Friday, July 25, 2014
For many years I have chronicled the demise of once-great candies that were cultural touchstones for generations of Americans. The usual trajectory of a candy like this is that the company making it compromises too many times with cheaper ingredients and formulas until consumers lose interest in the product entirely and it is quietly discontinued. No one misses it much, because it broke their heart before it died.
It’s rare to see a reversal. I’m glad to be here to tell you about it. Hershey’s Krackel bar was one of the last candy bars that Milton Hershey personally developed before he passed away. It was introduced in 1938 (and had nuts in as well, for a time). When the Hershey’s Miniatures were developed, it was one of the bars chosen to represent the favorite of the Hershey bar assortment. The single-serving bar always stood out at the candy counter, in a bold red wrapper and large letter with a made-up word for the name.
In 2006 Hershey’s discontinued the single-serving, king-size and larger sizes of the Krackel bar. It was still included in the Hershey’s Miniatures ... but with a substantial change to the formula, it was now “made with chocolate” but also adulterated with other vegetable oil fillers. (What they were, I can’t say, because Hershey’s would not disclose the ingredients at the time, though later packaging did list each bar separately.) At the same time Mr. Goodbar continued to be produced in all sizes, though they did move to the mockolate recipe.
With some small fanfare Hershey’s announced the return of the Krackel bar, citing shareholders as part of the reason for the return. The change to real chocolate was made in miniatures early this year and the bars returned in May. The current ingredients are:
I can’t exactly recall the actual Krackel bar any longer. I know I liked it as a kid and I know that I preferred it in the miniature version, because the chocolate was thicker. But other than that, I’ll have to judge the Krackel on its current merits without any comparisons because I don’t have a time machine and if I did, I probably wouldn’t use it to taste old candy recipes.
The bar smells sweet and lightly milky. It’s not like the regular Hershey’s chocolate that has that yogurty tang. Instead it’s just sort of fudgy, like cheap frosting. The crunches are good, they’re spaced out a bit, so it’s not terribly airy, just crunchy. Crisped rice often has malt in it, as this does, which usually gives Krackel a sort of malted-milk-ball-in bar-form vibe. Sadly, there’s not much going on here, though the hint of salt keeps it from being too sweet.
It’s much better than the previous mockolate version, though a far cry from being a good chocolate bar. It’s simply a passable candy bar.
I did pick up a Nestle Crunch bar at the same time, which has gone through a few formula changes over the years as well. The ingredients are similar, they’re both 1.55 ounces, though the Nestle has 10 more calories.
The ingredients on the Nestle Crunch are actually a bit better, with no preservatives or PGPR. When I tried the bar last time, I found it much better than previous versions, but not something I was likely to seek out.
As you can see from the comparison of the bars, the Crunch is on the bottom and has a lot more crisped rice in it. I did prefer the airy texture and crispy rice, but the chocolate flavor was nearly impossible to discern. As a piece of candy, it was passable. As a chocolate bar with crisped rice, it was very disappointing.
The Hershey’s chocolate texture was a bit better, but that could be that there was just a slightly higher chocolate ratio, since there were fewer crisped rice bits.
Neither comes out a huge winner, really. I like both package designs. Both are made in the United States. Neither Nestle or Hershey’s are using ethically source chocolate yet. (Though Nestle does have a “Cocoa Plan”, its little seals are just to direct you to information about its plan, not as a notation that this bar is actually using traceable cacao.)
You can see more examples of classic Krackel wrappers here.
I’m still going to say that the Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate is my favorite. Though the ingredients don’t differ that much, there are no preservatives and no PGPR and it has 18% cacao content (about 1.5x the amount of Hershey’s). Still ... even though it’s made with Belgian chocolate, I don’t know the sourcing of it, but would like to see Trader Joe’s give some assurances about the ethical sourcing in the future.
