Of all the expired and long gone junk food products over the past 30-40 years there is one stand out that is probably the most popular and loved item by an entire generation of 80s obsessed kids-at-heart, Hi-C Ecto Cooler. Sure, we love our Ninja Turtle custard pies, our Keebler Pizzaria chips, Crystal Pepsi, and Bonkers candy, but Ecto Cooler quite frankly outranks all of these as one of the most desired, sadly expired, taste sensations from our collective youth. Part of this is the Ghostbusters connection, a franchise that seems to become more iconic each and every year that passes. Part of it is the charm of the neon green, sweet sugary bliss and idea that we’re drinking liquid ectoplasm. And of course a major part of it is that Ecto Cooler is extremely nostalgic because it simultaneously feels like a product that we had for large swaths of our childhood, but also something that’s been gone from our lives for decades.
Memory is a funny thing and it’s constantly playing tricks on us. If you’d of asked me five years ago to nail down the date when I first tried Ecto Cooler I probably would have said some time between 1986 and 1987 around the time that The Real Ghostbusters launched. That feels right, and a lot of the folks I’ve chatted with over the years have similar memories of chugging Ecto Cooler straight from the giant 46 ounce can, taking care not to cut their tongue on the triangular-shaped hole their mom punched into the top with the can opener. But as the masters of nostalgia and Ghostbusters aficionados know, the drink was introduced in 1989. And it wasn’t released in tandem with The Real Ghostbusters as much as it was a tie-in product with the release of Ghostbusters II in cinemas, though the packaging featured a cartoon-accurate rendering of Slimer on the cans and juice boxes from the start.
Here’s my 9-Pack package from 1990…
The original life of the product did last longer than most food merchandise tie-ins running for about a decade between 1989 and 1999. This is pretty amazing considering that there were no new movies after 1989, and the cartoon series sputtered out in 1991. The strength of the Slimer iconography carried that drink for 8 or 9 years alone, even surviving a Hi-C rebranding in 1995. So when Ecto Cooler made a triumphant return to store shelves back in 2016 with the release of the most recent Ghostbusters Reboot movie, it seemed like it had been almost 20 years since we’d last had a taste of the orange/tangerine-flavored elixir of the gods. For a lot of us, this was a hard and fast truth. Considering most of the drink’s fans were in their late teens and early 20s during the latter half of the 1990s, chances are that they weren’t scouring the store shelves for neon green, fruity kid’s drinks. There was too much Zima and other adult beverages singing a siren song to lull us away from our childhoods.
But, and I’ve written a little bit about this before, were you aware that Ecto Cooler survived the 90s and was still on store shelves into the new millennium? What if I told you that even though Ecto Cooler as a brand was launched in 1989, that the drink was on store shelves before the original Ghostbusters movie was even conceived? It’s true. Before and after Ecto Cooler was a thing, it was still a thing, in fact the exact same thing going forward as far as 2005 and back as far as the 1960s! Even though we associate the neon green concoction with the Ghostbusters franchise, Ecto Cooler is really just a re-branded version of the long-time mainstay Hi-C juice flavor Citrus Cooler.
My folks were big into buying me Hi-C drinks when I was younger, at least not until I relayed my desperate need for Ecto Cooler once that hit, so I really wasn’t familiar with the stable of flavors the brand offered in the 80s. My mom was more into the Ocean Spray drinks. I was aware of their Orange and Grape drink varieties if only because that’s typically what was on offer whenever my elementary schools would have movie nights three times during the year. I vividly remember sitting in the giant, recessed library area for a screening of the Great Mouse Detective on 35mm with a small bag of popcorn and a paper cup of Hi-C Orange drink. But again, that was a rarity in the earlier 80s for me. But I had my eyes opened a little over four years ago when doing some research for my article on the re-launch of Ecto Cooler and I stumbled upon this 70s era Hi-C Citrus Cooler label in the archive of Dan Goodsell…
This label, which now sits in my very own collection, stood out to me because of the neon green background and the fact that one of the kids was sipping on a green glass of juice. Looking at other labels from this era, each one had a corresponding background color to the color of the juice in the cans. So if my hunch was right, then this Citrus Cooler was indeed an otherworldly green in hue, not to mention having half of the Ecto Cooler name already in the title. Could it be that Ecto Cooler existed in the 70s?!?
