a history of chicago mix and “Chicago Mix™” because i am procrastinating

by marjorieingall on July 16, 2012

EDITED ON 9/17/14 TO REFLECT THREATENING LAWYER LETTER! SEE BELOW!

A few months ago I received a free sample (FULL DISCLOSURE!) of Chicago Mix™, a combo of caramel corn and cheese popcorn combined insanely in one bag. The company that sent it, G.H. Cretors, apparently deemed me cornworthy because I write of Jewy things, and the product is certified Kosher by KOF-K Kosher Supervision. I can tell you that I am not swayed by breathless press releases that refer to “addictive hits of sweet, salty, crunchy and cheesy in every bite.” But I can also tell you that this stuff is FREAKING KILLER. I do not use the term “addictive” lightly, but this product is the Joe Manganiello’s abs of food items.

I had never heard the term “Chicago Mix™” before, and I was curious, and I was feeling procrastinate-y, so I began Googling. A few companies hint that they invented it, as long as a century ago.

EDIT: AND TODAY, TWO AND A HALF YEARS AFTER INITIALLY WRITING THIS GOOFY PROCRASTINATE-Y BLOG POST, HAVING RECEIVED A LAWSUIT-THREATENING LETTER FROM THE LEGAL TEAM FOR CANDYLAND, A MINNESOTA COMPANY THAT CURRENTLY HOLDS THE TRADEMARK TO THE TERM “CHICAGO MIX, HAVING APPLIED FOR AND RECEIVED IT IN 1992, DESPITE NOT BEING IN CHICAGO AND NOT USING THE STANDARD CANONICAL RECIPE OF CARAMEL AND CHEESE POPCORN, I AM EDITING THIS GOOFY PROCRASTINATE-Y BLOG POST EVEN THOUGH IT MERELY INVOLVED ME CHARMINGLY ASKING FOOD HISTORIANS ABOUT A TERM POPULARLY USED FOR DECADES THROUGHOUT THE MIDWEST, BUT HEY SOMEONE IS SUDDENLY VERY VERY AGGRESSIVELY POLICING ITS TRADEMARK, ACCORDING TO THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, AND SUING AT LEAST THREE OTHER COMPANIES THAT CALL THEIR PRODUCT CHICAGO MIX, INCLUDING G.H. CRETOR’S. AND AS IT TURNS OUT, GARRETT’S IN CHICAGO, WHICH IS PRETTY WIDELY CONSIDERED THE MASTER OF THE ART OF CHEESE-AND-CARAMEL-CORN-COMBINING, HAS “proactively started transitioning away from calling its world famous CheeseCorn and CaramelCrisp flavor ‘Chicago Mix’ to the more ownable ‘Garrett Mix,'” SAID THE GARRETT’S SPOKESMAN TO THE TRIB, AND INCIDENTALLY “this transition began prior to any lawsuit due to countless brands now using the Chicago Mix name on what Garrett Popcorn Shops feels is a product vastly inferior to ours.” OOH BURN. BUT THE POINT HERE, ANYHOW, EVERYONE, IT IS VERY VERY VERY IMPORTANT YOU KNOW THAT ANYONE WHO THREATENS TO SUE AN UNPAID BLOGGER WHO WAS PUTZING AROUND INSTEAD OF DOING HER ACTUAL JOB BY INTERVIEWING FOOD HISTORIANS ABOUT A PRODUCT’S HISTORY IS NOT TO BE MESSED WITH, SO I WANT YOU TO KNOW THIS:

CANDYLAND OWNS THE TRADEMARK TO “CHICAGO MIX™”

CANDYLAND OWNS THE TRADEMARK TO “CHICAGO MIX™”

CANDYLAND OWNS THE TRADEMARK TO “CHICAGO MIX™”

AND NOW I THINK A MONSTER COMES OUT OF MY MIRROR AND KILLS ME, RIGHT? I SAW IT ON SUPERNATURAL.

Who to trust? The Cretors publicist was not so helpful (she’s paid by Cretors, not by some unholy shadowy consortium of cheese-and-caramel-corn combiners) so I emailed two culinary historians: Andy Smith, who has written or edited dozens of food history books including The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America and Popped Culture: A Social History of Popcorn in America, and Bruce Kraig, Ph.D., President of Culinary Historians of Chicago and Professor Emeritus in History and Humanities at Roosevelt University.

Both scholars immediately wrote back. Bruce said that the random claim-on-the-Internet that Chicago Mix is a century old probably refers to the concept of flavored popcorn, which was sold by Frederick William Rueckheim — the fellow who invented Cracker Jack — in Chicago at the end of the 19th century. (Cracker Jack: Not a combo of caramel and cheese corn, but a combo of sweetened corn and another thing.) Andy Smith further clarified that Cracker Jack was trademarked in 1896; he called it “the first commercial snack food.” (Today, Cracker Jack, like the G.H. Cretors version of Chicago Mix, is certified Kosher – in Jack’s case, by the Orthodox Union, and in Cretors’s case, by KOF-K, and all three of my Orthodox readers can battle it out over which hechscher is more legit while I eat this Rice Krispie treat made with SUSPECT MARSHMALLOWS. But I digress. As one does.)

