Kraft Dinner can’t dispute that Canadians associate it with cheap eats

Marc Weisblott
·National Affairs Reporter

Kraft Dinner's parent company ordered a Calgary cooking instructor this week to stop smearing its name with a student course called "Kick the KD."

And, in turn, the company exploited the chance to remind Canadians about the conflicted cultural impact of its bright orange noodles.

The near-instant meal-in-a-box has been as stigmatized as it has been celebrated over the decades, especially as the Kraft Dinner name introduced in 1937 by Sam Kraft stuck in Canada, even after it was blandly rebranded in the U.S. as Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

When it was entrenched in the public consciousness as a poor person's food that rich people might prefer with Dijon ketchup, in the Barenaked Ladies song "If I Had $1,000,000," the Kraft Dinner name even managed to resonate with American fans who enthusiastically pelted the band with boxes.

Meanwhile, the company touted statistics that showed Canadians consumed 65 million boxes of KD in recession-ravaged 1993.

Competition from cheaper private-label supermarket brands forced Kraft to step up its game, which led to the introduction of white cheddar and cheese-and-tomato varieties, followed by creamier sauces and spiral shapes.

Food technology later advanced to the cauliflower-and-wheat variety of Kraft Dinner Smart, the individual snack-sized Easy Mac, and a microwavable Kraft Dinner Cup.

KD Crackers, introduced two years ago, confirmed the flavour of powdered cheese had become iconic enough to thrive in crunchier form.

Still, that hasn't kept Kraft Dinner from being constantly evoked as a last-ditch meal for those who can't afford something more, including at protests over soaring tuition costs.

Since the company can't keep its name from being mentioned in media coverage of food banks, Dan Clapson's non-profit course at the University of Calgary could at least be forced to change its name, an appropriation made clear with its use of a KD-inspired logo.

Kraft wanted him, and all media outlets that inevitably reported the cease-and-desist order, to understand its signature product is a source of calcium and iron, and a good source of protein, "in addition to being delicious."

While the current federal election campaign has managed to be free of any Kraft Dinner references, so far, Stephen Harper once used the product to differentiate himself from the lineage of former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin.

"I'll never be able to give my kids a billion-dollar company, but Laureen and I are saving for their education," the then-aspiring Conservative leader said in 2004. "And I have actually cooked them Kraft Dinner — I like to add wieners."