A Look Back at a Discontinued Classic – Tom’s Full Dinner!

CC_Toms Full Dinner TITLE PLATE

The history of confection is rich with brands that have had the briefest flashes of life and others that have withstood the test of time.  But even some stalwarts of the candy isle that stuck around for generations eventually fade into sweet obscurity.  Such is the case with the topic of today’s post – Tom’s Full Dinner.

Inventor Tom Huston founded the Tom Huston Peanut Company in April of 1925 out of the city of Columbus, Georgia.  Just a few years later in 1932 Huston lost the company due to a combination of over-expansion and a failed other venture.  The Tom’s name remained and over the course of the decades that followed the company branched out heavily into candy.  One of the company’s most well-known and strangely-named bars through those years was Tom’s Full Dinner.

I was not able to zero in on exactly when the Full Dinner bar was introduced, but my best estimate is during The Great Depression of the 1930′s, when sugary treats were sometimes marketed as a replacement for a costly meal.  Tom’s Full Dinner may have also taken inspiration from the Sperry company’s successful Chicken Dinner bar.

Sperry - Chicken Dinner - 5-cent candy bar wrapper - 1940's

Sperry – Chicken Dinner – 5-cent candy bar wrapper – 1940′s

The oldest Full Dinner wrapper I have dates back to the early years of the brand:

Tom Huston Peanut Co - Tom's Full Dinner - chocolate candy bar wrapper - 1930's 1940's

Tom Huston Peanut Co – Tom’s Full Dinner – chocolate candy bar wrapper – 1930′s 1940′s

A regional brand known largely to those in the South, the 1940′s would see Tom’s begin to receive national recognition.  This was in large part due to Tom’s candy and snack products being stocked at Army bases in the south and the flood of soldiers training and being stationed in those bases during World War II.

Tom’s would purchase the McAfee Candy Company, located in Macon Georgia, in 1962.  That acquisition would lead to a large expansion of their existing confectionery lineup.   In 1966, General Foods purchased Tom’s from the group of investors who had held it since the 1930′s.  [Correction: General Mills, not General Foods, purchased Tom's in 1966.]

Though Tom Huston hadn’t been a part of the company since 1932, it still retained his name until the late 1960′s as the Tom Huston Peanut Company:

Tom Huston Peanut Co - Tom's Full Dinner - 10-cent chocolate candy bar wrapper - 1967

Tom Huston Peanut Co – Tom’s Full Dinner – 10-cent chocolate candy bar wrapper – 1967

In 1970 the name of the company officially became Tom’s Foods, finally dropping the surname of its founder.

I have a pair of wrappers from the early 1970′s that are nearly identical, though one is remarkable in that it’s the earliest Full Dinner wrapper I have that lists milk chocolate as an ingredient.

Tom's - Full Dinner candy bar wrapper - milk chocolate - 1970's

Tom’s – Full Dinner candy bar wrapper – milk chocolate – 1970′s

I can’t say for certain which wrapper came first, or if the milk chocolate was added or dropped but my guess is that it was added sometime in the late 60′s and dropped later on.

Tom's - Full Dinner candy bar wrapper - 1970's

Tom’s – Full Dinner candy bar wrapper – 1970′s

By the mid-1970′s it would seem that milk chocolate had been dropped from the recipe as there is no mention of it on this next trimmed down partial wrapper or the two that follow it.  This is the first time that an illustration of the bar is included on the wrapper design.  [Note: Inflation, as well as unstable sugar and other ingredient prices in the 1970's caused many manufacturers to drop milk chocolate from their products.]

Tom's Foods - Tom's Full Dinner - 15-cent chocolate candy bar wrapper - trimmed - 1975

Tom’s Foods – Tom’s Full Dinner – 15-cent chocolate candy bar wrapper – trimmed – 1975

Moving away from the fanciful logo of that 1975 wrapper, the 1978 Full Dinner design became more straightforward:

Tom's Foods - Tom's Full Dinner - chocolate candy bar wrapper - 1978

Tom’s Foods – Tom’s Full Dinner – chocolate candy bar wrapper – 1978

This next wrapper in my collection is from 1981 and lists Tom’s Foods as a division of CPG Products Group – which I believe was the toys and games subsidiary of General Foods.  If I’m correct, I find it a strange group to place a candy and snack division into.

