The history of confection is rich with brands that have had the briefest flashes of life and others that have withstood the test of time. But even some stalwarts of the candy isle that stuck around for generations eventually fade into sweet obscurity. Such is the case with the topic of today’s post – Tom’s Full Dinner.
Inventor Tom Huston founded the Tom Huston Peanut Company in April of 1925 out of the city of Columbus, Georgia. Just a few years later in 1932 Huston lost the company due to a combination of over-expansion and a failed other venture. The Tom’s name remained and over the course of the decades that followed the company branched out heavily into candy. One of the company’s most well-known and strangely-named bars through those years was Tom’s Full Dinner.
I was not able to zero in on exactly when the Full Dinner bar was introduced, but my best estimate is during The Great Depression of the 1930’s, when sugary treats were sometimes marketed as a replacement for a costly meal. Tom’s Full Dinner may have also taken inspiration from the Sperry company’s successful Chicken Dinner bar.
The oldest Full Dinner wrapper I have dates back to the early years of the brand:
A regional brand known largely to those in the South, the 1940’s would see Tom’s begin to receive national recognition. This was in large part due to Tom’s candy and snack products being stocked at Army bases in the south and the flood of soldiers training and being stationed in those bases during World War II.
Tom’s would purchase the McAfee Candy Company, located in Macon Georgia, in 1962. That acquisition would lead to a large expansion of their existing confectionery lineup. In 1966, General Foods purchased Tom’s from the group of investors who had held it since the 1930’s. [Correction: General Mills, not General Foods, purchased Tom’s in 1966.]
Though Tom Huston hadn’t been a part of the company since 1932, it still retained his name until the late 1960’s as the Tom Huston Peanut Company:
In 1970 the name of the company officially became Tom’s Foods, finally dropping the surname of its founder.
I have a pair of wrappers from the early 1970’s that are nearly identical, though one is remarkable in that it’s the earliest Full Dinner wrapper I have that lists milk chocolate as an ingredient.
I can’t say for certain which wrapper came first, or if the milk chocolate was added or dropped but my guess is that it was added sometime in the late 60’s and dropped later on.
By the mid-1970’s it would seem that milk chocolate had been dropped from the recipe as there is no mention of it on this next trimmed down partial wrapper or the two that follow it. This is the first time that an illustration of the bar is included on the wrapper design. [Note: Inflation, as well as unstable sugar and other ingredient prices in the 1970’s caused many manufacturers to drop milk chocolate from their products.]
Moving away from the fanciful logo of that 1975 wrapper, the 1978 Full Dinner design became more straightforward:
This next wrapper in my collection is from 1981 and lists Tom’s Foods as a division of CPG Products Group – which I believe was the toys and games subsidiary of General Foods. If I’m correct, I find it a strange group to place a candy and snack division into.
In 1983 the British Confectioner Rowntree-Mackintosh purchased Tom’s Foods and they would operate it for the next five years. I believe the most recent Full Dinner wrapper in my collection comes from this period, though there is no indication of the Rowntree-Mackintosh affiliation on it. [Note the return of milk chocolate as an ingredient.]:
Tom’s Foods would undergo more ownership changes in the subsequent years, finally becoming a subsidiary of Lance Incorporated in 2005. [Note: I do believe that by the 1990’s Tom’s left the candy business to focus solely on their snack products.]
It is those snack products that Tom’s is still known for today and their reputation as a quality snack manufacturer remains, nearly a century after Tom Huston founded his Peanut Company. And though Tom’s is no longer in the candy business, their place in confectionery history is solidified due in no small part to the decades when Tom’s Full Dinner bar was in candy isles across the country.
And that’s everything for today and our look back at a discontinued confectionery classic – Tom’s Full Dinner.
See you next time!
Excellent article! Very informational!
Interesting that Rowntrees owned Tom’s Foods for a while, 1983+5 years would date it to the Nestle takeover. Presumably Nestle weren’t too interested in Tom’s Foods and sold it on. As far as I was aware the 1969 license deal for Kit-Kat and Rolo with Hershey (which still runs now much to the irritation of Nestle) was the only time Rowntree Mackintosh actually made any inroads in the US.
I am not certain if the Nestle takeover is what prompted the divestment of Tom’s but it’s at least a possibility.
As far as the licensing deal with Hershey for Rolo and KitKat, I had come to think that didn’t go into effect at least until the early 70’s. I have a Rolo wrapper that I believe is early 70’s, that is still distributed by Necco under license from Rowntree-Mackintosh.
Also, and I’ve yet to cover it, but Rowntree-Mackintosh did bring some products directly the USA in the early 80’s – though that was through Rowntree-Demets – maybe coming down from Canada.
Yes, I was really just guessing that it was Nestle putting it up for sale given the date it happened coinciding with the takeover; it could of course have been the “group of local investors” who made all the running – it would be interesting to see what happened.
Agreed. I always hope (and occasionally it has happened) that those with hard facts or people who were involved will chime in and share here on the comments.
Until that happens, the best we can do is guess and try to corroborate from what is documented as fact, elsewhere.
It’s quite fun. 🙂
Great post–we love Tom’s still today down South. I don’t remember “Full Dinner”, but it looks awesome!
One correction: Tom’s was bought by General Mills, not General Foods. The toy division of General Mills included Kenner, Parker Brothers, and Paint-by-Number kits.
Tom’s current owner, Snyder’s-Lance, does have a few confectionery products like Lance Peanut Roll.
Dig: Thanks for the correction – now changed in the article. I often interchange the two General companies by accident. D’oh!
Also, cool to hear that Lance still has a few confectionery items. They used to have a bit more – I even have Lance-branded bubble gum in my collection.
Did Tom’s ever have their own version of Peanut M&M’s? I have a very vague, very hazy childhood memory of this, and have no idea if I were dreaming or not (LOL)
I was about 4-6 at the time; which would’ve been the years 1974-1976. I got them from a very small country store in rural southeastern Virginia. I never knew where to ask this question….until today. I remember liking them a lot better than the “real” M&M’s. Thanks!
Tom’s did make their version of Peanut M&M’s but I do not recall the name. I think it was Peanut Candies or something like that. They were several colors with a peanut center. They were not a popular as the real M&M’s but still sold pretty good as I recall. I had a Tom’s distributorship back in the late 70’s to early 80’s but sold out. Unfortunately Tom’s was not able to keep up with the changing marker. Tom’s was geared to sell the all the Mom and Pop stores and when that market started disappearing with the introduction of quick shops then Tom’s started losing business. They had excellent snack products and were actually Lance’s main competition back in those days. They were also heavy into vending machines and that was more competitive than the OTC sales.
I remember eating this candy at the swimming pool when I was about nine or ten(circa 1970). I loved it. The taste and consistency was similar to a 5th Avenue. Delicious.
I loved full dinner candy bars in my youth (sometime after 1970 probably). It will be a treat to try a 5th Avenue and see if the memories return. Thanks
My first Full Dinner came from a Toms machine in Hernandez, New Mexico in the mid 60’s. A childhood friend of my dads owned the C-store and gas station. I remember the wrapper and the subsequent ones. Anytime someone asks what my candy bar is. Full Dinner gets the nod.
The Full Dinner was my all time favorite. Wish I had one now!!
I remember eating Full Dinner in the 70’s and it was love at first bite. I never met anyone else who’s ever heard of them until stumbling across this post. Maybe it was because I was young and skinny, but these candy bars lived up to their name – I could eat one and my hunger was satisfied.
Some enterprising entrepreneur could make a bundle off me if they were to recreate it and bring it back to life.