This is the story of the Candwich, the sandwich marketed as the world’s only sandwich in a can. It’s a uniquely American story nearly three decades in the making — one of novelty, invention, entrepreneurialism, fraud, failure, and just general skeeving people out. And while it’s been found in fractured pieces and reviews online, I’m going to tell the complete story of the Candwich for the very first time.
But first, the story starts with me. Because for me, the Candwich is personal. I’ve always had a love affair with strange convenience foods. After all, I was a kid born in the 1980s, the first generation raised on Hot Pockets and Lunchables. In college, I survived on those microwave fries in the boxes with the built-in solar panel. I’m still the only adult I know who likes Uncrustables, the frozen pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’m the sort of non-high, non-drunk person who will buy a taquito at a 7-11. On the day my daughter was born, I went to grab a snack from the hospital vending machine, and the machine blessed me with not one, but two bags of jalapeno popper cheese curls.
I am the sort of person who considers myself blessed by vending machines.
So of course when I heard that canned sandwiches exist, and that they were called Candwiches — that beautiful, angelic-choir-sounding portmanteau of a name — I had to have one. Whatever the hell it was. When the Candwich came to market in 2011, I bought one. I am one of the original, few, and only Candwich customers.
Now here’s the plot twist. I just opened that can for the first time, yesterday. It’s now 2018. I’m not just telling the complete history of the Candwich — I’m also going back in time, opening King Tut’s tomb, and unearthing an ancient seven-year-old canned peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the world to see.
But in order to tell the full story, we’ll have to start at the beginning.
The journey begins in Utah, where inventor Mark Kirkland was first inspired by vending machines. He first envisioned the canned sandwich in the 1990s as he plopped some quarters into the machine to get a drink. His idea was convenience, making grabbing a sandwich as easy as grabbing a soda. He pictured Pizza Pockets, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Honey BBQ, Fruit Turnovers, French Toast, and Bacon Cheddar sandwiches — all in cans.
Kirkland looked to the bottled water industry for inspiration. At one point in time, people had openly questioned who would buy water when they could get it for free from the water fountain. Now it was a billion dollar industry. And what if each of those people also grabbed a sandwich to go with their drink? Kirkland was convinced he had the next billion dollar idea. By 2000, he had sold his business to pursue his Candwich dream full-time.
But it was the height of the dot com bubble, and unless you were an internet business, it was near impossible to find investors, especially for a novelty sandwich in a can. There was, however, one man who loved the product. His name was Travis Wright. He was a local money manager and he had a penchant for quirky ideas. He funded greeting cards made out of rose petals and paved his driveway in suburban Utah with imported French cobblestones. He gave Kirkland a huge check to move forward with the Candwich, stringing him along with promises of even bigger investments.
Wright managed Waterford Funding, a real estate loan fund that promised huge returns on hard real estate loans. Bizarrely, he funneled it into the Candwich instead. In doing so, he bilked more than 175 investors out of more than $145 million. A massive canned sandwich Ponzi scheme was a delicious headline, and the media ate it up.
“What they didn’t know was Wright allegedly had other plans. Candwich-related plans,” CBS News reported.
“Candwich Financier Sued For Fraud (ALSO: Canned Sandwiches Exist),” a Huffington Post article headline gleefully read.
“Money in the Bank? No, Sandwich in a Can,” New York Times wrote.
The Candwich was suddenly a part of pop culture lore. Wright went to federal prison on a ten-year-sentence. And buoyed by the free publicity, Mark Kirkland carried on with his Candwich, already in pre-production and getting interest from FEMA and Wal-Mart. However being tangled up in lawsuits from the rogue investor proved a devastating blow, leaving Candwich in a semi-permanent limbo.
