99 Cent Only Store
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
A weekend trip to the 99.99 Cent Only Store meant a lot of decisions. There’s plenty there that I’m curious to try, and often do, but most of the time it’s my fascination with what may be very bad that gets me to buy something, not the hope that it’s good. (Examples: Beechies Force Chew Candies, Choco-Fudge Mallow Sundae, Skittles Fresh Mint and a roll of LifeSavers that were probably 10 years old.
When I found a little display in the Valentine’s aisle though with some edible body paints and these Decorated Chocolate Shoes I thought that they were actually a good score. The packaging is a little plain, but part of me suspected that these were part of a larger gift package (maybe a basket or box) that were broken up into separate items that could be sold off for a dollar ... and most likely they were from Christmas and still fresh. The expiry date on the shoe was April 2010.
The package is two components: an outer clear plastic box with the label affixed to it with the stretchy silver bow and an inner two part clear plastic “mold” for the shoe. This did a great job of both displaying the candy and protecting it. It was fully taped all around the seam between the two parts, so very well sealed.
There were two things that gave me pause about the purchase. First, it’s made in China. The company that distributes them is called Galerie and is based in Hebron, Kentucky. (They also make gourmet candy corn.) My confidence level in products containing milk from China is admittedly low since the melamine scandal. Second, the ingredients don’t look good. Technically this should not be labeled chocolate, as the milk chocolate contains whey as an ingredient, considered a “filler” by US FDA standards. But I was attracted by the price and size and figured some readers might be as well.
The shoe itself is about four inches long with a 1.75” heel. At 2.7 ounces it’s pretty hefty, so besides that well in the shoe for a foot, it’s solid chocolate. The molding is nice, the chocolate has a good sheen to it and the decorations, though modest at just four pink colored “white chocolate” hearts on each side are precisely painted. (I looked around and didn’t see any other varieties in the store, though I suspect that other versions exist.)
The chocolate smells a bit woodsy, sweet and milky. It’s pretty tough to bite, kind of like eating an Easter rabbit. The texture though is rather smooth. I was pleased with the fact that it wasn’t overly sweet (adding whey actually makes this possible - it helps maintain the texture without adding expensive cocoa butter or cocoa but not sweetness of sugar - in very small amounts it doesn’t influence the flavor).
As a molded novelty item for this price, I’d say it’s excellent. My interest in milk chocolate in the shape of a high-heeled shoe with hearts on it is extremely low, so I can’t say that this is a great gift for me. If you’re looking for a party favor or a little gift where the visual impact is more important than the actual chocolate, this is perfect. Out of the package it can be used for decoration, and as I showed above for scale, filled with M&Ms or Hershey’s Kisses or even a few small chocolate covered strawberries it’s great.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I spied these at the check out aisle of the 99 Cent Store and figured they were Dubble Bubble ... and they know gum. The Chewola Bubble Gum box looks like it holds a small set of crayons like you’d get in a favor bag at a party or at a restaurant with your “shut up and let the parents enjoy food they didn’t cook” meal.
The problem with the package right at the start is that they look even more generic than Prang. Ever get generic crayons? They’re filled with pebbles, floor sweepings and smell like rendered road kill. (Non-toxic? Maybe, but not even the weirdest kids would eat those.) Happily these smelled like powdered sugar.
First real issue: they’re not fully styled as crayons (as the box depicts). I mean, what sort of twisted & cruel adult would give kids unsharpened crayons? 90% of the fun of a pristine box of crayons is the fresh point. How many of us eschew the colors that have the tips broken off before you even opened the box?
Instead they look an awful lot like candy cigarettes. They even have that satisfying “smoke blow” when you puff against one end to get the waft of corn starch through the wrapper.
Two of the crayons were red. That means 40% of the package is one color. How would you like it if you opened your box of 264 Crayolas and 105 of them were the same shade of red? How creative would you feel? Especially when you did those drawings for the nice talking doctor that your parents sent you to, don’t you think he’d be inclined to think you were abnormally angry because you used so much red in your drawings? Do you think he’d understand that it’s not your fault, that you can only use the tools you’re provided ... and if you’re given angry colors, then well, you’re going to make angry looking drawings? (But look at the box, it has happy kids that say happy things in red like “A TIME TO LOVE.”)
So packaging & childhood traumas aside (not my traumas ... those were for hilarious effect, right, you get that, right?) they’re just rods of gum.
Purple is an extremely mild grape. A kind of stiff chew at first with a vague fake grape flavor. It was sweet, very very sweet. So sweet that I reread the ingredients because this couldn’t possibly be just sugar. But it was.
