July 11 is nearing, and for many around our nation and the world, this signals a truly monumental event. I’m talking about Free Slurpee Day.
To some, the Slurpee is a mere symbol of syrupy, technicolored overindulgence. Lowly sources of sugar highs, brain freezes, and red and blue-stained tongues. A 28°F, nutritionally devoid cup of toxic-looking slush. But for me, and many, Slurpees represent much more: home, childhood, friends, and family.
Growing up in suburban Colorado, there wasn’t much else to do on hot summer days than walk to the single 7-Eleven in town, conveniently just down the street from my house, and layer a clear, plastic cup with a variety of bright, slushy flavors.
I was all about the eclectic mix, and all combinations were fair game. Though sometimes banana would end up mingling with Coke — definitely not recommended — there was something undeniably beautiful about the way the colors mingled together to make a sugary, impressionistic watercolor. Call me the Van Gogh of the gas station.
Slurpees were also a tradition between me and my dad, who would often go grab a cup of the sweet frozen stuff in lieu of dessert. When the 7-Eleven shut down years ago, becoming a soup restaurant instead, we mourned the loss for months.
So, naturally, if there’s one marketing gimmick a year I get really excited about, it’s Free Slurpee Day.
The perennial convenience store chain began Free Slurpee Day in 2002, offering the first 1,000 people through the door of each location a (of course) 7.11-oz. Slurpee. About 7 million free Slurpees were given out that year.
Since then, Slurpee Day has evolved, upgrading the free cup size to their small (12 oz.), and, in 2014, expanding the day into a whole freebie week, offering up steals on cookies, Twinkies, Big Gulps, and other convenience store classics.
How do you get one? Just walk into any 7-Eleven store on July 11 (Get it? 7/11?) and ask for one, between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
If you’re thinking, “So what’s in it for them?”, Free Slurpee Day is in fact a huge sales day for 7-Elevens nationally. And that doesn’t just go for savory side snacks. Oddly enough, the sales of Slurpees themselves on Free Slurpee Day in 2011 were up 38 percent from average — proving that people are willing to pay for more of what they love.
And man, do people love their Slurpees. About 7,290,000 gallons of Slurpee — or 12 Olympic-size swimming pools worth — are consumed worldwide every year. So how exactly did this multinational frozen phenomenon come to be?
The History of the Slurp
The Icee was inadvertently invented in 1958 when a Kansas Dairy Queen owner named Omar Knedlik accidentally left sodas in his freezer for too long, resulting in half-frozen bottles. His customers ended up loving the slushy treat, and his mistake creation quickly gained popularity with local crowds.
Knedlik set out to take these frozen carbonated drinks mainstream, and after five years of trial and error, the modern Icee machine was born, with separate spouts for each flavor and a “tumbler” that kept the contents rotating in the back to keep them in their pre-freeze, liquid form.
In 1965, soon after the Icee’s creation, 7-Eleven struck a licensing deal with ICEE under two conditions: the product had to carry a different name and could only be sold at 7-Eleven locations. Thus, the Slurpee was born.
The newly named drink quickly became a pop culture phenomenon, particularly with the younger generations of the ‘60s and ‘70s, who were attracted to the token psychedelic Slurpee cup designs that are still used today.
In the early days, the Slurpee even had its own record-length radio advertisements with funky tunes such as “Dance the Slurp,” which was a surprising hit with audiences.
In the 1970s, as a result of the booming success of the Slurpee, the chain’s marketers began working with various brands to take up ad space on the side of the distinctive cups.
This integrated marketing was kicked up a notch further in the 1990s and 2000s, as the company introduced branded Slurpee varieties to promote various blockbusters, such as the “Mutant Berry” flavor to advertise “X-Men” in 2009.
Including these specialty flavors, there have been hundreds of Slurpee flavors over the years, from timeless classics like Coke, Wild Cherry, Watermelon, Mountain Dew, and Banana — to new creations, such as the Sour Patch Watermelon flavor, which debuted in stores on July 1.
Since the Slurpee’s debut, the chain has sold a staggering 7.2 billion units worldwide — enough for every person on the planet. The drink even got a shout out from President Obama, who gave the Slurpee a shout-out in a news conference, adding, “They’re delicious drinks.”
In case you thought otherwise, we regret to inform you that a Slurpee has no nutritional value whatsoever. A 16 oz. serving of Wild Cherry will set you back 132 calories, 36 grams of carbohydrates and 18 grams of sugar. Of course, Slurpee cups are also offered in 22, 32, and 44 oz. servings — so do the math, if you dare.
However, I think it’s safe to say the crowds coming out in hoards on 7/11 won’t be closely considering how a free Slurpee might benefit their health.
This year, to celebrate the chain’s 88th birthday, they’re going bigger than ever, rolling out a “7Rewards week” exclusively for their mobile app users, which will offer customers $2 of food or drink for free from July 12-18.
And of course, on 7/11 itself, customers will be able to grab their free Slurpee from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. local standard time in all locations while supplies last, no purchase necessary.
Complimentary brain freeze also included with every free Slurpee served.
Looking for more ways to cool off?