Perhaps you too quenched your childhood thirst from a sweating jug of Kool-Aid in the heat of summer. Inexpensive and easy to make, with flavors like “Yabba-Dabba-Doo Berry” or “Pink Swimmingo,” it was a staple in my family’s kitchen in the ’70s and ’80s. At The Takeout, Will Hodge reports on a special breed: the Kool-Aid packet collector, people so dedicated to the drink and the nostalgia surrounding it, that they’ll pay hundreds of dollars to add a coveted packet to their collection.
Kool-Aid was first conceived in the late 1920s by entrepreneurial inventor Edwin Perkins as primarily a means to save money. At the time, one of the top sellers in his catalog of household goods was Fruit-Smack, a fruit-flavored liquid concentrate housed in four-ounce glass bottles. In an effort to reduce shipping cost and eliminate breakage losses, Perkins developed a powdered version that could be sold in small envelopes.
His “Kool-Ade” debuted in 1927 (the name was officially tweaked to “Kool-Aid” about seven years later), with a variety of flavor envelopes promising to generate 10 drinks for only 10 cents. Kool-Aid’s cultural entrenchment started almost immediately. Shortly after its creation, the Great Depression hit and Perkins cut the price of his product in half. Yet even at just five cents an envelope, Kool-Aid was generating over $1.5 million in annual net sales by the mid-1930s.
It’s not just the nostalgia or artwork that demarcate some of the more sought-after packets, as some of the smallest-production runs have been devoted to playful gimmicks and promotional tie-ins. If you want your Kool-Aid spiked with a smattering of knock-off Pop Rocks, Cracker Cherry was there for you in the summer of 1991. If you want some color-changing shenanigans, both original and reissue versions of Great Bluedini change from a green powder to a blue liquid. If you celebrated Halloween in Canada in 1996, then you may have found the doubly exclusive (both holiday and regional) flavors of Scary Black Cherry and Eerie Orange dropped in your trick-or-treat bucket. If you’re looking for a Fred Flinstone-emblazoned packet of Yabba-Dabba-Doo Berry or Bedrock Orange, they were only available inside specially-marked boxes of Fruity Pebbles cereal in 1988. If you were a part of the “Biscuit ‘N Gravy Birthday Bunch” at participating Bob Evans restaurants in the mid-‘90s, you may have been gifted an exclusive packet of Cherry with Nickelodeon’s Stick Stickly on it or a Lemonade with Bob Evans furry mascots Biscuit ‘N Gravy on it. (I can only hope that Kool-Aid tried at least once or twice to concoct some version of biscuit-and-gravy-flavored drink).