It finally came to market in 2011, sold in a handful of Wal-Marts, online retailer ThinkGeek, and randomly enough, 7-11 stores in Salt Lake City, Utah. Only two varieties were ever available — the peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, and the Honey BBQ chicken. Made with technology developed for the military and MREs, the bread inside the can was shelf-stable for a year. All cans included “a candy surprise,” which was a piece of Laffy Taffy.
The jokes and ridicule came instantly — comedian Stephen Colbert commented that we could now “preserve and enjoy a sandwich with the same technology used to store motor oil.” Of the “BBQ Chicken Candwich,” Colbert said, “I am confident only one of those B’s stands for botulism.”
“World’s stupidest inventions,” wrote the New York Daily News. “Batshit crazy convenient food,” said The Eater Blog. NPR added, “if traditional sandwich packaging never took up enough landfill space for your liking, this is the sandwich for you.”
Bloggers were generally more open-minded and thoughtful in their reviews. Most of the reviews were of the peanut butter and jelly Candwich, which seemed to be the predominantly available one. And just what was in the cans? Well, most reviewers were disappointed not to find a congealed soggy horror show sandwich inside — but instead a neatly packed roll in plastic wrap, a plastic knife, and sealed packets of both peanut butter and jelly.
“It’s like opening your school lunchbox only to discover Mom just threw in two slices of bread and a can of tuna fish, with a note reading, “You take it from here,” wrote one blogger on The Takeout.
“If you’ve had a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, it should be pretty easy to imagine eating a Candwich: Just envision that sandwich, but made using a hot-dog bun that’s been sitting out for a couple hours. The bread is the real problem here: It’s soft but not moist, with a chemically induced freshness that makes it seem stale when it isn’t. It disintegrates easily, which means lots of bread crumbs mixed in with your smooth PB&J mélange. The ratio of bread to filling is also off, resulting in a lot of subpar bread and not enough ooey-gooey filling. It’s not a bad sandwich, per se, but when dealing with a sandwich as idiot-proof as the PB&J, any flaws seem much more glaring,” wrote the Takeout blogger.
In the positive camp, an assumingly jovial dude writer at Dude Foods blog wrote, “I was actually pleasantly surprised how good my sandwich tasted, especially the bread. The Laffy Taffy was a nice touch too. If they’d add a package of powdered milk to the can as well they could really turn this into an entire meal in a can.”
Blogger The Impusive Buy wrote, “I’m extremely disappointed the Peanut Butter and Grape Jelly Candwich didn’t gross me out.”
Reviews of the Honey BBQ Chicken Candwich proved more elusive to find. And unlike the PB&J, the BBQ sandwich was pre-made, with the meat baked into the shelf-stable bread. One blogger, Josie Cooks, provided the annals of history with the most descriptive review of the Honey BBQ:
“If you went camping and only packed enough food for 3 days, then got stuck out in the middle of the woods with no cell signal and no way to gather food from the woods, then by day 7 or 8, you might enjoy the Candwich. The bread was incredibly dry and had the texture of the sponges people use to do their dishes. The texture of the filling wasn’t that great– like chewed up BBQ chicken. The flavor honestly wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. I just can’t get over the texture. So, unless there is a zombie apocalypse, you won’t see me eating a Candwich.”
On the other hand, an apocalyptic blog Prepper Days, wrote, “the meat was kind of vinegary but good. Mind you I ate mine cold, may take on a different taste when warmed. Over all I would say that I love these little Candwich’s. Im not sure of the price across the nation however, I do know that at my Wal-Mart they were only $1.25 Im going to be going back to purchase a lot more of these for my Bug Out Bag’s, Car Emergency Kits, and for friends and family.”
And as for your blogger The Surfing Pizza here, I bought the PB&J Candwich with the intention of reviewing it, but never got around to it, and besides, all the good jokes had already been made. I felt there was nothing else I could add to the national conversation of canned sandwiches.
