99 Cent Only Store
Friday, August 08, 2008
In tough economic times it’s tempting to try to save a little money on items like candy. Buying in bulk is usually the most economical way to go, but some of us also recognize that a 5 lb bag of gummi bears will last as long as a 1 lb bag.
So another option is to find a generic or off-brand of a tried and true favorite. The bargain stores like 99 Cent Only are an excellent place to find these lesser known brands. While it’s understandable to assume that all the candy at 99 Cent Only or Dollar Tree or the like is past its prime, often these stores have special deals with candy companies to make sizes that can come in at their price point, so much of it is specially sized for value. (Well, either that or just be a reliable deal instead of waiting for the snack packs to come on sale at the grocery store.)
I found this line of snack sized candy bars at 99 Cent Only made by Bel. The package is a veritable Rosetta Stone with ingredients lists in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French with some other Arabic script on the wrapper as well. I found four varieties and bought three: Strawberry Burst, Vanilla Cookies and Toffee Taste. (The other flavor was some sort of Peanut Butter, but I stupidly grabbed two of the Toffee.)
Strawberry Burst is billed as milk chocolate compound coating with strawberry filling.
The wrapper is generic and simply says ChocBar. Only in tiny print stamped on the back does it have the expiry and variety (“STRAW”).
I knew going in that these are mockolate, but I also know that there are some decent candies out there with fake chocolate in them, so I was keeping an open mind. It’s a rather thin coating and around the edges I could see the pink nougat filling underneath. But still, it was a nice looking little plank. Each bar is about 2.5” inches long and .75 inches wide.
The nougat is soft and fluffy. It has the scent of berries, but very little taste besides sweet. The mockolate doesn’t add much, but it also doesn’t distract. It’s not terribly waxy or grainy or flavorful. Basically it just seals up the nougat fluff.
It’s, well, just not my kind of candy, even when well done. (Witness the 3 Musketeers Strawberry limited edition from last year.)
Rating: 3 out of 10
Vanilla Cookies is billed as vanilla candy with crispies and cookies coated in chocolate compound
I regarded this one as promising, I thought some Oreo type crunchies in an otherwise bland nougat might be good. (Seriously, why isn’t there a 3 Muskteers version of this?)
The format is pretty much the same as the Strawberry Burst, but a little lumpier, as you can imagine the chocolate cookie crunches are irregular.
The crunches are, well, crunchie. But they don’t taste like anything. The whole candy tastes like the marshmallows from Lucky Charms. While those are fine as little marbits mixed in with oaty sugar sweetened cereal, this is just fake vanilla sweetness with no chocolate crunch relief.
It’s too bad because I thought this was a really good package design for a cheap product.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
Toffee Taste is billed as milk chocolate compound coating with toffee filling.
The wrapper here was identical to the Strawberry Burst. It smelled like sugar cookies, which is a promising thing as far as I’m concerned.
The filling is a fluffed nougat, it looks like peanut butter but actually tastes a bit like sponge candy, but with a definite artificial bite to it. The burnt sugar notes were not authentic and the lack of a good chocolate component to balance it just kind of left this one hanging.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
If you’re looking for candy you can display in your house to demonstrate to people who barely know you that you have excellent self control (let’s face it, folks who you know will know the disposition of your self control, you’re reading a candy blog!), this is the stuff. The outer wrapper is enticing enough that someone might be impressed that you haven’t scarfed down all 12 in the package.
But if you’re looking for a great value, this isn’t it. You’re getting what you paid for, which is twice as much candy, but it’s only half as good as you’d like it to be. The previous week I bought some Almond Joy bars - 8 snack sized bars in the package for 4.8 ounces and only 99 cents ... this package has 12 bars but weighed only 5.5 ounces ... so really not that much more candy even. If you can’t afford to go upscale, at least get stuff that’s tried and true.
Thursday, August 07, 2008
Alert and distressed readers informed me that Hershey’s Kissables have been reformulated and not in a good way.
I was fortunate enough to find both the old variety and the new ones at the 99 Cent Only Store, which is like some sort of time capsule, just dig deep enough into the layers and you can find stuff that goes back to the last century. (Don’t worry, both were still within their expiry dates - made only five months apart.)
First, the Original Kissables, as introduced were called Candy Coated Milk Chocolate. (Original review from 2006 here.)
The ingredients: Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, nonfat milk, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR & artificial flavors), sugar, red 40, yellow 5, yellow 6, blue 1 & carnauba wax.
