The Real Reason Why Dunkaroos Disappeared

Ah, Dunkaroos! Those of us of a certain age are fortunate enough to remember the thrill of opening up our lunch boxes and finding some Dunkaroos. Seriously, was there anything better to break up the school day than these sugary cookies with the super-sugary frosting? Sure, they might not be the healthiest things in the world, but they didn't kill us ... right?

Unfortunately for Dunkaroos – and schoolchildren desperate for a midday pick-me-up — these cookie-and-frosting packages of deliciousness disappeared officially in 2012. The writing had been on the wall for a while, and they were getting increasingly hard to find. But still, devoted Dunkaroos fans held out hope, and then — alas — they were no more.

Fast-forward eight years and through the tough year that was 2020. There was some good news that year, though, and that came in the form of whispers that Dunkaroos were going to be back. But what happened to take them off shelves in the first place?

It was a slow decline in popularity

According to Snack History, Dunkaroos first showed up in the lunch boxes (and hearts) of American schoolchildren in 1988. Their heyday really didn't start until the '90s, and their surge in popularity happened with the help of commercials featuring a very, very energetic kangaroo. They were huge throughout the decade, and held onto a devoted following into the '00s ... but they started to become harder and harder to find even before U.S. production was halted in 2012.

Why did they pull the plug on the kangaroo? Information is scarce, and when TasteMade went straight to the source and asked Betty Crocker, they simply responded that it was down to "many factors." Okay, thanks? But it seems as though the biggest one was that Dunkaroos was holding onto an increasingly small percentage of the market thanks mostly to nostalgia alone. Sure, those who love them, love them because they remember them from childhood — but no amount of nostalgia counts when it's up against a slow but steady decline in sales and mainstream popularity.

There was problem with Dunkaroos' advertising to children

A huge part of Dunkaroos' popularity came thanks to their kangaroo mascots. The original mascot — the one you probably remember — was named Sydney. That changed around 1996, though, when Betty Crocker announced a competition to switch things up. Sydney was replaced by the more sporty Duncan, and many of us agree with Food52 in saying that things just weren't the same.

But here's the thing: both Sydney and Duncan were clearly targeting kids, and those commercials were airing at a time when organizations like the FTC were paying close attention to what kind of messages were being beamed toward those impressionable little minds. There was a lot of talk about just how commercials advertising high-sugar, high-fat foods were contributing to childhood obesity, and even though campaigns to remove these ads were less than successful, it was still a conversation likely to stick in parents' heads.

Take Dunkaroos' north-of-the-border saga. They were only discontinued in Canada in 2018 (via Snack History), and that's not long after new regulations took effect in 2015. According to The Globe and Mail, that's when companies were given new restrictions on advertising unhealthy treats directly to children under 12. Unhealthy treats? Children under 12? That's pretty much in the description of Dunkaroos.

They were terribly unhealthy

Yes, Dunkaroos were delicious. That frosting wasn't like the stuff you get out of a can of frosting. It was so, so much better, but it was also so, so bad for you.

You remember those little single-serving packages, right? Pre-teen you probably never looked at the nutritional information, so let's do it now (with the help of SparkPeople). A package of the chocolate chip cookie Dunkaroos with chocolate frosting had 120 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, and a whopping 13 grams of sugar — along with absolutely no helpful vitamins and nutrients whatsoever.

That might not sound like too much, but let's take a quick look at the American Heart Association's guidelines for kids. Between the ages of 4 and 8, they recommend girls need only about 1,200 calories, and boys need around 1400. That jumps to 1,600 calories for girls and 1,800 for boys between the ages of 9 and 13, but that's only part of the story.

They also repeatedly stress added sugars are a serious problem, and say kids between 2 and 18 should have less than 25 grams of sugar per day. That little pack of Dunkaroos is more than half their daily recommended sugar intake, and given how many other places sugar is hiding, that's far from a healthy snack. They're so unhealthy, in fact, that the Food and Farm Discussion Lab reports they were on the list of foods that some Canadian food banks wouldn't even accept.

When they encouraged smuggling and friendship

According to The Globe and Mail, Dunkaroos presented a huge image problem for General Mills. When the Canadian branch of the company agreed to restrict their children's advertising campaign to promote only products that fell within healthy guidelines, Dunkaroos was right out — and by the time that initiative rolled around in 2014, it had already been about 10 years since they had spent any money marketing Dunkaroos anyway.

But they did invest one last-ditch effort to save the product, and they did it in a pretty epic way.

