I don’t imagine there are many Boomers – at least those who grew up in any area where you could buy cans of Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee at the grocery store – who don’t have this jingle imprinted in their brain:
Chock Full o’Nuts is that heavenly coffee
Heavenly coffee, heavenly coffee
Chock Full o’Nuts is that heavenly coffee
Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy
(For providing you with today’s earworm, you’re most welcome.)
The original wording in that final line referred to “a Rockefeller’s money”. But Governor Nelson Rockefeller didn’t like it. Not, apparently, for the dig at his family. No, old Nelly had some financial interests in South American coffee that had nothing to do with Chock Full o’Nuts. So, see you in court
That’s when “millionaire” got plugged in.
Then, somewhere after the turn of the current century, they had to update the lyrics once again. It’s now “a billionaire’s money.”
Anyway, other than an occasional iced Dunk’s, I don’t drink coffee. So I don’t buy Chock Full o’Nuts, or any other brand for that matter. I do keep some coffee on hand so that I can offer it to guests. By which I mean I take the bag out of the freezer, point to the coffee maker, and tell them to have at it.
Nonetheless, if only for that earworm of a jingle from my childhood, I have a warm spot in my heart (if not my coffee mug, which is reserved for tea) for Chock Full o’Nuts.
But I haven’t given much thought to exactly why a coffee brand would be called Chock Full o’Nuts. Wouldn’t Chock Full o’Beans be better?
There is, of course, a backstory:
That name was chosen by the company’s original owner, William Black, when he rented a tiny space under a staircase in the basement of a building at Broadway and 43rd Street. The challenge was what he could sell. His lease said he could not sell anything sold by the drugstore upstairs. Nuts, he said. There was a cut-rate theater ticket operation opposite his stand. He was counting on its parade of customers to buy his nuts. They did. The coffee came along in 1930. With the Depression, nut sales dwindled. “He had to reassess his business, as it was collapsing,” [Senior Marketing Manager Dennis] Crawford said, “and he had an asset that was underutilized. He had a roasting machine, an oven, and he thought, ‘What is it that I can do, how can I use this roaster to do something to save the business? I can go down to the docks and buy green coffee as it comes in and start selling date-nut sandwiches made from the nuts and coffee to drink with it.’” (Source: NY Times)
Somewhere along the line, Chock Full decided to start selling their coffee through grocery stores, and not just at the lunch counters that made up the NYC chain. (Pretty much all gone by now, but I remember them from early trips to New York.)
And somewhere along another line, Chock Full o’Nuts wanted to start placing their product on grocery store shelves in states west of the Mississippi where, apparently, folks so far away from the Manhattan origin story didn’t get why something could be called Chock Full o’Nuts and not be, well, chock full of nuts. And what with nut allergies and epi-pens, who wants to risk anaphylactic shock when there are plenty of coffee brands out there that don’t claim to be full of nuts.
I get that they want to avoid market confusion, and that folks seeing the brand for the first time might not understand what the message is – kind of when you look at the word ORANGE written in bright blue. A mixed message, no? (Which leads me to yet another earworm: the song “Your lips tell me ‘no,no’ but there’s ‘yes,yes’ in your eyes.” Once again, you’re welcome.)
And yet, as far as the new disclaimer, I say nuts to that. Read the ingredients, for crying out loud. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently so. Who has time to read ingredients? We must know at first glance that this coffee can is not chocked full of nuts.
As it happens, the focus groups that Chock Full o’Nuts worked with didn’t express any concern with nut allergies.
Mr. Crawford said that issue never really came up in focus groups. “It was always something like, ‘Is there an added ingredient in the coffee?’” he said. “They were looking for pure coffee, which is what it is and always has been.” Analysts who follow the coffee industry said the “no nuts” notice catered to current consumer preferences. “Consumers are going for natural, authentic and transparent beverages,” said James Watson, the senior beverage analyst for Rabobank.
If folks were looking for “pure coffee”, why wouldn’t you just say “pure coffee”? Doesn’t saying “no nuts” set off a different set of questions?
And that blather about consumers “going for natural, authentic and transparent beverages,” I guess that would explain bottled water – check, check, check. But what about milk? Unless it’s the blue-ish, watered down dreck they used to sell at Elmer Wolfe’s “store” (an adjunct to Elmer’s bar, where he sold bread and milk), the closest place to buy anything near my grandmother’s summer lake house in Illinois, milk is not transparent. Are milk sales down, too?
Coffee, however, is not something I think of as natural, authentic, and transparent. I think of it as adult. Invigorating. Bracing. Lingering. Something you take a break with.