The taste is familiar. The crunch of the shell is crispy and nondescript but gives way to the inimitable Hershey’s chocolate flavor that’s a little tangy, a bit like yogurt and has a rather interesting rum note to it.
The new version is called Chocolate Candy which is code for chocolate-flavored confection, or candy that contains chocolate but can’t be called chocolate because it has other stuff in it that’s not permitted by the FDA definitions (like more oil than actual chocolate).
The ingredients: Sugar, vegetable oil (palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil), chocolate, nonfat milk, whey, cocoa butter, milk fat, gum arabic, soy lecithin, artificial colors (red 40, yellow 5, blue 2, blue 1, yellow 6), corn syrup, resinous glaze, salt, carnauba wax, pgpr and vanillin.
They look exactly like their old “pure” counterparts (which really weren’t so pure if you ask me). The colors and size are identical. The flavor though, is quite obviously off. The crunch of the shell is familiar, but the flavor of the chocolate lacks any particular pop and feels less fresh. The texture is cooler on the tongue, though has the same fudgy grain that it’s always had.
It’s not that the new formula is bad, but it certainly lacks a pizazz and familiarity that the old ones had. They old ones were like Kisses. The new ones are like, well, nothing much special. Kind of like chocolate frosting. As a mockolate product, well, they’re actually pretty good. These are still far and away better than the Garfield Chocobites or other off-brand/fake chocolate lentils I’ve had.
The ingredient tweaking had some interesting results as well, which show that it’s entirely possible to tell the two apart on taste alone:
..............Original Formula ....................2008 Formula
(This info was taken right from the packages, the Hershey’s website lists strangely different nutritional specs for this size package - where the portion is only 1.4 ounces instead of the full 1.5 ounces in the package.)
So the new ones have more salt and sugars, a third of the calcium but no cholesterol. Ten fewer calories, but also made with all sorts of other replacement oils. Oh, and the new ones also have a resinous glaze, which is shellac, which is on most vegetarian’s forbidden list.
The copy goes like this (set to a cover of I Melt with You):
More fun with new formulas: Check out what Hershey’s has done to the iconic Hershey’s Miniatures collection.
UPDATE: Kissables were discontinued in early 2009. They will be replaced by a new line called Pieces which will come in Special Dark, Almond Joy and York Peppermint. (No straight milk chocolate replacement though.) Look for them in December 2009.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The Almond Joy candy bar was introduced in 1946, just after the World War II, when sugar, tropical coconuts and chocolate became more available. The Peter Paul Manufacturing Co was based in New Haven, Connecticut and was already known for its popular Mounds bar.
Peter Paul, then producing out of their facility in Nagatuck, Connecticut was bought up by Cadbury back in 1978, and in a deal ten years later, Hershey’s purchased Cadbury’s American operations. Even though the company has gone through a few hands, the bars are still known by their original brand of Peter Paul. The Nagatuck plant that produced Almond Joy’s from 1948 forward closed last year and production was consolidated to a Virginia factory.
Mounds and Almond Joy enjoy a bit of a corner on the chocolate covered coconut market here in the United States. For a while Mars tried to push into the arena with their already popular Bounty bars from Europe, but they never quite made it.
The standard single serving package includes two small bars. The moist coconut and fondant center is covered in milk chocolate and studded with two almonds each. They’re tucked into a tray to protect them.
The bars smell sweet and a whole lot like coconut. The bite is soft and moist, the mockolate is a bit grainy and fudgy and doesn’t really add much flavorwise but does keep things a little creamier (overall I’d say it’s not back mockolate and the ingredients to indicate there’s real chocolate in there). The almonds, though usually small, are good quality and nicely toasted.
I prefer the Mounds (though I’ve always wished they’d do a Mounds with Almonds) just for the counterpoint of the bittersweet chocolate and the sweet coconut. But the coconut is always a good texture and chew with a nice tropical flavor and satisfying tropical fat content. But it is sweet, a bit too much for me.
Almond Joy holds a place in many American’s hearts because of a very popular advertising campaign in the 80s and their jingle that says, “sometimes you feel like a nut and sometimes you don’t” to distinguish between their two coconut bars. Even though that campaign is long gone, the phrase “sometimes you feel like a nut” still knocks around as a cultural reference.
Almond Joy are also available in a few other formats. They have snack pack size, which is slightly smaller than a single from the regular sized. (A two almond one weights approximately .8 ounces while the snack pack size weights about .6 ounces and sports only one almond.)
