The Untold Truth Of Sour Patch Kids

Sour Patch Kids, despite their small size, have certainly wormed their gummy, sweet-and-sour selves into the American collective consciousness over the past 35 years. Hard to believe that, originally, they weren't kids at all — they were mini martian men.

According to Bulk Candy Store, the candy has its origins in Ontario, Canada, in the late 1970s, when Frank Galatolie (inspired by the "space craze" of the era) created Mars Men. At the time, Galatolie was working as a confectioner at the company Jaret International (via CBS New York). However, when the confections hit the United States in 1985, they were rebranded as Sour Patch Kids, probably piggybacking off the popularity of the current craze of that era — Cabbage Patch Kids (via Wide Open Eats).

According to Mental Floss, the original mascot on the packaging was a blonde-haired boy (later pictured wearing a baseball hat), and he was based on an actual person: Galatolie's son, Scott. Eventually, a girl joined the boy on packaging, but by 2011, a likeness of the gummy candy itself became its own mascot. Masses of the kids even form the packages' borders.

Sour Patch Kids expands its lineup

Though the original candies offered only four original flavors (lemon, lime, orange, and cherry), the company added a blue raspberry version in 2013 — but since then, experimentation has exploded. The Sour Patch Kids website now allows for custom mixes alongside bags of the original mix, plus Soft and Chewy fruit varieties, and flavors like Tropical, Extreme, and Crush Soda Fruit Mix, among others.

To explore even more sweet-and-sour possibilities, the brand opened a new store in 2020 in New York City, offering a range of desserts. There's now even a Sour Patch Kids Day, celebrated on July 25.

Though there have been endless iterations, the sour sensation (a phenomenon that has led to some sore tongues) that precedes the sweet can be scientifically explained. According to Snack History, the sugar coating contains tartaric and citric acids, which react with saliva to create the sour effect before the underlying gummy kicks in with a burst of sweetness.

Science aside, CandyFavorites notes that the candies were initially "a huge success" for makers M & A Candy Company, a joint effort of Allan Candy Company and Malaco Licorice Company. However, Sour Patch Kids were purchased in the late 1990s by Cadbury-Adams, then moved over to mega-corporation Mondelez International, makers of Oreo, Swedish Fish, and Cadbury Creme Eggs. The company notes that "one of the driving forces behind Sour Patch Kids' growth was its success in cinemas," as it became (and remains) a go-to snack for U.S. moviegoers.

Power of the Sour Patch

Outside of movie theaters, the candy has extended its reach into a dizzying array of side endeavors and brand-boosting collaborations. In 2015, Sour Patch Kids teamed with 7-Eleven for a Sour Patch Watermelon Slurpee flavor, which, according to a press release, was "inspired by chatter on social media from fans already asking for and enjoying these products together."

Further junk-food forays have landed the brand in cereal, ice pops, ice cream/sorbet, Fla-vor-ice Freezer Bars (via Elite Daily), Go-Gurt, candy canes, and gum. According to Best Products, there was even a Chips Ahoy-Sour Patch Kids mashup in 2020 — a surprise in terms of flavor combination, perhaps, but not business-wise, as the brands share a parent company in Mondelez International.

Need a "healthy" alternative? Sour Patch Kids offers dietary supplements, too. Or, if you want to express your love via wardrobe, there's a full line of colorful merch, from pillows to purses, sneakers to sunglasses. There are even "beauty" products — think flavored lip balms, plus soaps and bath bombs.

To expand its exposure further, the company crafted a float for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2017, while a video game called World Gone Sour was based on a lost Sour Patch Kid trying to make its way into a belly. And one experimental-minded brewery, MobCraft Beer, created the barrel-aged Sour Barrel Kidz for summer 2020 — a "Belgian-style pale ale aged with Sour Patch Kids, then refermented on real fruit."

Sour Patch Kids has forged surprising musical connections

You might not immediately connect Sour Patch Kids with music-scene street cred, but the company has surely attempted to get there. In 2011, HuffPost reported that the rapper Method Man had been tapped for a commercial, in which he performed the song "World Gone Sour (The Lost Kids)" that reflected his "concerns that the gummy candies will wreak havoc on the world."

In 2014, AdAge explored a new music-fueled initiative by Sour Patch Kids: opening up the Brooklyn Patch, a sprawling home in Brooklyn, New York, that was designed to host musicians on the road — in exchange for them creating content that could be shared across the brand's social media pages. Though Mondelez marketing director Farrah Bezner called it "a long-term investment in indie music culture," its ultimate goal was likely to reach a younger demographic. According to Vulture, musicians like indie band Deer Tick and rapper Nacho Picasso (all self-professed Sour Patch fans) were happy to stay, play, and snack — even as some detractors labeled them corporate sellouts.

That effort spilled over to Austin, Texas, in 2015, when another Patch house opened its doors in the famously music-centric city. Billboard quoted Bezner as saying, "There are no requirements to stay here," but associated content from resident artists bolstered the Sour Patch Kids brand further — one Halsey post, for example, racked up more than 50,000 views.

The not-so-sweet sides of Sour Patch Kids

Like most big-name companies, Sour Patch Kids has also found itself in hot water over the years. That musician-hosting spot in Austin, for example, initiated strong resistance from neighbors who wanted to protect their "quiet neighborhood" and filed a code-compliance complaint against the Patch house in 2015 (via KXAN).

Just months later, WFLA warned the public about Sour Patch Kids-looking candies that were laced with "a Flakka-like drug" called ethylone. In a different case in Missouri in 2016, the candies were "suspected of having been injected with diluted prescription narcotics" (via LakeExpo). Though the company clearly was not involved in these cases, it might've made kids and parents alike a bit more suspicious of the little gummy kids.

But sometimes the brand itself revels in a little bit of bad behavior. According to Wide Open Eats, a U.K. version of the candy offers the Halloween-appropriate Heads & Bodies variety, which eerily packages the kids' heads and bodies severed from each other. And an edgy advertising campaign, playing on the sour-then-sweet motif, showed the kids playing practical jokes among the population before turning around their bad deeds.

Then, of course, there has been pushback from health advocates, with AFC Urgent Care Portland dubbing Sour Patch Kids the "least healthy Halloween candy." That's a pretty impressive feat — and possibly why they're so loved by trick or treaters. True, there's a healthier alternative out there, but let's be real: You probably won't be handing out grapes for Halloween.