Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Last week I reviewed the new Haviland Signature Dark Chocolate Thin Mints. As I mentioned then, Haviland makes several other varieties, the Orange and Raspberry. While shopping I also found these Maxfield’s All American Raspberry and Orange Cream Sticks. Since they’re similar prices and similar candies, I thought I’d compare them.
The Haviland are patties and come in a long rectangular box of 21 that weighs 5 ounces. I paid $1.59 for one box and got the second half off. I’m going to hazard that the normal price for Haviland’s is going to be about $1.35. The Maxfield’s are sticks that come in a flat box with 13 sticks and weigh in at 3.15 ounces. I got both boxes for $1 on sale with a coupon. But let’s just say that these are normally about $1.00. So the price per ounce at my “regular” price estimates are 37 cents per ounce for Haviland and 32 cents per ounce for Maxfield’s.
Maxifield’s little book shaped box is just a sleeve. It’s covered in a clear shinkwrapped plastic that seals out moisture. Once that’s off though, the sleeve does a good job of protecting the little tray inside that holds the sticks (because it meets up with the box very well and has wide edges.
The tray holds 13 perfect looking sticks. I wouldn’t say that the flimsy brown tray is great for serving from, except in the most casual company.
I don’t know much about the Maxfield’s All American chocolates. This is the first year I can recall seeing them in stores at Christmas. I saw a lot of boxed chocolates on the shelves most a lower prices than the standard Russell Stover which was in the same aisle. Maxfield’s is based in Utah and is part of Dynamic Confections (which also makes Kencraft candy which creates those fanciful panoramic sugar eggs at Easter).
The Maxfield’s Raspberry Cream Sticks look great. I honestly didn’t expect much for the price and the fact that I hadn’t heard of the company before.
Each is nicely molded, fresh and looked like it just came off of the factory line. Each stick is about 2.75 inches long. They smell lightly of raspberry, like the seedy part of jam or perfume, not so much like the fresh berries.
The chocolate is smoky and pretty mellow, it’s not overly creamy or even sweet. The fondant center is moist and not quite crumbly, it’s softer than a York Peppermint Pattie but on the grainy side like the York. The raspberry flavor is all scent, there’s a light dash of pink food coloring in there.
The flavor was okay, not something I would just sit around eating. They’d be good, I suppose, to add to a plate of cookies or other desserts, but I wouldn’t just eat these without an accompaniment. They’re far too sweet for me without enough of a bonus of texture - the chocolate isn’t good enough and the fondant just lacks an authentic punch.
The Maxfield Orange Cream Sticks were a bit more promising, mostly because I think it’s easier to do a cheap but good orange flavor than it is to pull off rasbperry.
The orange sticks were just as lovely as the raspberry. The orange scent from them was an excellent citrus zest. The fondant was moist and had a gentle chew to it, or I could let it dissolve. The zest wasn’t too strong, not harsh bitter note to it. It overpowered the chocolate completely though, the only thing the chocolate did was give me a break from the throat searing sweetness.
Again, with some very bold coffee or tea, I don’t think I’d mind the sweetness quite as much. Each stick has about 28 calories.
The Haviland patties really do no better in the realm of packaging. The box is nicely designed and the tray certainly does its job of protecting the candy, but I wouldn’t serve from them. It’s also sealed in cellophane.
The patties in my fruity versions were in a little bit better shape than the Peppermint ones I mentioned last week. These had no sign of bloom and even fewer scuffs on the tops from shuffling around in the box. The box boasts that they’re 63% cacao and are all natural.
The Haviland Raspberry Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints box shows that the center is pink, but in actuality they were uncolored. That’s fine with me, I could tell them apart by smell alone. The raspberry scent is similar to the Maxfield’s sticks, like a puree that includes the woodsy notes of the seeds.
