Thursday, July 30, 2009
It was launched barely more than a year ago with little promotion to support it, no website (just a page on the Starbucks site) and a baffling retail plan where it was sold everywhere except Starbucks.
The line included coffee & tea infused chocolate bars, tasting squares and truffles. The packaging echoed Starbucks strong image, was all natural and made no direct mention of Hershey’s as the manufacturer. For Christmas special flavors were created that echoed the seasonal coffee drinks. However, the new brand was a tad on the expensive side and entered the mass-manufactured upscale chocolate market just terms like staycation entered the vernacular.
So last week as Hershey’s announced huge second quarter profits, it also formally announced that they were discontinuing the Starbucks Chocolate line.
CNN Money summed it up pretty well:
Added to that happy news about their profits (which were the result of cutting manufacturing costs by closing factories in the US, moving to a Mexican facility, raising prices and using cheaper ingredients), Hershey’s also formalized the discontinuation of Cacao Reserve, Hershey’s own branded high end chocolate line. (Hershey’s also closed Joseph Schmidt, a chocolatier line based out of San Francisco earlier this year and moved all production for Scharffen Berger to Illinois.)
The Caramel Macchiato Truffles come in a nicely packaged pair at the ghastly price of $1.39 at the drug store. Honestly, if this sort of truffle pair was available at an actual Starbucks to accompany my plain coffee, I might have gone for it more regularly. With the “startling news” that coffee drinks contain huge amounts of calories which cause cancer, a simple cup of coffee with cream and two truffles would actually be a smaller indulgence than an actual Caramel Macchiato.
I’ve never had a Macchiato (I’ve never actually had anything fancier than a latte or mocha in all my years), so I can’t comment on how well it mimics the frothy creation described thusly by Starbucks:
The milk chocolate shell is nicely molded. It holds a fudgy, smooth cream that tastes a bit like a mocha cheesecake. Sweet, a little tangy with a light coffee taste and maybe, just maybe a hint of toffee (caramel).
It was pretty sweet but with coffee it works ... though the actual coffee overpowers the not-much-coffee-taste.
In the end, I don’t think it was bad timing that sunk this line. I think it was bad merchandising - it should have been available at actual Starbucks. And a year is far too little to decide the success of a new line of chocolate. My view is that Hershey’s is uninterested in building brand loyalty through quality.
The only thing that makes sense about this is the statement on the side of the box:
Watching Cadbury & Mars move more and more towards ethically traded and sustainably grown & harvested cacao, I’m not seeing much for Hershey’s except from their Daboga arm. I can see where this Starbucks line is just a liability for profits. Hershey’s has shown itself to be more concerned with profits (and high profits, not just tidy ones) than the quality of its products and place within the economies it locates itself.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The new Hershey’s Special Dark with Almonds joins Hershey’s standard Special Dark bar as the companion with nuts.
Hershey’s dark chocolate isn’t daringly dark, it’s just 45% cacao content, which these days isn’t even as chocolatey as some milk chocolates. It’s nice to finally have the option of a dark bar with almonds at the convenience mart or drug store ... though it’s a little late to enter the game as Dove beat them there and even Lindt, Ritter and Ghirardelli are available pretty widely now.
The bar is lovely, it’s molded just like the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds bar.
It’s not a huge bar, but still a nice portion, clocking in at 1.45 ounces and 190 calories if you’re counting.
Ingredients: Sugar, chocolate, almonds (roasted in cocoa butter and/or sunflower oil), cocoa butter, cocoa processed with alkali, milkfat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR, vanillin and milk.
My first reaction is that it’s sweet. My second reaction is that it tastes like cocoa. The almonds have a good crunch and were fresh. Because of the almonds, for the most part I chewed the bar instead of letting it just melt on my tongue. But for the purposes of this review I found some pieces without almonds just for tasting the chocolate.
It’s sugary and a bit grainy, there’s a distinct chalkiness that isn’t that “this is really dark chocolate dryness” instead it’s more like the chocolate’s not fully combined with the sugar. The cocoa butter isn’t really supporting the chocolate, it’s standing next to it so everything just kind of falls apart.
It’s not terrible, but it’s like eating a bunch of chocolate chips. Chocolate chips are meant to stand up to baking and are almost always used in combination with other elements. Here the almonds just can’t cover up the lackluster flavors & texture.
If you’re desperate for a non-milk chocolate bar (that actually has milk products in it) and nothing else is around, this is certainly more palatable than the straight Special Dark. I found it filling, but not satisfying.
