Snacking is like an unofficial national pastime, so it stands to reason that there’s heavy competition among snack companies. There is a cornucopia of great snacks to be found on store shelves, but few are as iconic and everlasting as the ones listed below, so without further ado, we bring you the 10 Best American Snack Food Brands Ever Created.
10. Ritz Crackers
It’s hard to override Ritz as the snack food king of kings. Around since the 1930s, Ritz is a ubiquitous name brand, a delicacy on its own, but also known for perfectly complimenting other delicacies, making it both an essential and adaptable snack food. The name ‘Ritz’ was meant to appeal to those without means during the Great Depression who wanted a ‘bite of the good life,’ and millions of people took them up on it. Ritz soon became one of the most powerful fast-food companies in the US, and it’s hard to dispute the name. Ritz is a perfect cracker, as perfect as Coca-Cola is to a soft drink, with a rich, buttery texture that works with just about anything you stick on top of it. At some point, Ritz decided that allowing customers to fill their own crackers with whatever they wanted simply wasn’t good enough, so they branched out with a line of cheese and peanut butter-filled crackers, which turned out to be one of the greatest ideas anybody has ever had. Now, it’s hard to argue that any car ride is ever considered complete without a little sack of these goodies stashed somewhere for passengers to munch on.
M&M’s have created such a wide-ranging multiverse out of their brand that you could fill a whole city with its confectionery variations – which is part of what makes M&M’s so fun to begin with. Sure, there are purists who claim the original chocolate M&M’s are the best, but many people point to peanut, almond, peanut butter, mint, or even orange vanilla creme and crunchy raspberry as their favorites. To be clear – Mars & Murrie, the M&M’s namesake, have been throwing every concoction and flavor combination at the wall for decades to see what sticks, and sometimes it doesn’t even seem to matter, since the pure fun of releasing a new flavor into the wild seems to be their primary MO. Basically, any flavor of these little sugar-coated monsters you could have wished for has probably existed at some point or another. There are currently 24 different M&M flavors available throughout the US. Europhiles might argue that M&M’s are merely Smarties knock-offs, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Mars and Murrie were partially inspired by the Smarties brand but set about improving in the flavor and size departments. They originally came in cardboard tubes when they were first distributed among soldiers during World War II. This closely resembled the Smarties packaging, but eventually, it was decided that cardboard tubes weren’t fun enough – nor held enough candy, so packets and large boxes came next.
8. Planter’s Nuts
This decidedly un-Italian sounding company was founded by a poor Italian immigrant, Amadeo Obici, in 1906, who chose the name Planters because it sounded ‘dignified.’ This served as an example of how the American dream can come true if you have the determination, marketing chops, and a peanut roaster at your disposal. As a snack, Planters’ success has been easy to calculate; they have harvested and fed Americans something relatively healthy and delicious for generations and made it fun in the process. They even had the sound mind to understand that people who paid extra for mixed nuts would be agitated to find a mix made up of mostly humble peanuts, so they started to guarantee mixes with less than 50% peanuts. But to be fair, peanuts are pretty rad, too. And who doesn’t like Mr. Peanut? The monocle sporting nut has been around since 1916 when a schoolboy won a design contest, and the company adopted his distorted peanut drawing as the company logo – and he’s been a staple on store shelves ever since. And as a sweet addendum to the salty tale, Mr. Obici was so moved by the schoolboy’s peanut logo design of ‘Mr. P. Nut’ that he eventually paid the boys schooling through college and all the way to medical school – which must be one of the most amazing competition prizes of all time.
