Monday, March 15, 2010

I'll Pick Up the Jewel!

Here’s a Chicago-area night scene from the late 1960’s as depicted in a Foster and Kleiser promotional photo. Foster and Kleiser was a major outdoor advertising company. The billboard shown was hand painted, as many were as late as the 1980’s. Before that time, it was a very common thing to see billboards in various states of completion as one drove by.

The product advertised was Tab, a sugar-free cola drink introduced in 1963 by The Coca-Cola Company to cash in on the “dietetic” craze. For decades, Coca-Cola refused to attach their main brand name to anything but their flagship product, for fear that a flop would tarnish the Coca-Cola name, so “Tab”, a name selected by the company’s IBM computer, would be it.

The only time I ever drank Tab was at the home of my grandmother, who was a mild diabetic. She seemed to always have a few six-packs of the (by the 1970’s) pink-colored cans with the funky logo on hand. It had an oddly addictive taste, provided you were able to get used to it in the first place.

Sales of Tab nosedived in the late 70’s when the U.S. Government forced the placement of health risk warning labels on any product containing saccharin, Tab’s artificial sweetener. The warning requirement was finally lifted in 2000, and saccharin-sweetened drinks were declared A-Ok for everyone except extremely thirsty laboratory animals. By this time though, Coca-Cola had long since reversed its product naming policy and introduced Diet Coke, a wildly successful product by any standard. (Thanks to the annonymous commenter who pointed out that even Diet Coke initially contained saccharin. Within the first year or so, they switched to a saccharin/aspartame blend, then to all aspartame in order to be able to use the "100% Nutrasweet" tag.) Tab was relegated to the status of hard-to-find cult favorite. With a very cool logo.

And yes, Diet Coke was an early example of the fine art of “brand extension” - spinoff versions of successful existing products. Without it, we may have never seen the likes of “Frosted Golden Mint Oreo Cakesters (with Double Stuf!)” or similar essentials. I shudder to think of it.

Six paragraphs in, let’s not forget the main reason for inclusion of this photo on this website – the supermarket, of course - and a very fine looking Jewel Food Store it is. This store is circa very late 50’s, after Jewel had switched from masonry pylons to I-beam supported tower signs. The “three-quarter” angle shows the reflective glint of the store’s porcelain-paneled exterior very nicely. The accent strip along the roofline was composed of orange glazed tile.

The stars were exceptionally bright (and pointy) that night.


  1. ahh! i remember Jewel, and then in the south they started opening Jewel-Osco's for a while

  2. Always reminds me of "Back To The Future" when Marty McFly asked for a Tab in 1955, and Lou responded, "A Tab? I can't give you a Tab unless you order something."

  3. Dave, as a teenager had a weight problem. I drank so much Tab that if it had caused health problem I would have been one of the 1st effected! Tab did have an oddly adictive taste,that by just thinking of it, I can still remember. Publix is one of thefew places in FL thatstock it on a regular basis. A friend of mine still loves the taste of it and seeks it out by stopping at different Publixs just to get a few 12 packs here and there!

  4. ...Coca-Cola had long since reversed its product naming policy and introduced aspartame-sweetened Diet Coke...

    Not exactly. Diet Coke was originally sweetened with the "dreaded" saccharin.

  5. @Mike,
    That's not an address. Foster & Kleiser was a billboard company.

  6. Jewel/Osco went as far west as New Mexico in the late 80s/90s with the rebranding of the Skaggs/Alpha Beta stores there...then they were briefly rebranded Lucky/SavOn (NM not being an original market for Lucky)..just before the American Stores/Albertsons merger.

  7. To the earlier Anonymous poster -- No, Diet Coke was introduced with NutraSweet/aspartame. What the original post doesn't mention is the replacement of saccharin in most diet drinks (pre-aspartame) with cyclamates, which were also the subject of a cancer scare.

  8. I didn't know that Tab was named by a computer. I did know that Coca-Cola didn't use its flagship brand on it because it didn't want the name associated with a flop, though New Coke represented a reverse in that philosophy, lol.

