Most of my formative years were spent in the 1990s during the height of the health food craze. And, as someone who, for most of their life, has a body type scientifically known as “chonky,” I felt the effects of diet food marketing. I found myself eating chips that cause anal leakage and attempting to convince my mom to get me Slimfast shakes. I was 10 years old.
One of the biggest marketing ploys of this era was low-fat or nonfat food, particularly desserts. The messaging here was that a “low-fat” cookie is better for you than a handful of almonds that are chock full of fats. Basic logic tells you something ain’t right there. And one of the most egregious brands to propagate this messaging was SnackWells.
What is SnackWells?
Nabisco released the SnackWells line in 1992, featuring several different types of fat-free cookies, including a Vanilla Creme sandwich cookie and a Devil’s Food cookie, by far its most popular. I can tell you in the Field household, we always had them on the snack shelf. You see the label that says fat-free and you think you’re in the clear. But the tricky thing about it was that SnackWells actually had higher carb counts which, we all know, aren’t very helpful in the weight loss or management departments.
So imagine, you are eating “good” foods that are fat-free, yet you aren’t seeing the effects. That’s the environment of this era. And, I have extensive first-hand knowledge that SnackWells did not taste good! The Devil’s Food cookie had the consistency of rubber with an outer shell of approximated chocolate and a dry cake inside. The real devil of it all is that if you were craving something sweet, SnackWells didn’t scratch that itch. So, it just sent you back for more, and before you knew it, the box was empty.
Are SnackWells Discontinued?
Nabisco produced SnackWells up until 2017 when it sold the brand to Back to Nature Foods, which is owned by B&G Foods, an umbrella company with a portfolio that includes Ortega, Grandma’s Molasses, and Crisco, among others.
In 2019, Back to Nature “improved the formula” of the Devil’s Food cookie and guess what? They were no longer fat free! All it took was 27 years to figure out that the whole nonfat food craze wasn’t such a great idea. In 2022, the SnackWells brand was finally discontinued. So, that’s what happened to Snackwells Devil’s Food cookies.
What is the SnackWell Effect?
If you didn’t experience the ‘90s first hand, I don’t know if you can actually understand how pervasive this food trend was, and how much SnackWells was at the center of it. There literally is a cultural phenomenon called The SnackWell Effect, in which people are tricked into thinking they have some moral high ground because they are eating “good” food that is non-fat, which leads to them eating way more than they normally would. This essentially counteracts any of the perceived benefits you may get from eating non-fat foods.
And the diet culture of the ‘90s persists to this day wearing a different hat. If you go to the SnackWells website right now, it directs you to go out and buy SkinnyGirl snacks, which is Housewife Bethenny Frankel’s “health” brand (with plenty of disclaimers). The brand claims it allows women to “snack fearlessly,” as if snacking in some other way is scary or dangerous.
Anyone can “go on a diet” if they want to; we all have a right to feel comfortable in our bodies and look the way we want. If dieting is the way you want to do it, by all means. My ax to grind is against companies that cash in on that and perpetuate a social construct about bodies that shouldn’t exist. Every company that markets diet food does not care if we lose weight, gain weight, make ourselves sick, or anything in between.
So when it comes to choosing the foods I eat, my personal belief is if you like to eat it, then eat it. But don’t choose foods based on marketing strategies. That’s the devil’s (food) work.
Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!
Why were the Kellog’s devil food cookies discontinued ?