There is a third size called fun size, which I only see around Halloween, which looks like it’s from a box of candy. (See Wikipeda for an example.) That also has only one almond, though probably the highest almond to center & chocolate ratio of the three varieties. Easter also brings a large egg shaped version which also sports a solo almond (reviewed here at Candy Addict).
Out of curiosity (mostly because there was a Consumerist posting yesterday), I picked up the Snack Pack and a regular Almond Joy just to see if there was some sort of shenanigan going on here. Consumerist alleged that there was false advertising because there are two little almonds on the package and the description lists “almonds” instead of almond. I can’t really say what the legal situation would be, but I would probably expect that the Snack Pack would simply be the same as a single from regular size.
I can say that this is not a new development. I found this shot from 2005 (back when it was real chocolate too) that shows the single nut on the Snack Pack Almond Joy, so if it were a big deal, I would have expected it to be addressed long before now. While the use of the plural almonds does create a sense of expectation, I’m not sure we also expect a half a coconut’s worth of shreds in there too, even though that’s also depicted in the artwork.
The Snack Pack, which I picked up at the 99 Cent Only Store, as far as I was concerned, was a very good value. Eight of these smaller bars for only 99 cents. They have 80 calories each. The regular sized ones have 110 calories each. It’s pretty obvious that the Snack Pack, even with its decreased almond density is a far better deal than a single bar purchase.
Almond Joy has enjoyed a few alternative varieties through Hershey’s limited editions including Key Lime, Passion Fruit, Chocolate Chocolate and Toasted Coconut (my personal favorite over the classic Almond Joy).
UPDATE 9/30/2008: Almond Joy was briefly made with mockolate but after consumer feedback, Hershey’s switched back to the original chocolate formula.
Monday, July 21, 2008
I was cruising through the 99 Cent Store and noticed a new line of candies called All Gummies Gourmet. I recognized the actual candies as Albanese Candy Company (and this was confirmed in the small print on the back of the package). So finally Albanese are available at stores without going into the bulk candy aisle.
This bag of Fruity Fish caught my eye. Here was a half a pound of red fish for less than a dollar? Could they be any good? A little further down the aisle and there was the good old, reliable Swedish Fish (made by Cadbury Adams), so I decided to see if this designer impostor could fulfill a penny pinchers craving.
The packages are both attractive enough. The Swedish Fish is traditional, pretty much the same package I recognize from ten years ago - yellow with a little scale pattern on it. The All Gummies Gourmet packaging is rather generic - a vibrant blue and bronzy gold. The nice part is that the bottom of the package is clear cellophane and it’s easy to see the candies inside. And they do look fresh, moist and tasty!
The detail on both is nice, they look like fish. The scales, lips and eyes on the Fruity Fish is sharper, but I wouldn’t call one better than the other. So while I consider the appearance of both to be about equal, the comparable-ness ends there.
The fish themselves are about the same size. The Swedish Fish is a bit flatter and therefore weighs a bit less. The Swedish Fish are lighter in color and smell a little like raspberries and cotton candy. The Fruity Fish are a deep red and smell like, well, black cherry flavor with a touch of bitter amaretto. I wasn’t happy about this.
First, Fruity Fish are gummis. That’s right, they’re not jelly candies like the Swedish Fish, they’re full on gelatin-carrying gummis. (I can’t be upset, it does say All Gummies Gourmet right on the front.)
Second, they’re not any kind of berry flavor. Swedish Fish flavor is rather unique, I’ve always considered it lingonberry flavor, though it’s never been officially declared what flavor they are. The Fruity Fish are soft, chewy and have a good mix of tangy and sweet. But the flavor is black cherry, through and through.
So, these are no designer impostor as I suspected. They’re certainly a good deal, as the package heralds Big Value. But they are very jarring if you’re expecting the dulcet berry tones of Swedish Fish. Even though the Swedish Fish cost twice as much, I’ll stick with them ... but only because of the cherry flavor issue with Fruity Fish. They’re still a darn good candy.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Judson Candies was started in 1899 by E.J. Jenner who later brought J.W. Judson in as a partner in 1910. Judson later bought him out and renamed the company. Most notably Judson developed the “more tart jelly bean” in the 1930s, which is the chewy sour ball that we all know today from so many different companies. Judson Candies was then purchased in 1983 by the Atkinson family (already a popular company in Texas with the Chick-o-Stick) and renamed Judson-Atkinson Candies.