    Today's TAB is basically that same as Diet Coke, using Saccharin instead of Aspartame. It's a rare item these days, locally available upon request in cans only.

    BTW, the urban legend was that TAB stood for Totally Artificial Beverage, though water is obviously not artificial.

  9. Like Randy I am going to infuse an 80s film scene that mentions Tab though it isn't nearly as iconic as Back to the Future. LOL! I was watching Adventures in Babysitting and got a kick when one of the girls mentions wanting to spike her stepmother's Tab with Draino. Even better is over on the IMDb message boards for the film, there's a few threads where younger people who have just seen the film for the first time in recent years ask what Tab is. Quite hilarious.

    Lovely looking store too! Great picture.

  10. Don't forget that prior to 1969, most diet drinks were sweetened with cyclamate. It was pulled from the market due to reports it could cause cancer, by all accounts I have read it has been cleared of that but remains banned.

    I know my mom hated diet drinks, because when they came out she could no longer use the "too much sugar" approach to limit my consumption. I pretty much stuck to the non-diet drinks, and I remain addicted to cola to this day.

  11. I want to say a couple of things...first, I have Video On Demand with my cable. One of the special channels there is called Something Weird, a spin off of a website that features offbeat and
    unusual videos of all types.

    One they show regularly is called "The Time of Our Lives", a public service short produced by the American Dairy Association and the President's Council on Youth Fitness. It promotes good health, exercise of body, mind and spirit, and proper nutrition (including milk, of course).

    They illustrate the selection of the four basic food groups with scenes taking from the perspective of someone pushing a shopping cart
    through a market--and another cart passing by has a Jewel Food Stores

    The credits say it is produced by Douglas Film Industries of Chicago, and features other shots I recognize--the downtown area by the river and Soldier Field, as well as a parade on a downtown street where an old-fashioned entrance portico says "The Fair" presumably its original location. There's no copyright date, but from traffic in the background, people doing the Twist, and an August calendar shown, I can be sure it was from 1962 (that was the year President Kennedy began the fitness program).

    It is also the source of a novelty tune about exercise, performed by Robert Preston, of THE MUSIC MAN fame, that people might know by its refrain "Go, you chicken fat, go!"

    The other thing is about brand extension...I read a book published in the 1970's called POSITIONING: THE BATTLE FOR YOUR MIND, about product marketing. Their main thrust was that brand extension was wrong, because it only confused the consumer and didn't make a product stand out to them.

    They used the Scott company as an example of this...when someone thought of Scott, did they mean their ScotTissue toilet paper, A box of Scotties tissues, or a roll of ScotTowels? They then praised the company for establishing products with their own identity--you say Viva or Cottonelle, you know exactly what you are looking for.

    Of course, that was long before the media/information deluge, and I guess the new belief is that if a consumer can remember a single brand name from all the input, as much as possible should be offered under with that recognizable tag (also know as "leveraging the brand').

  12. I was actually really surprised to find Tab in a Boston-area supermarket last summer. My jaw dropped; I thought I'd stepped back in time. I was completely unaware that it was still being produced.

  13. Wow. Coke was worried about damaging their prized namesake with another "lesser" product in the 1960's? Guess the people who came up with "New Coke" in 1985 weren't so concerned. Talk about an epic fail! LOL

    I admit--I loved Tab, then I switched to Diet Pepsi. I hated Nutrasweet at first as I was so used to saccharin. Diet Coke was a huge disappointment for me--it tasted nothing like real Coke, which I loved in my pre-diet pop days. But Coke Zero tastes just like classic Coke--they finally got that right.

    What city is that Jewel in the pic located? I remember the Jewel in Joliet that looked like this. It was on Collins Street and was rebuilt in the early 70's on Jackson Street.

    Once again, another great post! Hope you're doing well, Dave.

