By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY
Long before smoothies and Frappuccinos there was the Slurpee. The slushy, colorful 7-Eleven brand - and American icon - turns 40 today and is still popular for the same reasons it caught on back then: fun, variety, "brain freeze" and colored tongues.
"We've kept it fun with the interesting flavors we've had over the years," says Jim Keyes, 7-Eleven CEO. "At the heart of it, it's just a fun product that people enjoy."
Today, consumers can enjoy a free sample at 7-Eleven's 5,800 stores in the USA and Canada. The samples kick off a month-long Slurpee promotion that includes radio play of original 1960s Slurpee ads, retro 1973 cups, Coca-Cola-developed flavors Blue Blunder Berry and Gully Washer, free music downloads and a giveaway of four Mini Coopers in a Slurpee color.
Slurpee was born in Kansas at a Dairy Queen where owner Omar Knedlik served semi-frozen bottled soft drinks. When they were a hit, he worked with a Dallas company to develop the "Icee" machine that replicated that consistency in slushy soft drinks served at 28 degrees.
When a 7-Eleven manager happened upon an Icee machine in a rival's store, he saw potential and got them into three 7-Eleven stores in 1965. Within two years, they were in almost every 7-Eleven - renamed Slurpees for the noise they make through a straw.
"It hasn't changed a lot in 40 years," says John Ryckevic, a member of 7-Eleven's beverage team that helped promote Slurpee in its heyday. "You can't say that about a lot of brands."
Slurpee fun facts:
• Consumption. Since 1965, more than 6 billion Slurpees have been sold. They're now sold in 17 countries. U.S. annual sales alone are $170 million.
• The magic of the machine. Syrup, carbon dioxide and water are mixed under pressure in a freezing chamber.
• Building the brand. In 1970, Slurpee marketing included Slurp magazine and a dance step and song called The Slurp.
I haven't had one of these in a very long time. A Slurpee float is very yummy. Happy Birthday Slurpee!