I was hesitant to pick up a whole box of Cherry Sours (but ended up being given this box as a sample at All Candy Expo), so I was pretty happy when I stumbled across these little packets of Assorted Sours at the 99 Cent Only Store.
They do look like little gumdrops with a bright jelly bean coating.
The bag holds a variety of five flavors. Though the package design is a little, I don’t know, elementary-school looking. If you can’t make it out here in the photo, there’s a lemon about to slam dunk a cherry (who seems pretty happy about it) and a green apple off to one side waving his arms like he’s open (as if the lemon is gonna pass it to him and not do his dunk?).
All that aside, what’s inside is a candy that I think pleases all ages.
Each sour ball has a crunchy, crumbly candy shell like a jelly bean. The center is lightly flavored and colored. The outside is really brightly colored.
Green Apple has both the artificial chemical “invented” green apple flavor and a nice hint of real apple juice flavors. It’s not terribly tart, but certainly flavorful from start to finish.
Lemon has a bit of a powdery lemon flavor, like lemonade mix at first, which then mellows out into a rather nice zesty lemon. Not sour.
Tangerine was the one I looked forward to the most, as I love tangerine candies. It was similar to the lemon, it tasted more like tang than tangerine, but a little more on the tangy side.
Cherry is what Judson-Atkinson is known for. These taste like tangy, chewy Cherry Lifesavers. After the tartness goes away, it’s a little more medicinal than floral.
Grape is the one that really bugged me (really, I was fine with Cherry). It reminded me of violets and those scented magic markers more than grapes or grape candy. While the apple had real apple-ness to it, this one just felt more like too much red food coloring. Luckily there weren’t that many of them in my assortment.
The centers are very firm, but extremely smooth, probably because they use both corn starch and tapioca to give them a extra jelled texture.
I would love to see what they could do for Pineapple and Grapefruit ... maybe Lime. (A Blue Raspberry exists, but isn’t in this mix and a Tropical but that features Pina Colada, Peach, Mango, Watermelon & Fruit Punch.)
The ingredients list lots of artificial colors: Yellow #5 & #6, Red #3 & #40, Blue #2 and Carmine (which makes these unsuitable for vegetarians/vegans).
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It looks good, but it’s always bad.
Why do I keep buying it?
For you, dear readers. It’s a public service that I’m obligated to perform.
The thing about Palmer is that they have so many other things going for them. They have cute designs, usually their packaging is nice, they’re Kosher and of course they’re made in the USA (Pennsylvania for locavores). But it’s like they go out of their way to disappoint once the stuff hits my mouth.
“Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel Oil and/or Palm Oil), Whey, Cocoa, Lactose, Skim Milk, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin, Artificial Colors (Blue #1, Blue #2, Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 & Red #3). May contain Peanuts/Nuts.”
Look how far the cocoa is down on that list, #4 ... I think it’s only in there for coloring!
The rabbit is admirably attractive. It has a nice dark sheen, it’s shiny and has little details like the winsome eyeroll and it’s holding a flower. It took me a while to figure out that the white blob at his belly is a little fluffy white chick ... maybe. It’s also pretty thick. It’s just a little shorter than the Russell Stover one and weighs and extra quarter of an ounce. The walls of the shell are a bit thicker.
But you know, the taste is not that good. It has a cool feeling on the tongue, it’s very sweet and has a fudgy grain to it. It tastes nothing like chocolate, more like milk powder and peanut shells. (Oddly, that’s not really a bad taste, just not chocolate and not as sweet as I’d have thought based on the ingredients.)
The serving size is the whole rabbit, which clocks in at 260 calories, with only 50% of that from fat. Yes, the rest comes from carbs (usually chocolate is a 60/30/10 mix of fat/carbs/protein ... with some room for movement depending on dark or milk varieties - some extreme darks I’ve had are 85% fat).
Sometimes I wonder if Palmer is doing the cocoa industry a service by buying beans that would otherwise be turned into compost or rot in the co-op storehouses. I don’t think I’d mind their products if they were sold as “biodegradable decorations” ... but sadly the appearance of a nutrition label seems to indicate they really do think people want to eat it.
Considering the fact that there are actually good real chocolate bunnies around at similar prices if you keep your eyes open (Russell Stover isn’t quite as cute, but there’s also a Hershey’s version, too), there’s no reason to buy these except for off-label uses: Easter dioramas, photo shoots or just buy them all as a public service to remove them from the shelves so that others may not be faced with similar disappointment.