Monday, June 29, 2009
This new product for the Nuggets line is called Double Chocolate Nuggets:
Hershey’s gives you the best of both worlds with Double Chocolate Nuggets. It’s the perfect combination of Hershey’s Extra Creamy Milk Chocolate and Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate, giving you a delicious taste experience.
I’ve mentioned before that I actually like the nugget format. I like a deep bite, especially for a layered product or one that has inclusions (which is why I thought those Cookies ‘n’ Mint Nuggets were so great).
These little blocks have a distinct scent - it’s both the sweet cocoa smell of the Special Dark and the tangy milk chocolate that made Hershey’s famous.
Biting into it right side up I got the slightly chalky taste of the Special Dark first, which has a dry and mellow chocolate bite to it but a thin & watery melt. Then the “extra creamy” milky chocolate, which has a yogurty dairy flavor that give it more of a fudge taste than a deep milk chocolate note. (I really don’t get how this can be considered extra creamy.)
The effect of it all isn’t good nor bad, it just is. I can’t say that I’ve longed for a combination product before, so it’s not like I was anticipating this.
Monday, June 8, 2009
The Special Dark bar was introduced in 1971 (though Hershey’s made a dark chocolate bar on and off before that). With the news of dark chocolate’s high antioxidant content the line of Special Dark products has been expanding to include baking chips, its own assortment of Miniatures, Kisses, Syrup, Cocoa and Kissables.
It seems kind of odd that not only are Kissables being discontinued, but that this new Pieces line doesn’t have a simple milk chocolate version. Further, the Special Dark Pieces are the only product in the line that has a comparable item in the M&Ms line.
The Pieces are simple. Dark chocolate lentils with a candy shell. The colors are muted and dark: maroon, red and brown.
The shell is quite crunchy and has only a slight “cereal” flavor to it, for the most part it’s just sweet.
The center is smooth and has an excellent melt. The chocolate flavor is rather ordinary - a mix of coffee notes, a light touch of raisin or berry with a dose of smoke. It’s quite sweet, so any lingering bitterness is covered up completely.
I pretty much did the above review a couple of weeks ago when I first got my Pieces samples. I was hanging onto it because I wanted to do a full comparison of the product to both Dark Chocolate M&Ms as well as the Kissables Dark which came out in 2007.
So I went to the store to buy some.
And I came up empty handed. I went to a lot of stores. I couldn’t find any Kissables in any variety anywhere, except for a wrinkly old pack of original Milk Chocolate Kissables at the 99 Cent Only Store in Mid Wilshire and some Valentine’s that were likely as old. It’s like someone combed the country and pulled all Kissables from all stores. (I don’t think this is any loss for the confectionery world seeing that the Pieces line is far superior in quality.)
Comparing them side by side with M&Ms, it’s easy to see now how the shapes are slightly different.
The Pieces, though they have the same diameter as the M&Ms, are meatier. They’re thicker & puffier.
The shells on the Pieces are slightly thicker, which gives them more crunch but also makes them a bit sweeter and hides the chocolate flavor a little longer.
The chocolate punch of the M&Ms is a bit bolder, but the flavor is also chalkier/dryer. The Pieces have a smooth melt on the tongue and a mellow cocoa note.
I can’t say that one product is better than the other. I found myself preferring the Special Dark Pieces to the Dark Chocolate M&Ms, even though they were sweeter. I liked the consistent crunch and the buttery melt. The M&Ms, though, did have a good dark chocolate flavor to them though a little bitter towards the end.
Final Thoughts on Pieces Line:
Now that I’ve tried them all, I thought I’d give a bit of a review of the new line, that won’t be out in stores until December 2009.
The Pieces line is based on some of Hershey’s most popular candies: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Almond Joy, York Peppermint Patties and the Special Dark bar.
The creation of a lentil version doesn’t quite measure up to the combination of textural elements in quite the same way as the previous Bites line did, but these are definitely a winning confectionery creation. Instead these are more “inspired by” than just a new shape & ratio.
My only comments on how this could have been done better would be to set themselves apart further from M&Ms by enlarging their customer base to people who can’t eat M&Ms. That would be using all natural food colorings for the shells (granted, a tough proposition seeing that two of the three lines employ blue shells) and to be gluten free & nut-free (even the Almond Joy could be peanut-free, one of the most common allergy issues in candy).
I’m looking forward to the product launch later this year.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I like York Peppermint Patties, so I was pretty excited to hear about York Pieces (more here). Especially since I disappointed when Hershey’s discontinued the York Bites, I thought this would be a great “morsel” version of the Peppermint Pattie ... great for snacking & sharing.