A single crayon makes for a good sized piece for bubble blowing. It took a while to chew away enough sugar. The gum wasn’t grainy like many gums, so it was hard to know quite when it was ready without some trials. The final bubbles were decent, not huge but satisfying.
The gum didn’t stick to my dental work, so that was a plus.
Red is cherry. Again, very sweet but at least a bit stronger in flavor.
Orange was orange. It was really chalky and messy with all the corn starch on it, but after that it was pretty flavorful ... it reminded me of Froot Loops. Mmm, why didn’t they ever make a Froot Loops gum ... the little pieces could be shaped like little Froot Loops.
Green was a surprise. I thought it’d be lime or green apple, instead it’s wintergreen. Rather pleasant, the best of the set of flavors.
The gum was decent, the theming was pretty good. (Ultimately I think putting two reds in there is probably a good plan, especially when kids are supposed to share and then there are no fights.) I wish it was a bit fresher, but I bought it at the 99 Cent Store, so I give a little bit more leeway. They would make a nice themed favor or decoration at a party. There’s also a lot of gum in the box for the price.
Special Bonus: because it’s a tuck-flap box, when emptied it works spectacularly as a noisemaker.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 9:09 am
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
When I was a kid I loved craft kits. Things like Shrinky Dinks, Spirograph, those looms for making your own rag potholders, and of course lots of improvised crafts with yarn, fabric & items around the house. My brother had similar leanings and in particular he had an insect maker called Creepy Crawlers Bug Making Kit (or something similar from the late seventies era).
I’m sure there were girly versions of this kit where you stuck latexy goo into little molds, let them set and then popped out a squishy temporary toy. Perhaps you could make your own hair jewelry or flair for your My Little Pony or Polly Pocket ... not that I had either of those toys.
You’re probably wondering at this point, when is she going to mention what the candy for review is? Well, I don’t want to. I bought it, I took pictures of it ... but I just can’t seem to bring myself to eat it just yet.
The package says that it contains two 100 calories packs inside. I sigh at this, because I’m concerned about children counting calories, especially when the creatures on the package are no bigger than my hand and couldn’t possibly need more than 100 calories in a day (well, I’m not actually sure of that, since I don’t know about the combination of warm-bloodedness and wings/flight would have on energy demands and google was no help).
But enough about that.
Each little packet had five gummi items in it. Each is about 1.25 to 1.5 inches across.
The color & texture is startling. While I found it appealing, I felt like it was more appropriate for a plastic pin that I’d affix to my rainbow suspenders than something I’d like to eat. (Which brings me back to that molded insect toy maker.) The texture was soft and pliable, much like those sticky octopods that you could buy for a quarter in a vending machine at the grocery store. (Something like this?)
Pink Daisy: Watermelon - soft and chewy, it was perfumy with a slight tangy note to it. Besides the bright pink color, it was much like most other gummis, expect the food coloring gave it a bitter aftertaste for me.
Blue Butterfly: Raspberry - the flavor was mild and pleasant, again with a strong artificial bent like the watermelon, though less weird aftertaste.
Green Flower: Apple - this one was the most artificial of them all and had an unpleasant dank note to it.
In this case the candies looked exactly like they did on the package. I didn’t care for the flavors, but the texture was good. They’re actually more fun, as far as I’m concerned, as toys. They stick pretty nicely on glass (like a mirror or car window) but of course leave a bit of a greasy film.
The actual candies have no affiliation with the Pixies ... they’re not items the Fairies eat, not shaped like characters or even named for anything in particular that relates.
I’d prefer if Disney stopped using these companies that manufactured in China and used so many artificial ingredients without much regard to how the licensed product fit into the image of the characters & story. (I think the Bertie Bott’s/Jelly Belly/Harry Potter is one of the truest tie ins.)
Thursday, July 9, 2009
In case you haven’t been reading along, Nips are a hard caramel, first made by a company called Pearson’s which was later bought out by Nestle. They’re a great summer candy because they don’t melt but have a rich creamy flavor that can satisfy that craving even on the stickiest of days.
Both are variations on previously reviewed Nips, as they’re filled & flavored.
The Chocolate Parfait Nips are made up of a Caramel Nip outside and a chocolate flavored inside.
The caramel is a little salty, creamy and with a silky sweet melt on the tongue. Sometimes it softens up a bit for splitting & bending ... or cementing teeth together.
Inside the bliss of the confection loses track for me. The chocolate center is like an oily Tootsie Roll. The chocolate flavor is weak and the texture is worse than that, a sort of waxy, greasy mess.
I’ve had this box for several months and I’ve eaten all of four of them so far.
