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The Big Stories Behind Your Favorite Brand Mascots

There are certain brand mascots that just stick with you. They’ve been around virtually forever, you’ve always seen them on your favorite products and they’ve been a part of your daily life for as long as you can remember.

But, how much do you really know about them?

In honor of World Animal Day, celebrated each year on October 4, your Food Town has decided to dive into some of our very favorite animal brand mascots. Read on to learn how they got their start, major milestones they’ve experienced throughout their careers — and a few fun facts you can use to impress your friends.

Tony the Tiger, portrayed on a box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes

Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger
You might be surprised to learn that the GR-R-REAT brand mascot you know and love today wasn’t necessarily the company’s first choice. That’s right, the Kellogg’s website notes Tony the Tiger had to earn his stripes (and spot on the cereal box).

In 1952, the cereal company was rolling out a brand-new product, Sugar Frosted Flakes. In the spirit of competition, they put Tony head-to-head against three other cereal-loving animals, Elmo the Elephant, Katy the Kangaroo and Newt the Gnu.

Apparently, consumers felt a connection with the big cat, and Tony wound up winning out.

The next year, after the company’s advertising agency helped develop Tony further, he wound up with a four-page spread in LIFE magazine. (That’s something many human celebrities could only wish to achieve!)

In the years since, Tony the Tiger has undergone a few updates, and has become a full-blown ambassador for the company. His sound has changed somewhat, too, as various voice actors took over. But his goal has always remained the same — to encourage kids to strive for GR-R-REAT things.

Fun Fact: Although Dallas McKennon was the original voice behind Tony the Tiger, voice actor Thurl Ravenscroft took over the role in 1953 — and continued voicing the tiger for more than 50 years. Mr. Ravenscroft had a long and storied career, lending his voice to everything from a singing bust inside Disney’s Haunted Mansion, to the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the beloved Dr. Seuss holiday classic.

Vlasic’s stork mascot, Jovny, poses with a pickle.

Jovny the Vlasic Stork
It was 1974 when a pickle-loving stork (who Vlasic’s Twitter account says is named Jovny) swooped onto the scene. With his Groucho Marx-inspired voice and jaunty red bow tie, he made his presence known. But his origins? They might surprise you.

As the Vlasic website notes, the country’s birth rate had taken a dip at about the time the stork made his entrance. Since babies were somewhat hard to come by, they gave him a job delivering pickles.

Another possible origin story the company offers up? They say Jovny’s drive to sell pickles is about the same as a cheese maker deciding to get into the trade. (Yep, Vlasic started out as a cheese company!) That is to say, one really has nothing to do with the other.

A Bimbo van prominently features the company’s Osito (or little bear).

The Bimbo Osito (Little Bear)
Love the little white bear in the great big chef’s hat who adorns Bimbo’s yummy products? (Who doesn’t?) The Bimbo website notes this osito’s story goes back to 1945.

Back then, a woman named Anita Mata found herself inspired by a bear she saw on a Christmas card. After putting pen to paper herself, she did a little doodling and gave the snack company the first iteration of its beloved mascot. When Alfonso Velasco made some tweaks to the bear’s nose, the furry face of the company officially came to be.

As time progressed, various artists put their own twist on the little bear. Pops of color came into the picture, he gained a little more fluff, grew lashes and got blue eyes. Later versions made him out to look a bit more cub-like, too. (If only looking younger in real life were that easy!)

Today’s Bimbo Osito might not look exactly like he did at the start, but his friendly demeanor and love of a good snack cake are still apparent to everyone who comes across him. 

Starkist’s Charlie the Tuna proudly sits on the front of the company’s products.

StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna
It was 1958, the StarKist website says, when the company decided it was time for a mascot that wouldn’t just serve as a face for the brand, but would help it stand out from the competition. After StarKist put their heads together with an advertising agency — who then put THEIR heads together with professional animators — the bright blue tuna with the red hat and glasses (which somehow stay put underwater?) got his start.

Yep, in 1961, Charlie the Tuna was born.

From the very beginning, this phenomenal fish was making waves in all the right ways. Early commercials spawned a catchphrase, “Sorry, Charlie”, that took hold quickly and became a staple in American speak.

Later on, in 1991, StarKist decided to treat Charlie to a love interest named Premia. (Coincidentally, they were launching a new premium chunk light tuna at the time.) Although things didn’t wind up working out for the two, don’t worry. Charlie’s a resilient fish.

StarKist’s superstar continued doing big things in life. He rang the bell on the Wall Street Stock Exchange in 1996, celebrated the big 5-0 in 2011 and, in 2019, saw a Funko Pop released in his likeness!

Unlike many well-known food mascots, Charlie the Tuna has remained largely unchanged through the years. He still dons the same accessories, although his illustration style has changed with the times. And he’s still all about getting across the message that StarKist’s focus is on tuna that tastes good.

Fun Fact: The Leo Burnett advertising agency, the company behind the original Charlie the Tuna, also dreamed up Tony the Tiger!

So, there you have it, friends! The story behind a few of your favorite brand mascots! We hope this write-up taught you a bit about your favorite brands and the cartoon faces that help tell their story. (Now that you know all about them, come snag some of their products at your neighborhood Food Town.) We look forward to seeing you soon, neighbor!

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