With the recent news that Choco Taco (1983-2022) is no more, there was much clothing ripping and high-pitched wailing. The frozen novelty — vanilla ice cream, peanuts, fudge, and milk chocolate transported in a taco-shaped cone — was phased out when manufacturer Unilever decided to simplify its Klondike line. The announcement was cool and sober: Due to supply chain challenges and an “unprecedented spike in demand” for its offerings, Unilever discontinued some items so it could focus its manufacturing efforts on a smaller line of tasty Klondike treats, such as the Krunch Bar and the Reese’s minibar. Farewell, Choco Taco. The public reaction was emotional and filled with angry rejection. How could choco tacos die in a world where the Unicorn Dreamin’ Cone survived?
Unfortunately, the world of junk food is cruel. One day you’re enjoying your Trolli Road Kill gummy candies, or your Wonka Oompas, or your Altoid sours, or your Doritos guacamole—not just enjoying, but developing a specific, craving for it—and the next day without so much as a goodbye, them are gone. Sometimes the product is a commercial bomb and its termination is hardly a surprise. (Cheers to you, McAfrika, Coca-Cola Blak, Cheetos lip balm, Funky Fries by Ore-Ida.) Sometimes, say at the grocery store, it’s more about product overstocking. This is often the case with Trader Joe’s, which is known for constantly materializing and dematerializing products. “We need to manage our retail space intelligently,” says the company’s “Feedback on Discontinued Products” page. Unlike Unilever, which didn’t shy away from issuing the obituary for Choco Tacos, Trader Joe’s acknowledges the pain one might feel upon learning that Chile Lime Mayonnaise has left this realm, writing, “We meet no decision to discontinue a product lightly. We understand it can be disappointing – even devastating. After all, we are Trader Joe’s customers too.”
It is part of being human to rail against the humiliation of mortality. Though we’ve always fought the dying of the light, perhaps losing a simple joy feels especially unsettling during these bad times. Take the case of Costco’s combo pizza, for example, a pepperoni, sausage, green pepper, onion, and black olive concoction with nearly seven hundred calories per slice that was a favorite in the chain’s food courts for many years. In 2020, Costco realized it needed to streamline its menu and quietly sent the combo pizza to its grave. The food courts – which bring in a billion dollars in sales annually – have previously suffered casualties. In 2018, for example, the Polish sausage was buried, and in its place unfood-court-esque items emerged, like an açai fruit bowl with muesli. The combo pizza didn’t go smoothly. Outrage broke out on social media. On Reddit, the sadness was palpable: “I can’t take it anymore.” “My day is ruined and my disappointment is beyond measure.” “It’s my husband’s favorite and he really misses it. His birthday was in May and the only thing he wanted was a Costco combo pizza, but no cubes. We call his loss another tragedy of the pandemic.” Believing there is a chance to roll the stone away, a person calling himself Tobi O. started a change.org petition: “Bring the COMBO PIZZA back to the Costco Food Courts,” stating that the pizza is “a delicious combination of meat goodness and vegetable crunch.” . . . The combo pizza sparks a hugely flavorful party in the mouths of millions of Costco members. The destruction . . . It’s not only sad, it’s total insanity and just plain WRONG.” At last count, more than 12,000 people had signed the petition, but Costco didn’t move.
And what about the choco taco? There was so much excitement at the announcement of its demise and so much desire (countless stories of beauty shots of immaculate choco tacos, a bit of condensation glistening on their chocolate shells; a Pavlovian urge to have one even if you’ve never had it wanted one done just because you knew you might never get it) that a cynic might wonder if it was a little too neat, sort of an Andy Kaufman-style staged event that drew more attention and declarations of love than any other ice cream novelty could even dream of. How viral was internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian’s offer to buy Unilever’s Choco Taco to save it from its fate. (“I can’t have this,” Ohanian declared on Twitter. “Not to America. Not on my watch.”) Suspicion that it was a faked death was so acute that Choco Taco himself pointed it out to Klondike officials had to deny Twitter feed. (“I want to address the rumours: I’m really getting hired, it’s not a PR stunt.”) But barring one coy side, the report suggested everyone “stay tuned in.” Could this be something like the triumphant return of the Taco Bell Mexican pizza, which was selling more when miraculously revived than it was when it was just a common lout on the regular menu?
We will see. In the meantime, you can buy one of the last of the dying breed on eBay for just $6,942. “Own a really rare item,” says the seller. With the loss of Choco Taco, he added, “It’s really a tough time to be alive.” ♦