This article is part of our Cocktail Chatter series, where we dive into the wild, weird, and wondrous corners of history to share over a cocktail and impress your friends.
While breakfast is historically the most important meal of the day, busy mornings can make it challenging to squeeze in a proper meal before dashing out the door. This became especially apparent to food brands in the 1950s and ‘60s: Many women who joined the workforce during World War II remained in their positions instead of returning to homemaking, and men returned to their pre-war careers after they were discharged. This meant there was less time for working adults, especially those with children, to fill their stomachs in the morning. This shift pushed brands to produce fast-to-cook yet filling foods to start the day with, and the fierce competition would end up producing one of the most beloved American breakfast foods in history.
Of the three major breakfast food producers of the time — Kellogg’s, Post (today known as Post Consumer Brands), and General Mills — there was particular animosity between Kellogg’s and Post, which both have manufacturing facilities located in Battle Creek, Mich. In the 1920s and ‘30s, the two companies were reported to frequently count the number of boxcars entering and leaving their competitor’s facility and were often accused of stealing ideas from one another, with one of the most famous examples the debate over the true creator of Corn Flakes. In 1961, Post’s pet division debuted Gaines-Burgers, the very first shelf-stable soft food for dogs. Instead of the decade’s standard can, the moisturized dog food was wrapped in foil packaging, and did not require refrigeration to stay fresh and unspoiled. This innovation inspired Post’s product engineers to apply similar technology to preserving food for human consumption. And thus, Country Squares were born.
Country Squares, which were announced by Post in February 1964, were fruit-filled, shelf-stable pastries wrapped in Mylar wrappers similar to those used for Gaines-Burgers. The squares, designed to be popped in the toaster and enjoyed on the go, immediately garnered excitement among American consumers. But Post hit a snag that delayed Country Squares’ release: A 1994 Chicago Tribune interview with retired Post food technician Stan Reesman cited the company’s lab development time as the reason behind the delay.
As Post took longer and longer to debut its Country Squares, Kellogg’s was developing a portable breakfast of its own. In September 1964 — with Country Squares still nowhere to be found — Kellogg’s unveiled “Fruit Scones,” a toastable innovation that was soon redubbed as Pop-Tarts, in homage to the pop-art movement dominating the decade. The pastries, which were originally unfrosted, came in four flavors (Strawberry, Blueberry, Brown Sugar Cinnamon, and Apple Currant) and practically wiped Country Squares from the public’s collective consciousness, selling out completely just two weeks after the shipments hit shelves.
In the year following Pop-Tarts’ release, Post attempted to revitalize Country Squares as Toast’Em Pop Ups. Despite its efforts, the brand was still unable to compete with Pop-Tarts, so it sold the product rights to Schulze and Burch Biscuit Company in 1971. While Toast’Ems are still available today, their popularity is nowhere near comparable to that of Pop-Tarts, which now have over 20 standard flavors in rotation along with a number of limited-edition and seasonal offerings.
While Pop-Tarts have transcended their dog food-adjacent origins, we can’t help but be thankful for the canine cuisine that inspired the iconic snack.
*Image retrieved from Maryam Sicard via Unsplash.com