Wednesday, January 13, 2010
As we’re in the middle of Candy Season one of my favorite things to do after a holiday is to see what’s on sale from the previous holiday and glance at the early merchandise on the shelves for the next one. The Epiphany usually marks the emergence of Valentine’s Day candy. I scour the aisles looking for something new. So when I saw the new packaging for Necco Sweethearts I thought they’d expanded their line. They have been offering an all-chocolate version, Spanish language version and lately a Tart version. I thought this new fruity array was an addition.
I bought them but didn’t open them, just tossing them on my pile for review. Then the comments started trickling in from readers, who were finding my old review and weighing in on the changes. It appears that it’s a complete replacement for the classic Necco Sweethearts (see my review of them in 2008).
There are so many things wrong. Let me start on the front of the package.
The Official Candy of Love
Does Love have a governing board that can decide these things, like the Olympic Committee? No, no it does not. Love, Freedom, Justice and Anger ... these concepts and emotions are boundless and cannot have anything official about them. Invoking any sort of official in association with them is false advertising. Love does not do endorsements. (Unless Necco would like to step forward and show me their contracts with Love.)
New Package Design
I actually like it. It’s bold but still soft and, yeah, a bit feminine and childish. At first I though the colors of the hearts were a little too vivid, but after seeing the actual candies inside, I’m setting that aside. The choice of Love Bug as the statement on the featured heart is a bit odd.
It’s marked in a black stamp there in the upper right corner, 99 cents and the package holds 7 ounces. Can’t really beat that, especially when the little boxes are usually selling for 50 cents for one ounce (though sometimes on for as little as 20 cents each). Not terribly attractive but kind of makes me nostalgic for the time before bar codes.
Lack of Branding
The front of the package does not bear the name of the maker. The name Necco isn’t actually on the package anywhere ... just New England Confectionery Company under the nutrition facts panel (followed by the web address of www.necco.com). The previous years’ packaging does have Necco and its logo featured prominently both on the front and the back of the packages.
It’s January 13, so a little more than a month before Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s candy has been in stores for at least a week. On the back of the package is says for baking, gifting, craft ideas and more visit mysweethearts.com. You know what’s on that page as I write this? It’s a placeholder about some sort of iPhone app. No promised recipes or craft ideas ... not even any mention that would be what I expect to find it there. (See screengrab.)
The New Flavors - Show You Care ... 6 Delicious Ways to Share!
Strawberry, Grape, Green Apple, Lemon, Orange and Blue Raspberry.
I’m not going to break the flavors down one by one. What was nice about Necco Sweethearts was the subtle sweet flavors, nothing exciting, they were simply pleasant.
The new flavors are a blend of sweet and tart. The texture is smoother than the usual compressed dextrose candy like SweeTarts, because this is made with mostly sugar and corn syrup instead of dextrose (which is just a powder form of glucose and has a different mouthfeel).
The citrus flavors are completely artificial with a tangy note that is wholly un-citrus and more like a chemical. The pink ones taste like a combination of lipstick and the old wintergreen ones, which is just a disgusting mix. Grape has as much clove flavor in it as food coloring though the mixture is nearly palatable.
These do not show I care ... these show that I have no regard for my lover or friend’s expectations of what a heart shaped candy should taste like.
It’s as if Necco took all the artificial colors that they aren’t using for their new All Natural Necco Wafers and pouring it all into these improved Necco Sweethearts. Simply put, they’re a mess. (Now, I would’ve been thrilled if the conversation hearts were also going to be all natural, what an awesome innovation that would have been.)
Once I opened the bag I was in trouble. The smell is a blend of Love’s Baby Soft and strawberry candles. And if I were just sniffing the bag, well, yeah, I have to expect that. But this thing made my car smell, they make my office smell. When I’m done with this review they’re going in the trash someplace where I am not.
The one thing they have improved upon was one of my beefs with them previously. They production quality is better. The pieces are well formed and most especially the printing is clear. Sure about a quarter of them aren’t printed square in the center, but they’re still readable.
The sayings are cute. They’re using the heart symbol quite a bit. Hey Baby, Smile, Sweet Love, Dream Big, You Rock, Puppy Love, Meet Me, Love Me, Hug Me, Kiss Me, For Ever, Ask Me, even Marry Me
I’m not saying they shouldn’t make these, someone probably likes them, but they should be an additional product in the line, not a replacement for the iconic original.
UPDATE 1/27/2010: It’s been a few weeks and it seems that the response posted here has been overwhelmingly negative about the flavor change (few have mentioned the new texture).
