It’s a truism of the advertising world that, in a mature market, the number of niches a product occupies must be multiplied. In other words, if you have a hit product on your hands, you must cynically generate as many forms of that product as you can, in order to take full economic advantage of its popularity.
This principle has never been better demonstrated than by Ritz crackers. Invented by Nabisco in 1928 as a sort of luxury cracker, the original Ritz is round, salty, oily, and burnished a deep shade of orangey-brown. While most crackers are intended to be eaten as canapes with some topping, Ritz were said to be able to stand on their own, and, in a marketing gimmick, were actually served at the Waldorf-Astoria.
The cracker was considered left well enough alone for many decades, but starting in the 1970s, the number of Ritz brands began to multiply. In addition to Original, there was Low Sodium, Whole Wheat, Roasted Vegetable, and Honey Butter. Meanwhile, a miniature version called Ritz Bits was developed, first as a simple cracker, and later as cookie-type sandwiches, including Cheese, Peanut Butter, S’mores, Peanut Butter & Jelly, and Pizza. And as if that weren’t enough, regular Ritz were reconfigured as snack chips called Ritz Toasted Chips, and as a baton-shaped, pretzel-like extrusion called Ritz Sticks. For a short time, there were a couple of sandwich Ritz Bits novelties: Peanut Butter and Fudge (two filling layers) and Extreme Cheese (cheese-flavored crackers with a cheese filling).
As a student of Ritz, I was
excited repulsed to see in my Western Beef a further Ritz Bits flavor: Confetti Creme, with an accent grave over the first “e” in “Creme” (to make the cracker seem French?). Between each pair of miniature, anemic, undersalted crackers, there was a vanilla frosting with tiny parti-colored sugar dots. Had the cracker retained some of its salt, it might have been interesting, but the filling was way too sweet, and the snack correspondingly disgusting. Maybe the real message of this misbegotten snack is that it occupies an undefined territory between savory snack and cookie, allowing, say, kids to eat it as part of their main meal. But in creating this monster, Nabisco has destroyed the essence of Ritz: It can’t be construed as an actual cracker anymore.