Loving Junior Mints
Bill Long 11/24/08
Most people try to conceal their dirty little secrets, but I will share one of mine here: I love Junior Mints. Or, to put it more emphatically, I love Junior Mints. For many years I tried to repress this commitment and affection, or to focus my mind on other things in hopes that the craving would go away, but is was to no avail. So, I decided to do what Ken Follett said he, as a child of the 1960s, did when confronted with temptation: he yielded to it. This week, unlike any other in my life, I decided to indulge in Junior Mints. But first, as I do with other things, I decided to study up on them. Here are a few things I found.
Sizes/Numbers of Junior Mints
There are several sizes of Junior Mints, from the "Fun Pack" to the "12 oz." jumbo box, but before this week I really didn't investigate the savings you get from buying "in bulk." For years I thought you had to be content with the Fun Pack that contains about 23 or 24 junior mints; this is the size you pick up at any convenience store and costs you about $.80. Thus, the price of these is about 3.5 cents per mint. Of course, if you are in a resort hotel, it costs you about $1.50 for this pack.
But then, when I went into Winco do to my Halloween candy shopping I discovered the 4.75 oz size, which sold, on special, for $1.16. The same size sells in the movie theaters for about $2.50, but let's keep it at $1.16 for a moment. I bought some of these and decided to count the number--53 in a pack. So, these cost about 2.1 cents per mint. The deal is getting better.
But then, longing for more, I studied the Junior Mints website only to learn that there is a 12 oz. size. WalMart, another store with which I have almost zero familiarity, sells the 12 oz. Junior Mints. So, throwing my values to the wind, I intrepidly entered the WalMart in McMinnville, OR today, where I was taking my car into the shop, and began looking for the candy aisle. I didn't really have to look too far, since it is the first aisle shoppers meet upon entry. I think it is by chance that they arrange the store this way. In any case, because I was not familiar with the candy layout (Do they go alphabetically, by manufacturere, etc.?) I had to walk around the candy twice, but then, I saw it. Eureka! A 12 oz. box of Junior Mints. I could barely repress my glee, though I had little desire to make myself a spectacle in WalMart. But then, I faced a dilemma. When walking into the store, I remember saying to myself that I would be satisfied if there was ONE 12 oz. box of Junior Mints on the shelves. There was more than one. So, I bought three boxes and kept them in the car all day until I arrived home late this evening.
In order to continue with the 'purity' of my experiment, I had to empty one of the boxes to count the Junior Mints in a 12 oz. box. There were 140. I counted them twice. 140. I paid $2.42 for the 140, which comes down to about 1.7 cents per mint. That is, the largest packages gives me twice the Junior Mints for my buck. How can you not buy the big amount?
But then, as I sat at my dining room table at home, I was faced with a little dilemma. I had opened the 4.75 oz. box to discover 53 Junior Mints, and then I opened a 12 oz. box with 140 mints. But I still had two other boxes of 12 oz mints, so I said to myself, "I better open one more just to see if they put 140 in it." So, I opened a second 12 oz. Junior Mints box, and they only put 138 in this one. I counted them again, just to make sure. 138 again. Now I was facing a real dilemma. I had more than 300 Junior Mints lying right there on my dining room table. What do you do with all those? Well, I carefully put them back into their respective boxes, but I couldn't help turning my attention to one of the 12 oz. boxes. Yep, you guessed it.... I feel so ashamed...
Learing About the History
Junior Mints, unlike the poor, haven't always been with us. They were invented by the Welch brothers, Robert and James, in 1949. Robert was the elder brother, born in 1899, and he began his confection career in NC in the mid-1920s, while his younger brother James began the James O. Welch Company in 1927 in Cambridge MA. The elder brother's company failed in the Depression, and then he joined forces with James in Cambridge. Robert was the political activist of the pair, founding the John Birch Society in 1958. But James would have nothing to do with the views of this society, publicly separating himself from his brother's racist views.
James it was who named the little mints in 1949 after a Broadway play, Junior Miss, which had a two-year run earlier in the decade. Feminist scholar Rachel Devlin, in her book Relative Intimacy, says that a crucial issue in the early 1940s, reflected in Junior Miss, was the relationship of fathers and daughters as the girl matured. Whereas some earlier models showed the father involved in every decision of the girl, from picking of boyfriends to clothes selection, Junior Miss explored the relationship from another angle--comedy. James Welch loved this Broadway play and decided to name his little mint after it...
Back to Today
Junior Mints play an interesting role in one Seinfeld episode, where Kramer and Seinfeld observe a stomach/heart operation of one of their friends and inadvertently toss a Junior Mint into the exposed peritoneal cavity. Here is a YouTube video of the crucial scene. After the patient makes a remarkable recovery, the surgeon tells the friends that it was some kind of gift "from above" (the Junior Mint came down from a second tier viewing gallery) that led to the remarkable recovery.
I was musing as I looked at the more than 300 Junior Mints scattered on my dining room table tonight that this quantity represents .002% of the daily production of Junior Mints from the Cambridge, MA plant (where all of them are made. 15,000,000 are made daily. 300 is 1/50000 of the total made each day). I thought briefly about what it would take to corner the market and then drive up the price, but then I realized that even though some speculators are advising switching to gold in our environment, few recommend hoarding Junior Mints. So, I guess I will just have to eat them--though at a less frenetic pace than tonight.
I used to think, when I was young, that my sole longing in visiting Cambridge MA when I grew up would be to see Harvard University and MIT. But now, as an older and wiser 56 year-old, my next trip to Cambridge will be to visit Tootsie Roll's [the current owner] Junior Mint plant. I wonder if they give free samples...