So I talked to Jackie Hague, the Vice President of Marketing for Necco who navigated this new change (along with the All Natural Necco Wafers, which I fully support). We had a great talk about candy in general (she worked for Mars for 20 years and was responsible for many of the limited edition M&Ms that so many of us have loved over the years).
First, you can still get the classic Necco Sweethearts. The change over was made mid-way through the production schedule. So the first part of the production run was the classic flavors (Banana, Wintergreen, Orange, Cherry, Grape) and then they switched over the ingredients and equipment for the new formula. They are sold at very few stores, basically the discounters: Dollar Tree, Dollar General, Family Dollar , 99 Cent Only, Freds , Odd Lots, Wakefern and Sav A Lot. (The image shown here is the classic flavors on the left that I found at Dollar Tree and the ones on the right are the new flavors/colors - here’s what the package looks like.)
Second, Ms. Hague said that the changes were made based on consumer feedback. The most common requests from folks who wrote or called were for a softer texture and for more intense & modern flavors. Banana was not well liked, apparently yellow is not ordinarily expected to be banana. The texture was introduced first with the Twilight version of Sweethearts (though future versions won’t have Passion Fruit) as well as the tangier, more vibrant flavors.
So the takeaway from this would be, if you don’t like the new flavors, make sure that Necco knows that. Return the product, write to them or call. I wouldn’t expect a whole lot in return (a canned response) but I do think that they log the feedback - it’s in their best interest. (Ms. Hague also said that they’ve assigned more people to help out with the feedback process, so perhaps the responses will be more appropriate instead of a copy/paste FAQ.) Ms. Hague understood my frustration with not just the lack of information but the contrary information provided by the website and candy packages and it’s apparent they’re working on that.
The Necco website’s Sweethearts product page used to say this, “One thing Sweetheart lovers can count on each year is the candy’s simple, familiar formula. The basic recipe has never been changed. Both Sweethearts and the familiar NECCO Wafers use the same batter—sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gums, coloring and flavoring.” However, they’ve finally updated their websites to reflect this new change and have omitted that statement that they honor the time-tested flavors ... because they were tested by time and after about a hundred years, even as the #1 Valentines candy selling 8 billion hearts a year, they lost. Necco thinks that this new version will appeal to more people, which is possible, but it’s clear it’s not the same people who have been buying them.
Update 2/10/2013: Both versions of Necco’s Conversation Hearts are on store shelves this year. By far the most ubiquitous are the newer fruity version, but I did find the almost-classic “Conversation Hearts” at Walgreen’s. The old ones are called Conversation Hearts, not Sweethearts. I’ve only seen them in the little boxes, only as singles (not in the shrinkwrapped five packs and no bags).
The classic version has white (cinnamon), green (lime), yellow (banana), pink (cherry), purple (grape) and orange (orange). So they’ve eliminated clove and wintergreen. It’s too bad. The texture has returned to the crunchier version. The colors are more vibrant and the printing just as inconsistent.
Monday, November 2, 2009
It’s hard to believe that I’ve never reviewed Necco Wafers. In the early years of Candy Blog I tried to concentrate on candies I’d never had before, but it became apparent that in order to discuss things that were new (or new to me) I had to cover the classics as well. So I’m slowly adding those.
Necco Wafers were introduced in 1863 by the Chase and Company candy makers. They were known for their hard candies (boiled sweets), lozenges and “Oriental style” sweets including Turkish Delight. They also innovated machinery and techniques to create confections like the wafers. Chase later merged with Ball and Forbes and Bird, Wright and Company to become the New England Confectionery Company in 1901. By the time they’d been around for almost fifty years they finally settled into their present day name, assortment and packaging style in 1912. Necco Wafers were available in different sizes and were a popular penny candy of the time.
The wafers are lightly flavored and colored disks of sugar. The product is rather unusual for the modern era of confections and is more similar to breath mints than regular candy. They’re not fussy but perhaps a little homely and dated.
To make them, a dough of sugar and corn syrup is mixed up and stabilizers and binders such as gelatin, tragacanth, xanthan and gum Arabic are added. Then after the base is created it’s customized with the flavors and colors. The whole mass is loaded into a roller like it’s some sort of infinitely long pie crust then the disks are cut and stamped with the Necco name. They’re not baked, just air dried.
What’s created is a beguilingly crunchy lozenge. Crisp, thin and sweet.
The classic roll of Necco Wafers contained eight flavors and has always been a random assorted stack sealed in a glassine wrapper. I know most folks who like them also searched the store shelves for one that had just the right mix of colors they preferred.
