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April 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Short & Sweet: Post Easter Tidbits

Snickers Sports EggThe Snickers Creme Sports Egg is odd. I don’t know who told them they needed more sporty Easter candy and I wonder if anyone’s been fired over this. First, there was a perfectly good Snickers Egg last year. The change this year, by all outward appearances, was putting a sporty theme on the package. But no! Instead they mucked around with the innards.

It’s not that this is bad, but I don’t know where they got the idea that this stuff is “creme”. It might be syrup or maybe caramel, but it’s not cremey at all. It’s a caramelly goo with some ground peanuts in it ... I think.

I rather liked it, but not as much as the original Egg.

Lifesaver Jellybeans PastelsAfter tasting the suprisingly good Livesavers Jellybeans, I wanted to try the Lifesavers Jellybean Pastels. But I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the price. So I waited.

Red Raspberry (medium pink) nice and berry, much more vibrant than all the other flavors
Watermelon (green) - not a winner for me, but fresh tasting, kind of like cucumber
Blueberry (blue) - more sweet and floral than rounded with tartness
Pina Colada (white) - I’m a sucker for pina colada flavored things, this could have used more pina.
Strawberry-Kiwi (light pink) a little tart, very sweet and rather flavorless
Banana (yellow) - mellow and sweet, kind of like cotton candy but instead of a caramelized sugar it was banana

The mystery here was the purple one. Sometimes it was tart and sometimes it was completely sweet. Is that Cotton Candy? Which one was supposed to be Mango Medley, are they also

peach

peach-colored?

Many of the colors are devilishly similar. Unless I looked at them in bright natural light, I couldn’t tell the peach and two pinks apart. As a mix, I found them all rather similar and didn’t dislike any of them enough to pick through it, so it wins on that front.

My final purchase I didn’t photograph. I stopped at Rexall by the Beverly Center and found that they had a nice display of 75% off goodies. It included two bags of Island Orange Mounds in the Fun Size. I wasn’t sure if they supposed to be part of the Easter sale. They expired last month but I’m okay with stuff on the cusp. When I got to the register they rang up at $2.00. I said I didn’t want it. The fellow shrugged and tossed in the 75% discount and I took them. They’re a little stiffer than the regular bar format I reviewed last year, but still quite nice. (Kosher)

The whole lot of stuff ... for only $1.24. At full price I wouldn’t love it ... at this price everything gets a 6 out of 10.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 11:12 am     CandyReviewEasterMarsWrigley'sCaramelChocolateCoconutJelly CandyKosherNuts6-TemptingUnited StatesComments (11)

More People Testifying for Real Chocolate

Starburst Berries & Creme and Fruit & Creme

Let me just start by saying that Starburst has some of the oddest commercials. Not “Freshmaker” odd, really really odd on purpose. The older Starburst commercials were rather traditional - selling Starburst on its description and merits. It’s fruity! It’s a chew! There’s real fruit juice in there! Now they focus on the experience and the kind of hip person (or tragically unhip) eats them.

image

I don’t read much into commercials. I eat Take 5 bars even though they had a wretched ad campaign last year that definitely wasn’t speaking to me.

Starburst started expanding its flavors many years ago and now has a rather large family. Today I’ll tackle the “Cremes.”

imageStarburst Berries & Creme - as with all the Starburst packages, this contains four flavors. While many companies are going with “smoothie” flavors (Skittles & Necco Wafers) for some reason Starburst decided we needed creme flavors in our Starburst.

Strawberries & Creme - reminds me of strawberry yoplait.
Raspberries & Creme - I’m not sure what this is, it doesn’t really taste like raspberry but it was nice
Blueberries & Creme - this tasted like blue scented magic markers ... I feel like I’m in third grade!
Mixed Berries & Creme - reminds me of yoplait. It tastes like mixed berries that are a little tart and a little creamy.

On the whole the new flavors actually tasted new to me. The strawberries and creme didn’t taste like a regular strawberry, so kudos for originality. But I like the clean taste of the original fruits.

image

I was kind of confused when I was buying my array of Starbursts for this series. I didn’t understand the difference between Fruit & Creme and Berries and Creme. Turns out there’s only a fifty percent difference. Two of the flavors are the same, I’m guessing they’re what Starburst thinks are the two best flavors, or perhaps the ones that make the colors of the package look good.