The patties are beautifully rippled and are about 1.33 inches around. The break is crisp but the filling is slightly flowing and has a little pull to it. The fondant is smooth with a light confectioners sugar sized grain to it The darker chocolate balances out the sweetness. The raspberry flavor is all scent and no tartness or true berry bits. It was a clean flavor and would go best with tea or perhaps some strong hot chocolate. The ingredients mention a touch of peppermint oil, and at first I thought that was a typo, but it’s true, there is a subtle minty finish.
The Haviland Orange Creme Dark Chocolate Thin Mints are strong. Even with my seasonal allergies, I could tell that these were orange. Biting into them it’s even more apparent that they’re too orange. Orange oil can be caustic at high concentrations and I think that may be pretty close here. The zest was overpowering, I got a hint of the chocolate texture and at the very least the change in the sweetness, but the orange oil too over everything else.
Each pattie has about 27 calories.
I like the change up of the standard thin mints or mint stick with these. Fondant is certainly a flexible element for a candy and I certainly support different flavors being combined with dark chocolate. In this case the sticks didn’t have the quality of chocolate that they should have and the fruity thin mints didn’t quite have the same balance of elements that the peppermint version had.
All were good values and in a situation where you just want to have something for folks who aren’t that discerning (perhaps drunk on your spiked wassail or have frostbitten tongues from screaming at a northern bowl game).
Monday, October 4, 2010
I can’t think of another candy that embodies the description humble American treat better than Mary Jane. First there’s the fact that they originated in Paul Revere’s house in Boston by the Chas. N. Miller Company. Second, they’re made from molasses and peanut butter, two hearty American flavors. The wax paper packaging has remained largely unchanged (undated old wrapper & advertisement from 1927).
The Chas. N. Miller Company was bought by Stark Candy in 1985, and Stark was bought up by Necco in 1990.
Necco has kept the traditional candy largely intact. When I was a kid Mary Jane were still a penny candy, sold out of tubs positioned near the cash register at convenience stores. These days they still go for pocket change, I’ve seen them for 10 cents each at retro candy shops.
The candy is simple, a rich and stiff molasses taffy rectangle with a small reservoir of peanut butter in the center.
I stopped eating Mary Janes about 15 years ago when it seemed that every time I bought them they were hard and crackly. But I’ve had better luck around Halloween when they’re fresh and packaged directly by Necco (beware of other repackagers like the generic drug store brands).
The chew is a little tough at first but softens with a bit of work and warmth. The taffy isn’t too sweet and has a toasted, earthy flavor from the molasses (the fourth ingredient). The peanut butter strip in the middle is undependable at best. Some pieces have a generous filling that gives the candy a beautifully balance of roasted nuts and burnt sugar. The chew is smooth and has a consistent flavor from start to finish.
I find them irresistible. So much so that I’m on my third bag since September.
The mix contains a four flavor variations: Peanut Butter & Jelly, Peanut Butter & Banana, Smores and Peanut Butter & Vanilla. What you might notice is missing from that list is the classic Molasses & Peanut Butter Mary Jane. Unlike the Clark Wicked Mix, which contains the classic milk chocolate Clark plus the Dark Clark and Coconut Clark, this mix doesn’t have the original. (Which is how I got into this messy Mary Jane addiction in the first place, I had to buy a bag to do this post ... and then I ate them so I had to buy another bag, and another.)
The little wrappers are similar to the original. They’re a thick waxed paper that protects the candy well and releases except when they get too warm. My bag was a little bit oily, which I blame on the peanut butter. The candies were all soft and easy to chew, but the wrappers were sometimes just a little bit greasy to the touch.
The wrappers have the same bold black bookface font for the Mary Jane logo and have the little cartoon of the Mary Jane character. They’re color coded for the flavors (they don’t have the flavors named on them) but don’t have the red stripe.
The version that immediately made the most sense to me is the Banana & Peanut Butter Mary Jane.
The yellow waxed paper looks brighter than the original because the taffy beneath is a pale yellow instead of a medium beige. It smells like fake banana and a little like peanut butter. The chew is soft and immediately reminiscent of Circus Peanut. The peanut butter, on the pieces that have a generous quantity, cuts the sweetness and artificiality to create a pretty good candy. It was definitely the one that I was reaching for in this mix.