This year marks a new generation of Necco Wafers now with all natural flavorings and colors. Because of the new restrictions Necco placed on itself, they dropped one flavor from the original that could not be replicated adequately: Lime.
The current flavors are chocolate, cinnamon, clove, lemon, licorice, orange and wintergreen. Since no artificial colors are used I was hoping that the flavors would be truer. (I’ve always had a problem with the pink ones having a bad bitter aftertaste.)
I haven’t been able to find the large two ounce rolls in the stores near me, but I did finally find this package of the mini rolls at CVS in the Halloween section. (I visited about a dozen stores in two states in a month looking for them.)
The colors are quite a bit more subdued, as if Necco Wafers weren’t already a bit washed out. They’re so muted that I have trouble telling the pale yellow, lavender and white apart. And for folks that like to preview a roll before they open it, it’s quite hard to tell the light colors apart. The new wrapper also sports an updated logo ... though I find the logo to look more like something from 1998 (when the titled oval was all the rage in logos) than a modern candy, but not quite a reflection of its classic past.
Clove - I always avoided the clove for two reasons. I don’t like clove flavor and I didn’t like the food coloring aftertaste. In this case the clove (faint lavender) is much more mild and less caustic than before. Of course there’s no weird aftertaste either. I still didn’t like it much and was a little irritated that it was so hard to pull them out of the mix in anything other than bright sunlight.
Chocolate - the easiest to spot and one that needs no coloring. I found the cocoa flavors to be overly sweet, but at least true. It was like an old piece of dried chocolate frosting. A little pointless if you really want chocolate, but it has a freshness to it that doesn’t leave me thinking of cardboard.
Wintergreen - I was so happy about these. The color is still a teaberry pink, so they’re easy to spot. It’s exactly like a piece of teaberry gum if it was a crunchy piece of sugar (and a stale piece of gum can be like that). The flavor starts out rather soft and quaint, but builds up to a bit of a Ben Gay burn later. There’s a lingering buzz in the mouth. The best part of the finish is that it’s all flavor and no food coloring mess. My tongue looks like when I started (normal pink) and no metallic aftertaste.
Cinnamon - this white piece lots its mojo in the conversion to all natural. It’s sad how lacking in cinnamon punch it is now, it’s not that it’s bad, but I just don’t feel like picking them out and eating them first any longer.
Licorice - the color is so much lighter on these, it took me a while to realize that they weren’t the clove ones. They’re a light putty color that sometimes has a lavender cast to it. The flavor is quite a strong anise note. It’s sweet and has an aromatic and slightly menthol quality to it. It reminds me a little bit of the Fisherman’s Friend lozenges.
Lemon - the lemon flavored Necco Wafers were never spectacular and they haven’t changed one way or the other. Sweet and with only the slightest hint of lemon flavor, there’s no tartness (thank goodness - if you’ve had the SweetHearts Sour Conversation Hearts you’ll know what I mean), no zest.
Orange - this faint orange colored one has a little orange peel note to it. It didn’t seem as sweet as the lemon one, but that’s not saying much about it. It was mostly inoffensive.
I don’t miss Lime, but I did enjoy the flavor. As an assortment, I’ve found myself munching through the bag of minis without any problems. I’ve picked out most of the clove, but find all the other flavors enjoyable. So I consider the new mix a definite winner. The only issue was the strength of the flavors varies - the clove, licorice and wintergreen were very strong and left a distinct burn in the mouth while the rest were pretty mellow. So after a licorice, I could barely tell that I was eating a lemon.
Each roll of 9 pieces has only 50 calories. They take a while to eat and of course there’s the variety, so it’s a nice snack that’s easy to take anywhere. I do have a problem with the little white powder that seems to get everywhere though. (I tend to wear a lot of dark colors.)
I think this is a great development and I’m actually looking forward to see if the classic SweetHearts Conversation Hearts will also go all natural. They do still have gelatin in them, so sadly no good for vegetarians and they’re not Kosher/Halal. I really like my candies to taste like candy, not artificial colors.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Go big or go home is kind of a mantra in the snack world. Bigger, bolder, stronger, faster, louder, saltier, fattier, sweeter, higher, longer, brassier, sourer and crunchier all grab market share. They draw our attention because we seek novelty and claiming to be the mostest of something is, well, at least some kind of claim. Things like taste, satisfaction or quality are irrelevant.
So that brings me to the World’s Largest Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. It looks like an amped up version of the regular package. Same proportions, just bigger.
