Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Trader Joe’s usually markets house branded products that are a bit upscale. Their candies usually emulate something you’d find at Whole Foods or the imported bars you’d find at a gourmet shop. This is the first one I can recall that seeks to compete head-to-head with a mass-produced consumer product. In this case they’re going up against Hershey’s, the most popular plain chocolate bar in the United States.
Their new Trader Joe’s Classic Milk Chocolate Bar has some nice looking lines. The plastic/mylar packaging is a comforting shade of milky brown with silver swirls and the word CLASSIC emblazoned across two thirds of the face. It’s 1.55 ounces and retails for 69 cents ... that’s identical to the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
While Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry any Hershey’s products, they do carry Scharffen Berger, which is owned by Artisan Confections, which is a subsidiary of Hershey’s. I find it a little odd that they’d make a product that’s supposed to be better than the Hershey Bar, but it’s nothing Hershey’s should feel threatened about since Trader Joe’s aren’t ubiquitous and never sell their products at other stores.
Here’s what the Fearless Flyer had to say:
The bar looks pretty good. The sections are easy to break and it has a satisfying snap. It’s not as fudgy or bendy as the Hershey Bar tends to be, but the molding design isn’t quite as compelling.
It smells like sweet cocoa, not rich and not much of a dairy note at first. Biting into it, it’s soft and creamy but very sweet. There’s a nutty and caramel note to it with a light milk flavor. But the chocolate punch is missing for me. While Hershey’s doesn’t have much of a chocolate punch either, it does have a strong tangy, chocolate cheesecake flavor. This just tastes like Easter chocolate to me.
I bet this would make great S’mores and because it’s all natural and Gluten Free, there are a lot more options for who can eat it. I can’t see myself buying it again when they have so many other great chocolate options in the store.
If Trader Joe’s is competing with the Hershey’s Special Dark Bar, it’s not much of a competition. I knew this was going to be better before I even opened the wrapper, I just can’t imagine Trader Joe’s seeking to duplicate a Special Dark. The Trader Joe’s Classic Dark Chocolate Bar has a similar wrapping to the Milk Chocolate version, the color is just a little darker and has pink text instead of citrus colors.
They missed the boat here with the ingredients. Though it’s marked as gluten free, like the milk bar it’s processed on equipment that handles wheat, peanuts and tree nuts - so this is not a solution for folks with allergies. But the substantial issue I have is that it has dairy in it. Way down on the list, after cocoa butter and before the soy lecithin there’s some butterfat. If that wasn’t there, this would be a dairy free and vegan bar. What an awesome achievement that would be.
The back of the package says that it’s a 53% cocoa solid bar. So we’re not talking extra dark, we’re in the realm of sweet chocolate or perhaps semi-sweet. The bar isn’t as attractive as I’d hoped. Though the top looks pretty good, the bottom is swirly and has an inconsistent color. There are quite a few air bubbles. The snap is good, though softer than many dark chocolates I usually eat.
It smells like hot cocoa and marshmallows, the vanilla scent is strong. The snap is good, but a little bit softer.
The cocoa profile is hard to discern. It’s a bit fruity and has a touch of coffee. The finish is clean - it’s not bitter, chalky or dry. It melts well - though not entirely silky it has a satisfying mouthfeel. It has a much fattier melt, in fat there’s more fat in here than a Special Dark bar (14 grams of fat versus 12 grams in a Special Dark).
The package doesn’t say where the chocolate is made, though it doesn’t say that it’s Belgian or French, so I’m going to assume that it’s American. It’s Kosher. If I’m at Trader Joe’s though, I would still go for something else of theirs before this (usually the dark chocolate almonds) and probably these Belgian 3-bar stacks if they still had them.
If Trader Joe’s set out to make a better bar for less than 70 cents than Hershey’s, I’d say that they succeeded. They didn’t actually make one that I’d want, but I’m sure these will appeal to lots of folks.
I wish they came without coloring, I avoid the pink ones because they have an aftertaste. (Luckily The Man picks up the slack.)
Monday, April 5, 2010
One of my favorite chocolate bars as a kid was the Nestle Crunch or Krackel. Both of them went downhill in the nineties (Hershey’s Krackel isn’t even a chocolate bar any longer) but the Nestle Crunch seems to be inching its way back to respectable. About two years ago Nestle released their “Now Even Richer” tweak, which improved the bar but it wasn’t hard when it was so waxy and flavorless before.