Andy reports that Garrett Popcorn filed for the trademark in 1991.

BUT APPARENTLY CANDYLAND GOT THERE FIRST? I DO NOT KNOW! BUT I SURE DO KNOW THAT THEY OWN THAT TRADEMARK NOW!

G.H. Cretors has an illustrious popcorn history of its own – Charles Cretors, the great-great-great-grandfather of Claire Cretors, the company’s current president, invented the first popcorn machine that popped corn in oil, back in 1885. Cretors also invented a steam-powered corn-popper and peanut-roaster – he applied for a patent for it in 1893. A 1902 Cretors No.1 popcorn wagon was featured on a 16.7-cent postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 1988.

Perhaps some day I will do a Chicago Mix™ (OR “GARRETT MIX” OR CARAMEL-AND-CHEESE-CORN MIX OR SIR MIX-A-LOT OR “SEASONED CORN AND OTHER STUFF” MIX)  taste test. Until that day, G.H. Cretors’s Chicago Mix, WHICH IS STILL CALLED THAT ON THE WEB SITE AS I WRITE THIS, DESPITE THE LEGAL THREATS FROM CANDYLAND, is canon.

File:Improved no2 Wagon.jpg

Compare & contrast this Cretors No.2 wagon (above) with the postage stamp.

File:Imp Spec Mod A Two ladies.jpg

The Cretors people say it’s THEIR POPPER behind the lady in the horse-drawn wagon. I am not qualified to judge. I am, however, a fine judge of FRIGGIN’ TASTY SUBSTANCES.

url

Don’t you dare use the term “Chicago Mix™!” It belongs to Candyland!

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

:paula July 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm

“a combo of caramel corn and cheese popcorn combined insanely in one bag”

JESUS CHRIST. SHALOM ALEICHEM. OM MANE PADME OM. HUMUNA HUMUNA. My little mind just done got blown.

Kristin Boldon July 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I’d never had Chicago Mix till I moved to Minneapolis in ’98. Here it’s made by Candyland, and I have to force myself to buy the smallest bag, because no matter which size I get, it ends up being a single serving. http://www.candylandstore.com/

marjorieingall July 16, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Hi Kristin! Candyland is the company that snared the covetable chicagomix.com domain!

What I liked about the Cretors brand was that both kinds of popcorn were super-crunchy and fresh-tasting and each flavor maintained its distinct taste identity. (I have clearly thought about this too much since finishing the bag. In two sittings. I win.)

marjorieingall July 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm

RIGHT?? My husband and my friend Daryl were both all, THAT SOUNDS DISGUSTING. Because they are STUPID.

Robin Aronson July 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I mean, it does sound disgusting IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY EVER!

:paula July 17, 2012 at 8:17 am

Sometimes we get given those big dumb tins of flavored popcorn as a gift, and if you take the cardboard dividers out (like my kids do because they are entropy personified and if there is order of any kind they will BREAK IT DOWN AS IF IT IS THE BERLIN WALL AND HAS BEEN A SYMBOL OF THEIR PERSECUTION FOR GENERATIONS) sometimes you will get a combo like this one you describe and I have noticed – huh, that is pretty good – but I never thought of doing it ON PURPOSE. I love geniuses.

Kristin Boldon July 18, 2012 at 7:57 am

Wait, it’s plain, cheese and caramel, not just cheese and caramel. Because you need a little buffer from the salty sweet insane goodness.

Marjorie: if you go in the Candyland stores, they are constantly making the fresh popcorn, it smells of the caramel, and you can ask them to make you a bag of the just-made stuff! Insane.

marjorie July 18, 2012 at 8:59 am

Ah, the Cretors version is JUST cheese and caramel. Fascinating. I’m feeling the need for a MULTICITY TWIN CITIES TASTE-TESTATHON VISIT! (And now with more clicking I see that Candyland says they invented Chicago Mix in 1988, but if so, they didn’t trademark it, and Garrett got there first.)

Of course, to be really scientific we’d have to sample the products BOTH by mail-order and in stores. We are givers.

Brenda Lamb, VP Candyland January 25, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Dear Kristin, I am certain you are mistaken, that is why I bring you:

The Truth about Chicago Mix®:
Chicago Mix® is indeed a unique blend of freshly popped white popcorn, hot kettled caramel corn made every 10-15 minutes, & freshly stirred cheese popcorn. All made daily on the premises, the true, original and exclusive Chicago Mix® is only available at the four Candyland locations in the state of Minnesota. Candyland is a business of 1932, we have been using the term for well longer than any other company, we purchased the rights to the mark in 1993. Our trademark Registration Number for Chicago Mix® is 1,713,984. We would be happy to send you a complimentary bag of Chicago Mix®, the original, if you replace your “facts” with the actual truth.

marjorieingall January 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I do not know who Kristin is, but I publish your comment nonetheless, Brenda!

No need to send me freebies; I enjoy your “snark” (and enthusiastic comma use) as much as you enjoy my “facts.”