Hershey’s has been making variations on the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup for over 50 years. Big Cups, Miniatures ... shapes for different holidays like the Eggs, Trees and Pumpkins. (And of course all the other flavors, chocolate coatings & inclusions.) But this, is obviously different.
The package is 10.5 inches long and 5 inches wide. Inside are two peanut butter cups, each is 8 ounces. So for $9.99 at CVS I was able to buy a pound of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. (Actually, a careful shopper would just buy the 40 ounce “Club Size” bag of miniatures for about $8.99.)
Inside the wrapper is a white paperboard tray that holds the two cups. The cups themselves differ from their un-endowed originals in that they are not contained by a brown fluted paper cup. These are structurally coherent enough to need no containers. (Though they still have the classic fluted sides.)
They’re 4” around on the top and 3” around at the base. As you can already imagine there are some strange proportions at work here when dealing with gigantism. In order to structurally contain the peanut butter I found that they’d fortified the chocolate. I tried biting one but found that the sides and corners were quite thick milk chocolate. Almost a half an inch thick in some places.
It’s really not a product for nibbling on. (Mostly because I simply don’t just munch on pieces of candy that weigh a half a pound. Like giant chocolate Easter rabbits, there’s a sanitary issue.)
This violates one of my primary rules of candy, which is that it requires some sort of tool. In this case it’s a knife to portion it. Most large chocolate bars are scored and can be broken into pieces. There is no other way to eat this other than huge bites ... which pretty much means you’re not sharing or you’re intimate enough with the other folks or so wasted you don’t care.
When sliced though, I have to say it’s rather charming. The triangles are like little slices of pie. Since each cup is 8 ounces, it’s easy to score it into 1 ounce slices ... or just quarter it for hefty 2 ounce pieces. Technically the nutritional panel suggests that a single serving is 1/6th of a cup, but I’ve always found cutting things into sixths harder than quarters/eighths.
The chocolate tastes much sweeter and slightly cool on the tongue than I get from a regular Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. The center peanut butter filling is dry and crumbly with a good salty note and only slightly sweet component.
My issue ultimately that there’s a lot of chocolate surrounding a large bulk of peanut butter. In the end I ate the top & bottom of the slice as well as the dense and grainy peanut butter filling but couldn’t bring myself to eat the super-sweet edge crust of chocolate.
I admit it’s a fun novelty and kind of a no-brainer inexpensive gift for a Reese’s Peanut Butter lover. I see it as a great option for social events, but hard to present as a “real” Reese’s peanut butter cup, since there’s no branding on it. (Maybe a disk to serve it on.)
In the end though it’s no replacement for the tried and true classic. So all it really does in the end is prove that the regular cups are ideal.
From the reports from the dear readers who alerted me to this monstrosity, they seem to be exclusive to CVS ... anyone else see them? (I’m hoping they’ll stick around for Christmas, as I think they’re a fun gag gift that’s actually functional.)
UPDATE December 2010: These are now in much wider distribution. I’ve seen them at 7-11 (for $12.99, I think) plus Target has them along with one pound Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
While some folks find the Cadbury Creme Egg to be the ultimate achievement in Easter confectionery, be warned that there are some pretenders to that throne. At the stores this year I found two such “knock offs.”
I found Walgreen’s and CVS had their own eggs this year. The CVS brand is called Absolutely Divine and comes in gold foil with a purple and black logo ... which made me wonder if they were a dark chocolate product. The Walgreen’s version is in primary/secondary colors and comes in both the Creme Egg and Caramel Egg.
What could a store brand have to offer? Well, the first thing I noticed about these CCE simulations is that they’re bigger. In fact the shelf box for the Walgreen’s said that they’re 14% larger. These eggs are like the once powerful Cadbury Creme Eggs in their original 1.38 ounce size (CCE are now 1.2 ounces).
Walgreen’s had these generic looking Creme Eggs on sale this past weekend for 40 cents each, which is not much less than an actual Cadbury Creme Egg. What I found so surprising is that I’ve been to that Walgreen’s at least twice before during this Easter season and these weren’t out on the shelves.
It was tough to read the wrapper. What I did get was that these are made in Canada and the chocolate shell is made of real chocolate.
Biting into the egg was a bit tough. It’s a thick shell and I was greeted with a creme that resembled a cordial more than the fondant than I was used to.
The difference between the egg white and egg yolk wasn’t quite apparent, though the best I could tell was there were two different colors of fondant in there. The center was sticky and inconsistent. Sweet, flavorless with little patches of clotted graininess.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
Biting it was similarly difficult to the Creme version - the shell is thick and almost solid on either end with only a minor void for the caramel at the center.