I don’t know if Berries & Creme and Fruit & Creme are meant to exist side-by-side, perhaps they’re battling it out right now for your affection and only one will remain on the regular Starburst repertoire.

imageStarburst Fruit & Creme - I’ve got to say that if nothing else the colors of the wrappers are enchanting. I’m always pleased when there isn’t a blue in the package though. Something weird about blue food.

Strawberries & Creme - yup, still strawberry yogurt.
Orange & Creme - chewy creamsicles. The dairy taste is just odd.
Peaches & Creme - oh dear, I don’t know what this is, it’s all the bad things about peaches ... basically peach fuzz. Why not make candy that tastes like banana peels while they’re at it? (Okay, orange peel is a great flavor ... I was just feeling snarky.)
Mixed Berries & Creme - that’s definitely some berry yogurt or maybe a frozen yogurt pushup.

For your reference and multimedia enjoyment: Berries & Creme, Beluga Barf, Fruit & Creme, Baja California then compare those to this
1982 Commercial.

Name: Starburst Berries & Creme and Fruit & Creme
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Mars
Place Purchased: Rite Aid (3rd & Fairfax)
Price: $.69
Size: 2.07 ounces
Calories per ounce: 120
Categories: Chew, United States, Mars, Starburst

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:20 am     Comments (18)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Post Editorializing on FDA Chocolate Changes

imageWhile working on my editorial for the LATimes I did a lot of research. I looked at the issue from a lot of different points of view in order to figure out the best way to frame my 700 words on the subject.

One of the points that a few commenters have made is that restricting confectioners through FDA regulations creates a nanny state. While I think this is true in general, I think that speaks more for keeping the definitions the way that they are. As consumers we’re just asking for consistency. We’re not saying that they can’t use vegetable oils, we’re just asking for the commonly accepted language to be maintained.

The naming convention also protects people who are buying products that are not individually labeled, such as chocolates from a bakery or candy shop. If you’re looking at a row of confectionery creations like chocolate covered strawberries, rocky road, chocolate croissants, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate dipped apples or chocolate pretzels you probably have an assumption about what that chocolate stuff is. With such a wide latitude under the new rules, are you going to be faced with playing 20 questions with the staff behind the counter about what exactly is in that chocolate? Do you seriously believe that they’ll be equipped to answer those questions? (Having worked in a bakery before, I’m going to say no.)

One of the other things I also examined was the value of real chocolate in the consumer candy market. I’m not talking about the high end stuff, I’m talking about plain old candy bars made with chocolate. I’ve said it over and over again, confectioners don’t need the FDA’s permission to make mockolate. They just want their blessing the relabel their existing products as real chocolate. I think it’s rather telling that of the top chocolate candy bars, there is one that is made with mockolate (Butterfinger). So success is possible with a non-chocolate product in the chocolate category (see chart below).

According to one of the articles I read, about 25% of chocolate is made from cocoa butter. Cocoa butter costs three times as much as vegetable oil substitutes. So the end product may cost 18% less for manufacturers. I can see why this is a tantalizing proposition for them (again, see chart below). The soda companies changed to high fructose corn sweeteners, check out Kate Hopkins analysis of that (note that the majority of a soda is water, not sweetener). Soda manufacturers who still use sugar are few and far between and charge a premium, Jones is the first one that comes to mind.

Don’t forget to spread the word and enter the Keep it Real Raffle.

Leading Chocolate Candy Bars (less than 3.5 ounces)
Candy Dollar Sales Unit Sales
M&Ms $83,900,000 147,300,000
Hershey's $83,400,000 168,000,000
Reese's $82,500,000 157,900,000
Snickers $69,100,000 124,000,000
KitKat $39,000,000 79,300,000
Twix $25,100,000 43,200,000
3 Musketeers $23,300,000 40,900,000
Nestle Crunch $23,000,000 60,300,000
Nestle Butterfinger* $21,100,000 55,000,000
York Peppermint Pattie $18,100,000 37,700,000

* mockolate
Source as of November 2006

POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:56 am     Comments (2)

LATimes Editorial

imageMy editorial in the LATimes was published.

If you’re looking for the comment form on the FDA Site, go here. (Tutorial here.) Deadline is

April 25th

June 25th.