It’s just really hard to imagine a world without Doritos. These crispy little tortilla triangles can be found all over, and in some corners, people must be under the impression that the streets of America are paved with them. As with many of these snack brands, there is competition among admirers for the best flavor profile, and there you fall into one of two categories: those who prefer traditional flavors and those who enjoy the flavor-blasted variations. It doesn’t really matter, though, since they’re all amazing, but some might argue that the good people behind the Doritos brand went a little too over the top with the colossal strangeness of Anchovy Garlic Doritos and Doritos Clam Chowder. However, a round of applause is necessary here, considering these flavors were even concocted and released at all. Interestingly, Doritos began in the 1950s at Disneyland, when a marketing VP Arch West visited the park on vacation and saw a Tex Mex restaurant, Frito Lays Casa de Fritos, in action. He realized that people weren’t only coming for the food, but for the chips – namely, rejected tortillas that were deep-fried and turned into chips on the spot rather than discarded. West had an epiphany when visiting the restaurant and came up with a marketing plan of his own to mass-produce these ‘tortilla chips, which eventually became Doritos, and helped to launch the brand we all know and love today. Mr. West was then ultimately notable for having Doritos sprinkled on his grave after he passed away. R.I.C. Mr. West – Rest in cheese.
Like Mac and PCs, there’s something of a longstanding beef between Reeses and M&M’s. Neither claim to be the other, but sometimes, they muscle into the other’s turf – with Reeses Pieces looking an awful lot like M&M’s and M&M Peanut Butter tasting an awful lot like Reeses Pieces. Well, not that much. Reese’s peanut butter flavor is its singular signature, with a richness and saltiness that makes them very hard to stop eating once you’ve started and that no other company has been able to get near. Like these other snack food brands, Reeses has greatly expanded its brand and range over the last couple of decades, but they keep the flavor profile consistent, i.e., they’ve never experimented with incorporating anchovy garlic into their peanut butter mix, however strangely, they also never tried to incorporate jelly into the mix either. That takes enormous discipline. Reese’s wasn’t a hit right out of the gate. The company’s first attempt at candy creation was kind of a dud when ex-Hershey’s employee Harry Reese, the brand’s namesake, tried to turn his chocolate almonds and raisins creation into a household name. Apparently, people didn’t find that combination interesting enough to push it mainstream, so Reese was forced to return to Hershey’s with his tail between his legs and worked as company foreman for a while before finally taking it to his basement to create what would ultimately become Reese’s peanut butter cups. The rivalry with Hershey began there but has since simmered with a marketing partnership.
5. Pepperidge Farm’s Goldfish
Pepperidge Farm perfected the crunchy goldfish brand before they started ‘flavor blasting’ and dipping them in wild colors. The original or cheddar flavor is something of a perfect snack item, but as with other snack foods, fans fall into different camps. Some people might say that the original, unflavored goldfish are a perfect accompaniment for many meals (tomato soup, anyone?) and the cheddar flavor an addictive late-night snack. It’s hard to stop at a few, and many who dip their hands into the bag don’t stop until it’s empty. They went a bit overboard when they started dying the fish the colors of the rainbow, somehow a blue-savory snack doesn’t compute with too many people, but there are some die-hard fans out there of those strange combinations the company puts together. These little cheesy fish even made their way to space – Pepperidge Farm transported sacks of goldfish with the Space Shuttle Discovery crew on a 1.7 million mile journey to be consumed in outer space – a taste of home for astronauts who were most likely tired of dehydrated gruel as their primary foodstuff.
Butter slathered all over your fingers does sound tasty, doesn’t it? The Butterfinger candy bar became huge in the 80s and 90s, competing with a then much smaller array of snack items that topped best-of lists throughout the country, along with Oreos, Reese’s, and M&M’s. They nailed the sweet/savory combination by injecting just enough salt and butteriness into their concoction, rendering taste buds across the world as helpless suckers to a Butterfinger – and as advertised, made countless people’s fingers slippery and gooey as a result. In fact, the name Butterfinger came to be after the Curtiss Candy Company sent out a call for entries in a candy bar naming contest, and a self-described klutz from Chicago came up with the winning name, taken from his own tendency to drop things with his own ‘butter fingers.’ In case you didn’t know, back in the ’80s, this was one of the first times people saw the Simpsons on television – in Butterfingers commercials, a good year before they got their own prime time slot – so you could say that the iconic Springfield clan, and the entire world, will be forever indebted to this snack for helping popularize the show.