The Mocha Nips are a bit darker looking. The rich hardened caramel is coffee flavored, just like the original Coffee Nips. In this case the mocha element comes from the cocoa paste filling.
The creamy, milky coffee outer portion is just like the classic Nip ... a good rounded coffee flavor. The inside though, like the Chocolate Parfait isn’t quite chocolate, it’s more like a frosting.
The bold strength of the coffee flavored outside masks the chocolate deficiencies better than the Chocolate Parfait, so I did end up finishing most of the box.
While I appreciate the attempt to create a few other versions, the chocolate just isn’t good enough to make me chose these over the classic solid flavors.
Friday, April 24, 2009
One of the most confounding stories from last year was not that Hershey’s degraded the recipe of some of their most favored & oldest chocolate bars including the Mr. Goodbar. No, it was the introduction of the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Peanuts.
Hershey’s spokesman insisted that consumers actually prefer the new formula of the Mr. Goodbar, which has a strong, salty & burnt peanut taste over the earlier Hershey’s tangy milk chocolate flavor combined with fresh roasted peanuts. So, why, if so many people like it would they introduce a new bar that is basically the old bar instead of keeping the old bar the way it was an introducing a new bar that tastes like the old bar’s new formula? (I told you it was confusing.)
The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Peanuts bar was introduced and sold exclusively at WalMart. I got mine at the 99 Cent Only Store. I don’t know if they’re supposed to be carrying it or these are just WalMart overruns.
So, what’s inside? First, the bar is 1.45 ounces. A standard Hershey’s Milk Chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces ... so this nutty Hershey’s is even smaller.
The ingredients are:
The bar has a soft snap, like most Hershey’s chocolate products. It smells like peanuts, but not quite the same soft scent of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. On the tongue the first flavor I get is not chocolate or peanuts but salt. The chocolate is a bit fudgy and grainy, but has a rather smooth dissolve on the tongue. The peanuts don’t taste as dark and charcoal-ish as the new Mr. Goodbar. But the saltiness made it taste like fake butter.
It’s not a bad bar ... and it’s not Mr. Goodbar. It’s just some other new bar that’s not distinct enough to warrant being more than a something in an assortment of miniatures. Which brings me to the fact that this Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Peanuts is not even, technically, a new confection from Hershey’s. I first had it when I bought at bag of Hershey’s Nut Lovers Miniatures in January of 2005. (Here’s a photo.)
I feel like the victim of an elaborate shell game where actually finding the ball under the right shell doesn’t actually mean that you get anything satisfying ... like your money’s worth. This new bar is nice enough, but why is it 1.45 ounces (same as the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds) instead of the 1.55 of the Milk Chocolate bar. Did peanuts suddenly become more expensive than chocolate?
Just for the record, here are the iterations of Mr. Goodbar:
Ingredients (as of 2008): Sugar, peanuts, vegetable oil (palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil) chocolate, whey (milk), nonfat milk, contains 2% or less of milk fat, soy lecithin, salt, vanillin. (60 mg of sodium 1.75 ounces)
In this new mockolate version the bar tastes like it has more peanuts, the peanuts have a darker roast that gives it a slight bitterness that’s moderated by heaps more salt than before and what tastes like some sugary fudge/wax with very little cocoa taste.
Ingredients (circa 2006): Milk Chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, nonfat milk, lactose, milk, milk fat, soya lecithin and PGPR as emulsifiers and vanillin, an artificial flavoring) and Peanuts. (20 mg of sodium 1.75 ounces)
If you really missed the classic Mr. Goodbar, the new Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Peanuts will probably make you happier than buying the current mockolate Mr. Goodbar. (Unless you’re on a sodium restricted diet.) I’d like to say that there’s an alternative, but peanuts & chocolate are kind of the domain of Hershey’s & Reese’s ... it’s sad that they don’t have something to offer that’s better.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I have been waiting nearly a year to find these! I first read about them last year on Candy Addict’s list of new products coming out from Hershey’s. The release date of December 2008 came and went and I kept my eyes open but still didn’t see them in the stores ... not even on the internet. I thought maybe Hershey’s decided not to put them out.
Then last week I wandered down to the 99 Cent Only Store about a mile from my office to see what was new. I found a box. One box. Just sitting there, mixed in with the Sugar Babies and Care Bears Gummi Bears. I would have bought more, but this was all they had (and this one was a little dinged).
The front of the package was no help. It describes these only as Sweet and Spicy chewy candy. The side of the package pushed me in the direction of Good & Fruity when I looked at the ingredients. The first three are dextrose, sugar & corn syrup. Good & Plenty has wheat flour as part of the licorice.
