Gone are the rubbery meats and stale crackers. In their place are veggies and non-GMO ingredients.
WRITTEN BY: ZACHARY PETIT - Click to read on Fast Company
Looking back on the ’90s, I have fond memories of Lunchables—namely, the novelty of building tiny skyscrapers of cheese, crackers, and curious meats, especially on school days defined by the culinary doldrums of whatever lifeless assortment was up for grabs on those fiberglass cafeteria trays.
What I do not have fond memories of: actually eating said tiny towers, with their slippery gray circles of bruised turkey and synthetic smoke–infused ham. On top of the mysteries of the meats, the health conscious–ish adult I have become now raises an eyebrow at the intense levels of sodium, sugar, and fat in those meal kits (and the fact that at the time, Kraft was owned by cigarette purveyor Philip Morris).
Well, today, for the first time in 30 or so years, I ate a Lunchables for lunch. Er, rather, a Luncher, Little Spoon’s first product offering for big kids. And you know what? It was good. And (sadly) healthier than whatever I would have otherwise made for myself.
Little Spoon launched in 2017 with a line of baby foods boasting healthy, unprocessed organic ingredients delivered to subscribers’ doorsteps, and eventually became the largest DTC kid-food brand in the country. While adding a range of products for 4- to 7-year-olds might seem like a reaction to kids naturally aging out of the brand’s ecosystem, cofounder Ben Lewis says it was always part of the plan.
“We felt that, strategically, the best approach was really to kind of methodically age up with our customers little by little,” he says.
And so the brand’s “Aging Up” line, which includes the Lunchers and an assortment of junk-free junk foods, came with a unique challenge—Little Spoon now had to design its products not just for parents, but for their more cognizant (and opinionated) kids, too.
Lewis says fun and interactivity were key. And that likely called to mind products like Lunchables, which haven’t changed all that much since the ’90s. That’s the duality at play here: Today’s parents now wield the purchasing power and love nostalgia like Lunchables. The ingredients? Not so much. And in that paradigm existed an opportunity.
Little Spoon focuses on high-quality non-GMO ingredients, and sneaks in vegetables wherever possible under the guise of the unhealthier stuff kids crave. Lunchers indeed apes Lunchables in form factor, from chicken-nugget meals to DIY pizza-assembly kits—but a closer look at the nutritional info in the former, for example, reveals a gulf of differences in ingredients, with Little Spoon boasting infused cauliflower, kale, and carrots to Lunchables’ . . . potassium lactate and other stuff. Meanwhile, the dip supplied for each: a probiotic yogurt ranch, or ketchup (stabilizers added). You can guess which is which.
As for the snacks in Little Spoon’s line, the chickpea Veggie Loops are designed to be interactive and worn on fingers, and come in flavors designed to make kids salivate, like Mac and Cheesy, Pizzalicious, and Pancake Party, while they overlook the carrots, spinach, and pumpkin in each. Rather than offering a staid fruit leather, the brand’s stringy Fruit Rippers channel the tactility of Twizzlers Pull ‘N’ Peel . . . but without losing, you know, the fruit. And finally, Dipsters provide an alternative to products like Dunkaroos.
The thing about all those aforementioned legacy products? They’re all looking a bit dusty on shelves, not just because of their ingredients, but their packaging graphics, as well, which often feel stuck in the mid-aughts. (Some brands are waking up to this fact—like Gushers and Fruit by the Foot, which recently got ’90s redesigns from Pearlfisher that are not just in vogue, but in line with the products’ glory days.)
For this launch, Little Spoon worked with SMAKK on the design and branding. The expressive, playful type brings an energy to the pack . . . though one can’t help but see the Lunchables drop shadow and personality in the Lunchers logo. Playful illustrations and bright colors engage kids’ sensibilities, with some elements, such as the light blue hue in the logo and tray, providing continuity with the brand’s baby products (it is, after all, the signature color of that little spoon that comes with the baby food). Lewis says that feedback from kids, as much as parents, shaped the overall product aesthetic. Rather than hide the ’90s influences here, Little Spoon fully leaned into them—especially with the marketing. The brand created an early AOL-style retro website for the launch, a commercial laden with vibrating type and set dressings that would look right at home during Snick, and even an endorsement from Sabrina, Steve Urkel, and Dawson. “What’s cool about this is that we’re not just tapping into nostalgia for the sake of tapping into nostalgia—the products themselves really do trigger that nostalgia,” Lewis says.
Ultimately, “We really set out to create an alternative to what we grew up on,” cofounder Angela Vranich adds.Hey, if that means today’s tykes get their DIY lunches sans mystery meats, I’m simultaneously jealous and thankful. After all, when it comes to nostalgia, our memory is highly selective—and so Little Spoon may as well be with its ingredients, too.