The second piece of information I had to consider was that after Ecto Cooler & Slimer were given their walking papers in 1999, the company continued to produce the same juice under a new name, Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen. This new iteration made it’s debut to coincide with the brand new millennium (as you can see from the 20 year-old package I have below), and stick around for the next 3-4 years. At the time, in 2001 or 2002 I was tipped to this change by Matt (Dinosaur Dracula) on his first site X-Entertainment. While no stores in the Atlanta metropolitan area carried the flavor, I did reach out to some stores in New York city that did and had a couple cases of it shipped to me over the following two years. As much as I loved being able to shotgun a juice box of my now favorite Hi-C variety, it was pretty damn expensive to have it shipped across country, so I only splurged on the cases twice. So I’m a bit hazy on when Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen was phased out. My conservative guess would be 2005 as there would be one more re-branding in 2006 where Coca Cola (parent company of the Hi-C brand) brought the drink almost full circle by renaming it “Crazy Citrus Cooler” (a label I’m still on the hunt for) before finally retiring it for good a year later in 2007.
The last piece of the “is Citrus Cooler really Ecto Cooler” puzzle for me was when I stumbled on this awesome Citrus Cooler label from 1982…
This style of label was introduced around 1977-1978 and was the main design the company used up until about 1995-6 when the re-branded the entire line-up to introduce the mainly yellow packaging scheme. What I adore about this 1982 label, and what really solidified my impression that Citrus Cooler and Ecto Cooler are one and the same is that this label is almost identical to the original Ecto Cooler labels, just sans Slimer.
So the brand has a history of re-naming the same juice drink variety dating all the way back to the 70s. Well, scratch that, thanks to Dan Goodsell’s recent youtube series where he’s been sharing the bulk of his food ephemera collection in weekly live broadcasts, he highlighted a couple of Citrus Cooler labels in his Hi-C collection that date back to the mid 60s! I have not been able to get my hands on one of those beauties (yet), but the very rad Jason Liebig was gracious enough to let me share this scan of one of his for this piece on the history of Ecto Cooler.
Liebig’s label is from 1970-71, but it in the same design of Goodsell’s earlier mid-60s labels (featuring both an Emmett Kelly hobo clown promotion and the frosty winter-inspired snowflake design of the packaging.) A conservative guess puts the introduction of Citrus Cooler into the Hi-C lineup between 1966-1968. The ’63 line up featured Orange, Grape, Pineapple Grapefruit, “Florida” Fruit Punch, and Orange Pineapple, and in 1965 they added Apple juice with the “New Flavor” logo in print ads. Citrus Cooler was definitely a thing in 1969 without the “New Flavor” logo, so sometime between 1966 and 1968 it had to be introduced.
So kids had been enjoying the amazing flavor of Ecto cooler for a good 20 or more years before it became the Ghostbusters tie-in that we grew to idolize. Add to this the decade that Ecto Cooler was on store shelves, and the additional 7 years that it stayed around as Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen and Crazy Citrus Cooler and it’s astounding that this flavor variety was available for almost if not 40 years straight over five decades! Maybe I’ve been spending too much time in quarantine, but this realization just blows my mind every time I consider it, and it makes me appreciate the product on so many new levels.
In putting this piece together I was chatting with my good bud Roger (who runs the insanely awesome I-Mockery site and the brainchild behind the Ecto Coolest Documentary short) and he was super kind to send me some pictures of a piece from his collection. This one is a 1989 46oz can label with the very coveted Power Glove promotion. My obsession so far has been tracking down pieces of Ecto and Citrus Cooler that mark the different eras, but if I ever swing over to becoming a completest, you better bet I’ll be hunting for a variation of this label! And check out his piece on the 2016 Return of Ecto Cooler by clicking on the images below!
Also, if you have a few minutes, I highly suggest you check out this rad Ecto Coolest Doc by Rog and his friends…
Of course this trip through Ecto Cooler history wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at the label I saved from the 2016 10-Pack juice box packaging. Though it was sans Slimer, I still loved that Coke brought the drink back for the new movie tie-in, and I’m still crossing my fingers we’ll see it return again next year when Ghostbusters: Afterlife hits. Maybe this time we could also make a case to the company to keep the juice drink around. I mean, it sold well enough to last for a 40 year stretch, why not try and add another 40?! I can totally see myself as a grouchy old retiree sucking on an Ecto Cooler and yelling at the neighborhood kids to get off my damn lawn!