Retail

Back from the dead: Products that re-launch

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What's Old is New Again

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In the continuing quest for the novel, shiny new products come to the market as old products slip out of production. Some of those that go are classics you may not have noticed were gone. The good news is that if they disappear when they are still wanted, and the right person or group of people takes up the cause, sometimes they come back. There is still room and demand for some of these things from the '40s, '50s, and '60s.

Most of the following brands and items that have returned from the dead have benefited from nostalgia, but a few of these are popular with young people who might not even know, or care, that they were designed half a century ago or more. Here are a few of their stories, involving reclaiming family legacies, lost formulas, and tracking down old employees to help bring back original manufacturing methods and recipes.

By Colleen Kane
Special to CNBC.com
Posted 2014 May 18

Candy

Astropops
Source: Astropopcandy.com

When an established candy brand disappears from the market, it tends to be a one-two punch, hitting consumers not just in the sweet tooth but right in the nostalgia bone. That's what spawned the latest comeback of the space-age favorite Astro Pops, which debuted in 1963.

"It was kind of a selfish thing. It was my favorite candy growing up," said Ellia Kassoff, CEO of Leaf Brands. Kassoff noticed the pops had dropped off the market and spontaneously asked about buying the rights.

When he called Spangler Candy about the candy's disappearance, Kassoff was told it wasn't part of the company's "marketing mix." That explanation often causes products to disappear, Kassoff explains. Companies merge, and some lesser products get neglected when allocating the marketing budget. Or else the manufacturer changes the product so much over time that they alienate the consumer.

"With that, products just leave the market for no reason except a decision at corporate," Kassoff said.

Kassoff didn't acquire the Astro Pops machinery because it had been sold it for scrap, but Spangler offered the trademarks, formulas, and help getting the pops up and running again. The product is now distributed by Kassoff's company Leaf Brands (Kassoff also acquired the rights to Leaf, a brand established by an earlier generation of his family).

Up next from Leaf are more comebacks: Tart n' Tinys are debuting at the Sweets and Snacks Expo in June, and after that will come the return of Wacky Wafers in July, Hydrox cookies in August, and then Bonkers. Kassoff had to find someone who used to work on Bonkers, since the formula was lost somewhere along the changing of hands of its parent companies when Life Savers was sold to Nabisco.

Food

Yeungling's Ice Cream

Some favorite processed foods are not allowed to die, like the famous example of Twinkies after Hostess went bankrupt, or the boomer kiddie cereal Quisp.

But this February, a product returned that many didn't realize had ever existed: Yuengling's Ice Cream. Yuengling is known for beer on the East Coast, but the company began making ice cream during Prohibition.

"Before we reintroduced it, I wouldn't say there was a large demand for Yuengling's Ice Cream, specifically, said David Yuengling, president of Yuengling's Ice Cream. "People in the Pottsville area would often ask if I'd ever restart the family business. One day, Rob Bohorad (Yuengling's Ice Cream's COO), came and told me he'd been thinking the same thing. With our business experience and love for the company, we went through all of the details and realized it was a good time to bring it back."

Consumer response in its distribution area of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Massachusetts and Washington, DC, has been amazing, said Yuengling. "We couldn't have anticipated the popularity. People were excited before it was even on the shelf. Once it hit the stores, we sold out extremely fast and had to rush to ramp up production to keep up with the demand."

The ice cream uses natural ingredients and local hormone-free milk. It doesn't incorporate beer, but their most popular flavor is Black and Tan: Belgian chocolate and salted caramel ice cream swirled together.


Beverages

Schlitz Beer.
Source: Schlitz Brewing

In the 1980s, Coca Cola infamously set the the benchmark and made branding history for messing with a formula that wasn't broken.

But a lesser known example is that of Schlitz, the beer that made Milwaukee famous and the preferred beer of dads and uncles of the 1970s. To save money, the original flavor was sacrificed decades ago in favor of a shorter fermentation process, and resulted in a beer that went flat faster.

To get back the original formula in 2008, Schlitz' head brewer Bob Newman consulted retired brewers, then added back more of what was lacking: malt, hops and flavor.

Upon the beer's comeback, according to NBC News, hometown Milwaukee stores were out of stock in days and were keeping waiting lists for the next shipments.

As a "resurrection products" side note, Schlitz is now owned by Pabst Brewing Co. Pabst is owned by the food industry investor C. Dean Metropoulos, who in 2013 teamed up with Apollo Global Management to bring back Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Cupcakes. Earlier this year, he announced he was selling Pabst Brewing Co.

Kitchenware

The iconic brightly colored Homer Laughlin dinnerware FIESTA went out of production in 1972, but after becoming a hot collectible in the 1980s, FIESTA returned to the market with new colors (not to mention lead-free glazes) in 1986.

In 2012, Dansk made a similar savvy move in bringing back its Kobenstyle cookware collection, which was originally introduced in 1956. Vintage bold-colored enameled Kobenstyle pieces, with their distinctive three-point side handles, have remained in favor for their perennially popular Danish modern design.