The raspberry red wrapper gave me a little bit of hope on the Peanut Butter & Jelly Mary Jane, which is good because the idea of a grape taffy filled with peanut butter was not appetizing.
The taffy was lightly tangy and tasted a little like grape Pixy Stix. The chew was softer, so much softer than the rest that it was a completely different texture of chew. The peanut butter did a good job of covering the disappointing grape jelly effect, but not good enough to make me want to keep eating these after the review was over. Thankfully there were only a half a dozen of these in my big bag of 85 pieces.
I wasn’t quite sure what a Smore Mary Jane was supposed to be. I liked the look of the dark brown wrapper and I thought maybe it’d be a cocoa flavored taffy.
Sadly the flavor note they were going for here was toasted marshmallow with peanut butter. That’s a great idea, but I needed more darkness to the whole thing and less fake vanilla sweetness. A little cocoa would have been nice, too.
The Vanilla & Peanut Butter Mary Jane got me to thinking about another vanilla taffy filled with peanut butter, the Annabelle’s Abba-Zaba.
RiteAid always has Abba-Zabas, so I went by and picked up a bar to compare. (While I was there I bought bag #2 of the classic Mary Janes.)
The Abba-Zaba taffy is sweet but silky smooth in the chew, it’s almost warm and buttery. But it’s also sweet, a little sweeter than I’m keen on. The peanut butter is thick and has a strong flavor to it, the proportion or perhaps that there was so much of it in one place gave it a lot more prominence than in any of the Mary Janes.
The Vanilla Mary Jane is like a bleached out sea shell, missing all the beauty and character of the original. The fake vanilla taffy is okay and I admit that it does give the peanut butter more dominance. But the whole thing is just too sweet and bland. The Abba-Zaba wins based on its superior texture and better balance of peanut butter.
Overall, this experience has proved that the Mary Jane deserves to endure untouched for all these years (96 years!). I can see this variety being fun for kids who might be turned off by the smoky notes of the molasses original.
More on Mary Jane at the Bewildered Brit.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Earlier this year I reviewed the resurrection of the Clark Bar from its zombie status as a neglected and poor quality peanut butter crunch bar. The extension of that is that Necco is also making the bars in snack size and are bringing back their Clark Bar Wicked Mix for Halloween in their new and improved recipes.
Necco sent this bag to me a few months back as I’ve had particular trouble finding Necco products for the Halloween. It’s pretty big and perfect for houses that get a lot of kids; it holds 24 ounces (about 68 pieces). The mix is Real Milk Chocolate Clark Bar, Dark Chocolate Clark and the very hard to find Coconut Clark.
The little bars are easy to distinguish and seemed to be properly randomized in my bag so that I had nearly equal amounts of each. Each piece is about .35 ounces, barely two bites (45 calories).
The classic Milk Chocolate Clark Bar fun size is in an easy to spot red wrapper. I loved them, I ate them. They were flaky and crispy with a good balance of peanut flavor, molasses and creamy sweet milk chocolate. The only weird thing I noticed was a smoke flavor in all the milk chocolate ones; I didn’t like it. I also noticed this with some of my full size bars earlier this summer and I can’t explain it.
For a while the Clark Dark was the one I was picking out of the mix. The bittersweet note of the chocolate coating played well with the toffee notes of the molasses. They seemed crispier for the most part (I know that all depends on how the folds are thick or thin).
The new part of the mix for me was the Clark Coconut. This is the weird part. Clark, when it was based in Pittsburgh, PA also used to make a coconut coated version of their bar called Zagnut. That’s been made by Hershey’s since 1996. They’re pretty hard to find here on the West Coast, so I usually go with a Chick-O-Stick, which is similar but doesn’t have that white chocolatey sweet coating that holds the coconut on.
