In the seven months since Omega Mart opened, our products have quenched, sated and discombobulated thousands of customers.
How does Omega Mart capture the majestic bass of a whale song in a deodorant?
Where do we find the lascivious spices found in Salt After Dark?
How is any of this legal?
You asked, and we’re answering. (As much as we can.) We talked to some of the brilliant brains behind the labels of your favorite Omega Mart products. And to be honest, even we were surprised with some of what we found.
Did you know, for example, that Whale Song deodorant and Happles -- the happy apple -- have been around for almost 10 years? That’s right. They date back to before Omega Mart’s brick-and-mortar location when it was little more than a glorified yard sale in Santa Fe.
It was the brainchild of Meow Wolf’s Emily Montoya and Benji Geary, and one of Meow Wolf’s very first installations. True to Meow Wolf’s art-education ethos, the duo took the idea to Santa Fe public schools, visiting classes and encouraging students to think up their own wacky products.
While they didn’t use any of the ideas, “the kids got it immediately,” Emily says. “A giant sponge in a box for cows that had been abducted. Fish soap. Really good stuff.”
In 2012, Emily and Benji opened a pop-up Omega Mart, building out as many products as they could on a modest DIY budget.
“They weren’t real products — it was like, ‘let’s take a gallon jug of milk and fill it with paint and write “Elk Milk” in Sharpie.’ ”
That initial run included Whale Song, which — like all great toiletry ideas — came to Emily in a dream.
But most of Omega Mart’s products were born in a thought cyclone. Er, brainstorm, for the uninitiated.
Meow Wolf writers, graphic designers, and other artists gathered together for days-long brainstorms, focusing on different aisles -- cleaning, health and beauty, produce, and more -- on different days.
A condiment-focused day, for example, involved field trips to the grocery store. The idea was to study ketchup and mustard in their natural habitat to see what makes them tick, which is exactly how Caribbean Fiesta Font, Omega Mart’s award-winning* spicy mustard, came to be.
If its slogan -- “Hot, hot yellow! It’s yes!” -- has a kick of robot logic, that’s exactly the idea.
But not all products were created by Omega Mart. Those cans of Schanudenfreude and Inspirations are provided by New York’s Brooklyn Superhero Company. And nonprofit 826 Valencia are responsible for those Mammoth Chunks you’ll find in the doomsday prepper meal aisle. Others were collaborations with outside manufacturers.
Needless to say, it wasn’t always easy to get them on board. Omega Mart product coordinator Briar Schwartz had the tricky job of figuring out how Omega Mart’s other-worldly products could be mass-produced, taken home, and, in many cases, consumed.
“It propelled us into this whole new regulatory world,” Briar says. “We’re actually selling peanut butter that customers can go home and eat, so we had to meet FDA regulations, our vendors have to be legit, the products need expiration dates...it’s a whole thing.”
For all parties, the conversations were novel. “I’m working externally with these cut and dried cereal manufactures,” Briar says, “who are like ‘You want to call a cereal 'Simply Spiders’ and trying to keep a straight face.”
But Omega Mart customers have proven there’s a market for gnarly-sounding foodstuffs: Vegan Goat Pus Lemonade, for example, is one of Omega Mart’s top sellers.
Then again, there’s a difference between what sounds like it should be illegal and what is actually legal. Can you sell a cereal box full of recycled HDPE plastic, for example? With enough disclaimers, yes. (That’d be artist Nick Toll’s Corn of Plenty cereal.)
With a list of a 1000+ ideas, not every product made the cut. Potato chips proved unexpectedly difficult, as did a log-shaped camping-sound simulator. Indeed, Meow Wolf keeps a running list of “plan-B” products that they’d need more time to pull off.
“The wonderful thing about Omega Mart being a permanent installation is we’re going to keep releasing products,” Briar says. “We’re building out our toy and snack line right now.”
That said, there’s already plenty to chew on. And that goes double if you dive into the products’ narratives. For example, it’s suggested that Plenty Valley -- makers of the Tomato Snail -- are a secret agrarian community cut off from the rest of the country in its own quasi-utopian autonomous zone.
Or maybe they just make Tomato Snails. Don’t look into it.
It feels like the further you wade into the aisles at Omega Mart, the more the products consume *you* and your preconceptions of what you thought a grocery story was. And that may just be the point.
“That’s a huge part of the appeal -- to turn the grocery store into an alien experience,” Emily says. “To make you reconsider these mundane real-world experiences and make you reconsider them. We love to take unremarkable daily experiences and twist them.”
Have an Omega Day!