The caramel isn’t chewy or flowing. Instead it’s more of a pudding-like goo. As far a flavor though, it’s like a good caramel pudding, it’s very smooth and has some toasted sugar flavors. The chocolate shell is a bit hard, a little grainy and very milky tasting.
As far as this brand goes, I rather liked this Caramel Egg ... not enough to buy it again, but as a simulation of the venerable original, it at least meets expectations.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
The CVS Absolutely Divine Creme Egg didn’t look like much in the store. There was no explanation on the display box, and actually finding the “creme egg” part on the wrapper was pretty tough sleuthing that involved carefully flattening the foil after unwrapping.
I fully expected these to be made in Canada like the Walgreen’s counterpart ... that they just came spilling off the line to be randomly divided into different groups for different foil wrappers. This was more shocking when I read that they have identical ingredients and molding. But origins aside, the important part is how much they cost and how they taste.
I paid 50 cents each for these.
The creme center was also similarly inconsistent, though not quite as flowing as the Walgreen’s version.
The chocolate shell was disgusting. It tasted like roasted cardboard. Musty, grainy and overly sweetened, perhaps steamed cardboard.
The sweet filling was completely overpowered by this too-much-bad-shell. And the name, well, they’re absolutely not divine.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
I have one other piece of not-so-shocking info. These are all sticky. Not something to be eaten while using a keyboard.
What I came away with is this: if you love Cadbury Creme Eggs, buy Cadbury Creme Eggs. If you don’t like Cadbury Creme Eggs, these aren’t going to persuade you that they’re a great candy. Spend the extra eight cents or whatever the price difference is and get the real stuff.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
It’s not often that I’ll stop my fast forward through commercials to watch something. I definitely did when I saw the Reese’s: Perfectly Easter advertisement.
I’m not only a huge critic of candy (because I love it so), I’m also rather fond of breaking down advertising, but I’ll save that for another time.
The important takeaway I got on that advert was that Spring is in the Air and Reese’s Eggs are a chocolate covered peanut butter product.
Candy Blog reader, Peloria, has been wonderfully helpful in helping me track down these two versions by leaving comments on my original review of the perfect Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs (2006 version). I got a hold of eggs for 2009 from three stores with two different wrappers. For the most part single Reese’s Eggs are sold with the package that doesn’t say that they’re milk chocolate. But I also found the six pack that says Milk Chocolate above the Reese’s logo.
The classic Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg ingredients were (2005 source):
The current 2009 ingredients:
For reference, the standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup ingredients are (in 2009):
There are a few changes there, but nothing that definitively says that these aren’t a real chocolate product any longer. But they’re different enough to change the nutritional profile. There’s more salt (they’ve gone from 140mg to 150mg), and 11 grams of fat now instead of 10.
So I tasted them (after all, at this point I had 9 of them). The chocolate coating looked a bit chalky, not glossy (and some looked a little swirly and uneven in color). They’re soft and the peanut butter overwhelms any chocolate flavor anyway. The peanut butter center is crumbly and nutty, not completely smooth but not crunchy, just a little more rustic than the stuff in a jar. Salty, sweet and satisfying. The chocolate coating feels cool on the tongue and seems to melt pretty well, but it also melts in my fingers pretty quickly too. It’s a good time these come along in the spring because they’d never make it in a Los Angeles summer.
I’m not sure why Hershey’s has removed the Milk Chocolate part from some wrappers, I fear it’s because they’re planning something for next year ... kind of easing us into crappy candy instead of a sharp shift that causes an uproar like the true & mockolate Kissables being on the shelves at the same time. I still consider them a winner. The prices appear to have gone up. I got the six pack for $2 on sale, but buying the individual ones, the best sale I could find was 75 cents each.
Hershey’s has a bunch of other candies for Easter in the Reese’s line, too. There are Fudge Covered Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and Reester Bunnies, which are just a molded version of the RPBC in various sizes. They’re more chocolate than peanut butter. Then there are the Foil Eggs, the Reese’s Pieces Eggs (in beautiful pastels),
Then there’s this strange monstrosity which is also called Milk Chocolate Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg but unlike the 1.2 ounce version, this one is molded. It’s also 6 ounces (so five times as big but twice the price per ounce).
The box is ridiculously oversized for the product - it’s 6.5 inches long. The egg itself is 4.5 inches long, 1.5 inches high and 3 inches wide at the broadest part. That means one inch of space on all sides ... feels like more than just protection, feels like a bit of fakery. (Though it’s easy to see the entirety of the product through the cellophane window.)
