There Are No Nuts in Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee. So What's in It?

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When it comes to product packaging, consumer brands tend to be as explicit as possible in order to avoid confusion. If a shopper isn’t quite sure what they’re buying, they’ll probably leave it on the shelf. You won’t find prime rib labeled as tofu, milk as an alcoholic beverage, or a bag of sugar as salt.

There is one anomaly in grocery stores, and that’s Chock full o’Nuts coffee. The familiar can of ground beans is pure coffee, its contents completely divorced from its name. There are no nuts whatsoever. There’s even a disclaimer on the label: "No nuts. Just Coffee." But even the manufacturer admitted to The New York Times that some people avoid buying the product because they’re not quite sure what’s in it. So what gives?

In its earliest incarnation, Chock full o’Nuts actually made sense. The company originated in New York in the 1920s, where founder William Black was told he couldn’t sell anything out of his leased space in the basement of a building that was also sold by the drugstore located above him. To abide by the terms and to appeal to the theater crowd nearby, Black sold nuts. His venture quickly expanded to 18 nut shops that also sold sandwiches and coffee.

When the Depression hit in the 1930s and nut sales dwindled, Black increasingly utilized his roasters for coffee instead. Canned coffee came in 1953, and Black decided to keep the name of his shops for this new consumer product. The company even offers a brief history of its brand on the label, mentioning its nutty origins before again reassuring people there are no nuts.

Whatever sales might be lost to the confusion apparently doesn’t bother the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group, the Treviso, Italy-based parent company of Chock full o’Nuts. The brand has a strong awareness in the northeast, and consumers are apparently quick to catch on when the coffee rolls out to other parts of the country. That initial curiosity over the name may actually further brand awareness: Chock full o’Nuts is the country’s fourth-largest seller of off-the-shelf coffee, behind Folgers, Maxwell House, and Nescafé.

Ironically, while their coffee is popular, Chock full o’Nuts wasn’t able to convince consumers they offered a solid snack product. The company tried going back to nuts in the 1960s, selling dry-roasted peanuts, cashews, and almonds. Few shoppers were interested. It turns out the last thing anyone wanted from Chock full o’Nuts is actual nuts.

The Reason Why 'Doritos Breath' Stopped Being a Problem

iStock/FotografiaBasica
iStock/FotografiaBasica

In the 1960s, Frito-Lay marketing executive Arch West returned from a family vacation in California singing the praises of toasted tortillas he had sampled at a roadside stop. In 1972, his discovery morphed into Doritos, a plain, crispy tortilla chip that was sprinkled with powdered gold in the form of nacho cheese flavoring.

Doritos enthusiasts were soon identifiable by the bright orange cheese coating that covered their fingers. But there was another giveaway that they had been snacking: a garlic-laden, oppressive odor emanating from their mouths. The socially stigmatizing condition became known as "Doritos breath." And while the snack still packs a potent post-mastication smell, it’s not nearly as severe as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. So what happened?

Like most consumer product companies, Frito-Lay regularly solicits the opinions of focus groups on how to improve their products. The company spent more than a decade compiling requests, which eventually boiled down to two recurring issues: Doritos fans wanted a cheesier taste, and they also wanted their breath to stop wilting flowers.

The latter complaint was not considered a pressing issue. Despite their pungent nature, Doritos were a $1.3 billion brand in the early 1990s, so clearly people were willing to risk interpersonal relationships after inhaling a bag. But in the course of formulating a cheesier taste—which the company eventually dubbed Nacho Cheesier Doritos—they found that it altered the impact of the garlic powder used in making the chip. Infused with the savory taste known as umami, the garlic powder was what gave Doritos their lingering stink. Tinkering with the garlic flavoring had the unintended—but very happy—consequence of significantly reducing the smell.

“It was not an objective at all,” Stephen Liguori, then-vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, told the Associated Press in April 1992. “It turned out to be a pleasant side effect of the new and improved seasoning.”

Frito-Lay offered snack-sized bags of the new flavor and enlisted former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman to promote it. Ever since, complaints of the scent of Doritos wafting from the maws of co-workers have been significantly reduced, and the Nacho Cheesier variation has remained the Doritos flavor of choice among consumers.

When Arch West died in 2011 at the age of 97, his family decided to sprinkle Doritos in his grave. They were plain. Not because of the smell, but because his daughter, Jana Hacker, believed that mourners wouldn’t want nacho cheese powder on their fingers.

Recall Alert: King Arthur Flour Sold at Aldi and Walmart Recalled Due to E. Coli Concerns

iStock/KenWiedemann
iStock/KenWiedemann

A new item has been pulled from supermarket shelves in light of an E. coli outbreak, NBC 12 reports. This time, the product being recalled is King Arthur flour, a popular brand sold at Aldi, Walmart, Target, and other stores nationwide.

The voluntarily product recall, announced by King Arthur Flour, Inc. and the FDA on Thursday, June 13, affects roughly 114,000 bags of unbleached all-purpose flour. The flour is made from wheat from the ADM Milling Company, which has been linked to an ongoing E. coli outbreak in the U.S. Though none of the cases reported so far have been traced back to King Arthur flour, the product is being taken off the market as a precaution.

Five-pound bags of unbleached all-purpose flour from specific lot codes and use-by dates are the only King Arthur products impacted by the recall. If you find King Arthur flour in the grocery store or in your pantry at home, check for this dates and numbers below the nutrition facts to see if it's been recalled.

Best used by 12/07/19 Lot: L18A07C
Best used by 12/08/19 Lots: L18A08A, L18A08B
Best used by 12/14/19 Lots: L18A14A, L18A14B, L18A14C

E. coli contamination is always a risk with flour, which is why raw cookie dough is still unsafe to eat even if it doesn't contain eggs. The CDC warns that even allowing children to play or craft with raw dough isn't a smart idea.

[h/t NBC 12]

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