Nestle is going for it again with their Nestle Crunch Even More Scrumptious version. Since we’re in a crossover period where both the “Now Even Richer” and “Even More Scrumptious” version are on shelves, I picked up two for comparison.
The bar’s shape and size is exactly the same. Same package design with the familiar red, white and blue colors that have been used for at least 50 years but of course updated from time to time. The mold has the bold CRUNCH lettering that lets you know what it is inside or out of the mylar. I prefer a bar with segments. While pretty molding is nice if you’re eating the whole bar yourself and don’t care about the sanitariness of biting right into it, I usually break my bar into pieces so I can share or portion. Though the ingredients on the old and new version are identical as is the nutrition information, flipping both bars over reveals the most significant difference:
(Now Even Richer version on the left - Even More Scrumptious on the right)
Sometime in the mid-2000s (I think), Nestle started using these little BB shaped & sized crisped rice pieces. Not just in the Crunch bar but also in the 100 Grand Bar. I don’t like them. They lack the irregular air pockets that gives a Crunch bar its more rustic texture. But the big rice pieces are back, I took this as a good sign.
(Now Even Richer version on the left - Even More Scrumptious on the right)
The color of the two bars is slightly different. It could be age, the new formula is obviously a fresher bar though both are within their freshness dates.
But what’s the difference in taste, how did they make it better without actually changing the ingredients or nutritional profile?
Well, it’s creamier. Not by much but the fact that the rice pieces are larger seems to make a difference as well. The bigger crunch makes the chocolate texture difference more noticeable. Is it really that much more scrumptious?, I’d say yes, there is some notable improvement in the creaminess and sweetness level of the chocolate. It still lacks a well-rounded chocolate flavor and texture. It’s far too sugar intense and not chocolatey enough for me, or even milky enough. It’s an entertaining enough piece of candy for the price, but not a satisfying bar of chocolate. It does earn the right to scootch up from at 6 out of 10 to a 7 out of 10. I hope the other holiday versions get this changeover, too.
(I think that’s Jenilee Harrison as the first bar-eater. What I got from this commercial is that it’s a candy bar that white people like.)
Caramel Creams are like cookie dough candy and less like caramels. They’re really filling so they make a great snack. (Original review here.)
Sunday, April 4, 2010
This large marshmallow bunny had fearsome fangs, but it wasn’t until I put him near this sweet and succulent baby bunny that I found out his true intentions.
Yes, it’s true, there are vampire marshmallow Easter bunnies. Beware.
(No, he doesn’t have those evil eyebrows, here’s the package.)
Saturday, April 3, 2010
March is over, which means that Candy Season is coming to a close with Easter on Sunday. I’ve decided to start doing a monthly recap of things related to Candy Blog and the candy world mostly because I’ve been running a lot of reports at my day job so I figured I’d do the same here just to kind of track some tends.
Last year I asked readers which candy holiday was their favorite and 45% stated Halloween, but Easter was in second place with 25% of the votes. It’s by far my favorite, perhaps because of the pleasant colors but also because it’s a much more intimate candy holiday - it’s about family and friends, not begging from strangers.
The latest poll was What do you prefer: Egg, Bunny, Chick or Bean?. I admit it’s a pretty vague poll and I chose egg myself, not for the Cadbury Creme Eggs but for Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and Cadbury Mini Eggs.
Previous polls revealed that while 39% of responding readers don’t like Peeps at all, ones that do prefer stale to fresh but 12% simply don’t care how they’re treated or prepared, they’ll eat them any way.
Chocolate bunnies are a different matter.
By the number of votes compared to the egg, bunny, chick or bean poll, people like chocolate rabbits. They also agree that if they’re for eating, they should be good quality.
In candy news one of the big developments has been the old good news & bad news scenario. More studies are being done on chocolate’s positive health benefits, especially for the cardiovascular system. The latest study released shows that even small amounts are great for overall heart health and reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Chocolate, especially very dark chocolate, reduces blood pressure, increases elasticity of blood vessels and may reduce inflammation. The caution though is moderation - if you’re going to eat a lot of chocolate, which is high in calories, make sure you reduce other discretionary calories appropriately. So instead of those chips and dip and later that bowl of ice cream, have some chocolate throughout the day.