The ingredients are pretty much the same as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup - erring on the chocolate as the first ingredient, not peanuts.
I get the sense that these are supposed to be like those deluxe slicing candy eggs that have always puzzled me. Candy, in my opinion, doesn’t need any serving implements. It’s meant to be eaten with the fingers and needs no preparation or tools. Either I bite into this one and eat it all by myself, of I slice it up. Which I did.
Looking at the slices there, I think you can tell that this is not the same center as the 1.2 ounce egg ... it looks and feels a bit oilier (which is not a bad thing, just a different thing).
The interesting experience with these slices is that the amount of chocolate shell varies so much depending on where the slice comes from. The ends, of course, are mostly chocolate. But even in a center slice, the chocolate shell is especially thick, much thicker than any cup I’ve ever had from Reese’s, as thick as a regular Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar.
The chocolate flavor was completely lost on this product, it tasted like peanut butter fudge, though it was pretty smooth and sweet with a slight milky flavor to it. The peanut butter center was stellar. It was relatively solid, had the crumbly texture and didn’t taste as sweet as the regular eggs. I liked the clear distinction between the chocolate shell here and the peanut butter filling, instead of the unclear margins in the smaller egg. But sometimes the chocolate had a coconut flavor to it that I can’t quite explain nor say that I cared much for.
However, the silly over-packaging and price tag would certainly keep me from buying these ever again. But if you’re looking for something for a peanut butter obsessed person’s Easter basket instead of a pile of the small eggs or the standby bunny, it might be fun. Portion control was a lot easier than I thought, I sliced up rather logically into five pieces, though I can’t be sure that they were actually the same weight. The package says that it serves four (which means each serving is more than a single regular egg).
I feel like downgrading the 1.2 ounce Reese’s Eggs to a 9 out of 10, but maybe that’s an emotional response, a response out of fear, not one based on my actual tasting (though there was some throat burning from the sweetness I don’t remember from the past). As for the giganto one, it’s not something I appreciate, though I guess it’s okay. I give it a 7 out of 10.
UPDATE 3/30/2009: Thanks to Peloria’s continued documentation, I kept looking for these other non-milk chocolate labeled eggs. I finally found them at the 99 Cent Only Store near my house. The packages were 2 for a dollar.
Sure enough the ingredients indicated that they’re really not chocolate (I know, the photo looks like all the other photos, but trust me, this is what the reverse says):
Peanuts, sugar, dextrose, vegetable oil (cocoa butter, palm, shea, sunflower and/or safflower oil), chocolate, nonfat milk, contains 2% or less of milk fat, lactose, salt, whey, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, corn syrup, soy lecithin, cornstarch, glycerin, TGHQ & PGPR, vanillin.
They look a little flatter than the milk chocolate eggs (labeled or not). As for the taste, well, this one seemed really salty to me, but maybe that’s what happens when I have peanut butter eggs for breakfast. (Hey, eggs are a breakfast food!)
The mockolate coating wasn’t bad, it wasn’t any worse looking than the current eggs. It has a similar melt and cool feeling on the tongue, it’s sweet but I didn’t taste any milky component to it.
I still don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why they’ve have both on the market at the same time, why they’d make two versions and ruin something that was perfectly good and perfect. As for the ruining part, well, they’re not that bad but I’m not fond of eating palm oil when I could be eating cocoa butter.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Someday I may write a long(er) article about public relations, marketing and product launches. I have a few case studies. Well, not really case studies, perhaps they’re just essays where I make fun of PR. Mars’ new Fling would probably be at the top of the list.
(If you just want a review of the candy, skip down to the photos of the actual candy bars out of the package, because I’m gonna go on here for a while with liberal use of parentheticals.)
The Ranting about Marketing & Press Spin
Fling is a new candy bar being test marketed in Los Angeles. The tag line is naughty but not that naughty (tm).
It’s geared towards women, and even more specifically towards women with food issues.
But it’s packaged like tampons (the individual fingers sold in stand up boxes moreso), so maybe it gives women who are embarrassed to be seen with a chocolate bar a more discreet package to disguise it. (If I were a child or man searching through someone’s handbag for a snack, I’d certainly think at first glance that this was some sort of feminine hygiene product and not a sweet consumable.)