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
In the category of licorice-free extruded starch gels, Twizzlers are at the top of the heap. Though they’re known mostly for the standard hollow Strawberry twist, Twizzlers come in a vast array of flavors, color and formats. One of the newer versions Twizzlers has been expanding is the Pull n Peel varieties. Pull n Peel is basically the old fashioned laces, but formatted in a way that makes them easier to portion and package.
I picked up this king size version of Twizzlers Mixed Berry at Walgreen‘s, mostly because it came in the king size instead of the big nearly-a-pound bag. There are six twists in the package, a mix of three flavors: Cherry, Black Raspberry and Strawberry.
The twists look kind of like a swollen version of what you’d find if you stripped the insulation off a phone cable. There are nine different colored “wires” in each bundle. The effect is quite appealing, as they twist gently and stick together lightly in the package. It’s kind of like a wheat-based package of mozzarella cheese sticks.
The texture is much more smooth and pliable than the regular Twizzlers, which I find a bit on the stuff and crumbly side of the plastic realm. My twists stuck together quite a bit, so it was hard to just pull off a single lace to eat separately. Cherry was the most discernible of the flavors. It had a deep medicinal note. It was smooth, not too sweet but also had a hint of salt to it. Strawberry was very mild and more sweet than Cherry. It didn’t have any tangy note, which I didn’t expect, but was also missing that fresh floral hint that usually evokes cotton candy in many other strawberry candies. The Black Raspberry (the blue strand) didn’t do much for me, it wasn’t distinct as a raspberry flavor on its own, but it definitely wasn’t the same as the other two.
Eaten as a whole bite of multiple strands, it works well. None of them stand out, it’s just a generic fruity-berry flavor. There’s a bitter note towards the end though, which I’d guess are the artificial colors or flavors.
I could say that one twist is satisfying enough (about .7 ounces), since I didn’t want to eat another after that. But if you’re the kind of person who misses that period of life known as kindergarten when it was socially acceptable to eat PlayDoh, then the Twizzlers Pull n Peel are probably right up your alley. (I’m not making that up, either. The ingredients of Play Doh are also largely starch based, though it’s not sold as a food item and Hasbro dissuades people from eating it, it’s really the salt that might make that a bad idea and the fact that it contains wheat so it’s not gluten free.)
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
This innovative new product innovatively reduced the size of a regular York Peppermint Pattie to the diameter of a penny. Hershey’s previously used this innovative innovation to shrink the size of their Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, KitKat and Rolo. It’s a stunning development in the world of confections ... duplicated only by the recent innovations by Mars (with their Bites format of Snickers, Milky Way, Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers and Twix) and Wrigley’s (Starburst Minis). The morselization world is actually quite busy and crowded.
It’s not Hershey’s fault that they were declared innovative (well, they probably entered the product in that category). The point is that there is an new, unwrapped version of York Peppermint Patties.
The package is simple, though it’s King Size bag holding 2.5 ounces, it was still listed as 1 portion on the nutrition panel and had no front of package tally of the calories and serving. Even though it’s a massive amount of candy, because it’s almost all sugar, it’s pretty low in calories: 260.
The pieces are really just tiny peppermint patties, a fraction of the size of the small snack sized versions, which are the preferred size for me. In the case of these, the ratios are particularly nice, as there’s just slightly more consistent distribution of chocolate in each bite ... because each piece is a bite. The chocolate is quite bitter, and though it’s not particularly creamy, it sets off the sweet and soft fondant well.
It’s not innovative, but it is successful. The texture difference from Junior Mints is notable. Junior Mints have a runnier center, a thicker chocolate shell and a light waxy glaze that keeps it from melting right away.
Like the other sizes of York Peppermint Patties, the Minis are made in Mexico. There is no notation on the traceability of the cacao for the coating. York Peppermint Patties contain egg whites, soy and milk. There’s nothing on the package about gluten or nuts/peanuts, but the AskHershey.com website specifically says that York Minis are not gluten free.