The Clark Coconut is, to the best of my recollection, the Zagnut. The center is the classic Clark bar but the coating on the outside is a thin cream like a white chocolate but a little more caramel flavored. The little bits of coated and crispy coconut stick to that. You’d think that it’d be messy, but the coconut stays put. The coconut and peanut butter mixture is good. The coconut brings a tropical creamy nutty note and the peanut butter has that earthy, roasted legume note that really fills me up.
I don’t know if the Clark name has the recognition needed to impress Trick-or-Treaters but I’m pretty sure parents would be happy to relieve their kids of this fringe looking candy bar. It’s a classic and this mix of variations hits the spot. The packaging is spare and does a good job of keeping the little bars fresh and design is sharp and clear.
The candy contains all sorts of allergens: soy, milk, peanuts, wheat and barley. Also processed on equipment with eggs and tree nuts. No Kosher status mentioned. Though the large Clark Bar and Clark Dark are considered all natural, this is not (I’m guessing there’s some artificial flavors in the Coconut, and BHA is added as a preservative). That’s to bad, because an all natural option for Halloween from a major candy maker would be quite a find. (I guess you can always give out the full size ones!)
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
This mix has three different varieties, one for each of the main characters in Eclipse: Peanut Butter filled Milk Chocolate (Jacob), Chocolate Truffle filled Milk Chocolate (Bella) and Caramel filled Milk Chocolate (Edward). The bag contains 20 pieces and weighs 10 ounces. As the Halloween candy was just being placed on the shelves in stores over the weekend, I didn’t get this on sale, so yes, I paid $3.99 for less than a pound of chocolate candy from the drug store.
The package design is rather nice, I like the new deco style Sky Bar logo design, it’s not completely subservient to the Twilight logos & look, but does well in combination. The artwork on the package shows what’s inside very well, and describes the product accurately. It’s a peeve of mine when makers of licensed products just think they can slap a logo and movie key art on there and folks don’t care what’s actually inside.
The Bella themed piece is Chocolate Truffle filled Milk Chocolate. The shape is of a large heart with the Bella name on it. Each piece is a half an ounce, so it’s a pretty large bite of chocolate. It’s about an inch and a half long and over a half an inch thick.
Necco is very helpful on the back of the package and lists the ingredients and nutrition information for each variety, so I was able to see that the ingredients were actually pretty good. It’s made with real chocolate for the shell and the center “truffle” is also real chocolate with a small boost of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil (not that much though based on how low it is on the list, right before soy lecithin).
The center isn’t quite crumbly, but is dry and has a melt like a Frango. It has some cocoa flavors, but mostly it’s a sweet balance of vanilla and the milk of the chocolate coating. There’s a slight grain to it, which is made of salt. This definitely gave it some interest and kept it all from being sickeningly sweet. It wasn’t very strong on the chocolate front and definitely didn’t have the vibe of an actual chocolate truffle.
80 calories each.
The Caramel filled Milk Chocolate piece for Edward Cullen is very nicely crafted. It’s the Cullen crest in milk chocolate.
I opened a few pieces and they were all in excellent condition, glossy and with nicely created details.
So for the vampire character, inside his family crest is a salty, caramelized sugar syrup. This was by far the saltiest piece of the set (though only 25 mg per piece). The milk chocolate smells sweet and milky. The piece has a good snap and gooey bite because of the syrupy nature of the caramel filling.
The first thing I got from the caramel was a salty hit, the second thing was a cereal flavor note. I can’t quite describe it, it’s like a combination of butter flavoring and Cheerios or Sugar Pops.
It’s very sweet, a little too much for me as it gives me a sore throat, but it is a mercifully appropriately sized piece.
Peanut Butter filled Milk Chocolate is the piece themed for Jacob, the werewolf. I guess peanuts are earthy and wolves are wild animals, so maybe that’s the connection.
The little medallion is cute, it’s a oval with a howling wolf relief and full moon.