The press release that accompanied my single sample (yes, I requested samples since I hadn’t seen it in Los Angeles, yet and I was overnighted a huge box with a too-small tee-shirt, press release and one package of the milk chocolate ... no samples of the other flavors, which is pretty much what I do here, eat all the flavors and then provide oodles of description & photos) is filled with fascinating stuff that defies logic:
There was no accompanying Venn diagram to show me what the overlap of that was. Is that 75% that enjoy passionate kissing a subset of the 77% of all women that enjoy chocolate? (The footnotes did provide me with the information that these surveys were conducted in Los Angeles and San Francisco, so perhaps this is only the leanings of 500 California urban women who were willing to talk about items so personal?)
The only fact contained in the release that I think will be of interest to retailers is that “California women claim they are less likely to give up chocolate and splurging on clothes than other indulgent flings, such as drinking gourmet coffee, having girls’ night out and spa treatments.” So with the current economic situation, this product will thrive. I have to say, I am not these women! (I don’t drink gourmet coffee, I don’t have girls’ night out, spa treatments or splurge on clothes ... really the only thing that I fling my money at is chocolate.)
The other threats contained in the press release include a marketing campaign that will include innuendo-laden headlines. (Just when I was starting to recover from the Herbal Essence commercials - as long as they don’t become the GoDaddy of candy.) Oh, I could go on and on about the things that I found insulting about the press release. But hey, consumers don’t get to read it.
There’s a companion website as well, which actually contains information about what the product actually is (there is an accompanying fact sheet that does have some additional scant info with more marketing-speak).
The marketing mentions that these are 85 calorie treats, but they’re sold in packages that are pairs. So each package, each serving size is 170 calories. They come in three flavor varieties: Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Hazelnut.
The Actual Candy Review
The Fling Milk Chocolate is meringue plank with a layer of chocolate cream covered in milk chocolate. The milk chocolate has an iridescent/pearly finish to it.
The marketing calls this premium chocolate, yet careful reading of the ingredients reveals that it has PGPR in it. Odd.
The fingers are rather like a Twix bar, about 4.25” long in a mostly half-round log. There are little squiggles that distinguish it from the Hazelnut variety.
They smell sweet and a little milky. The bite is quite nice. The meringue is crispy and has a very distinct crunch. It’s a very smooth meringue, not like a honeycomb. The vaguely sweet and toasted meringue is set off by the truffle cream, which is silky smooth and a little salty. The milk chocolate coating is a bit milkier than the rest of the bar and gives it a little malty punch and pulls it all together.
It’s a rather nice bar, wonderful blend of textures and delicate flavors. A bit on the sweet side for me when eaten alone, but with some strong tea or a cup of coffee, it’s a good break.
The Fling Dark Chocolate is meringue plank with a layer of chocolate cream covered in dark chocolate (which contains milk, milkfat and lactose) but no PGPR.
The iridescent coating on this was more noticeable and frankly, more disturbing to me. What is that stuff? Eyeshadow? Crushed gemstones? Powdered mussel shells?
The smell of this bar reminded me a lot of Dove Dark Chocolate. It has a woodsy and slightly acidic/milky scent to it.
Again, the snap of the bar was really refreshing. It releases a little waft of toasted marshmallow flavor from the meringue. The darker chocolate gives it a dry finish and a bitter bite towards the end, leaving me feeling a bit more satisfied.
The Fling Hazelnut is the same meringue plank with a layer of hazelnut-flavored chocolate cream covered in milk chocolate. (The zig zags are doubled on these.)
I thought this one was the most innovative. Hazelnut isn’t a common flavor in the United States for candy found in single packs at grocery & drug store checkouts, so they’ve found a unique selling proposition right there.
The bar smells like a flavored mocha drink. Sweet, with a toasted nut scent like hazelnut “flavor.”
The crisp bite still pleases me in this version, but the overly fake hazelnut flavor doesn’t do much for me. I would have preferred an actual giaunduia instead of the truffle cream, but I recognize that the coffee drink culture owns this hazelnut flavor thing.
There are a lot of things to like here. It’s a completely new style of bar, they’re really well made. The attention to detail is great (even the imprinting on the bottom of the bar is little flowers & swirlies like the package design).
I think the use of meringue, the mix of textures and the finger format is excellent - perfectly proportioned. It was crisp, it was creamy and overall, two bars was satisfying. The dark chocolate was my favorite of the three, but all were definitely good and different enough that I can see people having favorites.