So instead I gave it to a friend for Christmas that year. He sat that garish purple can containing one shelf-stable peanut butter and jelly sandwich on his shelf in his apartment, until he eventually packed it up in boxes when he moved, where it would sit in his basement for the next seven years…
The Candwich story might have ended there, as a somewhat infamous, strange, foodstuff that ultimately failed and faded. Yet inventor Mark Kirkland was not ready to give up. In 2016, he redesigned and relaunched the Candwich.
Determined not to make the same mistakes with bad investors, this time, he would go the route of crowdfunding, raising over eleven thousand dollars in a successful but not taking the world by storm Indiegogo campaign.
Tiers of the Indiegogo campaign included a $150 “Doomsday Special” in which one would recieve 60 cans. The blog New Atlas had the best line about that, writing “that’s a 30 day supply of sustenance and sadness, and when that runs out, well, you’ll likely welcome death.”
Indeed, the marketing behind Candwich remains as strange as ever. The website advertises to everyone and anything. Kids, they love the Candwich! Teens, it won’t crush in your backpack! Active life mountain climbers, this food stays fresh for over a year! Moms, it’s a healthy alternative to junk food! Doomsday preppers, these cans float in floods!
Actual copy from the website reads, “It’s waterproof, it floats, and stays awesome. Be ready for the next hurricane, earthquake, or the next time your kids are hungry and late for soccer.”
It’s awkward — which has always been Candwich’s greatest flaw. You might need a Candwich if you’re close to death… or you know, if the kids are late for soccer.
There’s also this new achingly transparent video / attempt-to-go-viral, that really highlights the awkwardness of Candwich.
Despite being funded over a year ago, Mark One Foods has not delivered any products to their crowdfund investors — though as of four months ago, October 2017, they were still posting updates of promised future Candwiches, citing production issues with ingredients.
I reached out to Candwich via the website and was pleased to get a response.
They wrote, “we’re making progress finally after troubles with the co-packer we had placed an order with. Our new co-packer is about ready to start filling our orders. Please let us know if we can help with the article. Right now we have an overseas order for 2 million units we will be filling.”
It was signed, somewhat lovingly, Team Candwich.
You know what? Consider me Team Candwich. It’s kind of weird, it’s awkward, it’s me. Candwich is me in sandwich form. And when I’m trying to survive the hundred-year flood, I’ll have a waterproof apple turnover to eat. And when that doesn’t happen, then I’ll throw it in my kid’s backpack so his teachers can think I’m the world’s laziest human being.
A couple of weeks ago my friend Dave messaged me.
“Guess what I found,” he wrote.
The expiration date on the bottom read, best by August 2012. It had expired six years ago.
WHAT WAS INSIDE?
Opening the can felt like an excavation. We peered inside with trepidation, and there it sat, wrapped in plastic: a small loaf of bread that has lived on this earth for over 2,555 days without breaking down or decaying whatsoever.
And it smelled absolutely stomach-revoltingly disgusting, like beer fermenting in a dumpster sitting in the middle of a swamp. It was also an uncomfortable shade of brown.
The peanut butter and jelly packets survived the near-entirety of the Obama administration well enough. I didn’t have the heart to inform them who or what the President is now. The peanut butter squeezed out with a fudge-like consistency, fragrant as a baby diaper.
On the other hand, the jelly had thinned in its old age, dripping out of the packet and smelling like a sweet wine.
Since it was his Christmas present, I made my friend Dave open the can, construct the sandwich, and eat it.
Alright, so he didn’t eat it. The bread smelled so terrible that it made our eyes water, triggering the primordial biological impulse to run away screeching like hyenas warning the rest of the pack of the impending famine and disease.
But because I’m an asshole, I strongly encouraged him to take…”just a bite.” You know, for the blog. Come on, man. For the blog.
So he did. He promptly regurgitated it in my trashcan.
I recorded it for annals of history. Finally, this is my contribution to the national conversation on the Candwich, a conversation I hope may never end. The Candwich story: novelty, convenience, fraud, undying bread — and perhaps most American of all — the comeback kid.