But the flip side of that is news that fatty foods can be associated with addiction in the same way that drugs can.
Earlier in March I also attended ExpoWest, which is a trade show for natural products held at the Anaheim Convention Center. The exhibits take up the entire show floor and though the majority were not of a candy nature, there still were at least 50 that did have candy or chocolate. Fair Trade, organic and fortified still seem to be the primary selling points. Many big companies that we’re familiar with that use artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners were exhibiting new product lines that are more wholesome versions - real natural ingredients and more traditional candy-making methods that appeal to natural product buyers. Raw chocolate has been around for a few years but this is the first time I’ve tried versions that rival the roasted stuff. (I’ll have reviews of those at some point when I get a hold of some actual whole product instead of a few bites here and there.)
Most Popular Candy Blog Posts for March 2010
1. Coconut M&Ms - these were initially released as a limited edition item and I reviewed them last year, but now as they’re hitting the store shelves as a new item there’s a lot of renewed interest.
2. Cadbury Mini Eggs - I’ve loved these things my whole life even though Hershey’s has mucked with the classic recipe by adding PGPR. Based on the number of visitors to that post every year around this time, I’m not alone in my love for the little morsels.
4. Reese’s Eggs - it doesn’t matter that I’ve reviewed several newer versions, the classic is the classic.
5. Skittles - yeah, just plain old Skittles. This post from 2007 includes the classic Fruits, Wild Berry, Tropical, Smoothies (discontinued) and Sour (reformulated).
8. Reese’s Line
9. Skittles Fizzl’d Fruits - probably should have been called Bubbling Berries.
Though I treasure my faithful readers and how they spread the word about Candy Blog, a fair number of visitors are just passing through via a search engine. I like to share these because it gives a sense of what the candy conversations are out there in the real world. Here are the most popular search phrases for March 2010:
1. Coconut M&Ms
At the beginning of the month I moved from my old domain (typetive.com) to candyblog.net. I was afraid that beyond my regular readers that new readers wouldn’t find me, but it turns out that Google is pretty quick to catch up on spidering the new site. For a couple of weeks some photos were missing, but I think things are humming along smoothly now.
The dominant theme for March here on Candy Blog was obviously Easter, and with the 2010 season I’ve now reviewed more than 100 Easter candy products so far. I took about 1,600 candy photos this month (of course only about 200 were uploaded to Flickr and only
But I’m not alone in reviewing Easter candy, check out these excellent roundups - I’m going to guess that between and and the other diligent candy bloggers we’ve covered just about everything on the market:
Sugar Pressure’s Easter Candy Reviews
Friday, April 2, 2010
They’re also crazy cheap, most of the time a theater box like this that holds 7 ounces is just a buck. When I looked at the flavors on this box I was a little confused about what made these an Easter version besides the box (Mike and Ike come in holiday boxes that are the exact same candy). The flavors are Blueberry, Lemon, Lime, Cherry and Orange. The flavors of the classic Dots box are Strawberry, Lemon, Lime, Cherry and Orange. So in this version the Strawberry has been swapped for Blueberry.
These were very fresh. Tootsie does a good job of sealing up the boxes well and Dots have a clear cellophane overwrap.
Once I opened the box I found out the big difference, it’s the color. Easter Dots are bright and opaque little nubbins.
Well, maybe there was another difference. These seem to be just as smooth but have a “shorter” chew to them, so they didn’t stick to my teeth like Dots usually do. I liked the freshness of the flavors, though it’s a little bland it’s also soothing. The blueberry was pretty convincing though I wish that one replaced the cherry instead of the strawberry.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Divine Milk Chocolate Speckled Eggs are all natural and fair trade milk chocolate eggs with a candy shell.
They’re freakishly expensive at $4.99 for 3.5 ounces, far more than I’d be willing to pay on a regular basis. I really only bought them because I’d been searching so hard for them it seemed weird to find them and then get decide they were too expensive. The chocolate is made from beans from the Kuapa Kokoo cocoa cooperative in Ghana. Seems like Easter is one of those holidays where folks may want to pay more attention to the social responsibility behind the treats.
The stand up box is charming. Inside is a little clear cellophane bag with a little more than a handful of eggs.
They’re very similar to Cadbury Mini Eggs. The shape is more football than pear. They beautiful muted colors and a matte finish.