Competing for the most disturbingly addictive snack food of all time, the Oreos cookies line must be included. A creme-filled delight that has enchanted generations of hapless Americans who like to think that the creme inside the cookie is like milk, thus a healthy and calcium filled staple for an average diet. Well, they couldn’t be more wrong, but this matters not at all: Oreos are the epitome of all time deliciousness, and when they started double and triple stacking them, adding more and more filling until the cookie became almost invisible under a mountain of white creme, they might have reached the pinnacle of toe-curling, pupil dilating snack food perfection. People still can’t seem to get enough – it is continuously rated as one of the most successful cookies of all time, and they have been a snack food staple for over a hundred years. Oreos did have its growing pains, and it went through several rebranding schemes before they simply settled on Oreos as a name. Back in the day, they started as Oreo Biscuits, which became Oreo Sandwiches, which then became Oreo Creme Sandwich, and then Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies. Finally, over time, it was decided that the brand was ubiquitous enough to simply be called ‘Oreos.’ And there would be no mistake these days. If it’s an Oreo, it’s an Oreo.
2. Orville Redenbacher Popcorn
When the first microwaves started appearing in the 1950s, people started to get creative with ways to shortcut not just dinner but snacks as well. In the 1980’s, the typically laborious procedure of making popcorn in a skillet or using a steam machine was deemed too time-consuming, so when microwaveable popcorn came about, it became a massive hit. Now, anybody could just stick a bag in the box, wait a few minutes until the pops died down, and voila! Fresh popcorn. Never mind that the butter used inside microwaveable popcorn is a carcinogen and a byproduct of the petrol industry – it’s insanely delicious, and that’s seemingly all that matters to people anyway. As long as the taste is delightful, all is rightful. Mr. Orville Redenbacher was a real man, unlike the namesakes of some of these other brands – sorry, but no, Mr. Peanut was not a real person, and he was an innovator and trailblazer in his field as an agricultural scientist prior to becoming an entrepreneur. He revolutionized popcorn yields through scientific experimentation, resulting in a lighter and fluffier product which we all understand to be normal popcorn today. However, fans might be disappointed to know that he reportedly never really preferred popcorn in the microwave. Redenbacher was a proponent of the old-school stovetop method, which he claimed turned out a far superior product. Sorry, buddy, even if you invented the stuff – some of us might beg to differ.
Nothing screams epicurean haute cuisine like spelling cheese with a ‘Z at the end, which brings us to another snack brand in this rundown, which is the greatly beloved Cheez-It’s. Well known among night owls, couch potatoes, and college students who ran out of Mac n’ cheese cups and are in need of a quick fix, Cheez-It’s are some of the most addictive of all foods. They go about reeling in customers rather simply – through the universal love for cheese. Sure, there are spin-off brands derived from almost every kind of cheese known to humanity, like White Cheddar, Asiago, Parmesan, and Hot n’ Spicy, but it’s hard to compete with the original simple, pure cheddar flavoring. Cheddar cheese is America’s finest native cheese product, and boy did Cheez-Its exploit that fact by decking each crisp with mountains of emulated cheese flavor, mimicking what people love about the cheddar taste in the first place. A bit bitter, a bit sweet, a bit salty, a bit cheesy, a bit crunchy, a bit buttery, and everything in-between exists in these crackers, and just one bite can attest to that fact. Cheez-Its also boasts one of the stranger brand mascots – a cheddar wheel is simply known as ‘Cheese.’ This cheese-made pinwheel is seen in company advertisements transforming from an immature teenager to a more mature and righteous mascot – a hint that Cheez-Its is only interested in incorporating the depth of flavor of matured cheeses into its crackers than any of that unripe, boring flavored stuff.