Tom's Foods - Tom's Full Dinner - chocolate candy bar wrapper - 1981

Tom’s Foods – Tom’s Full Dinner – chocolate candy bar wrapper – 1981

In 1983 the British Confectioner Rowntree-Mackintosh purchased Tom’s Foods and they would operate it for the next five years.  I believe the most recent Full Dinner wrapper in my collection comes from this period, though there is no indication of the Rowntree-Mackintosh affiliation on it.  [Note the return of milk chocolate as an ingredient.]:

Tom's Foods - Tom's Full Dinner - chocolate candy bar wrapper - 1980's

Tom’s Foods – Tom’s Full Dinner – chocolate candy bar wrapper – 1980′s

Tom’s Foods would undergo more ownership changes in the subsequent years, finally becoming a subsidiary of Lance Incorporated in 2005.  [Note: I do believe that by the 1990's Tom's left the candy business to focus solely on their snack products.]

It is those snack products that Tom’s is still known for today and their reputation as a quality snack manufacturer remains, nearly a century after Tom Huston founded his Peanut Company.  And though Tom’s is no longer in the candy business, their place in confectionery history is solidified due in no small part to the decades when Tom’s Full Dinner bar was in candy isles across the country.

And that’s everything for today and our look back at a discontinued confectionery classic – Tom’s Full Dinner.

See you next time!

 

About Jason Liebig

A New York City based writer, editor and sometimes actor. After spending much of the 1990′s in the comic book business helping tell the stories of Marvel Comics’ X-Men as series editor, he has since split his time between developing his own entertainment properties while still consulting and working on others. Having been described as “the Indiana Jones of lost and forgotten candy”, Jason is one of the country’s premier candy collectors and historians with his discoveries appearing in countless blogs, magazines, newspaper articles, and books. Always happy to share his knowledge and unique perspectives on this colorful part of our popular culture, Jason has consulted with New York’s Museum of Food and Drink and has also been a featured guest on Food Network’s Heavyweights, France’s M6 Capital, and New York’s TheActionRoom.com. My Google Profile+
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7 Responses to A Look Back at a Discontinued Classic – Tom’s Full Dinner!

  1. Michael Montford says:

    Excellent article! Very informational!

  2. mattysb says:

    Interesting that Rowntrees owned Tom’s Foods for a while, 1983+5 years would date it to the Nestle takeover. Presumably Nestle weren’t too interested in Tom’s Foods and sold it on. As far as I was aware the 1969 license deal for Kit-Kat and Rolo with Hershey (which still runs now much to the irritation of Nestle) was the only time Rowntree Mackintosh actually made any inroads in the US.

    • jasonliebig says:

      Matt,

      I am not certain if the Nestle takeover is what prompted the divestment of Tom’s but it’s at least a possibility.

      As far as the licensing deal with Hershey for Rolo and KitKat, I had come to think that didn’t go into effect at least until the early 70′s. I have a Rolo wrapper that I believe is early 70′s, that is still distributed by Necco under license from Rowntree-Mackintosh.

      Also, and I’ve yet to cover it, but Rowntree-Mackintosh did bring some products directly the USA in the early 80′s – though that was through Rowntree-Demets – maybe coming down from Canada.

  3. mattysb says:

    Yes, I was really just guessing that it was Nestle putting it up for sale given the date it happened coinciding with the takeover; it could of course have been the “group of local investors” who made all the running – it would be interesting to see what happened.

    • jasonliebig says:

      Agreed. I always hope (and occasionally it has happened) that those with hard facts or people who were involved will chime in and share here on the comments.

      Until that happens, the best we can do is guess and try to corroborate from what is documented as fact, elsewhere.

      It’s quite fun. :-)

  4. dig sandy says:

    Great post–we love Tom’s still today down South. I don’t remember “Full Dinner”, but it looks awesome!

    One correction: Tom’s was bought by General Mills, not General Foods. The toy division of General Mills included Kenner, Parker Brothers, and Paint-by-Number kits.

    Tom’s current owner, Snyder’s-Lance, does have a few confectionery products like Lance Peanut Roll.

    • jasonliebig says:

      Dig: Thanks for the correction – now changed in the article. I often interchange the two General companies by accident. D’oh!

      Also, cool to hear that Lance still has a few confectionery items. They used to have a bit more – I even have Lance-branded bubble gum in my collection.

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