Hands off my chocolate, FDA!
The FDA may allow Big Chocolate to pass off a waxy substitute as the real thing.
By Cybele May, CYBELE MAY is a writer who reviews candy on her blog, candyblog.net.
April 19, 2007
THE AVERAGE American eats 12 pounds of chocolate a year. That’s about a chocolate bar every other day. (I am above average, judging by the fact that I eat enough chocolate to deduct it as a line item on my tax return.)

To sum up so far: Americans eat a lot of chocolate.

That’s cool, because we also make a lot of it. We make everything from the inexpensive milk chocolate bars that you buy at the supermarket checkout counter to the decadent, limited-edition chocolate bars made from “handpicked beans from a single hillside in Venezuela,” for which there’s a waiting list.

It’s all basically made the same way: cacao pods are fermented and then roasted and ground into a fine paste that can be separated into two components: cacao solids (commonly called cocoa powder) and cocoa butter. Each chocolatier uses different proportions but generally blends sugar, cocoa solids and cocoa butter plus the optional ingredients—emulsifiers, flavors (typically vanilla) and milk solids (to make milk chocolate)—and molds that into a chocolate bar.

A little over 100 years ago, Milton Hershey created the nickel bar, the first American chocolate bar for the masses. Today, these small purchases of chocolate products add up to an $18-billion business. Like all foods in the United States, chocolate is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure that consumers get a safe and consistent product.

But perhaps no longer. The FDA is entertaining a “citizen’s petition” to allow manufacturers to substitute vegetable fats and oils for cocoa butter.

The “citizens” who created this petition represent groups that would benefit most from this degradation of the current standards. They are the Chocolate Manufacturers Assn., the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., the Snack Food Assn. and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (OK, I’m not sure what’s in it for them), along with seven other food producing associations.

This is what they think of us chocolate eaters, according to their petition on file at the FDA:

“Consumer expectations still define the basic nature of a food. There are, however, no generally held consumer expectations today concerning the precise technical elements by which commonly recognized, standardized foods are produced. Consumers, therefore, are not likely to have formed expectations as to production methods, aging time or specific ingredients used for technical improvements, including manufacturing efficiencies.”

Let me translate: “Consumers won’t know the difference.”

I can tell you right now—we will notice the difference. How do I know? Because the product they’re trying to rename “chocolate” already exists. It’s called “chocolate flavored” or “chocolaty” or “cocoalicious.” You can find it on the shelves right now at your local stores in the 75% Easter sale bin, those waxy/greasy mock-chocolate bunnies and foil-wrapped eggs that sit even in the most sugar-obsessed child’s Easter basket well into July.

It may be cocoa powder that gives chocolate its taste, but it is the cocoa butter that gives it that inimitable texture. It is one of the rare, naturally occurring vegetable fats that is solid at room temperature and melts as it hits body temperature—that is to say, it melts in your mouth. Cocoa butter also protects the antioxidant properties of the cocoa solids and gives well-made chocolate its excellent shelf life.

Because it’s already perfectly legal to sell choco-products made with cheaper oils and fats, what the groups are asking the FDA for is permission to call these waxy impostors “chocolate.” Because we “haven’t formed any expectations.”

I’d say we’ve already demonstrated our preference for true chocolate. That’s why real chocolate outsells fake chocolate. Nine of the 10 bestselling U.S. chocolate candies are made with the real stuff. M&Ms, Hershey Bars, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—all real chocolate. Butterfinger is the outlier.

Granted, a change to the “food standards of identity” won’t require makers to remove some or all of the cocoa butter, it would just allow them to. But really, why else would they ask?

But as long as they’re asking, the FDA does have a way for other citizens to voice their expectations. It’s buried deep in its website. Until April 25, the agency is accepting comments—by fax, mail or online—on a docket with the benign-sounding name of “2007P-0085: Adopt Regulations of General Applicability to All Food Standards that Would Permit, Within Stated Boundaries, Deviations from the Requirements of the Individual Food Standards of Identity.”

I’m telling them to keep it real.

Keep up with all my coverage of the issue here. Daily reviews continue as usual below.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:07 am     Comments (33)

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Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.

 

 

 

 

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COUNTDOWN

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-66 days

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  •   Halloween
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ON DECK

These candies will be reviewed shortly:

• Wonka Randoms (and some Rowntree)

• Eat with your Eyes: Nougat

• Orgran Molasses Licorice

• Rogue Chocolatier

• Hachez Braune Blatter (Chocolate Leaves)

 

 

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