The appeal of the reissued and expanded Kobenstyle line is cross-generational. "We have the consumers who remember the line and love that we re-introduced it and those consumers not familiar with it, especially the Millennials, also love the design and think it is new and distinctive in the crowded world of cookware," said Glenn DeStefano, president of Dansk Brand. "And they love it even more when they find out about its rich heritage."

De Stefano says the line is doing "fantastic" at retailers like Crate & Barrel, ANTHROPOLOGIE, Bloomingdale's, and Macy's.


"Obsolete" Technology

Polaroid film.
Asimetric | iStock | Getty Images

Technology progresses ever onward, leaving a wake of obsolescence, but sometimes there continues to be a market for products deemed obsolete. Take the example of Windows 7, which was recently brought "back by popular demand" when Windows 8 tanked.

Then there's the benchmark-setting success story of Polaroid Film, which was rescued from the history's dustbin by The Impossible Project.

"Although Polaroid no longer saw commercial value in the 200+ million Polaroid cameras distributed around the world, it represented a big opportunity for a small, start-up company," said Impossible Project CEO Creed O'Hanlon. But apart from that, the founders of Impossible were genuinely enthusiastic about this analogue medium and far from seeing it as 'dead', wanted to ensure that it would not only still be available for future generations but would also develop and adapt to their needs."

O'Hanlon says the reaction has been very positive, and projects 2014 sales of more than 1.2 million instant films, and more than 35,000 refurbished classic Polaroid cameras, with plans to launch its own analog instant camera.

Why bring back instant film in the digital age? "When everyone can make a clean bright digital photo and shoot it around the world in a millisecond, Polaroid pictures have come to feel special, because they're unique and hard to copy," says Christoper Bonanos, author of "Instant: The Story of Polariod" (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012). "Plus every one is a physical objectwhen you shoot someone's photo and give it to him or her, it's a little gift, and everyone likes getting a one-of-a-kind present.


Vehicles

Volkswagen updated their iconic Beetle, and Indian brought back their Chief model motorcycle after a four decade absence. But not long after the lower profile Saab ended production in 2011, new Saabs have begun shipping to Swedish customers, and they're going to Chinese drivers next.

Why the relaunch?

Auto journalist Richard Read offered CNBC insight on the revival of Saab.

1) Saab is a quirky brand with a very distinct look. That has limited Saab's appeal in the marketplace and made it a little "niche", but it's also done wonders to create a base of passionate fans. People either don't get the appeal of Saabs or they can't live without them, there's not a lot of middle ground.

2) It didn't turn a profit for GM, so Saab had little value as a car company, but with 6 decades of history, it had huge value as a brand.

3) That brand value is why Spyker bought Saab from GM and, in turn, why it was purchased from Spyker by National Electric Vehicle Sweden AB (which isn't Swedish, but a mash-up of Chinese and Japanese investors).

4) So why is Saab coming back? Three reasons:

a. Because the brand has retained so much value.

b. Because electric vehicles are likely to be big business.

c. Because Saab isn't Chinese. "even the Chinese associate Chinese products with iffy quality, so-so safety, and dull styling.

However, Read doesn't foresee a domestic market. "Saab has been a fairly tough sell here in the U.S., so if it returns, it's not likely to fare much betterespecially if it keeps the same quirky styling. I imagine it being smaller than Volvo (which is tiny nowadays), more in line with perhaps Fiat, or even its flashy sibling, Alfa Romeo, which is returning to the U.S. this year."


Furniture

Herman Miller Noguchi Rudder Table
Source: Herman Miller

A number of modernist furniture classics have remained in production since their midcentury debuts, but some get a new life as a reissue, like the Hans Wegner Swivel Chair.

Prominent design brand Herman Miller holds the rights to perennial classics like the Eames Lounge and other pieces that have not been produced in decades. After a fallow period in the 70s and 80s when interest in mid-century modern pieces waned, it's been enjoying a consistent resurgence in recent two decades, and particularly in the last five years. While many designs had remained in production commercially, Herman Miller began reentering the consumer market and reintroducing discontinued models.

Noguchi's glass-topped coffee table is a perennial favorite, so it wasn't surprising when last year Herman Miller reissued another Noguchi, the Rudder Coffee Table, which debuted in 1949 and was last seen in 1951.

"Look at the Rudder or the Noguchi glass top coffee table, when I show somebody that piece and tell them it's from 1948, they find that shocking, it seems so contemporary," said Mark Schurman, director of corporate communications at Herman Miller. "That's the real quality that people appreciate."

"Many of the young people don't think of that as 'that was cool in the '50s,' they just think they're cool."

The interest in midcentury design shows no signs of waning. "There's an appreciation for design that's more streamlined, less adorned, more natural in its shape form and function, less ornate," Schurman said. "Some of that may be part of the ebbs and flows of popular aesthetic. In international design circles there's a real flowering of more and more contemporaries that seem to be embracing those same ideals, [and] us [Herman Miller] too."