MOREHEAD CITY — Happy 80th anniversary in 2018 to ToastChee, the most famous Nabs cracker of all time, produced by Lance, founded in Charlotte.
ToastChee cheese crackers with peanut butter sandwiched in the middle debuted in 1938.
Christine T. Nguyen, writing for the North State Journal newspaper, based in Raleigh, says: “You can taste the goodness just thinking about them. A pack of Nabs is a beautiful thing. Essentially, Nabs are one of the finer things in Carolina and throughout the South.
Every Southern man, woman, boy or girl “worth their salt grew up eating” Nabs, comments Mike Voss of the Washington (N.C.) Daily News.
The term “Nabs” originated in 1924, when the National Biscuit Co. (established in 1898), commonly known as Nabisco, introduced a 5-cent sealed packet dubbed a “peanut sandwich packet.”
The route drivers who delivered the snack packs to soda fountains, factory lunch rooms, gas stations, newsstands and corner groceries shortened the product name to just Nabs. The name stuck with Southerners, and today, the term is used to generically mean any type of snack crackers.
Nabisco had great success with its cookie style products, including Fig Newtons, Nabisco Wafers, Barnum’s Animal Crackers, Cameos, Lorna Doones and Oreos. Nabisco seemed content with the performance of its headliners and eventually abandoned its snack cracker packet lines in the 1970s or thereabouts.
This opened the door for Lance to dominate the market.
You might say that Nabs is “the protein bar of the South,” says Kim Holloway, whose popular blog is known as Stuff Southern People Like.
“In most Southern households,” Holloway writes, “you’ll find anywhere from two to a dozen packs of Nabs.” (Perhaps fairies deliver them at night, she pondered, because no matter how many you eat, it seems “they’re always there.”)
“Nabs are what you eat when you’re kind of hungry, but not enough to eat an actual meal. Or if you ARE hungry enough to eat an actual meal, but the meal you’re fixin’ to eat isn’t fixed yet. What Southern child hasn’t heard his/her mother say, ‘Here, have some Nabs,’ or more frequently, ‘Eat you some Nabs’”?
Dr. Tom Allen, a minister at First Baptist Church in Southern Pines, agrees that Nabs are the Southern go-to snack, having “become a staple for mill workers and attorneys alike. Throw a pack into a kid’s bookbag. Toss one to a hunting buddy. Nabs travel well in a golf cart. Nip Chees, with a cheddar center, is my favorite. Be forewarned — orange cracker crumbs leave sticky evidence. Nibble with caution.”
Nabs are good to combat nausea, Dr. Allen says. “My wife lived off Nabs while pregnant with our first child. When waves of morning sickness rolled in, Lance came to the rescue. A pack of ToastChee kept things stable until lunch.” The nonprescription became: “Eat one cracker every hour, for six hours, with sips of ginger ale.”
Writing for BrandlandUSA.com, Garland Pollard commented about how impressed he was on a recent Delta Air Lines flight to be served a Coke and a pack of Nabs by the flight attendant.
“Perhaps the Deep South roots of Delta were showing through,” he reckoned. (Delta’s roots date back to 1924 in Macon, Ga., and the company began flying passengers in 1929.)
Pollard asked the attendant: “How long has Delta been giving out Nabs in flight?”
“Nabs?” she questioned back with a distinct New England accent. “Sadly, I am encountering more and more folk who do not know that packaged peanut butter crackers are called Nabs.”
Nabs may not be well known in Yankee states, but it is connected to the Midwest. Ginny Evans responded to Pollard’s posting:
“I’ve been reading Brad Watson’s novel Miss Jane. There was a mention of Nabs, and I immediately thought (of the slogan) ‘Nibble a Nab for a Nickel.’ I was born in 1928, and growing up in Illinois in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Nabs were a fact of life.”
An article by Michael Graff in Our State magazine claimed “the ToastChee brand of Lance crackers, in particular, is a part of the Carolinas’ culture. The Lance ToastChee is ours.”
Graff summed up the situation: “Without Nabs, we wouldn’t be empty, but we wouldn’t be nearly as full.”
Today, Lance products account for multi-millions of dollars in sales. The brand is now owned by the Campbell Soup Co., giving new meaning to the phrase “from soup to nuts.”
However, no big business ever started that way, and 105 years ago (in 1913), Philip L. Lance and his son-in-law, Salem A. Van Every, founded the Lance Packing Co. in Charlotte.
The Lance family started out in coffee but diversified to offer roasted peanuts, which they packed in brown paper bags and sold on the downtown sidewalks for 5 cents a bag. The business evolved into selling packaged peanut butter cracker sandwiches.
Lance is just another among a multitude of North Carolina business and commerce success stories that are worth celebrating in 2018. Get you some Lance in your pants (pockets).
Mike Wagoner is a retired chamber of commerce executive and a public relations counselor.