The whole piece is soft. It has a good roasted peanut scent that has a light floral and grassy note. The filling however, disappoints. It’s missing something, it’s like it’s been watered down (or perhaps oiled up with some partially hydrogenated palm oil). The center is smoother than a Reese’s PB Cup and less crumbly, but it needs to melt a bit to get the flavor out. So it’s greasy and just unsatisfying. The only thing I can say is that the piece is balanced well on the sweetness and didn’t really need more salt in it.
80 calories each.
10 of the pieces in the package if 20 were Peanut Butter. The breakdown for the others as 6 for Caramel and 4 for Truffle. So it’s either random assortments, or the peanut butter is deemed to be the most popular (or possibly cheapest).
I’m not fond of the Sky Bar, but these strike me as much better than that. First, everything was fresh (and I’m pretty sure that every Sky Bar I’ve ever bought was three years old) - even when a candy is on the cheap side, freshness does wonders. I wasn’t keen on the use of partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, but I don’t think it comprised a large amount of the product. I like the choice of these flavor variations, the vanilla cream piece I tried last year was simply uninspired. These feel like they could stand on their own without the licensing tie-in. I would never spend this much on this quality of chocolate if I didn’t have this blog, so if you’re interested in these, I wouldn’t spend more than $2.99 - hopefully you can find them for $2.00 or so on sale.
I couldn’t find any statement about gluten on the package, though no wheat ingredients are mentioned. It has all the other allergens though - soy, dairy & peanuts plus processed on equipment with eggs & tree nuts.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Marketing tie ins with blockbuster movie franchises are nothing new. The Necco Sweethearts and Twilight co-marketing continues. I saw these at the Ralph’s grocery over the weekend and remembered that the movie is in theaters and that I actually had a couple of boxes.
I’ve never actually read the Twilight books or seen any of the movies. This is just about the candy.
Inside are two flavors of Sweethearts in the new softer texture and more intensely flavored formula. The Raspberry Freezeout and Lime Frostbite feature a dusting of sparkles courtesy of a newly approved edible mica.
The front of the box says Intense Wave of Cold! ... just what you want in a relationship that might last for all eternity.
The shape of the sweets is nicely done. They come in only two colors, but they’re pretty easy to tell apart. The printing is subpar though. I worked hard to find some good representatives for photographing. The sayings were things like “I “heart” EC”, “Live 4 Ever” “Bite Me” and “Dazzle”. There were a fair number of blank ones, which I’m told is because Edward Cullen can’t read Bella Swan’s mind.
They smell, well, feminine and juvenile. It’s like fruity bodywash or scented trash bags.
The Raspberry Freezeout flavor is light blue. The sparkly quality was evident to me except in extremely bright and direct lighting conditions (like outside in the sun). The flavor is sweet and floral, like a raspberry flavor is supposed to be. There’s no hint of tartness, instead after a moment the overly sweet flavor fades and a throat cooling menthol comes over it. It’s a little medicinal, but also a bit unexpected as it doesn’t really complement the berry.
The Lime FrostBite is slightly more successful, probably because of my indoctrination to the flavor combo via the Mojito. The lime is a light zesty note, again with no tart juicy vibe. Then the menthol emerges and it’s well, okay. It’s a little like toothpaste.
The texture is softer and smoother than the classic Sweethearts, so in a way that’s nice. But the flavor choices here simply aren’t for me.
The second package is Sweethearts Fire which says it has an Intense Surge of Heat. The box features an image of the shirtless Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black, a shapeshifter with a tattoo. (Who was jailbait when the image was shot ... okay, maybe photos of shirtless teen boys can’t be jailbait.)
Inside is a plastic bag with two flavors of pink Sweethearts: Steamy Chocolate and Hotter Than Apple Pie.
These candies also come in two colors, though both are pink. One is bright pink and the other is dusty pink. They smell sweet and lightly cinnamony.
The pieces area also difficult to read, about half were not imprinted well enough. But the ones that I could read said things that were themed for the wolf boy and his unrequited love for Bella like “Wolf Man”, “Jacob”, “Save Me” and “Howl”.