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Name: Candy Blocks
Name: Dark Chocolate Almond Turtles
Name: Starburst FaveREDs Minis
Name: Skittles Orchards
Name: Skittles Mash-Ups
Name: York Minis
All images courtesy of the respective company
Monday, May 5, 2014
In the battle for marketshare in the confectionery sector, it seems that some candy companies are more interested in getting our business by eliminating competition than gaining brand loyalty with exemplary products.
The latest battle involves old rivals Hershey and Mars, this time over malted milk balls. Mars makes Maltesers and Hershey’s makes Whoppers. But Hershey’s is also trying to assert the exclusive right to also make something called Malteser in the United States.
I don’t have the figures, but I’m going to guess that Hershey’s holds more than 70% of the market in malted milk balls with their Whoppers brand, but not necessarily because they’re the best but because they’re ubiquitous. Though I don’t have current figures, I’d estimate the brand is worth about $40 to $50 million in sales a year.
Here’s a little history. Mars Maltesers were first sold in the United Kingdom in 1937. They were created as a diet candy; a chocolate candy with less chocolate and therefore less fat and calories. They’re also sold in Canada, New Zealand and Australia and exported to many other European countries. They can be purchased in shops that specialize in UK imports. Based on the number of brand extensions I’ve seen for Maltesers on my recent trip to London, I’d say that the candy is a much more important brand to Mars than Whoppers are to Hershey’s. Which may make them appear a threat.
In 1939 an American candy company called Overland, introduced a malted milk ball candy sold under the name Giants, as they were larger than earlier versions called Malt-ettes. In 1949, two years after the company was sold to Leaf Inc, they were renamed Whoppers. There were many other companies that came and went that sold malted milk balls, but Whoppers have been made continuously ever since, even if their corporate overlords have changed.
Leaf Inc was once a formidable sugar candy company, the fourth largest in the US. They acquired many favorite American candy brands, including Jolly Rancher, Hollywood Brands (maker of Payday bars), Heath Bar, and Now and Later. Sometime in the 1960s Leaf started making something called Malteser and even registered a trademark for the name in 1962. I doubt they were widely distributed or advertised, as I can’t find any record of them . In 1983 Leaf was bought out by Huhtamäki Oyj, a Finnish company, which maintained the trademark registration. Mars sued Leaf over this trademark in 1993 and later settled out of court (so we don’t know the details) but Leaf retained the trademark.
For reasons I don’t quite understand, Leaf Inc divested and sold off many of its best brands, most to Hershey’s: Whoppers, Payday, Jolly Rancher and Heath Bar.
Fast forward and lately Hershey’s has been releasing a product called Matleser: a malted milk ball that in all ways except packaging is identical to Whoppers. Though it’s a singular in the name, not Maltesers as the Mars product is, it’s also packaged in red.
The way trademarks work, not only do you need to register the trademark in all territories you plan to exercise it, you also need to use it. So if Hershey’s wanted to keep Mars from using Malteser in the US, by claiming it was an abandoned trademark, they had to demonstrate that Hershey’s wasn’t using it. I was able to find Hershey’s Malteser for sale on both the Hershey’s site and Amazon. I bought a box to confirm that they are just Whoppers in a different package. (They are.)
Mars contends that not only is Hershey’s squatting on the trademark in the United States, but that their packaging is intentionally confusing consumers to think that they’re purchasing the Mars version. I admit, they do look similar and even though I’m the candy blogger, I couldn’t remember of the top of my head if the Mars version was plural or singular until I started this research.
American trademark law is governed for the most part under the Lanham Act which covers trademark infringement and false advertising. The act was also revised in 1999 to encompass cybersquatting, the practice of registering domain names and then sitting on them or directing them to a competitor.
While Hershey’s practices up to the point where they created similar packaging were probably within the letter, though not the spirit of the law, my opinion after looking at the history, reading Mars’ brief on the case leads me to conclude that Hershey’s is just acting scummy. Whoppers are known by 300 million people in this country ... and if it’s not a favorable brand then Hershey’s should improve their quality, price point or packaging to the point where people are loyal to them.
