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:
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
One of the things that I’ve always been surprised about British confectionery is that they’re not terribly interested in malt. They do have one malted milk ball brand, called Maltesers made by Mars. But that’s it. No Easter varieties with pastel speckled candy shells, no snowballs, no jumbo double dipped. It’s just not in their list of classic candies. However, even though Mars hasn’t tried to extend their malted milk ball range, they have done some wonderful and unique things with their malted milk flavors. They make a hot cocoa mix and for Easter they make MaltEaster Bunnies.
There are two versions of the bunnies on the market. They come in the standard single serving size of 29 grams (1.02 ounces) and also in a mini version of 11.6 grams each (.41 ounces) that come in this bag of five. (I think I paid £1.50 for it, which is about $2.50 US.)
The little bunnies are, well, just the epitome of perfection. They’re about two inches high with tall ears and little round bellies with huge feet make them very attractive. The tiny size makes them about two bites each.
Though Mars prides itself on only using real chocolate in their candy in the United States, they’re not afraid to use “family chocolate” in the UK for their confections. Basically, it’s chocolate that contains fillers and cannot be called milk chocolate under the current USDA definitions of chocolate. In the case of MaltEaster Mini Bunnies, the ingredients include extra vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter and whey, which is a milk byproduct.
I’ve had Malteser malted milk balls before, and though I like the centers, I found the milk chocolate coating a little lackluster though certainly better than the Whoppers in the US (made by Hershey’s).
The center of the MaltEaster bunnies is actually a crunchy & creamy Maltesers center. I wouldn’t exactly call it creamy, it’s just a thick sort of malty fudge thing that holds the crispy bits together. The malty bits are crunchy and fresh and have a good malt note to them.
The chocolate is very sweet and matches the center. There’s a milky malt note to the whole thing and a sort of greasy aftertaste in my mouth. They’re a lot fattier than regular malted milk balls, as they do have about 152 calories per ounce compared to about 130 for regular chocolate malted milk balls.
Of the two versions I tried, the mini and the regular, I prefer the regular one. The mound of the bunny’s belly was a much larger reservoir of malt and cream, so the proportions change as you eat it. With the mini, there was a far greater proportion of chocolate, which would be great if I thought the chocolate was good enough to eat plain.
Even though I didn’t think these were as good as they could be if they were made with better ingredients, I’d still buy them again. They’re a unique item and suit my malt leanings very successfully. I’d be curious to see Mars bring this whole line to the United States, though I understand they’ve tried to compete before with existing brands. Back in the 80s they tried going head to head with Peter Paul with their Bounty Bars which are similar to Mounds and nutless Almond Joy.
Friday, March 21, 2014
The bites are exactly what you’d think from the name, unwrapped little cubes of 3 Musketeers nougat filling covered in milk chocolate and tossed in a bag.
I’ve observed this with past reviews of the Bites line for Mars: I’m disappointed with the look of the products. It’s tough, because the packaging means that the pieces are tossed around for months and miles and get scuffed. I’m sure when they come off the line at the factory they’re exquisitely cute. But the chalky look is a bit of a turnoff for me, I don’t want to dump these in a bowl and admire then like I usually do with chocolates that come in little pieces.
They’re quite consistent little cubes, with fewer cracking and oozing problems than the Milky Way Simple Caramel Unwrapped Bites. There were also more pieces in the package. There were about 16 Simply Caramel Bites while the 3 Musketeers Bites package had 24 ... that’s all because of the airy nature of the nougat filling.
The bites smell malty, though also a little like plastic. They’re light, definitely not as dense as other candies would be for their size. I really liked the Milky Way Bites, so I had high hopes for the 3 Musketeers. The bite is soft, as the center is fluffy. The chocolate melts well, though doesn’t have much more than a vague cocoa flavor. The center is mostly a fake vanilla with a hint of salt. I didn’t get much in the way of malt from it though the texture is quite nice. There’s only a slight hint of grain from time to time. Overall, it’s just really sweet without much of a definitive flavor profile.
Mars has gone back and forth on the 3 Musketeers filling flavor over the years, tweaking it here and there, to the point where I’m not sure which version this is, but I know I don’t care for it. These might be good when combined with something, or perhaps frozen. I’ll stick to the Snickers version.
Monday, March 10, 2014
The orange package is easy to spot and features a bunch of images of tasty looking fruits and some odd blue raspberries on it. The new flavors are strawberry lemonade chill, citrus slush, cherry splash and blue raspberry rush.
The colors are great, if a little unnatural, but the palette is pleasant and easy to tell apart from the other Starburst varieties.
