Lunchables is a brand of food manufactured by Kraft Foods and was introduced to the U.S. market in 1988. They are marketed under the Oscar Mayer brand in the United States and formerly Dairylea in the United Kingdom. Many Lunchables products are produced at Kraft Foods, Inc.'s Fullerton factory in Fullerton, California, and are then distributed across the United States.
Lunchables was designed in 1985 by Bob Drane, Tom Bailey, and Jeff James as a way for Oscar Mayer to sell more bologna meat. After organizing focus groups of American mothers Drane discovered that their primary concern was time. Working mothers especially were pressed by the time constraints of fixing breakfast for their families as well as packing something for their children to eat at school. This gave Drane the idea of creating a convenient prepackaged lunch featuring Oscar Mayer's trademark red meat. Crackers were substituted for bread because they could last longer in grocery coolers. The cheese was provided by Kraft when Oscar Mayer merged with Kraft in 1988. The design of the package was based on the look of an American TV dinner.
The term Lunchables emerged from a list of possible names for the prepackaged meal that included among others: On-Trays, Crackerwiches, Mini Meals, Lunch Kits, Snackables, Square Meals, Walk Meals, Go-Packs, Fun Mealz, and Smoothie Kabobbles. In March 2012 Kraft reduced the thickness of the Lunchable meats and cheese by some 40% in efforts to boost profits.
Lunchables offers 26 different varieties of meal combinations, which include crackers, pizzas, chicken nuggets, small hot dogs, small burgers, nachos, subs, and wraps. In a typical package, such as the crackers meal combination, it contains an equal number of crackers and small slices of meat and cheese. The brand also created two versions targeting adults, by increasing the amount of food offered in each package, but these have since been discontinued. The first was called the “Deluxe” and contained two types of meats and cheeses as well as mustard and a mint. The second version, called “Maxed Out” (originally Mega Packs), was available with 40% more food than a regular Lunchables.
Lunchables also carries an assortment of drinks and desserts. In certain meal combinations, they contain Capri Sun juice drinks, either in a traditional flavor or of the “Roarin’ Waters” variant. Other drinks that are included are bottled water with Tropical Punch flavored Kool-Aid mix and a generic unlabeled small can of cola; however, the latter was later replaced with Capri Sun drinks due to health concerns. As for dessert, some packages contain Jell-O gelatin or pudding or a candy alternative, such as Butterfingers or Reese's cups.
Concern about health effects
A line of the trays called Maxed Out was eventually released that had as many as nine grams of saturated fat, or nearly an entire day’s recommended maximum for kids, with up to two-thirds of the maximum for sodium and 13 teaspoons of sugar. Regarding the shift toward more salt, sugar, and fat in meals for kids, Geoffrey Bible, former C.E.O. of Philip Morris (prior owner of Kraft Foods), remarked that he read an article that said: "If you take Lunchables apart, the most healthy item in it is the napkin."
In 1997, Lunchables came under fire for having high saturated fat and sodium content while being marketed as a healthy children's meal. For example, a single serving of Ham and Swiss Lunchables contained 1,780 milligrams of sodium, which is 47 percent of the recommended daily allowance for an adult.
Due to the growing concern of childhood obesity, UK Lunchables opted to create healthier options for children by eliminating Capri Sun drinks and mini Daim bars, and replacing the sugary drink and candy with orange juice and strawberry yogurt in 2004. The brand also began offering lower calorie candy alternatives, rather than including the standard Reese’s cup in the package. Although the UK strove to provide healthier choices, Capri Sun and candy are still available as options in the U.S. Lunchables.
As of 2007, eight varieties of Lunchables are considered Sensible Solution products; the brand has since excluded the exceptionally unhealthy items, replacing Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Cola, Nestle Crunch bars, M&M's, and Kool-Aid Jammers with lower calorie and sugar options, such as AirHeads, fruit cups, and Tropical Punch flavored Kool-Aid mix.
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- Michael Moss, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, Random House Publishing Group, 2013, p.192-193
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