Retail & Innovation

Tailgating's in the bag

Take an inside look at how Walgreens and BRACH’S teamed up to create tailgate-inspired candy corn flavors to kick off the football season.

By Steve Rausch
Pull your vehicle into a parking space at one of America’s football stadiums and you’ll see gameday tailgating spreads fit for royalty. Grills cooking sizzling hot dogs, bratwursts, burgers and barbeque, snacks aplenty with spirits flowing and surrounded by the home team’s colors, is a fall pastime for college and pro football fans alike.

But if you can’t make it to the party or just want to enjoy the game in the comfort of your own home, you can still have the tastes of the tailgate with a bag of…candy corn?

That’s right, all the flavors of a stadium tailgate party are now in an 11-ounce bag of BRACH’S Tailgate Candy Corn, sold exclusively at Walgreens. It’s the latest brainchild of Walgreens own candy mad scientists Brian Rinker, division merchandise manager of candy and snacks, and Emily Gordon, senior category manager for candy, the team who also brought you Thanksgiving-flavored candy corn.

Walgreens is one of the nation’s largest candy corn retailers, and Rinker and Gordon are always looking for fresh and different ways to keep the product fun, create demand and build buzz around the familiar fall candy during its peak selling season. 

“I really want to have something that stands out,” says Rinker about the thought process behind the concoction. “We want it to sound interesting enough that people who love candy corn would pick this up and try it because they heard about it on social or traditional media.”

Rinker and Gordon discussed several different fall flavor theme concepts with Ferrara, the parent company of the BRACH’S brand. The original idea centered around a backyard barbeque, but the team thought that felt too much like summer, so instead they turned to a fall staple—football—and planned around the tastes of the game.

“Ferrara's a really great partner,” says Gordon. “They have the innovation to make dozens of flavor profiles. They came back to us and pitched about 10 flavors you can find at a tailgate that they could actually create.”

The flavors that made it into the final product were hot dog, hamburger, popcorn, vanilla ice cream and fruit punch, a smorgasbord of tastes found at tailgate parties, just never in candy corn.

“When we originally taste-tested them, the flavors weren’t completely hitting the mark of what we were looking for,” Gordon continues. “The hot dog and the hamburger were pretty sweet, and it was like, ‘Oh, I don't mind eating this.’ So, they intensified the flavors when the final production came out. But they did have to do a couple rounds of flavors to get the mix right.”

The next touch was to design packaging that visually connected the tailgate candy corn to fall and football, and to choose colors for each flavor, without making the connection obvious.

“We purposely created the colors of the corn so they don’t necessarily match with what you’d think the flavor would be,” says Gordon. “We wanted to have a little fun and be a bit deceiving so people could look at a piece that’s pink and think ‘Maybe it’s fruit punch, but maybe it’s hot dog. That allows for the element of surprise once it goes in your mouth. And what we’ve seen on social media is that people love to lay them out and try to guess which color matches which flavor.”

But let’s be honest: Rinker and Gordon have been around the candy business long enough to know that candy corn is one of those things people either love or hate, whether it’s flavored or not.

“It’s definitely polarizing,” says Rinker, “so we knew there is a certain group that absolutely wouldn’t be willing to try this.” 

We gathered a panel of tailgaters on both sides of the candy corn divide who were willing to try the candy and rank the flavors. It wasn’t quite like being in a parking lot with thousands of other fans and smoke from grills clouding the air, but they managed to sample all five flavors. Here is their feedback:

Touchdown: The group unanimously felt the fruit punch flavor—not a traditional tailgate beverage, it was noted—tasted the best and most like what you would expect from candy. Some did find it a bit sweet, even for candy corn. “The fruit punch taste is really good. I was pleasantly surprised,” one said. “I could eat an entire bag of fruit punch flavored candy corn,” said another faithful candy corn fan.

Field goal: Vanilla ice cream flavor was also rated highly, with tasters noting the accurate representation of vanilla. One taste tester commented, “I’m not sure I’ve ever had ice cream at a tailgate before, but the taste is pretty good.”

Incomplete pass: Popcorn was the third-ranked flavor, but for some the artificial butter flavor was too strong. Said one reviewer, “I like the idea, but the flavor just missed a bit.”

Fumble: In football, turnovers aren’t ideal. Some testers felt that way about this flavor. “Burgers and candy corn are quintessential American tastes, but just not together,” said one.

Personal foul: The group felt that if the hot dog flavor was a player, it would be assessed a 15-yard penalty for roughing the palate. “I think I’ll stick to getting my hot dogs off a grill,” said one reviewer.

Two Walgreens candy mavens who love to tailgate (“I’ll show up on a crisp fall day and have a great time, just don’t ask me to plan it,” says Gordon) have taken their mission to make candy corn fun and translated that into a tailgate in a bag. Or something close to it. 

“We’ve definitely taken a really odd approach here in that the product isn’t designed to taste very good,” says Rinker. “It's kind of counterintuitive to how everybody thinks, but it makes candy corn fun and relevant, and that’s what we were looking to do.”

Try a bag of BRACH’S Tailgate Candy Corn and get another one in regular flavor with Walgreens 2 for $6 deal.

Explore Themes in this Article