Today is National Fig Newton Day, but don't expect to be eating any Fig Newtons -- at least of the Nabisco variety. That's because Fig Newtons as you know them, as you grew up eating them out of the classic yellow box, no longer exist. They're just "Newtons" now.
In 2012, Nabisco, which is now a subsidiary of Mondelēz International, decided to drop the "Fig" in "Fig Newton." This isn't the first time Newtons have undergone an identity crisis. According to The New York Times, the square cookies were called "cakes" up until the 1980s, at which point Nabisco started labeling them as "chewy cookies." Dropping the "Fig" in 2012 was big news when it happened, but sometimes people choose to see what they want to see, and as major fans of the original Fig Newton, we may or may not have blocked out this name change. The cookie has been around since 1891, after all, which means we weren't the only ones who grew up with the brand name ingrained in our minds -- our grandparents did too.
Getting used to a new name after all that time isn't easy. It feels wrong every time we write "Newton" without the "Fig," let alone saying it out loud. "Newton" on its own just feels naked.
The New York Times wrote that Nabisco dropped the "Fig" in part because the brand had long sold other flavors, such as Strawberry. Nabisco also shed the "Fig" to stay relevant and appeal to a wider audience. Figs don't really scream "cool" and "exciting." Analyzing a 1951 ad for the cookies, AdWeek put it this way:
For the blissed-out, gap-toothed kid in this 1951 ad, the fig jelly that filled Fig Newtons and promised a 'Fig-jam jamboree' was -- 'Whee!' -- just about the coolest thing ever. Can you imagine a 21st century tween getting stoked about fig paste now?
Jeff Hilton, co-founder of an advertising agency called Integrated Marketing Group, told The New York Times that people associate figs, like prunes, with old people, which isn't exactly a selling point. Hence Nabisco's introduction of other fruit fillings, and the eventual drop of "Fig" in the name. AdWeek also noted that disassociating the cookie with one particular fruit and adding more fruit-flavored options helped the brand keep up with the times. People expect choices, brand strategist Rick Stone told Adweek. If they're expecting options for fruit-flavored water, they're probably expecting options for fruity cookies.
Newtons now come in flavors like 100 Percent Whole Grain Triple Berry, 100 Percent Whole Grain Sweet Peach & Apricot, and 100 Percent Whole Grain Baked Apple & Cinnamon. (If you're noticing the repetitive "100 Percent Whole Grain" qualifier, that too is part of Nabisco's effort to keep the cookie relevant.)
While checking out all the varieties of Newtons, we noticed another marketing tactic, this one as questionable as the name change. A link at the bottom of the product page directs visitors to Newtons Recipes. You have to see this stuff to believe it, so take a gander at Snackworks' recipe suggestions here. The page offers recipes for Ham & Cheese Topped Newtons and Nutty Newton Apple Roll-Ups.
We sort of understand the ham and cheese idea -- we do serve figs and fig jam on our cheese plates. And we're not opposed to the idea of eating Newtons with ice cream or brie, ideas Snackworks also suggests. But a salad topped with Newtons? Or Newtons in a smoothie? Recipes like these, on top of the name-stripping, makes us wonder what the hell is going on over in Newton-ville.
No matter what you call them, or how someone suggests you eat them, Newtons, of the fig variety, will still comfort some and disgust others. That's just the way the cookie crumbles.
Fortunately for lovers of the fig-flavored Newtons, you can make your own cookies at home. So go ahead and celebrate National Fig Newton Day on January 16 by putting the "Fig" back in your "Newton" with a knock-out homemade recipe like this one from Food52.
Get the Fig Newtons, Made At Home recipe by petitbleu from Food52
Just don't serve them on a salad, please.