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The long online afterlife of discontinued food

Just because a food product has been discontinued doesn't mean it's gone forever.

A secondary market has sprung up on eBay (EBAY) for long-gone or soon-to-be departed packaged goods, ranging from the short-lived Crystal Pepsi to Betty Crocker's Rainbow Chip frosting. Some of the items carry price tags in the hundreds of dollars. While those prices may seem optimistic, the sellers are clearly hoping to tap into Americans' nostalgia for foods of yore.

That was evident just a few years ago, when Twinkies became the focus of junk-food nuts and hoarders after Hostess said it would shut down its operations. While some consumers may have been buying up the snack cakes for their own pleasure, others started hawking them on eBay at considerably marked-up prices. While that run was short-lived, given that Twinkies were back in production after an eight-month hiatus, other discontinued snack foods go on enjoying a long afterlife, thanks to the Internet.

Crystal Pepsi fans can find both full containers and empty cans on eBay, with prices commensurate to their contents. One seller is looking for $500 for three unopened 2-liter bottles of the soda, which was a caffeine-free soda PepsiCo (PEP) sold in the early 1990s.

Despite a flashy marketing campaign that included a Super Bowl ad, the soda fizzled, leading Pepsi to squash the drink after less than a year on the market.

Betty Crocker's Rainbow Chip frosting was such a cult favorite that its manufacturer has an FAQ about the icing on its website. The frosting was sold from the mid-1980s through the middle of 2013, when it was discontinued. Betty Crocker explained that it "believed consumers wanted chips on top, not in the frosting."

That prompted fans to create a Facebook (FB) page dedicated to the frosting, with 16,000 supporters joining in. While Betty Crocker said it would bring back the topping this summer, it has been difficult to find in stores, leading entrepreneurial types to hawk it on eBay. New, sealed tins of the topping are selling for about $12 on the auction site, or about six times its retail price of $2.

What other discontinued items are available online? Cinnamon Tic Tacs, mango-flavored Altoids and Kellogg's Frosted Hot Fudge Sundae Pop Tarts are among a few you can find on eBay, which has a list of "the greatest discontinued '90s treats" for interested junk-food aficionados.

The demand means people with supplies of long-gone foods in their basement might be able to make a tidy profit from selling them online. As for buyers, it's best to read the fine print or message sellers about the expiration dates, unless you intend to buy the product for mere nostalgia.

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