Steamy Chocolate were rather rare in my package, about 25% of the candies. The flavor is light and slightly creamy, the cocoa notes come across as flat and cardboard, but maybe a little woodsy. The cinnamon is more earthy than spicy.
Hotter Than Apple Pie tastes like a holiday candle, like cinnamon with a little apple juice flavor thrown in to mellow it out. It’s a little spicier and more intense than the chocolate one. The pink coloring means that I got a bitter aftertaste after eating too many (about five).
While I liked the Fire version better than the Ice, I wouldn’t say that I liked them all that much at all. Perhaps the fact that the flavor was rather mainstream pleased me, just like most people really don’t want to love an immortal undead guy.
These candies suffer as novelty items instead of solid products that tie into a theme. The hearts and mottoes are a great idea, but the flavors are just ghastly for the most part. But maybe that’s the target market.
The good news is that Necco didn’t make a Bella Swan version, which as far as I can tell would be sugary sweet and flavorless.
Sweethearts have gelatin in them, so are not suitable for vegetarians and are not Kosher/Halal.
Full disclosure: I’m not against escapist entertainment, I’m sure if someone dug through my reading and viewing habits there’d be some goofy items as well. And I give folks full permission to make fun of those.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Yesterday I reviewed the new Necco Clark Bar with real milk chocolate and the Necco Clark Dark Bar with real dark chocolate. At the time I also purchased and compared the two other nationally available chocolatey peanut butter crunch bars: Nestle Butterfinger and Hershey’s 5th Avenue.
The bars are all roughly the same size and barring any sales, the same price. All are nationally available, and though Clark used to be hard to find, all of the bars here were purchased at RiteAid, a national drug store chain. Honestly, there are probably two main reasons to chose one over the other: flavor preference and ingredients.
The ingredients and concepts are very similar. A crunchy layered peanut butter crunch log is enrobed with chocolate or mockolate.
Necco Clark Bar (introduced by D.L. Clark in 1916-1917)
Noticeable molasses flavor, fresh roasted nuts but not overly salty. The texture varies from bar to bar, some are more hard-candy-like and others have a more crumbly layering with stronger peanut butter notes.
Nestle Butterfinger (introduced by Curtiss in 1923)
The center, when compared to the others, is obviously artificially colored. The scent of the bar is overtly “buttery” but without any real source. The coating is chalky looking and matte, without any ripples or variations. The crunch of the center is dense, though there are layers it’s a tightly wrapped bar. This gives it a density and satisfying weight. The mockolate coating is dreadful and the worst part of the bar. Salty and butter-flavored center has a good peanut butter flavor that at least covers the watery cocoa flavors of the outside.
Hershey’s 5th Avenue (introduced by Luden’s in 1936)
In earlier versions of the bar it was real milk chocolate and there were several almonds on top of the peanut butter center under the chocolate coating. The change over to a high-quality mockolate was about 4 years ago. The center of the 5th Avenue is by far the one I prefer. It’s like a bundle of spiky peanut butter crunch needles. They melt in your mouth with a burst of molasses, peanut butter and salty flavors. The mockolate is actually pretty good, though often very soft and pasty. The chocolate flavor of it is well rounded and the texture, though fudgy, is smooth.
If it were still in its original formulation, the 5th Avenue might still be the #1 bar for me. But given Clark’s new all natural and real ingredients, I have to go with the Clark Bar Dark and then the Clark Bar. Butterfinger comes in a distant #3 (or #4 if we’re using both Clark bars).
Monday, April 19, 2010
Necco is re-evaluating much of their classic candy line. It started with the Necco Wafers, which went to all natural ingredients last year. Then early this year Sweetheart fans were in for a shock when they went for more intense flavors and colors. The newest development is for a product that isn’t what Necco is known for, candy bars. The Clark Bar is now all natural and uses real chocolate.
The new Clark bar now has no preservatives, no artificial flavors or colors and most importantly, they use real chocolate to coat the crunchy molasses and peanut butter center. They’ve also created a dark chocolate version.
