Last month -- just in time for a new season of college football -- Kraft Foods released a new line of Jell-O molds in the shapes of various university logos. Four of the "jiggler mold kits" were unveiled last year, but products for 16 more teams have now been added, including the University of Alabama, Ohio State University, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
In a press release, Kraft said the kits are meant to be used in creating Jell-O treats for tailgate parties for alumni and fans. But some are concerned that the themed molds could be seen as university-endorsed invitations to create alcohol-laced "Jell-O shots" -- a mixed message for universities fighting to curb binge drinking among students.
Jell-O shots are so ubiquitous that a recent Associated Press article about Jell-O's financial troubles placed the alcoholic treats right next to Bill Cosby when describing the product's enduring cultural appeal. Everybody remembers those old Cosby ads for Jell-O pudding, the AP wrote, and everybody remembers "knocking back Jell-O shots" in college.
Kraft admits that it is aware Jell-O shots are a popular way to consume the dessert, but the company told the website Vocativ that it doesn't condone using the molds for that purpose. The half-dozen universities contacted for this article did not return requests for comment.
Posts on Twitter and customer reviews on Amazon.com reveal that some fans are using the molds for making shots, but to mixed success.
The trays, customers said, are shallower than the plastic and paper cups typically used to create Jell-O shots, meaning they hold less alcohol. "These would really only make Jell-O half-shots," reads one review. Another unhappy customer gave up and transferred the Jell-O mix that came with the molds to some tried-and-true Dixie cups. The results, the customer wrote, were "delicious." The more glowing reviews come from fans who used the molds to create non-alcoholic Jell-O jigglers.
Experts on campus drinking are skeptical.
"It could be that kids all over the country on college game days are enjoying alcohol-free Jell-O shots while sitting on pickup truck tailgates," said Aaron White, the program director of college and underage drinking prevention research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "This could all be good, clean fun. But it's definitely sending a mixed message. If I were a student, I'd be awfully confused if I heard about the dangers of drinking and drinking games at freshman orientation and then when I got to Wal-Mart, I found these Jell-O molds with my school's logo on it."
The financial details behind the universities' licensing deals with Kraft have not been released, but colleges have a profitable history of licensing their trademarks to products that may sometimes send a mixed message to students. Shot glasses and pint glasses sporting college logos have been a mainstay at university bookstores for decades. Some colleges have even licensed their logos to appear on Ping-Pong balls and so-called "tailgate tables." Many college students have other names for the products, often used for the campus favorite beer pong.
Jell-O shots can be a particularly risky form of binge drinking, White said.
Because Jell-O masks the flavor of the alcohol, it can be difficult for students to recognize how many drinks they've actually consumed. Like the similarly fruit-flavored and highly alcoholic college staple "Jungle Juice," when students consume Jell-O shots "the line between a small buzz and a dangerous overdose is very thin," White said. Students may also think of Jell-O as food, he added, meaning the consumption could be happening on a dangerously empty stomach.
David Arnold, the director of alcohol abuse prevention initiatives at NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, said he doesn't believe the molds are going to sway any students into doing Jell-O shots.
"I think that students who participate in Jell-O shooters are going to no matter what's available to them," Arnold said. "I think the messages students receive during matriculation and pre-matriculation from their institutions are very loud and clear. We do know that most students make healthy decisions even in tailgate environments, where we tend to expect them not to."
White also said that most students make safe decisions regarding alcohol and that colleges work hard to prevent students from binge drinking. But if that's the case, he asked, why muddy the message with officially licensed beer pong products and Jell-O molds?
"It could be much ado about nothing, but it is at least counterproductive," he said. "The big issue is really the larger question of what message are schools sending to their students if on one hand they're putting money into prevention, and on the other hand they're profiting off products that are used in the consumption of alcohol. It's a mixed message that probably isn't worth the extra money."
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