I tried both again, just to check. Neither is great, but the do differ. Both have a mockolate coating, though the Mars version does have some cocoa butter in there. The centers, though both malty, have different textures. The Mars version is more honeycombed and has a easier crunch. The Hershey’s version is more milky tasting with a firm crunch that dissolves nicely. Both are excellent centers ... both have disappointing coatings. I prefer the Mars Maltesers.
I’m a extremely curious if Mars were to introduced Maltesers in the United States if they would change the coating to real chocolate, as they do not make any mockolate products for the American market. However, Mars does not have a good track record for introducing the European candies to the US when there is another similar candy already on the market. They tried this with the Bounty bars, which are similar to Mounds and Almond Joy and they never took hold. Twix was a European launch that was then introduced in the US, but is a unique candy construction, which is how it established itself in its niche.
This is not an isolated issue in the candy business. Many candy companies go head to head in the courts instead of on the store shelves.
- The UK the courts have been deciding whether Cadbury should have exclusive rights to their shade of purple. Currently, the answer is no.
For more reading on the issue, here are some other trade articles on the case:
Monday, March 31, 2014
Alongside the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Eggs on shelves this year are the new Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Covered Almond Eggs.
They’re not something particularly Easter-themed, as chocolate covered almonds are already rather egg shaped. But they’re still a welcome item, since some chocolate covered nuts sound less sweet than the many other marshmallowy, sugar-crusted and white chocolate items that typify the holiday fare.
They were expensive, as real nut items often are. I picked up this 7.1 ounce bag for $3.29, which is on par with what I’d usually pay for an item from Whole Foods ... yet I bought this at Target.
They look great. Dark and glossy. They varied in size quite a bit, from a peanut all the way up to an almond in the shell. I expected this, because almonds themselves vary.
The chocolate itself is Hershey’s tangy, cheesy, fudgy chocolate ... it’s odd. But it goes well with the almonds, which are well chosen, nicely crunchy and good quality. I ate the whole bag in about two days, so I must have liked them, but I didn’t feel satisfied by any particular element. The chocolate is gritty and has that Hershey’s burp note ... the almonds are good, but the fact that I spent over $3 on less than half a pound of a Hershey’s chocolate product was a little odd.
Hershey’s had a version of these in their Pieces line that had a candy shell which added to the texture experience, but I haven’t see those in stores for a while.
If you’re a lover of the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate with Almond bar and wanted an Easter version, I think these ratios are good.
The allergen warning only says that these may contain traces of peanuts. They are made with soy, dairy and almonds as well. There’s no note on gluten or wheat at all.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
While most hard candy is considered “old people candy”, Jolly Rancher really sets itself apart as an intense sweet for all ages.
Most of us encounter Jolly Rancher candies as little twist wrapped pieces in a bowl. So when I saw this little rectangular pack at Target, I thought it was an interesting way to format the iconic candy. Jolly Rancher Strawberry and Green Apple Hard Candy has 1.2 ounces and 9 pieces inside. Each is wrapped in a piece of clear cellophane, easy to carry, easy to share and with just two flavors.
The pieces are different from what I’m accustomed to with Jolly Rancher candies. They’re not little rods, they’re squares. The ingredients are also slightly different. The original Jolly Rancher hard candies are not aerated, there are no bubbles in them and they’re ever so slightly soft, like some sort of viscous solid. The ingredients list corn syrup first, then sugar. In these little squares, it’s sugar first, then corn syrup. Looking at the candies, they’re not glassy transparent either, so it appears they’ve been aerated slightly.
I started with Green Apple, because that’s the iconic flavor that Jolly Rancher is known for. It’s a tough flavor, because part of its profile is its artificiality. It was definitely tangy and caustic at first, like some sort of chemical peel for my tongue. That faded quickly into the familiar acidic green apple flavor. What was most surprising was the crunch ... I could crunch it. Because the pieces are small, you can crunch away immediately and there’s not tooth-cement issue. Still, the artificial flavor has a sort of of “sour but maybe bitter and salty at the same time” flavor going that was not as good as I recall the truly authentic version having.
