INCONSPICUOUS CONSUMPTION

WITH THE HALLOWEEN season having just passed, this seems like a good time to examine candy, traditionally one of the most interesting consumer markets. Because children have such notoriously short attention spans, confections manufacturers are constantly developing new packaging gimmicks, new promotional approaches, and new products -- if a candy lasts as much as a year before the kids get bored with it and move on to the next fad, that's considered a success. Here are some recent entries that will be trying to survive long enough to make it into next year's trick-or-treat bags.

          Cap Grape-Flavored Candy Bubbles, 4-ounce bottle: This product, which is reportedly selling quite well at FAO Schwartz in New York City, is exactly what it sounds like: edible bubbles with a candy flavor. The package warns against drinking the liquid bubble concentrate, so you have to blow the bubbles (or have someone else blow them) and then catch them in your mouth, a feat that's particularly amusing if you try it at a bar after a few drinks. Best inconspicuous element: the nutritional info, where the standard serving size is listed as "350 bubbles." (Cap Toys, Inc., 26201 Richmond Rd., Bedford Heights, OH 44146)

          

          M&M's Minis, 1.24-ounce canister: This recent launch from M&M/Mars, which features miniature M&M's in a series of brightly colored plastic containers, seems like a new product, but it's actually just a new package for the firm's M&M's Baking Bits, which have been around since 1994. Despite this minor flimflammery, I've grown extremely fond of the Minis -- the canister lid makes an very pleasing sound when you pop it open with a satisfying flick of the thumb, and the package is great for snacking while driving, something that's damn near impossible with the traditional M&M's soft pack. Addiction beckons. (M&M/Mars, High St., Hackettstown, NJ 07840)

          

          Rain-Blo Re-Use-It Righteously Recycled Bubble Gum, 2-ounce container: It is a measure of today's environmentally sensitive times that recycling is now considered sufficiently cool to serve as the marketing concept for a brand of bubble gum. Of course, the little pebble-like gum fragments aren't actually recycled -- they just look that way. Ironically, they're packaged in a hard-plastic container that will no doubt outlive us all once it ends up in the landfill. (Leaf, Inc., 500 N. Field Dr., Lake Forest, IL 60045)

          

          Power Pez Candy Dispenser: Some Pez fanatics of my acquaintance are up in arms over this remarkable motorized toy, maintaining that any deviation from the standard cartoon-head Pez dispenser amounts to heresy. But I love gadgets, and this one's a doozy: It features a circular, multicolored tray with 12 Pez-shaped slots, each of which spins around counterclockwise while the whole tray slowly rotates clockwise, creating a mesmerizing effect as it spits out one Pez at a time. Two packs of Pez are included with the $3.99 dispenser; incredibly, so is the necessary battery. (Cap Toys, Inc., address shown above.)

          

          The Yardstick, 3.5-ounce stick: We're always being told that quantity doesn't necessarily correlate with quality, but it's hard not to be seduced by the Yardstick, a stick of bubble gum whose length is suggested by its name. Fantastic packaging, too: one side of the long, thin box features a time line devoted to gum history ("1869: Ohio Dentist William Semple patents the first chewing gum"); another lists gum trivia ("Heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey chewed gum to make his jaw stronger"). Good luck fitting it into a trick-or-treat bag, though. (The Foreign Candy Company, Inc., 451 Black Forest Rd., Hull, IA 51239) (Paul Lukas) CP

          Inconspicuous Consumption is an occasional feature which examines a variety of products and services--some unusual, many exceedingly ordinary, but all worthy of close inspection.

 
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