Strawberry Lemonade Chill is in a pink wrapper. It’s a standard strawberry but a little more tart and less floral. I didn’t like it as much as the regular Strawberry Starburst, which is surprising because the idea of strawberry with a touch of tart lemon and a hint of zest would be fantastic. This does not have those qualities.
Cherry Splash is in an easy to spot red wrapper. It tastes exactly like a Cherry Starburst. I don’t know what the splash is, maybe there’s a hint of lime in there, but it’s basically the same wild cherry flavor that has been in the Starburst pack for decades.
Citrus Slush is in a sort of peachy orange wrapper. There weren’t that many in my package, so I had to make my tastings count. Instead of a citrus blast, it’s more like a fruit punch. It’s tart and has some nice tangerine notes, but not as much variety as I would have hoped. Could be orange, so again, not much different from the regular Starburst pack so far ... cherry, strawberry and orange.
Blue Raspberry Rush is in a cerulean blue wrapper and the piece inside matches exceptionally well in its “this is not food” impossibility. The piece smells like raspberry jam, and there is a definite jammy quality to the boiled fruit flavor. It also has a slight effervescent note to it. Overall, a well rounded flavor that ends rather sweet.
The variety was not innovative. I feel like the new Starburst are stuck in this rut or retreading the same territory. While I enjoy the idea of there being an infinite exploration of flavors for Starburst and Skittles, I think we have the standard flavors for a reason, they work well in this medium.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Last week I showed off the new Milk Chocolate Mega M&Ms, this week I have the Mega Peanut M&Ms. I picked both bags up at CVS on sale at two bags for $5.00. Since the bag is 11.4 ounces, that’s a pretty good deal.
The bag makes use of the familiar yellow of the Peanut M&Ms franchise and a blue Mega logo similar to the one on the Milk Chocolate M&Ms bag (which has a brown background).
The Milk Chocolate Mega M&Ms boasted 3 times more chocolate, but the Peanut Mega M&Ms only say that there’s more chocolate and bigger peanuts.
While the Mega Milk Chocolate M&Ms were obviously bigger, I didn’t see much of a difference when I dumped a handful of these out. So, that meant that I had to go back out and pick up some regular Peanut M&Ms for comparison. The Mega are on the left and the regular are on the right. Some are identically sized, but many of the Mega are obviously bigger than the standard.
Oddly enough I didn’t find the Megas were different for me, they tasted and behaved like the Peanut M&Ms I might want to eat. That said, I feel like Peanut M&Ms have gotten smaller over the years and these may just be what I used to find ordinary. The chocolate ratio is good, there’s plenty of chocolate there’s a good crunch from the shell and a good crunch from the peanuts. I just don’t see that big of a difference to warrant another slot on the store shelves for this when they could make room for Coffee M&Ms or Crispy M&Ms.
Friday, February 21, 2014
They’re sold in familiar packaging, the large laydown bags and the individual serving size. I lucked into a sale at CVS and got two bags for $5, which I think is a fair price for fair quality chocolate.
I scrounged up all the M&Ms I had, and you can see them here from small to large, from left to right: Milk Chocolate Mini, Milk Chocolate Classic, Birthday Cake, and Milk Chocolate Mega. The individual Megas are about .75 inches across. (About the same diameter as an American nickel.) What I also noticed is that they’re extremely similar to the Mars Galaxy Minstrels. I’ve been trying to find a package of those but have had no luck. However, I’ll be in London next month and will try to pick up a package for later comparison.
The original Mega M&Ms were fat, more rounded. They’re basically the same as the current special flavor M&Ms, such as the Birthday Cake or Coconut. I’m a little unclear why they even used the same name, when it’s been only about 8 years since they were last on the shelves.
The Mega M&Ms boast three times the chocolate of a regular M&M. The Mega M&Ms weigh about 2.73 grams each while a regular M&M is about .85 grams. The color assortment is identical to the 21st century Milk Chocolate M&Ms: red, green, yellow, brown, orange and blue.
The flatness makes them easy to pick up and bite. The shell has a very satisfying crunch and there’s a large density of chocolate at the center that’s easy to distinguish. The chocolate itself isn’t extraordinary. It’s sweet and milky, though not entirely smooth in its melt. I found it a bit chalky overall, a bit on the sweet side. That said, they were wonderfully munchable and I did find myself reaching for them while they sat on my desk. I’d like to say that M&Ms would be better with better chocolate, but they tried that with Premium M&Ms and it didn’t spark with the public. Candy companies make the candy we buy. I can wish all I want, but I’m probably not M&Ms ultimate target market.
Since they’re also made by Mars, it was a natural item to compare to the new Milk Chocolate Mega M&Ms.
Unlike M&Ms, Minstrels come in only one color, dark brown.
It’s pretty easy to see why I was interested in comparing them, they’re extremely similar in size and shape.