Strawberry is quite tart at the beginning and reminded me immediately of sorbet (which often has an extra little pop of lemon juice in it). The flavor is bold and pretty well rounded and only has a slight note of metallic artificiality to it. It’s fresh tasting, overall. I like the crunchy, it’s not too much candy.
My roll had three Green Apple pieces and the rest were Strawberry, so the flavors are not evenly distributed. (Lifesavers always had an order to them, though you might not get a roll that started with the same flavor, they always went in the same progression once you started.) The way the package is made, you have to tear the outer wrapper to get to the inner pieces ... they seem to be glued in there.
I felt these were missing one of the key attributes of Jolly Rancher hard candies, the smooth, syrupy dissolve. Without that, the flavor was just passable, nothing terribly exciting. I might feel differently if they had the Fire Stix in this format, as there really is no other cinnamon hard candy roll out there (since Reed’s disappeared), even if they don’t have the same texture as regular Jolly Rancher. But they’re not a great value and difficult to unwrap.
These are made in Mexico. There’s no nutritional information on the wrapper and nothing, at this time, on the Hershey’s webpage for Jolly Rancher that lists it for this particular version of the product. There is also no statement about allergens, but does contain soy.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Milton S. Hershey is one of great entrepreneur stories of the 20th century. Hershey always wanted to be a confectioner. He was apprenticed to a candy maker as a child and then later tried several times to make it on his own. He focused on caramels and small wrapped sweets, peddling them on a cart pushed around the streets. While working in Denver for another confectioner, he learned a new recipe for boiled sweets, a caramel that was extremely stable as well as delicious because of the use of milk in addition to butter. However, even in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City ... each of these companies failed. In 1886 he returned home, in debt but still convinced that his new caramel recipe he learned in Denver could succeed. He convinced family members to invest once again and this time was the right time. He created the Lancaster Caramel Company which flourished.
He built this little enterprise into a full factory business by the turn of century, employing over 1,300 people and then sold it off for a million dollars in order to fund his new venture, the Hershey Chocolate Company. Hershey’s is finally introducing their own line of caramels, under the nostalgic name of Lancaster.
The new Lancaster Caramel Soft Cremes’ package looks nostalgic. What’s inside, though, is unlikely to be anything close to what Milton Hershey used to make in copper kettles. The package says “His [Milton Hershey] original caramel recipe is the inspiration for Lancaster Cremes. The ingredients tell the story of a modern confection:
Though I was a little disappointed to see the use of things like palm kernel oil, tocopherols and high fructose corn sweetener, I was more disappointed at the price for such things. Kraft Caramels are usually about $2 a bag on sale and contain similar ingredients but not the premium price. But, I was willing to give these a try.
The little nuggets are glossy and soft. They don’t smell like much, but have a beautifully soft and chewy bite. The chew and dissolve is impossibly smooth and rich, with good flavor notes of caramelized sugar and butter. It’s like a soft version of Pearson’s Nips. (I could imagine these as fantastic in coffee flavor.) It’s not a completely stiff caramel chew, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen, but much smoother than the soft bite of a Kraft Caramel.
As much as I wanted to hate these for their divergence from Hershey’s original simple ingredients, they are quite good. The texture, the consistency and overall not-too-sweet profile is really ideal. I begrudgingly love them. They come in two other varieties: Vanilla and Caramel and Vanilla and Raspberry. Honestly, I plan to quit while I’m ahead. If they come up with chocolate or coffee flavored ones, I’ll give those a go.
Oddly enough, the Lancaster Caramels are made in Canada, not Central Pennsylvania. Also, they’re not Kosher and there are no other notations on the package regarding nuts, wheat or eggs though the ingredients list dairy and soy as ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.