R. M. Palmer Hollow Milk Chocolate Flavored Bunny ... the Easter equivalent of a lump of coal.
Friday, November 09, 2007
I’ve seen the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Filled with Creamy Peanut Butter at the stores for over a year now, but only in the super-duper 4.5 ounce slab bars. I didn’t really want that much of a bar and I figured it’d come around to the smaller size at some point. Sure enough I finally found them in the King Size. (I’m guessing they couldn’t quite swing a regular sized bar because of the proportions involved in making a filled bar like this.)
The bar puzzles me. It’s a Hershey’s product, just as Reese’s are, but it’s not branded under the Reese’s name, which is where most peanut butter products go (except for the Peanut Butter Kisses). I just couldn’d figure out what would be better about this bar compared to all the other Reese’s products in their line.
I’m not sure why I was so surprised at how it looked when I took it out of the wrapper. It’s downright unattractive. The five rounded rectangular segments have a “default font” look to them. The bar is long and thick, a little narrower than the traditional Hershey bar and of course triple the thickness to hold the “creamy peanut butter” filling.
As proportions go, this is more about the chocolate than the peanut butter - there’s probably a 2 to 1 ratio of chocolate to peanut butter here. The chocolate on this bar doesn’t quite taste like Hershey’s. There’s no familiar yogurty tang to it, but it does have that sort of soft & fudgy texture. The peanut butter filling isn’t an ultra-smooth cream as I was expecting, but not the dry crumble of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup either. I wouldn’t call it creamy. It didn’t have much of a salty hit to it, though the package did say that it has 140 mg, about half of what you’d find in a Reese’s.
It’s a nice tasting bar, it seems designed for the market of people who don’t want too much peanut butter in their chocolate and seem perfectly happy with a recommended portion of 2.3 ounces and 370 calories (the recommended portion when eating the jumbo bar is more responsibly set at about 1.5 ounces). The other difference between this bar and a Reese’s is that this one contains partially hydrogenated oils ... I’m not saying that’s a selling point.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
These Zip Bomb candies showed up recently in one of the 99 Cent Only stores that I visit. I thought maybe they were a knock-off of Zotz available in little pouches.
Warning: this is another story about how I am pretty much willing to try anything, no matter how much evidence is presented that it’s a bad idea.
All wasn’t sitting well with me long before I opened the package. Part of that was the name Zip Bomb ... that’s a malicious file that’s delivered as a .zip file with a gajillion files inside that will occupy scanning software while worse things go on. Perhaps these candies came along before that, right?
Of course this made me wonder what was going to happen when I put it in my mouth. Would it occupy my taste buds while it stole my wallet? Would it swell to the size of a 63 terabyte file with tart foaming sherbet and tasty hard candy and then delete all my photos?
The other thing that struck me as odd is that the website listed on the back of the package, http://www.zipkidz.com, doesn’t exist. Oh, it might have or might someday, but as I type this, there is no website to visit for fun and games. A search on Archive.org reveals that there was a website at that address back in 2004-05. Hmm, could this code on the wrapper that says 021902 mean that they were made back in 2002?
Yes, these are the things that suddenly fill me with dread when looking at a package of candy.
But you know, I’ve already taken their photo ... what fun would this be if I didn’t go all the way and eat some?
The little individual candies were cute in their wrappers. Sure, the design wasn’t the most sophisticated in the world, but they were bright and colorful and said which flavor was which.
The candies themselves were bigger than Zotz, round instead of oval.
After putting one in my mouth I can tell you that they’re not like Zotz! The hard candy has an intense sour layer on top. Seriously sour ... but it fades away pretty quickly to reveal a simple tart and flavorful hard candy.
At the center of the candy (whether you’re a sucker or a cruncher) is a small reservior of sour powder. I was expecting it to foam, but it didn’t. It was just sour.
The hard candies were nicely flavored, each one distinct. Blue Raspberry was my favorite followed by Strawberry and then Green Apple. Watermelon was odd, probably because I just have a stubborn part of me that thinks that sour watermelon is wrong.
I wanted more of the sour center than I got in the candies, there seemed to be more hard candy than I wanted. They’re fun and something I probably would have enjoyed more as a kid than I do now, but I have to say, that first blast of throat-tingling sour is pretty fun at any age. They were probably much better when they were fresh.
Note: the candies were made in Thailand.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.