I can tell you almost exactly when I became addicted to Carnation Breakfast Bars. Lake Charles, Louisiana, summer 1979. I was a 14-year-old high schooler attending an educational program for gifted students at McNeese State University. (Notable alumnus: Playwright Tony Kushner, who was the drama instructor.) There were times I skipped breakfast in the cafeteria and wanted something I could eat in my room. Cereal was messy; cold cuts were smelly; yogurt wasn’t my thing.
It was at a nearby Kroger that I saw them: the yellow boxes of nutty, chocolatey goodness. Less than two bucks for a box of six, if I recall correctly.
I bought a box of chocolate-chip-flavored bars to satisfy my curiosity and didn’t stop buying them for more than a decade—through high school, college, graduate school and my first full-time job. It became so routine that my mother would stock up on them when I came home to visit.
Let me tell you: There were few things more satisfying than a Carnation Breakfast Bar and a tall glass of ice-cold milk. A friend of mine used to joke they were essentially Snickers bars with vitamins sprayed on, but he was wrong. They were more like Whatchamacallit bars with vitamins sprayed on: oats, chopped nuts, and perhaps some puffed rice (and chocolate chips in the chocolate chip flavor), bound together with a touch of corn syrup and surrounded by chocolate. They weren’t chewy like the current spate of granola bars—more a soft, nutty crunch that reminded me of a healthy oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie. Also, unlike candy bars, they didn’t contain caramel.
They were so satisfying I had to stop myself from having a Carnation Breakfast Bar for lunch or dinner, though I wasn’t above noshing on them as an occasional afternoon or late-night snack.
And then, sometime in the early ’90s, the original version vanished. By now, I’ve forgotten whether they changed the recipe to resemble chewy granola bars or simply pulled the product entirely, but either way, I wrote to Carnation—by that time owned by Nestlé—in protest. They responded with a coupon for another one of their instant-breakfast products, probably that awful drink mix.
I think the only thing that’s made me madder in recent years was the letter I got from Dr. Pepper Snapple when I protested the loss of Hires Root Beer. (Yes, I’m still upset about that, too.)
I wish I could tell you more about what made Breakfast Bars so special, but they obviously were. There’s a Facebook page devoted to them. You can find online recipes attempting to replicate them (though the comments invariably say the result falls short). In 2013, someone even launched a Change.org petition, threatening to boycott Nestlé if the company didn’t bring back Breakfast Bars. (It didn’t work, falling 4,707 signatures short of the necessary 5,000.)
In the meantime, Nestlé continues to respond with mealy-mouthed letters like this, reprinted on the Facebook page:
“Thank you for your inquiry regarding the availability of CARNATION® BREAKFAST® Bars. We really appreciate your feedback. At Nestlé, we are dedicated to you and your family throughout every phase of your lives. Your comments are valuable to us, as it helps us to improve our products and services. We receive many requests asking that we bring the bars back and will take all of them into consideration. In the meantime please visit www.carnationbreakfastessentials.com and sign up to receive coupons.”
Coupons for WHAT, Nestlé? Certainly not Breakfast Bars, since they haven’t existed in 20 years. No, you’re just trying to get us to buy that drink mix.
I won’t do it. Breakfast Bars got me through some formative years, not to mention a 14-hour ride from Roanoke to New Orleans with no air-conditioning and a bad spark plug. I owe it to them to keep the dream alive.
Over to you, Nestlé. And do something about Hires Root Beer while you’re at it.