The new Hershey’s Pieces line takes classic candy bars and makes them into little lentils covered in a candy shell.
The description from the press release was a little vague: Peppermint Flavored Dark Chocolate Candy in a Crunchy Shell, so I wasn’t sure what they would be like until I got my hands on these sales samples direct from Hershey’s. Would they have the classic fondant center? It begs the question, what is the essence of a York Peppermint Pattie?
It turns out, to my disappointment, that they are exactly as described above. Mint flavored dark chocolate with a candy shell. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but where’s the fondant?
The Pieces come in two colors in this assortment: royal blue and white. The grey package with blue accents and the yellow logo was easily identifiable as York Peppermint.
The shell is pleasant & crunchy, the chocolate inside is quite smooth and has a nice peppermint pop to it. The cocoa flavors come out really well, and is very close to the chocolate flavor profile of the York chocolate coating.
While M&Ms have their holiday Mint version, this year round dark chocolate mint lentil will definitely have a unique selling position. I prefer the naturally less sweet dark chocolate of the York Pieces to the very sweet but a touch salty Mint Chocolate M&Ms. (Though they end up with the same rating.)
I got to thinking about whether or not it’d be possible to make a fondant centered lentil and then I remembered that the York Mints (and Dutch Mints or Holland Mints) were just that.
So I picked up some York Mints just to compare them. (Luckily I found them at the 99 Cent Only Store ... which means that they’re only three months from their expiry and who knows what conditions they were stored under.)
The shell on the York Mints is thinner than the York Pieces. But the York Mints, with their not-quite-soft-and-crumbly fondant are quite minty ... enough to be called breath mints. The York Pieces, on the other hand, do not freshen the breath to the point where I’d think it was perceptible by others.
The point though is that a lentil version is possible, at least in my eyes, but for some reason (perhaps the fact that they sell 1.35 ounces for more than $2.00) they decided to go with a much easier to produce product: the York Pieces.
That said, I think I prefer the York Pieces anyway. They’re certainly different from most other minty lentils, which are usually mockolate or milk chocolate.
Candy Addict also previewed these last week and found them to be nice.
These won’t be hitting shelves until December 2009. (I didn’t have nutrition info on them either and there was no Kosher status on the package but it did mention that it was processed on equipment that handles peanuts, tree nuts, egg & wheat ... plus they contain milk & soy.)
The bag, at first glance, looked a bit like the Caramel or Almond Kisses. The big difference here is the large oval New in the corner.
They’re described to be velvety smooth chocolate center in milk chocolate.
The first sample I got of these, they were rolling around in the bottom of a bag of items from All Candy Expo. The little flags said “center” and that was it ... I thought maybe they were just customized little flags that were from the McCormick Center (the host to All Candy Expo ... which is actually called McCormick Place, but I was really grasping to figure these things out).
Later I got the press release from Hershey’s with the announcement of the new product ... and then I saw the full bags in stores (Target & Long’s have them so far).
I find these a little confusing. Hershey’s came out with their new Bliss line, which includes milk chocolate meltaway. Why make a Kiss version?
That aside, the Kisses are molded, so they’re nicely uniform and shiny. The gold tinged foil has amber waves on it. The little flag, when fully unfurled says Meltaway Center. (Nice name for a chocolate themed spa, if you ask me.)
They smell like Hershey’s chocolate, a bit sour and like hot cocoa.
They’re a very soft bite, rather fudgy and a little grainy but a consistent melt. The center has a slight salty note to it, but overall it’s sweet enough to burn my throat.
The ingredients are a bit different from the previous Kisses too, they’ve completely eliminated all hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats.
With all that milk in there, maybe I’m not surprised that there’s 8% of your daily RDA of calcium for a serving of 9 Kisses.
I’ve had a few of these soft-centered Kisses now: Hot Cocoa and Chocolate Truffle and I’m sure if I tasted them in an array (a flight, is what the fine establishments call them these days) I could tell the difference. But at the moment it seems like a rehash of the same thing. I don’t know if these are supposed to take the place of the Chocolate Truffle (which is still listed on the Hershey’s site) but I don’t think it’d be a big deal if they did ... except that I liked the blue & silver foil on those.
Overall, they’re not exciting and they’re not new. But they are pretty good at what they’re doing. I don’t understand why Hershey’s has both Bliss Meltaways and Kiss Meltaways, but they’re making a profit in an overall down economy, so who am I to dissect their clouded marketing decisions?