So now I knew that I was expecting: Lemon, Orange, Apple & Cinnamon jelly rods.
All that confusion aside ... the box design is fabulous. I love the bold colors & graphic style (which is why there are so many photos in this review).
Lemon (Yellow) - bright and translucent, I was more than curious what the combination of lemon and cinnamon would hold. The candy shells on these is rather thin & crunchy. Now, the flavor ... at first it’s a little bitter. The shell is sweet, but the little sweet veneer wears off and I got a slight bitter hit, an organic type of woodsy bitter. I got lemon zest too ... and then cinnamon. At the very end there was a little twang of tartness.
It’s downright bizarre. It’s like eating a candle. Not in a bad way.
Orange (orange) - also starts with a slight bitterness but that moved into a very strong sweetness quickly. The cinnamon here is like an actual cinnamon stick - woodsy with notes of cedar and pine and then a strong snap of tartness then some more bitter at the end. There’s a warm feeling from the cinnamon but not a strong lingering one.
Apple (red) - I had trouble telling the reds apart when I didn’t have another to compare it to (though usually the cinnamon ones were a bit fatter). This apple is sweet and tangy and has that nice combination of apple juice flavor mixed with that made-in-the-lab note of “green apple flavoring”. The cinnamon is a bit of a background here but makes it taste a bit like a McDonald’s Hot Apple Pie. (Without the “caution filling is hot” label.)
Cinnamon (dark red) - I was expecting the plain cinnamon to be like a Hot Tamale or Sizzling Cinnamon Jelly Belly. Instead this one went in a wholly different direction. The shell on these seemed crispier. The cinnamon flavor on the outside was soft. Then at the edge of the shell and the jelly center there was a burst of flavor - like an all cinnamon chai - it had a burning warmth and some really authentic notes of real cinnamon, not just the cinnamon oils.
This has to be one of the strangest ventures I’ve seen Hersheys’ take in quite a while. It’s like they subcontracted the folks who developed the Dots: Elements (Earth, Wind, Fire & Water) to come up with a brand extension for Good & Fruity. I’m completely puzzled by these though, because I think Hershey’s created a great new product with their Cinnamon Twizzlers Fire. Why couldn’t they have taken those and made a version of that like the true Good & Plenty?
Those who are disappointed by the soulless rebirth of Good & Fruity aren’t going to find any comfort here. Those who enjoy cinnamon with all the variations of the flavor might find some solace.
Joann from Sugar Hi reviewed them a few months ago, at least helping to disambiguate their candy category but didn’t dissuade me from trying them.
Friday, April 3, 2009
For some reason people want Energy. I’m not quite sure why they’re looking for products specifically labeled that way, as my understanding is that all food contains energy. Calories are available energy from food. If it doesn’t have calories, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not food.
But consumers, I believe, have been duped into thinking that stimulants are actually energy. They’re not, they’re just, well, stimulants. Stimulants make you feel like doing stuff, as the general state of humans (if you believe advertising and general laws of physics) is to be inert and bored. Stimulants, though, don’t cure boredom or actually get anything done.
Caffeine is the most common stimulant and is naturally found in a product that masks the bitter and unpleasant taste of it very well: coffee. Caffeine also works as an additive in other products in smaller quantities, usually products with natural alkaloids, like chocolate or perhaps strong fruit flavors.
There are some other compounds which are also grouped into energy products: Taurine and B vitamins (Niacin, B6 and B12). These have their own distinct flavors, often known collectively as the “vitamin burp” taste. (You can read about these at Energy Fiend)
All of this writing, however, is just vamping. After trying my first Beechies Force Chewy Candy, I didn’t want to continue.
Lemon - it looks pretty good and the first crunch of the candy shell was a bright & promising sweet lemon flavor. But chewing it, well, I should probably start posting photos of my facial expressions. The first was something akin to “Wha? Is this really happening? Does this really taste like this?” kind of quizzical look. Then a bitterness set in, which caused me to furrow my brow. Then came a general distasteful look that someone might mistake for “May I spit this out in your hand please? Please! Right now!”
And then I waited for a couple of weeks. I reviewed a bunch of other stuff, even avoided reviewing yesterday by posting a new products announcement list. I carried the bags around with me in my “to review” package. The wrapper does say recharge - refresh - renew so I thought I’d try again.
Green Apple went a little better. The candy shell is tangy and has that comforting artificial apple flavor. Then ... well, it took a turn for the worse. The soft chew of the center, which is rather like a Mentos, had a bit of a bitter tingle. The flavor was that midrange bitterness that reminds me of dirty gym socks. But it was mercifully short
Strawberry was a beautiful red. Much prettier than any Mentos. The shell flavor was soft and sweet. The inner chew was musty and tasted like generic chewable vitamins.
