Nabisco Animal Crackers Set Free

Nabisco Animal Crackers Set Free

Animal crackers, long depicted behind bars in iconic packaging that resembled circus boxcars, are going cage-free.

Bowing to pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — and changing tastes — Mondelez International is rolling out new box artwork for the small, animal-shaped cookies, with the lion, giraffe, elephant, gorilla and zebra set loose and roaming wild.

“We’re delighted,” PETA spokesman Ben Williamson said Tuesday. “We’re celebrating the redesign just as we celebrated the end of the circus.”

Mondelez confirmed that the new animal cracker boxes are beginning to hit store shelves nationwide but stopped short of fully crediting PETA for the redesign.

“PETA definitely reached out and shared their concerns,” said Kimberly Fontes, a Mondelez spokeswoman. “The brand felt it was the right time to make a change.”

Still named Barnum’s Animals crackers, a nod to circus impresario P.T. Barnum, the cookies were launched in 1902 by Nabisco’s forerunner, the National Biscuit Co. Animal crackers are one of the oldest brands in the portfolio of Deerfield-based snack giant Mondelez, which owns Nabisco.

The packaging has changed little over the years, with animals caged in boxcars, ostensibly in transit for the circus, long a battleground for PETA over alleged abuse of animals.

PETA first reached out to Mondelez in April 2016 to express concerns about the animal crackers box and its representation of a circus life where animals were often mistreated and forced to perform “confusing and painful tricks,” Williamson said.

In July 2016, PETA submitted new proposed artwork for the box featuring the animals uncaged and roaming wild.

The outreach initiated a dialogue but no immediate action by Mondelez.

But the public’s appetite for animal circuses was clearly waning.

In January 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it would be closing after 146 years, ending the “Greatest Show on Earth” amid dwindling audiences and pressure from PETA and other animal rights groups.

Six months later, Mondelez told PETA it was planning a redesign of the animal crackers box that would likewise liberate the creatures from cages.

Mondelez shared the new design with PETA in August 2017, which Williamson said was “remarkably similar” to the group’s own submission. PETA has no plans to file a copyright infringement lawsuit, Williamson said.

“People are staying away from animal circuses in droves,” Williamson said. “They won’t tolerate seeing animals abused for some form of historic amusement, and we’re glad that marketing efforts are now catching up to that reality.”

Nabisco has changed the Barnum’s Animals design before, for limited special editions such as endangered species and zoo collections sold during the 1990s.

But the cookies have remained essentially the same for 116 years, with the exception of some animals coming and going. Camels, for example, are no longer part of the cookie menagerie, but the elephant, giraffe and lion have been “pretty constant” throughout the brand’s history, Fontes said.

Fontes did not offer specific sales figures for animal crackers, but she pointed to their longevity as a sign of their enduring appeal. Mondelez has not received any negative feedback from consumers over the box redesign, she said.

While the exotic animals have been set free from their cages, the end game is still the same: to be greedily devoured whole, often in a single bite, species by delicious species.

PETA is apparently OK with that.

“They’re eating a snack,” Williamson said.