Kool-Aid kind of gets a bum rap.
After all, it’s pretty hard to stay relevant for 90 years – in the food and drink category, no less – and yet, Kool-Aid is still going strong. It’s even flavored in much the same way as it was when Edwin Perkins first set up shop in Hastings, Nebraska in 1927.
“We have a significant level of awareness,” said Andrew Louie, brand manager of refreshment beverages at Kool-Aid's modern corporate parent company, Kraft. “The brand continues to be extremely popular, even though it’s over 50 years old.”
Sometimes, though, Kool-Aid has been popular in the wrong way. In fact, the most common Kool-Aid idioms involve not drinking it – something for which we at PYMNTS have been proud flag bearers on a number of fronts, often years before the "Kool-Aid" stopped being drunk. Whether it’s FI’s fascination with bitcoin three years ago – which, by the way, continues with the recent news of Coinbase’s $1.6 billion valuation; near field communication (NFC) penetrating 50 percent of POS terminals by 2010 – and turning the US into tap-and-go nirvana; or the oversimplification of starting and scaling a platform business – or even that a platform business exists, we’ve tried to infuse those endless FinTech innovation pitchers of Kool-Aid with a little splash of reality over the last eight years.
Hey, we warned you guys: Don't drink [that Kool-Aid] and drive or make investment or strategy decisions .
But, as a drink, there’s no arguing that kids everywhere love Kool-Aid as though it were the ambrosia of the gods themselves. At just 26 cents per packet, enough to make a whole pitcher’s worth, there is just no way to beat the price of Kool-Aid. And, in an era of all-natural, 100 percent pure, juice-is-just-as-bad-as-soda messaging, there is something almost deliciously subversive about downing an ice-cold glass of neon-colored sugar water – especially as a way to celebrate summer.
But, unfortunately, in 1978, cult leader Jim Jones and the People’s Temple made drinking Kool-Aid forever synonymous with getting on board with a really, really, really bad idea – and no amount of “Oh Yeahs” can ever quite sever the link between brand and event.
We imagine, though we can’t be certain, that the good people of Hastings, Nebraska, and most of Kraft’s executive team deeply wishes Jim Jones had been more of a Tang fan.
All the same, though, no one can deny how delicious Kool-Aid really is. And so, in celebration of national Kool-Aid day – which was technically yesterday, but is being celebrated throughout the weekend (more on that in a second) – we come not to bury Kool-Aid, but to praise it.
Everything You Need To Know About Kool-Aid
Apart from being rolled onto the market in Nebraska in 1927, we have a few other fun facts about the fruity, sweet beverage. Kool-Aid was originally called "Kool-Ade," but people found that pronunciation confusing. It was quickly switched to the modern spelling and released with original flavors of cherry, lemon-lime, grape, orange, root beer, strawberry and raspberry – all of which can still be purchased today.
Raise your hand if you remember your mom mixing up a pitcher of cherry-flavored Kool-Aid in the summer for a summer barbeques.
Though native to Nebraska, the people of Memphis, Tennessee, drink the most Kool-Aid in the nation, followed by Little Rock, Arkansas; St. Louis, Missouri; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Jacksonville, Florida. The people of Jacksonville have actually sworn to take the number one Kool-Aid consumption seat, because apparently having Disney World is not enough for Florida – it also wants to be America’s Kool-Aid capital.
It's also worth nothing that 563 million gallons of Kool-Aid are consumed annually, about 225 million gallons of which are chugged in the summer. In other words, 17 gallons of Kool-Aid are consumed every second during the summer season.
That’s the actual drink, of course. Metaphorical Kool-Aid is drank in quantities so vast that we would need scientific notation to cover it.
If all the envelopes of Kool-Aid sold in a year were laid end-to-end, they would stretch 58,524 miles – enough to wrap around the Earth's equator twice, or stretch between Los Angeles and New York City more than 20 times.
Think about that next time some startup tech founder wants you to drink his "Kool-Aid" and buy into his claims to strike critical mass and ubiquity. The real-deal Kool-Aid has already laid that founder's wildest dreams to waste with its level of saturation.
Some Things You Probably Didn’t Need To Know About Kool-Aid (Including Its Prison Currency)
So, in the off chance that you ever happen to find yourself in prison, you will really want to stock up on Kool-Aid packets once you’ve settled into your cell and established dominance by knocking out the largest, meanest-looking inmate you can find. This stock up is for two reasons.
The first is that in prison, Kool-Aid is one of a handful of goods, along with Ramen Noodles and cigarettes, which can be used as currency.
“It got to the point where some people would rather have a decent meal than a stogie, especially the way they’re feeding us in prison,” said Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez, prison chef and co-author of "Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars," in an interview with the The Washington Post. “Times have changed to cut a buck.”
Kool-Aid is key to a decent prison meal, hence its high value as a trading item. Plus, as Alvarez notes, Kool-Aid is good for more than just drinking. It can also be used to make liquor or as a seasoning for Ramen Noodles. Orange is apparently the best ramen noodle and Kool-Aid combination, in case you were curious.
Even if one does not plan to pay or season with Kool-Aid in a prison context, there remain other out-of-the-box ways to use Kool-Aid. For example, as hair dye. The recent wave of 90s nostalgia has brought back something that mostly disappeared since 1995: using the bright colors of Kool-Aid to temporarily dye one's hair pink, blue or purple.
It should be noted, though, that Kool-Aid hair dye only works for people with very light blonde hair – so light, in fact, that it borders on white. Kool-Aid home dye will not show up in even regular blonde hair and will, in many cases, attract bugs through its high sugar content.
Celebrating Kool-Aid Day (Or Weekend)
If you find yourself with a sudden, burning desire to drink a tall glass of Kool-Aid this weekend, or perhaps a lot of glasses of Kool-Aid, we have two suggestions.
The first is to drink lime-flavored Kool-Aid, because it is amazing.
The second is that if you happen to be in the vicinity of Hastings, Nebraska – you might want to get a glass or ten with the people who are undeniably the nation’s most enthusiastic Kool-Aid drinkers (Florida be damned).
The World’s Largest Kool-Aid Stand is poised to break its own size record with four additional serving stations at this year’s 20th annual Kool-Aid Days celebration, scheduled for Aug. 11 through Aug. 13 across in Hastings.
“We’ve been working toward this for the last three or four years and finally made it happen,” noted Pam Bohmfalk, the event’s organizer. “We had been waiting several years to improve on the design and hope we’ve done that. We wanted to kind of step it up and have something special for our 20th Kool-Aid Days, and that’s the reason we’re increasing the number of flavors on the stand this year to 20. I don’t know that we’ll maintain that forever.”
So, if you ever wanted to feel the rush that is drinking 20 different flavors of Kool-Aid in one sitting, Hastings is the place to go. Ask a local school child about the history of Kool-Aid, and he or she can tell you more than this article can ever hope to divulge. After all, it is a regular part of the local school curriculum.
Celebrate Kool-Aid. Go ahead, drink some.
Well, until Monday, anyway – when we’ll be sure to tell you not to.