The Clark Bar was introduced around 1916-1917 by D.L. Clark of Pittsburgh who already had a thriving candy business, but needed something in bar form, especially for soldiers that had lots of portable energy. Like many candies created during wartime, this one stuck around after when the veterans sought out the familiar and satisfying flavors. The candy company made many different kinds of bars over the years but the only other to survive to the present is Zagnut (now made by Hershey’s).
In 1955 the Clark family sold the business to Beatrice Foods. In 1983 Beatrice foods spun off their confectionery division to Leaf. However, Leaf ran afoul of the locals when they wanted to move the candy factory so they sold it the local Pittsburgh Food and Beverage Company in 1991 (along with Slo Pokes & Black Cows which were part of the Holloway company before being bought up by Beatrice along with a separate deal for Iron City Beer). I lived in Pittsburgh at the time, this was huge news. What happened after that was more than mismanagement or miscalculation, it was a fraud worthy of a feature film. Finally Necco swooped in 1999 to rescue the closed factory and abandoned bar.
Throughout the years and many owners the Clark bar has changed. While I can’t say that new formula is a return to the original, it’s certainly on paper an improvement over the others from my lifetime.
For those of you not as obsessed about these sorts of things, skip on down to the present day Clark Bar photo area for the current review.
Ingredients in the 1950s (source) - made by D.L. Clark
Ingredients in the 1970s (source) - made by D.L. Clark a division of Beatrice Foods Co.
Ingredients in the 1980s (source) - made by Switzer Clark, division of Leaf, Inc.
Ingredients in the 1990s (source) - made by D.L. Clark and Clark Bar America
Ingredients in the 2000s (source) - Made by Necco
Ingredients in 2010 (from the wrapper) - Made by Necco
It certainly sounds like Necco has reverted to a more wholesome recipe. But all the marketing in the world is no good if the product is inferior.
The first change is the wrapper, it’s bold and masculine; it reminds me more of Matchbox cars than candy. The second is the size. The previous version of the bar was 1.75 ounces, and now it’s 2.1 ounces. This not only puts it on par with other candy bars of its type (Butterfinger is also 2.1 ounces) but also edges out bars like Snickers.
The bar his handsome with a beautifully rippled chocolate coating. The plank is substantial at 5.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. It smells sweet and peanutty, just what I like in my crunchy molasses peanut butter bars. The crunch is great, mostly flaky and easy to chew without sticking to my teeth or descending into taffy. It’s buttery without being greasy. It’s a little salty without being savory.
There were hints of smoke sometimes in the bars that I didn’t care for, I wasn’t sure what that was. But they were definitely fresh, no hint of rancid or off peanut oil flavors. The milk chocolate did an excellent job here of pulling it together with a creamy texture. The cocoa flavors weren’t intense, but felt kind of like “I’m having chocolate milk with my peanut butter sandwich.”
The Clark Dark Bar has similar ingredients, in this case the dark chocolate is called Sweet Chocolate. It lists sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, butter oil, soy lecithin and vanilla extract. It’s really too bad about that butter oil in there, otherwise this would be an excellent vegan bar - maybe if enough folks write in they would change. The one thing I noticed though that was refreshing was that the weight of the dark bar is the same as the milk chocolate one. In most other milk/dark duets the dark is lighter (Snickers Dark, Special Dark, M&Ms Dark).
The dark chocolate is sweet, and without the milk to mellow it out, it’s noticeable. The good thing is that there’s a light bitterness to it that hooks into the molasses and earthy roasted peanut flavors. I preferred the Dark version ultimately.
The texture of the bars varies as I’ve found with most candies of this type. Sometimes the center was flaky and nicely layered, but at least one (the milk one in the close up) was a little less layered and more hard-candy solid. The flavor profile remains the same. The molasses and peanut butter flavors go well together. It’s a deeply flavored bar with sweet and salt, smoke and toasted sugar all backed up by the rib-sticking satisfaction of peanuts.
Read more about the history of the Zagnut from the Bewildered Brit.
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.
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