The calories controls stuff is a little disingenuous (as most stuff regarding dieting and portion control is). The packages only hold 1.11 ounces. The caloric density is actually higher than most other candy bars on the market at 153 calories per ounce ... just a smaller portion. Twix, which is their own product and perhaps the target audience for this is only 140 calories per ounce, 3Musketeers is about 125, KitKat is about 150. The big difference here is that it doesn’t look small. (I think this was a similar hurdle with the 3 Musketeers Mint.)
To bring this back to my earlier assessment of the marketing and positioning of the product, I think it’s a huge error to launch this as its own product line. I think it should be part of the Dove products, which are already about indulgence (and strike me as less likely to alienate men) and have a recognizable package & logo design.
The other striking thing is that Fling is not new to planet Earth. It’s been around in Australia for two years. (Candy Addict had a review of it on its launch.) The packaging there was less feminine (no pink) and though still aimed at women it had a quirky campaign that used the tagline, forever is overrated. Here’s an animated commercial. (Thanks Sera!)
Friday, September 19, 2008
I went on a strange little odyssey. It all started with an interview I was prepping for with NBC’s Today show. Hershey’s was changing some of their products, swapping out real milk chocolate for coatings that used other oils instead of the native cocoa butter in chocolate.
I gathered up all the products I could find, including the ReeseSticks (previous review here). I found the single serve package at the drug store, but it was expired and I didn’t think that was fair, so I found this Reese’s Lovers Assortment (photo here) at CVS’s freshly stocked Halloween aisle. I found exactly what I wanted ... but I was a little surprised because the front of the package said that the ReeseSticks were crispy wafers | peanut butter | milk chocolate.
Well, that didn’t match what I had. This is happy news, right? The milk chocolate is back!
But when I opened up my Reese’s Lovers Assortment I was more than disappointed. The little single finger packages of ReeseSticks were quite clear, they said only crispy wafers | peanut butter. What are they pulling?
Well, I’ve already bought them, so I may as well try them and add them to my list of re-reviewed items.
Flipping over the bag, they do list all the ingredients for the products separately and though the front and both sides of the package mention milk chocolate, the ingredients tell the full story:
The old ingredients (courtesy of Mike’s Candy Wrappers) from 2003:
The little sticks in the assortment are a little smaller than the regular twin pack. These are .6 ounces each, but are still pretty substantial feeling.
The possibly-chocolate coating (well, the ingredients say that there may be cocoa butter in there and no other oils) looks pretty good, a little greasy but a nice medium color. It smells like peanuts and Easter grass. Sweet and artificial and, well, comforting.
Unless chilled the coating was pretty soft and sticky. The crunch of the foamy and flavorless wafers allowed the peanut butter to come through. Without much chocolate flavor, these reminded me of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, without all the sharp mouth-wounding bits. It’s pretty salty though, saltier than I would like. (135 mgs in a current twin pack versus 110 mgs in the original one.)
Overall, I prefer the memory of the real chocolate one - less salty and I recall it having some chocolate flavor input. I don’t like ingredients lists that tell me what might be in there in there. I don’t want to eat palm oil, I want cocoa butter. But it’s still a pretty good candy product and not as noticeable a change as the Kissables.
Final note: Though the package deceptively promised me milk chocolate in my ReeseSticks, it also said that the Fast Break was not real chocolate on the outside ... but on the inside and the reverse of the package it was.
Friday, September 12, 2008
The series seems to be color coded, peanut butter is accented with orange. I think orange is the universal color for peanut butter (though I could see yellow working too).
The Peanut Butter Parfait Nips didn’t sound that appealing to me. I wasn’t sure what the peanut butter center would be like. The picture on the box makes it appear as though it’s some sort of caramel sauce flavored with peanut butter.
After cracking one open (yes, with a nutcracker) I found out why these weren’t leaky. The center isn’t gooey, it’s a dry and crumbly partially defatted peanut butter.
The shell was like the Caramel Nips. Sweet, creamy and toasty tasting.
After a while I got kind of tired waiting for the peanut butter flavor, so I crunched it a bit. The peanut butter innards are very sweet, a little greasy (thank goodness for the defatting) and really peanutty.
The combination is nice, but completely overpowers the caramel at this point. Then the peanut butter dissolves away and I’m left with shards of caramel Nip (well, that’s my fault for crunching). Not really much of a winner for me.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Though I enjoy rum as a spirit, I don’t drink it straight and rarely in mixed drinks at all. I think it’s best in sauces and baked goods, so putting it in a candy seems like a pretty good idea to me.
They don’t smell like much in the box. Kind of like box.
The caramelized flavors, the smooth texture and the oh, so fake rum flavor all combines to make a really satisfying treat. I was dubious, but these won me over on the second piece.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.