935 mg of Taurine
This combination of chemicals does not give me energy, it gives me angry.
I emailed the company, Richardson Brands, to see if they actually still make these. They never responded. Their website doesn’t list them on a product page but includes them in the ingredients/nutritional section. I found record of them being offered at All Candy Expo in 2006, but under different flavors. The only place I’ve ever seen these for sale is at the 99 Cent Only Store, but I have seen them at multiple stores and the packages appear fresh and current.
The chew itself was odd looking, it’s olive green. Really nicely done olive green, but just not a color I associate with rich, roasted coffee. (But I do associate with unroasted coffee.)
The outer shell is sweet and has a mellow coffee flavor. The inner chew is rather promising. It’s sweet and has a latte taste - both creamy and with some good brewed coffee flavors. The bitterness is there, but rather believable because of the coffee flavor.
I still had the aftertaste of bitter B vitamins, but it didn’t feel as strange because there was no tangy fruit flavor component. I wouldn’t call these great, but compared to the fruit ones, they’re actually edible. They reminded me of the Chewy Coffee Rio.
The other trick I found is to actually chew it all up. When I ate my second Java, I left the candy shell dissolve. Bad idea, because that’s where the extra sugar was. The center chew is not as sweet, but if you let it dissolve like a hard candy, it’s not a bad either. They do end with coffee breath though, so have some real mint Mentos on hand for that (as a side note, there is a caffeinated version of Mentos available in Europe).
An 8 ounce cup of brewed coffee (yes, I actually drink just an 8 ounce cup) contains about 100 mg of caffeine but no calories. Each bag contains two servings (140 calories)... and for only a buck, it’s a pretty good price for an easily metered amount of caffeine. I suppose you can swallow them whole.
I can see these having their place. For travelers, especially those who don’t want to take in a lot of liquids, it’s a nice alternative to coffee or energy drinks. They’re extremely portable (although 14 of them do take up a bit of space).
The package says a serving is 14 pieces, but it holds on 25 ... so it’s just shy of two actual servings. They’re made in
Colombia, which knows a lot about coffee. I’m keeping the Java (4 out of 10) ones on hand for medicinal purposes but I’m throwing out the fruit ones (1 out of 10).
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I was a little confused that this package says “new” since I saw them on sale last year, but the freshness date says best by 06/2010. I was also confused when I tried to find these via the Just Born website and it said they were carried by a handful of Albertson’s markets in Southern California ... but then I stumbled across them at the 99 Cent Only Store near my office. They also had the all-cinnamon Hot Tamales Jelly Beans and the Hot Tamales Spice Jelly Beans.
Before gourmet jelly beans came along, the only jelly bean I knew of that was sold as a single flavor was licorice. (It ranks among Jelly Belly’s top sellers.) I often felt like the beans were being segregated, like they didn’t belong in the regular mix of beans. I certainly had friends and family members that would sort them out of their mixes (and give them to me). But in this case, the Hot Tamales Spice Beans don’t actually include licorice, they are definitely sold separately.
The packaging is rather unusual. Though as far as I can tell the Hot Tamales beans are only sold around Easter, but they’re packaged as if they’re an all-year round item. No pastels, eggs, bunnies or baby animals on this package. It’s black and gray with the red Hot Tamales logo & fireball mascot.
The beans are attractive and very black. They’re rather tall and narrow - the same length & width of a Jelly Belly but much taller and boxier.
The bag smells a bit like licorice spice tea, but mostly like sweet beeswax (not unpleasant).
The beans are soft, they can easily be squished between my fingers (Jelly Belly tend to be firmer). The shell isn’t very thick so there’s not much grain to these beans.
The licorice notes are high on the anise side with a clean and sweet lingering aftertaste. It’s missing a lot of the darker woodsy notes that a licorice whip has but they’re definitely beans that I have no trouble eating, no sickly feeling of consuming too much sugar like those Bunny Basket Eggs can do.
Though the ingredients list pectin, they’re not a true pectin bean - they utilize modified food starch as the primary thickener. That said, it is a smooth flavor that’s not too sweet.
There’s a fair bit of food coloring in here, which meant that after a handful my tongue was greenish/blue. Licorice twists tend to be black because of the molasses ... it seems to me that licorice jelly beans sold separately could simply be uncolored and we could skip all that Red 40, Yellow 5 and Blue 1.
These may be Kosher, it’s hard to tell. It’s not mentioned on the package, but the Just Born website says that only their Peeps products are not Kosher. They are gluten free! (And made in the USA.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.