Monday, June 1, 2009
It’s sad in a way that I’m writing about these now, since they’re not due in stores until December, but I really couldn’t wait. (I know Candy Addict was also too excited for them to hit store shelves.)
The choice of Almond Joy as one of the first lentilized Hershey’s bars in this line is kind of odd, but a welcome one as far as I’m concerned - coconut candies are few and far between.
The samples I got were directly from Hershey’s and came in little “for sales samples only” packets of only .7 ounces each. I’m not certain what the final packaging sizes will be.
The nutrition information is missing but the ingredients are here:
The pieces are similar in size & proportion to M&Ms, perhaps a little thicker. The sizes and manufacturing are quite consistent. The colors are blue, dark brown and tan.
The candy shells are rather thick & crunchy, the candy center is a milk chocolate base studded with coconut bits and crushed almonds.
They’re quite sweet and taste mostly of coconut, but the texture combinations are fantastic - the light crunch of the candy shell combined with the chew of the coconut bits and the occasional appearance by an almond bit. The flavors are a bit mild but I enjoyed these quite a bit and if I had an opportunity to chose them for a snack at a movie or while at my desk, I certainly would, mostly because they are unique, there are no other candies like this.
There’s no Kosher status listed on the package (though that may be because this is not final packaging), and it also says that it’s not nut, peanut, wheat, egg or soy free. Further, the use of resinous glaze means that this is not a vegetarian product.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The biggest, most exciting bit of news to come from Hershey’s this year as far as new products has to be their new Pieces line:
Like Reese’s Pieces are a lentil shaped & candy shelled version of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I’m sure that Pieces will merely be “inspired by” the flavors of these popular candy bars. I loved the little Hershey’s Bites that were discontinued, and realize now that these will not be a real replacement for those.
What they do look like though are:
Hershey’s Special Dark Pieces - a dark chocolate lentil. The packaging looks like they’ll be dark red, maroon and brown shells. (Hershey’s Special Dark Pieces review here.)
York Pieces - a dark chocolate center flavored with peppermint (not a fondant center with a dark chocolate veneer). These look like they’re dark blue and white shelled. (Hershey’s York Pieces review here.)
Almond Joy Pieces - milk chocolate, coconut and almond. The shells here look like blue, beige and brown. I’m not sure if it’s actual bits of coconut and almond or just the flavors. (Almond Joy Pieces review here.)
Other items rolling out now:
Hershey’s Bliss Chocolate Bars - New Hershey’s Bliss chocolate bars feature a smooth, creamy texture for an indulgent personal chocolate experience in Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate with a Meltaway Center.
My thoughts: as I mentioned in the post about packaging, these are looking an awful lot like Dove.
My thoughts: I got a few of these in a box from the folks at the National Confectioner’s Association and now have a whole package for review that came with this press release. I’m having trouble telling them apart from the Hot Cocoa and Chocolate Truffle Kisses, but I’ll work on it.
My thoughts: it’s a fun idea! Combine a bit of dark and milk chocolate. (Sometimes I mix dark & milk M&Ms.)
Hershey’s 100 Calorie Whipped Vanilla Bars - Hershey’s extends its portion control offerings with the introduction of the Hershey’s 100 Calorie Whipped Vanilla Bars. Combining the decedent flavors of vanilla and chocolate, the new bars offer a balanced indulgence in one convenient pack.
My thoughts: I’ve pretty much stayed away from the 100 calorie bars for review, but I have to say that they’ve done some nice work at providing some tasty options that aren’t just smaller sized regular candies - they’re new from the ground up.
Later this fall you can also sample:
Hershey’s Bliss White Chocolate with Creamy Meltaway Center - Hershey’s Bliss will introduce a white chocolate expression to this decedent chocolate line with the launch of Hershey’s Bliss White Chocolate with Creamy Meltaway Center. The new individually wrapped, bite-size chocolates will be available in laydown bags.
My thoughts: If it’s really white chocolate, I’m going to be really interested. Hershey’s used to make good white chocolate products and I’ve love to see them return to it. (The old Cookies ‘n Cream bar used to use cocoa butter.)
Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Chocolate Miniatures - Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Chocolate Miniatures offer a delicious flavor assortment with three unique miniature chocolate varieties in one laydown bag, including Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Creme, Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Milk Chocolate and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.
My thoughts: as mentioned above, the Cookies ‘n Creme used to have cocoa butter in it, but since they took it out, I haven’t been terribly interested in it. I do enjoy the cookies and milk chocolate but love, love, loved the Cookies ‘n Mint and would think it’s a natural item to include in this mix.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.