never let a good tragedy go to waste. They’ve issued tweets and statements regarding the discontinuation of the beloved product, and made a spectacle out of giving away the last 912 Choco Tacos. And then, just yesterday, Today reported that the fan outcry has made Klondike “reconsider [its] long-term plans” and that the brand is “working on a plan” to bring the Choco Taco back. How convenient.

What I do love about the whole rigamarole, though, is the number of chefs and restaurants paying homage to this recently deceased sweet treat. Salt & Straw is planning to launch their own Choco Taco for National Taco Day on October 4. In Los Angeles, the Latina-owned Sad Girl Creamery made two versions of the Choco Taco, which sold out almost instantly at Smorgusburg L.A. Restaurants like Oy Bar engineered their own iterations of this taco-fied waffle cone and ice cream dessert. To me, this is the positive side of businesses capitalizing on our nostalgia. Sentimentality is just fine with me when it leads to new food innovations. So I guess I am willing to accept these businesses making a little extra money off a beloved dessert’s demise because it made me realize an important truth: We don’t need the Choco Taco anymore. The spirit of the Choco Taco will be kept alive, enhanced, and improved upon by all of those who loved it.

About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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