My youngest sister recently shared the distressing news that the toasted wheat drink Postum has been discontinued. Created by Seventh-day Adventist health foods icon C.W. Post, the drink would appear to be a victim of the continued caffeinization of America. From what I can tell from Internet searches and anecdotal evidence, it would seem that the only people that drank it are Mormons, health food nuts (although Postum was hurt in this market by alternative toasted grain drinks that aren’t quite so American and mass-produced), and coffee lovers that were forced to go with a non-caffeine and/or gentler-on-the-stomach hot drink because of health issues.
I would imagine that some folks who know of the product might be surprised to hear that Postum was still around (up until last month). The beverages category has exploded in the past decade or so — energy drinks, tea, bottled water, juice blends and coffee. It would seem that there’d be little room for something as seemingly strange as Postum. Oddly enough, according to the New York Times, Kraft Foods actually tried to jump onto the beverages wave. It launched a Postum ad campaign in 1996, in an attempt to gain baby boomer customers. The article suggests that the campaign boosted sales, but I would guess that the gains were short lived and that Postum has had a steady sales decline since then. Still, up until recently you could find it on many supermarket shelves.
So what’s a Mormon arts and culture blogger writing about Postum for? In part, there’s the need to indulge in some personal nostalgia. Postum was a part of my childhood. My mom is a fan, and us kids developed a taste for it. Sometimes you wanted something hot that wasn’t hot chocolate. I don’t drink it much anymore, but it is still my go-to beverage when I have flu- or cold-related congestion. It’s hot and soothing, has more taste than tea, doesn’t have dairy (unlike hot chocolate), and can be consumed in greater quantities than hot cider (which is too acidic). I take mine piping hot with two teaspoons of sugar stirred in.
Funnily enough, I never thought of it as a coffee substitute — not until I started buying it as an adult and saw that it was marketed that way. As a kid I saw it as something Mormon. Not as Mormon as brigham tea, but much, much tastier.
But discovering that’s how it was marketed didn’t change it’s Mormon-ness for me. I figure the Mormons who flirt with the appearance of evil drink decaffeinated coffee. In addition to the fact that I like it as a drink, I also valued Postum because ties me to the converts who gave up coffee but needed a substitute, the Word of Wisdom nuts who bake with carob and unrefined sugar, the WWII-era old-timers. And, of course, to countless tellers of jokes.
And even more than that, I think that part of the appeal of the brand itself is that by nodding back to Post (and Kellogg) and the other health-food nuts of the late 19th century, I’m also in some strange, indirect way, nodding back to a time when Mormonism was more tied into consumer culture as a producer.
There was also the fun of being part of a consumer subculture, of supporting a product that was a little weird, fusty and yet not at all underground.
Of course, all is not lost for those who enjoy the hot toasted grain drink. There is still Pero (too European), Cafix (too coffee-sounding), Dandy Blend (oh, please), and countless other roasted barley/wheat/chicory/burdock/dandelion blends. But none have the mainstream, Americana appeal of Postum. So this is one Mormon who mourns the death of Postum. I’m quite sure that I’m not alone.
So what other non-specifically Mormon yet Mormon-supported (for reasons of lifestyle, belief and/or geography) consumer culture items are there?
Postcript: Ralcorp Holdings has acquired Post from Kraft Foods. I would imagine, though, that Ralcorp isn’t going to have any interest in bringing Postum back.
Update: This blog post by Mormon convert Jeff Werner seems to be the epicenter for those upset by the Postum discontinuance.
Update 1.5.09: Check out this awesome 1959 Mormon-oriented Postum ad that Ardis posted at Keepapitchinin.