I will admit to have guided my shopping trolley down the meat and dairy aisle at my local supermarket to cast my gaze upon the Lunchables and mournfully sigh. Transfixed by my own personal Anton Ego moment, I stare at those bright orange boxes of high-sodium crackers, waterlogged meat discs, and cheese of indeterminate provenance and remember the halcyon, carefree lunches of my youth. But of course I never buy them.
Why? Because I am an adult, and buying a box of Lunchables as an adult is one infantile step away from asking for a vodka and Juicy Juice at a bar. But Oscar Mayer seems to have my number, because they’ve figured out how to repackage Lunchables to adults on the go. And the name is halfway between a genius stroke and design crime.
In keeping with all of Oscar Mayer’s Lunchables branding, the name of this product is ridiculous. Called P3, it vaguely brings to mind some indeterminate cubic volume of urine. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, though. After all, this is the same company that is currently marketing Lunchables to teenagers under the brand Lunchables Uploaded*, which sounds like a joke from the Tim and Eric Show.
But it’s what those three Ps stand for that is genius. It stands for “Portable Protein Pack” and it’s the cornerstone of how Oscar Mayer thinks it can to get grownups buying Lunchables. To sell Lunchables to adults, Oscar Mayer needed to solve two problems, stigma and health. The social stigma of an adult eating Lunchables was easy enough to solve: just call it something else. But applying to adults’ health consciousness was a bigger problem.
Lunchables’ raison d’etre is to give Oscar Mayer a way to offload more pre-processed cheese and meat ends. This was the very reason the Lunchables brand was created back in 1985. And the problem with meat and cheese is that it’s not very healthy. In fact, in 1997, a single ham and swiss Lunchables was found to contain 1,780 milligrams of salt, half an adult’s recommended intake of sodium.
How do you package what is, in essence, Grade D cheese and meat ends to a health-conscience audience, then? You deftly sidestep the health issue entirely by marketing them not as snack boxes but as energy packs. And why not? If adults will drink something as sickening as Five Hour Energy Drink under the promise that it will make them more energetic, why not gobble down ham*, peanuts, and cheese instead?
Oscar Mayer’s P3 Portable Protein Packs can be found in your local supermarket at a suggested price of $1.79.
Editor’s Note: This article also originally stated that P3 came in a bologna option; it actually only comes in ham, turkey and chicken. It also stated that the name of Lunchables’ teen variant is Uploaded, not Lunchables Downloaded, as originally written. We apologize for the factual errors.