The shell is smooth and softly decorated. The shell is quite thick and crunchy. The chocolate inside has a silky melt, a little sticky with a good caramelized dairy note. I liked them a lot and will probably buy them again next year. Hopefully they can be found in larger packages for better value. (Also, Whole Foods could do a better job of putting them where people can find them. I went to three different stores and it wasn’t until the fourth circuit of the one at 3rd & Fairfax that I found them - even after asking a stockperson.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
I liked the box a lot, it was easy to tell apart from the regular Sour Patch offerings. The only quibble is really the packaging. Like many theater box candies, inside the box the candy is inside a plain cellophane bag. As I mentioned above, the Dots are just tumbling around in the box and there’s a cellophane seal on the outside. For this version I have to open the box top completely to get the bag out, dump the candy into the box and then I’m faced with an opening that is really too large for dispensing.
They’re a little lighter in color compared to the Sour Patch Kids. Honestly, I prefer this. They’re colored enough that I can tell them apart and guess the flavor and that’s really all I need. Other than that, the shape was so vague, unless you told me these were bunnies I wouldn’t have known. Pink is the classic Swedish Fish flavor with a tangy coating. Green is lime, yellow is lemon and orange is orange. A biting sour coating, a chewy sweet jelly candy in the center ... they’re great.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The rabbit is similar to the white chocolate one I tried last year (and didn’t like that much, so I wonder why I was curious about this one). It’s a peanut butter coating (like peanut butter baking chips) with a peanut butter filling.
The three ounce flat rabbit is nicely molded. The butterscotch color is also really appealing. It smells like vanilla pudding and peanut butter. The coating though is a bit waxy and stiff, it melts but not in a dreamy way that good white chocolate does. But it’s not too sweet, which is a relief as well. The filling is a crumbly peanut butter with a salty note and a dry grainy crunch. I kind of got into it. I’d prefer it in a smaller format though, maybe one of the smaller eggs they do.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
They’re only 99 cents for a generous 9 ounce bag. Even at that bargain price, they’re not much of a deal. They’re pretty enough to look at and probably decorate with, but they’re inconsistent in flavor and execution. I also resent not knowing what’s inside. It’s not like the bag is tiny and has no room for information like the flavor array.
White is pineapple. It’s sweet and floral but bland. Green is lime and rather strong but lacking zest. Purple is grape and is utterly stupid ... seriously, it tastes like sweet stupidity. Black is licorice. All of the black ones seemed to be smaller than the other jelly beans. Still, they were tasty and well done. Pink is bitter and just dreadful. Perhaps it’s strawberry. Red is not as bitter but still dreadful. Orange is sweet and empty. Finally there’s yellow, which is actually pretty good, it’s like a sugared lemon peel.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping for rich flavors, but of course I know Brach’s well enough that I really won’t be getting much more than a decent looking product. The bag doesn’t promise much more than a good value, so I should probably adjust my expectations.
Red is a mild cinnamon, not as good as Hot Tamales and kind of tinged with some of the mint notes, but still pleasant like a cup of spiced chai. White is peppermint. I have to say that a peppermint jelly bean is a little odd especially since it’s so grainy but still fresh tasting. Pink is wintergreen which I really love except when there’s too much food dye like this one that has a weird bitter clove & plastic aftertaste - but at moments it’s kind of like root beer. Purple is clove and is actually mild enough for me to enjoy though true clove lovers will probably be disappointed. Orange is sweet and again lacking in any pizazz. Black is again licorice and pretty good (though it makes my tongue dark green).
I think the problem is that I’ve already had some pretty good spice jelly beans from Hot Tamales (Just Born) and there’s really no need to switch brands, the price is comparable, availability is the only issue.
Rating: 5 out of 10
POSTED BY Cybele AT 1:17 pm All Natural • Candy • Review • Easter • Brach's • Cadbury • Divine Chocolate • Farley's & Sathers • Russell Stover • Tootsie • Chocolate • Ethically Sourced • Jelly Candy • Licorice Candy • Peanuts • Sour • 4-Benign • 5-Pleasant • 6-Tempting • 7-Worth It • Canada • United Kingdom • United States • Rite Aid • Target • Walgreen's • Comments (8)
Lovely little candy coated milk chocolate eggs with natural colorings. On top of that, they’re fair trade.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.