  14. Keith – Thanks! And regarding the southern Jewel-Oscos, I’m guessing you’re referring to the ex-Skaggs in Arkansas, Oklahoma and other states, or perhaps the earlier “ Jewel T” stores in Florida, Georgia and other locations.

    Randy – Yeah, or when Marty asks for a “Pepsi Free”, Lou says “If you want a Pepsi, you’re gonna have to pay for it!” Just the other day I saw an old photo taken in 1983-4 or so of my brother and some of his friends at a picnic, and there are red and blue “Pepsi Free” cans all over the table. Thanks!

    Dwayne – See. Tab didn’t hurt you a bit! :) My personal opinion is that saccharin, a 100-plus year old tried and true product, is probably safer than the chemical mix called aspartame. I’ll take Pepsi Throwback or Coke from Mexican bottlers (both with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup) over all of them, anyday.

    Anonymous – Thanks for that correction! The post has been updated.

    Mike – See John’s response.

    John –Thanks!

    Jamcool – Thanks for that info. I’d love to see pictures of the late 80’s/early 90’s “sunbelt” Jewel/Oscos, but they weren’t around long, so I’ll bet they’re not well documented.

    Anonymous2 – A little research I did based on the earlier anonymous comment turned up the fact that is was indeed introduced with saccharin, albeit briefly. You are right about the cyclamates scare, something I vaguely remember hearing about as a grade school kid.

    Ken – “Totally Artificial Beverage” – I like that! I’d be surprised if the only difference between Tab and Diet Coke is the sweetener. Tab’s taste was so funky. A lot of people really disliked it, but I’m to the point where I’m tempted to pick up a 12-pack of it at my local Kroger, who (as of yesterday, at least) had about 10 of them on the shelf, to my surprise! (I may regret it, though…)

    Didi- I missed out on “Adventures in Babysitting” (the “Drano thing”, ugh!), but saw BTTF four times at the theatre the summer it came out. A retro fan even then!

    David – I still love Coke, but try, with varying degrees of success, to limit how much I drink. As far as the cyclamates thing goes, didn’t they try to ban M.S.G. around the same time?

    Paul – I love those old public service films from the 1960’s. Our local cable access channel often shows a film sponsored by a coffee industry group on the benefits to American youth of coffeehouses – great scenes of (earnest, tormented) kids trying to imitate Dylan or Joan Baez, with coffee cups (and tons of cigarettes) to be seen everywhere. By the end of the film, you would think coffee was the sole remedy for all of the world’s evils.

    I’ll have to keep a lookout for that particular film, especially given the Chicago connection. “The Fair” store you refer to is presumably their original downtown flagship. The Fair was bought out by Montgomery Ward in the late 1950’s and was eventually converted to the Wards nameplate in 1965 or so, when the ornate facade was significantly modernized.
    Nightdragon – You do see Tab here and there, no question. Kinda slips under the radar!

    Kim – You’re right – the whole New Coke thing was pretty ridiculous, from a company that used to protect their brand so carefully. I can remember being genuinely bummed back in ’85 thinking that the Coke I knew and loved was gone forever! After keeping us in suspense for a few months, they brought it back with the word “classic” added. Have you noticed in the last year or so how they’re finally dropping the “classic” part? It now appears only in very small print on the back of the label. About time!

    Unfortunately I don’t have a clue as to the location of this Jewel. I did check the Trib archives and saw an article about the Hillcrest Shopping Center Jewel that opened in Joliet in 1959, when Jewel was opening stores that looked a lot like this, but the one pictured is a free-standing location.

    I’ve been doing great, thanks so much for asking! Just really busy, and not posting nearly as often as I want to. Hope things are going well with you, also!

  15. You can still buy Tab. I have a friend who used to drive about 100 miles to get it (in Columbus, OH) but now it's available at our local supermarket. It also still has saccharine in it.

  16. 2/20/13 Wrote:
    You can still get Tab 1-calorie Diet Soda here in the state of Michigan. I still find that ubiquitous pink label & pink can here at the local Fred Meijer's store in Oxfolrd, Michigan.