Remember, Dunkaroos had been discontinued in the U.S. for a few years at this point, and General Mills was well aware of the fact that some particularly devoted fans were heading up to Canada to get their Dunkaroos fix ... so they decided to encourage it with their "Smugglaroos" campaign. This one — targeted at adults — involved a website where Canadians willing to buy Dunkaroos and take them to their American neighbors could sign up to find a south-of-the-border buddy-in-need. The idea was to save Dunkaroos and create some serious buzz, but unfortunately, it didn't seem to have the desired effect.

That Twitter revival was fake

In 2018, something amazing hit the Twitterverse: @_LukeKelly tweeted that if his post was retweeted 150,000 times, he had it on good authority — from General Mills/Betty Crocker themselves — that they would bring back Dunkaroos.

That would have been amazing, but according to BizJournals, it just wasn't the least bit true — and no amount of hoping or believing was going to make it true. The post had 180,000 retweets by the time General Mills issued a statement, and when they did, it broke, well, more than 180,000 hopeful hearts. (According to Cosmopolitan, hopefuls included Chrissy Teigen and Kim Kardashian.)

"We love hearing from consumers and we hear from them all the time whenever we discontinue a product because we know someone will miss our products," a spokesperson reportedly said.

That ... makes literally no one feel better. Will the popularity of the movement help sway them in bringing it back? It seems doubtful, but hey, at least you know you're not alone. 

Dunkaroos were still spotted in Australia

But wait! There was something strange coming from the Land Down Under, and considering Dunkaroos' mascot is a kangaroo, we'll admit that it was kind of fitting.

According to Delish, while Americans lost their beloved Dunkaroos, Australia not only had Dunkaroos, but they had a chocolate hazelnut version of the '90s favorite. There, they're made by Nestle, and you could pick them up at the Australian Food Shop for $11. Dunkaroos fans rejoiced! (And Nutella fans could rejoice, too!) Alternately, if you made some friends in Australia, they could have picked some up for you, because Woolworths sold them too — for less than $5 a pack.

Still, that doesn't mean Australians were not mourning the loss of this super sweet favorite, too. According to MamaMia, Australia used to have strawberry Dunkaroos ... and nothing has been the same since they disappeared.

There was a Walmart version

Oh, Walmart — you're so sneaky. It seems as though they're always looking to step in and fill the void where there's a demand. Just look at Costco's Polish hot dog. Once they announced they were going to be discontinuing the favorite, Sam's Club announced they were going to be offering one.

They did the same thing with Dunkaroos. In 2018, Business Insider reported that they were going to be selling their own version, and while the cookies of the Dunk 'N Crunch snacks didn't come in the same fun shapes, the principle — and the sprinkles — was pretty much the same. The roll-out came after the real thing disappeared from Canadian shelves, too, and the fact that Walmart's version sold out — fast — was proof of just how many people wanted to get their dunk on. Delish reported that the fresher, bakery version of Dunkaroos made a reappearance after their initial sell-out, so that's something.

The 2020 return

It's no secret that the year 2020 had a lot of people convinced it was literally the worst year that the world had ever seen, and that's a completely legitimate point of view. But there was one bright spot, though, and that's Dunkaroos.

When Taste of Home reported that they were going to be back on shelves, it added a disclaimer: The publication wasn't sure how long they were going to be available. (It was just like 2020 to toy with our collective emotions, right?) But Taste of Home was psyched that not only were the snacks back in all their 1990s, turquoise-and-purple glory, but that the company had added other products to the line. Dunkaroos fans could now have Dunkaroos cereal for breakfast and Dunkaroos frosting on their cupcakes. And the fact that Dunkaroos Go-GURT was even a thing made us at least a little more hopeful about the future of humanity. 

And Dunkaroos stayed! Sure, they were only available in vanilla and rainbow sprinkles, but that's okay. It turned out that those were just the first of at least a few baby steps.

Dunkaroos: 2021 edition

Sure, vanilla Dunkaroos were great. We're not here to knock them — we'd still be perfectly happy if we went to the kitchen to grab a snack and there was a cabinet just filled with them. But chocolate? Chocolate Dunkaroos, with that chocolate frosting? That was hella fly.

It turns out that the Dunkaroos powers-that-be might have just been testing the waters, and in 2021, Delish announced that the chocolate was going to be making a comeback, too. They were slated to start showing up on shelves in the summer months, and it's entirely possible that there will be more Dunkaroos products available down the road. 

In 2021, a quick peek at the official Dunkaroos product line showed that there was at least one limited edition, get-it-while-you-can version of your favorite 1990s snack: Dunkaroos Sugar Cookie Dough. We can only hope more Dunkaroos products are in the works.