Can nostalgia make a Chiko Roll taste better? (Plus eight foods you should leave in the past)

Dr Alex Russell with a Chiko Roll in Marrickville, Sydney. Nostalgia can affect how we much we like certain foods.
Dr Alex Russell with a Chiko Roll in Marrickville, Sydney. Nostalgia can affect how we much we like certain foods.  Photo: Janie Barrett

You can get it smelling, you can get it tasting. You can get it by hearing a Victoria Bitter commercial from the 1980s. It's a deep sense of nostalgia and food and drink companies are using it to their advantage. 

"There are strong links between smell, an important component of flavour, and the memory and emotion centres of our brains," says Dr Alex Russell, an expert in taste and all things olfactory.

"We tend to look back at earlier times with fondness, so eating a Wagon Wheel, for example, becomes more than just eating a bikkie. It might include happy memories of a family picnic. When brands focus on those personal connections, nostalgia can be a powerful marketing tool."

Opening day at Pizza Hut Warrawong in 1979.
Opening day at Pizza Hut Warrawong in 1979. Photo: Supplied

Personal connection to a brand is what Pizza Hut is banking on as it celebrates 50 years in Australia this week. The company has recently been using social media to reference key moments in Australian culture over the past five decades, while posting photographs of Pizza Hut stores from a time when Super Supreme was the biggest thing since sliced beetroot on a burger.

"When I was growing up in Sydney's Hills District, the only decent option for a casual dine-in meal was the milk bar," says 68-year-old Cay Rieck. 

"Then all the American takeaway restaurants started setting up and it was really exciting. I have plenty of great memories of eating at Pizza Hut with my girlfriends in my late teens, and later taking my kids there for the dessert bar with those little marshmallows." 

A Passiona soft drink ad from the 1960s. Schweppes acquired the Cottee's brand in 1984, and Schweppes Australia was ...
A Passiona soft drink ad from the 1960s. Schweppes acquired the Cottee's brand in 1984, and Schweppes Australia was bought by Asahi Breweries in 2009.  Photo: Supplied

Pizza Hut is now the fastest growing quick-service restaurant brand in Australia, a success its chief executive, Phil Reed, partly attributes to "re-igniting the emotional power of the brand through nostalgia"; Bringing "Dougie the Pizza Boy" back for a commercial in 2019 was an inspired idea.

Reik, a Pizza Hut super fan, now regularly visits the franchise with her grandchildren and enjoys reliving the memories of her youth over a slice of Hawaiian. "When you consider all the other franchises that have been and gone, it's certainly stood the test of time," she says.

Other brands on board the nostalgia bus include KFC embracing its full historic name last year to print "Kentucky Fried Chicken" on its buckets; McCain relaunching childrens' birthday party favourite Potato Smiles in June; and McDonald's November re-release of classic Happy Meal toys including the Hamburger Changeable, last seen at the Golden Arches in 1989.

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Beer companies are particularly fond of using nostalgia to sell their brews, especially with limited-edition can designs inspired by labels of the '70s and '80s. 

"People of a certain age or older might like to think back to those decades because it reminds them of younger days at the pub, probably with mates," says Russell. "That's assuming it wasn't a blinder and they can remember most of it."

One canned beer making a comeback is Resch's, owned by Carlton & United Breweries and stalwart of Sydney watering holes for the past 100 years. 

Resch's new Silver Bullet cans, available in bottle shops from August 15.
Resch's new Silver Bullet cans, available in bottle shops from August 15. Photo: Supplied

On August 15, Carlton will release cans of Resch's Pilsner (affectionately known as the Silver Bullet) for the first time since 2005. The launch is a result of lengthy campaigning by the fan-run Resch's Appreciation Society on Facebook.

"By relaunching the Silver Bullets we hope to tap into drinkers' nostalgia and the great memories they associate with these cans," says Resch's marketing manager Hugh Jellie. 

"The world's in a pretty crazy place right now and the humble Silver Bullet is a reassuring reminder of simpler times."

Resch's Appreciation Society members James Boyce (left), Molly Whelan and Matt Henricks at the Shakespeare Hotel in ...
Resch's Appreciation Society members James Boyce (left), Molly Whelan and Matt Henricks at the Shakespeare Hotel in Surry Hills. Photo: Brook Mitchell

The Resch's Appreciation Society began in 2009 after founder Matt Henricks was fed up with the dwindling supply of the beer across pubs and bottleshops. He decided to start a Facebook group dedicated to mapping locations where Resch's was available across the country. 

"There's just nothing as refreshing and believe me, I've unfortunately had to try everything else," Henricks says. By convincing Carlton that the pilsner was worth restoring to its former canned glory, Henricks believes the Resch's Appreciation Society has "single handedly resuscitated the brand".

Jellie only wishes Carlton had started canning Resch's again earlier. "We stopped making Silver Bullets because sales were down," he says. "The society's passion helped us realise this was a mistake."

Eight foods better left remembered than experienced

Sometimes the memory of a food is more delicious than its reality, especially when it comes to childhood treats.

Bega Stringers

Like "discount" and "sashimi",  "peelable" and "cheese" are two words that should never be seen together.

Bubble O'Bill

Even five-year-olds would prefer to eat broccoli than then weird gumball that is Bill's bulbous nose. Cheap and sickly stuff, although the bullet hole in the hat is brilliant.  

Chiko Roll

Four per cent beef and 100 per cent stodge, the Chiko can also be used to prop fire doors in lieu of an actual brick.

Chocolate Crackles

Hey kids, is anyone keen for puffed rice mixed with cocoa powder and covered in vegetable shortening? Nope? OK, then. Fair enough.

Fairy Bread

Look, it's fine, but hundreds-and-thousands held together by margarine and Tip Top is hardly cause for excitement in a world where party pies and sausage rolls exist.

Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs

Objectively excellent name; terrible excuse for caramelised popcorn.

Passiona

Schweppes fizzy passionfruit sugar water is only drinkable after dilution with vodka and two bags of Bells Ice.  

The Wagon Wheel

A potentially controversial inclusion, but Arnotts' marshmallow-jam biscuit is too crumbly by half and the compound chocolate tastes like a 20¢ Easter egg.