Sunday, July 21, 2013

Nintendo Popeye Trump cards - San.o Popeye Ramen sales promotion (early 1960s)

A lesser known chapter in the history of Nintendo is their period as producer of packaged food.

In the early 1960s, Nintendo was part of a three-company consortium that was called San'ō syokuhin (サンオー食品株式会社). The other two members in the consortium were the University of Kyoto and the Omikenshi Company.

Nintendo had set up this consortium as a response to the tremendous success of Cup Noodle, the instant noodle dish invented by the Japanese firm Nissin in 1958. The Nintendo led consortium's purpose was to take a piece of the growing market for convenience food. In order to do this, they developed a new product: instant rice. They would later also produce instant noodles (ramen).

The San.o products did not become a big success (lore has it that they did not taste very well) and because of the very nature of these perishable goods, very limited evidence of them remains today.

Original envelop that was used to send the sweepstake prize

Recently I did find one of their sales promotions. This promotion was an effort to boost sales for San.o Popeye Ramen (ポパイ ラーメン). Apparently, a prize draw was held for customers of this brand of ramen, with the lucky winners receiving a pack of playing cards.

With Nintendo involvement in the San.o consortium, it was almost inevitable that the sales promotion would use one of Nintendo's own products, which at this time were still predominately playing cards.

The text on the envelop thanks the customers for their patronage of the product.

Thank you "letter" on the outside of the envelop


Firstly, we would like to thank you very much for buying our new Popeye Ramen.

A lot of people have participated in our lottery and we are pleased to announce that you that you have been selected as one of the few winners! We are very happy to send you today a Popeye Trump with this letter.

We hope that you will continue to eat and love our Popeye Ramen for a long time.

San.o Syokuhin Kabushikigaisha, Kyôto, Uji-city"

The winner received a pack of Nintendo Popeye Trump (ポパイ トランプ) cards.

The picture on the back of the cards is a strange mix of popeye cartoon drawing and a photo of a steam train.

At the time of this promotion, Nintendo has just acquired the rights from King Features Syndicate to use the Popeye figures on their playing cards.

Pack is still sealed, with the trump tax seal

When Nintendo entered the instant food business, they used or extended this license for Popeye Ramen.

To this day, no picture has surfaced of the Popeye Ramen, so we do not know how the packaging looked. Maybe a picture exists deep inside the archives of Nintendo or one of the other consortium members?

San'ō syokuhin furikake (seasoning) product called Popeye Gold Flicker

[Update from 2020/21] I did find two related products from the San'ō syokuhin company: two versions of a seasoning mix called Popeye Flicker. Check out this post and this post for more information.

Thank you to Florent Gorges for translation support.

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