A prize in every box

A prize in every box

The times they are a-changin’. In 1908, the year the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” debuted, a baseball fan’s choices of food at a game were severely limited to a few choice items, including peanuts and the mainstay of the seventh-inning stretch: Cracker Jack. Fast forward 101 years, and the options for ballpark food are a lot different than they were even just ten years ago. In Denver, baseball fans can snack on Rocky Mountain oysters (no lie: bull testicles). Orioles’ fans can buy crab cakes in Baltimore. Phillies boosters can get cheese steak sauce all over their shirts in Philadelphia; Padres fans the smell of fish tacos on their fingers in San Diego. This variety might at first blush seem to threaten Cracker Jack’s near-legendary culinary place in the pantheon of baseball cultural foods (and icons). But stadium concession officials consider it a hands-off staple, regardless of other menu alterations. And so the caramel corn with a prize inside thrives, and even flourishes. Long a mainstay of a ballpark’s limited dining selection (a list that traditionally included soda, peanuts, and hot dogs), Cracker Jack has survived the fast expansion of selections, including trends toward healthier choices and local favorites. At Boston’s Fenway Park, over 1,000 bags of Cracker Jack are sold during a typical game. Sales of Cracker Jack in Philadelphia have been constant for over two decades. Between 500 and 600 bags are sold during a typical Phillies game. The treat, which is sold in 2.75 ounce bags for around $4, is an impulse purchase, and not affected by sales of menu selections considered more of a meal, like hot dogs and pizza. And it has even prevailed against the New York Yankees. In 2004, the Yanks traded Cracker Jack for a different caramel corn product, Crunch ’n Munch. The uproar among Yankees fans was immediate. Citing ballpark tradition and the seventh-inning lyrics, two months later, Cracker Jack was back. “The fans have spoken,” the Yanks’ COO, Lonn Trost, said. Cracker Jack (the name is singular – never “Cracker Jacks” – even though many vendors and concession stands have signs that misspell it) was invented in the 1890s when brothers Louis and Fritzl Rueckheim mixed peanuts and popcorn with molasses. According to legend, in 1896 a salesman tried one and said, “That’s crackerjack!” And so, a brand was born. Information Resources, a Chicago-based market-research company, reports that Cracker Jack had $17.6 million in sales last year, trailing Crunch ’n Munch (with sales of $22.8 million), but a slight increase for Cracker Jack for recent years. The snack is available at all 30 Major League ballparks.