The untold truth of Tang

Although Tang, the drink made from powder which always seemed to take a back seat to Kool-Aid, is no longer as popular as it once was, it still has a storied history that goes back well over half a century and includes a few trips into space. The powdered beverage was invented in 1957 by food scientist William Mitchell at General Foods (via Wide Open Eats). Mitchell was also responsible for inventing Cool Whip, Jell-O, and Pop Rocks, all foods which enjoyed a great deal of notoriety in the United States for many decades (via The Atlantic). 

Two years later, the product was on the market being advertised as a powdered drink mix. Tang was not particularly well-received until its association with the American space exploration program. Water on the spacecraft used by NASA for its missions in the 1950s and 1960s was created by a chemical reaction which resulted in it having a poor taste. They realized that if the astronauts used some sort of flavoring, it would make the water taste better. The government began buying the powder in bulk in around 1960 to make the water aboard the spaceships more drinkable (via Food & Wine).

Tang across the world and in space

The association with NASA, astronaut John Glenn, and the space race began to cause the drink to fly off the shelves and General Foods began to market the beverage as a space-age drink. Tang became so synonymous with space travel that in 1968, the beverage sponsored ABC's television coverage of the Apollo 8 mission, which was the United States' first around-the-moon flight. 

In 2011, Tang became Kraft Foods' 12th billion-dollar brand, joining familiar names such as Maxwell House, Oscar Mayer, and Trident (via Adage). Much of their sales success came from developing markets, where they expanded their flavor catalog to include tastes that appeal to the local palate. In Mexico, they sold horchata (a rice and cinnamon-flavored concoction), in the Philippines, a mango Tang was introduced, and in the Middle East, a pineapple flavor was marketed. 

These non-orange flavors brought in a quarter of Tang's revenue from international markets. In the United States though, now that the space age fervor has worn off, Tang is a shadow of its former self, selling only $14 million in the same year the drink became a billion-dollar brand. That year, it ranked ninth in sales of fruit drink mixes, with Kool-Aid comfortably in first place.