Brenda Lamb, VP Candyland January 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I was distracted by most of your commentary, I wrote in a hurry, Kristin defends Candyland and I thank her and appreciate her defense. Thanks for publishing.

:paula September 17, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I love you.

Cath August 4, 2015 at 11:33 am

This is spectacular. I too am procrastinating work and just wanted to know why it’s called Chicago Mix! I still don’t have the details I want about what Chicago has to do with mixing flavors. It’s like those holiday popcorn tins, but without the waste of regular popcorn!

webdiva-Chicago February 26, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Here’s what I find interesting:

1) Garrett’s has been making both the CaramelCrisp and the CheeseCorn for 60+ years. According to their YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrmJJywFO3U, it was customer request that prompted the combination of the two. but Garrett’s has been making and selling that combo for far longer than the Lambs of Candyland, Inc. have been in the popcorn business.

2) As Andy Smith said, Garrett’s filed for a trademark on the name Chicago Mix in 1991 … but I suspect it was *after* they heard the Lambs were nosing around the trademark themselves. Garrett’s should’ve done so much earlier. Why Candyland should have gotten the trademark instead of Garrett’s mystifies me, since the latter had been using the name prior to 1981 (when the Lambs got into the business; their version of Chicago Mix didn’t debut until 1988). Moreover, Candyland and the Lambs weren’t granted the trademark until 1992. I suspect they only got it because they investigated and found out Garrett’s hadn’t trademarked the name yet, so they got their paperwork in first … regardless of the fact that they didn’t invent the mix or that it had been popular in Chicago for decades before the Lambs popped their first bag commercially. Oh, and the Lambs threw in regular salted popped to differentiate their version from Garrett’s, which probably helped *them* avoid a lawsuit from Garrett’s. Note the defensive quote from Brenda Lamb in the interview with the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal [http://www.bizjournals.com/chicago/news/2016/02/23/minnesota-company-wins-final-chicago-mix-popcorn.html]: “It’s not like mixing of popcorn is anything new. … What I did was put a name on it.” Well, Brenda, mixing caramel corn and cheese corn WAS new when Garrett’s first did it. You merely trademarked the name, copycat. Eat THAT.

3) Snyder’s-Lance got into the lawsuit because Lance acquired Snyder’s of Hanover, which had previously (December 2007) bought Jays Foods, aka Jay’s Potato Chips, a Chicago snack food company that had the O-ke-doke line of popcorn in addition to the Jay’s chips — and Jays sold Chicago Mix, too, being **very** familiar with the product that Garrett’s had successfully sold for decades before them.

4) For me, the most telling detail is that the Lambs only came up with their version of Chicago Mix AFTER they attended a candy and snack food expo in (ahem) Chicago — where they no doubt encountered Garrett’s extremely popular version of Chicago Mix. This was after the Lambs had bought Candyland in 1981 but before they introduced their own version of the product in 1988. Now, I’m a born-and-bred Chicagoan, and I’ve been buying The Product Formerly Known As Chicago Mix the way Garrett’s makes it since at least the 1970s, and they’ve been selling it for a lot longer than that. I grew up with this stuff and have been eating it for most of my half-century-plus of life, so it’s not like Candyland and the Lambs can bamboozle *me* on this. THEY’RE the copycats — they just happen to have secured the name, that’s all (apparently because Garrett’s got sloppy and didn’t preserve it for themselves; tsk, tsk). It reminds me that Bill Gates got into programming and creating Microsoft by expanding and copyrighting a program (DOS) that was created by someone else but not legally protected by its creator … so Gates got the paperwork done first, and the rest is history. Nobody remembers who really created DOS.

5) The final step in this process — the last part of the suit, i.e., against suburban Chicago based Cornfields, Inc. — has finally been settled (this is another local-Chicago outfit VERY familiar with the Garrett’s product). Evidently, Garrett’s decided more than a year ago not to appeal but rather to settle (probably because they realized they goofed in not protecting the name sooner), and Cornfields was the last domino to fall. The Lambs must feel smug now. Too bad they owe their success to someone else’s idea. However, due to Candyland’s addition of the plain salted popcorn, they can technically say they’ve been using *that particular mix* longer than anyone else. In Chicago, where the cheese-and-caramel mix predates by decades the Lambs’ entry into the candy and snack business, we don’t bother polluting the proper mix with plain popcorn. That’s a Minnesota mistake, and y’all can keep it.

For the record, then: the original version of Chicago Mix *doesn’t* have plain salted popcorn in it — only the version made by the folks who now own the name “Chicago Mix” does. And they didn’t invent the name, either — they merely legally secured it for themselves (sorry, Brenda, I was calling it that when I was a teen, and that was MUCH longer ago than 1981 when you bought your company). And I will never buy that product from a teensy outfit in Minnesota with overweening chutzpah. I’m a Chicagoan: I’ll buy mine from the originator of the mix — Garrett’s, thank you very much.

Let this be a lesson to you, boys and girls: protect your intellectual property, or someone else will steal it out from under you and get the profit — perfectly legally!!!

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