What I did notice, though, is that the brown is much darker and more consistent. The M&Ms version is a little less deep.
In essence, the Brown Mega M&Ms and Galaxy Minstrels look the same, but the similarities end with the shell. The chocolate inside of the Minstrels is smooth, creamy, slightly malty and quite good. There’s a definite European flavor to it, a sort of dairy note that American chocolate rarely has. The M&Ms have a grainy, fudgy quality that is still absolutely tasty, but has more of a candy quality than a chocolate one.
Of the two, I was much more interested in eating the Galaxy Minstrels, and ended up eating my small bag before finishing the handful of Mega M&Ms I saved for this purpose.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Mars has been morselizing its candy bar line over the past couple of years. The new Milky Way Simply Caramel Unwrapped Bites are in the latest in the introduction cycle. They’re just little unwrapped cube versions of the Milky Way Simply Caramel bar, served up in a bag for easy dispensing.
I picked mine up at 7-11, which had a sale on their Mars Bites, the Sharing Size were 2 packages for $3.00. (I bought a Powerball for the Wednesday $400M drawing as well, bringing my tally to an exact $5. Yes, I’m aware that my odds are 1 in 175,223,510 of winning.)
The bag holds 15 little cubes. That’s two servings, as this is a Sharing Size. So each serving is 7 or 8 cubes which comes to 190 calories. If you’re trying to moderate yourself, four would be 100 calories but trip up and eat the whole bag by accident, you’re looking at 380.
Mars has always made beautiful candy bars. (See this photo for evidence.) The new bites line, though, suffers from the packaging style. The little candies are not sealed like panned candies so they get scuffed and dented in the bag together.
The pieces are well formed, they’re cubes but most have little “feet” where the chocolate pooled. They’re rather milky smelling, it’s a sort of cereal and milk note. The chew is soft, the caramel is very smooth though it doesn’t have the taffy-like toughness that I enjoy in my caramel, it does have good toffee and toasted sugar notes. The chocolate is passable, it’s sweet and has a lot of dairy flavors, but it’s not exceptionally chocolatey. (A dark version of these someday might be nice, but if I want that, I’ll probably just have some Marich.)
Overall, I was very pleased with these. They’re easily poppable, satisfying in the sense that the textures and flavors were better than I expected. I didn’t want to eat the whole bag in one sitting, but I did finish it in three days. I can imagine that the packaging won’t do well in the summer months, and forget it if these get smashed a bit, because you’d be in for a huge mess inside the bag. They’d be easy to mix in with other things (like a Chex Mix for a really sweet & salty combo) or as an ice cream topper.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
This year’s flavor variation is called Skittles Desserts and features five different colors themed on dessert creations: Orange Creme (peach), Raspberry Sorbet (red), Strawberry Milkshake (creamy pink), Blueberry Tart (blue) and Key Lime Pie (bright green).
The pink package was pretty easy to find on the shelf. The current varieties of Skittles are the Original Fruits (now with green apple), Wild Berry, Sours, Tropical and Darkside. For Easter there’s also a pastel version of the Original Fruits.
Orange Creme is kind of pointless. It’s absolutely like an orange sherbet, which is to say, orange with all the great things taken out. The addition of the creme flavor component gives it a sort of Play-Doh flavor note that’s a little too fake milk. There’s no zest, though a light tartness.
Raspberry Sorbet has a strong floral note and only a light tartness. There’s also a bitter aftertaste for me, perhaps the food coloring. Overall, it’s a nice flavor that combines well with the others.
Strawberry Milkshake is comforting. It’s just strawberry with a sort of yogurt note. It’s not as floral or as tart, just sweet and slightly creamy.
Blueberry Tart is tough to say succeeds. It does have a lot of blueberry flavor in it, both the deep boiled jam note and the sort of tart and tannic tea flavors. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a dessert like a berry tart, it’s closer to a fresh berry flavor though that’s not a bad thing.
Key Lime Pie is absolutely disappointing. I’ve had a lot of key limes, both fresh, frozen and mock versions. Key limes are definitely different from the standard Persian limes in both the flavor profile and texture. This lime is more Persian than Key. It’s tart, but not overly so, but misses that milky, sort of chalky note that key limes have.
This flavor assortment was lackluster. There were no stand out flavors, nothing new. It’s just a series of small tweaks to flavors that we’ve all seen before from Skittles. I didn’t think they combined particularly well, which is usually one of the features I like best about Skittles. Since the loss of the Lime Skittle in the Original Fruits variety, I’m left without a favorite Skittles package. I haven’t bought them since I stopped finding the bags with the original variety in them. In last year’s review of the Skittles Darkside, I listed a few ideas for new mixes (including Skittles Pies, kinda what they did here).
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