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).
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Nestle is going full-tilt to reinvigorate their stagnant Wonka candy brand. Last year it was gummis (Sluggles, Puckerooms & Sploshberries), this year they revised their chocolate bar line under the new Wonka Exceptionals and now they’re introducing some new sugar candy items to the Exceptionals line. The first is called Fruit Marvels which are vaguely described on the packaging as hard candies with soft centers, delicately sugar dusted. They come in three flavors: White Grape, Pomegranate and Clementine Orange.
There are two formats for the packages. The first is the tins, which hold 1.9 ounces (14 pieces) and retail for $1.99. Though that’s a little expensive, there’s a second more cost effective option which is the 5 ounce box which retails for $2.99 (and you can refill the tin).
The box is imaginative and quite different from the holographic mylar/plastic of the chocolates. These stand up boxes come in two parts. There’s a tall tab top box with a dizzying purple/lavender design, over that is a sleeve. The sleeve is taped to the box and features little circular cut outs that reveal the patterned box underneath. Like the Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Pieces, even the UPC code gets Wonka-fied.
Inside the box is another package, a long mylar pouch with the candy in it. They’re not marked for the individual flavor, as I discovered later on when I ditched the boxes and carried all three pouches around in a ziploc bag while I was tasting.
The front of the package states Made with Natural Ingredients* and then directs folks to read the list of ingredients to explain the asterisk. Flipping over the box the ingredients are really easy to understand. For the White Grape they were: Dextrose*, Sugar*, Corn Syrup*, Pear Juice Concentrate*, and less than 2% of Modified Corn Starch, Tapioca Dextrin, Natural Flavor*, Tumeric Color, Citric Acid*.
I find this a little confusing ... they’re saying it’s made with natural ingredients, but not saying that all of the ingredients are natural. (So just about all food products would qualify under this “Made with Natural Ingredients” thing.) I appreciate that they’re not saying that highly processed ingredients like modified food starch is natural, but I’d prefer if they just said “made with real fruit juice but no artificial flavors or colors” and left it at that. Both Clementine & Pomegranate have Carmine coloring, which is a natural coloring derived from insects but of course not considered vegetarian/vegan, may be an allergen for some sensitive folks and is not kosher/halal.
The Pomegranate Fruit Marvels tin is simple. Inside are tucked over a dozen little candies. The tin is about 3.5 inches in diameter and just shy of an inch thick - a little big to tuck in a pocket. There’s a piece of waxed paper cushion on the bottom and on the top. The tin is easy to open and close, but stays closed so I wouldn’t worry so much about this coming open in the bottom of your bag.
They’re about .75 inches in diameter with a sugar sanded coating and soft coloring. The candies are really a puzzle at first. I didn’t understand what they were by the description, but I guess that’s why they called them Marvels.
The outside is a hard candy shell, it’s made of dextrose like SweeTarts, but it’s not compressed like other powder candies, instead it’s panned (added as a liquid layer that forms a hardened glaze after many coats). Inside is a firm and flavorful jelly. It’s like a super jelly bean in a way but remember that the shell is very thick.
When I first popped it into my mouth I thought it would be like a Gobstopper, many flavored layers and then a jelly ball in the middle, but it is actually faithful to the scale on the package. I tried sucking on them first. The sugar sanding is rough at first but that dissolves away quickly to the shell. The shell is dextrose (glucose) so it has a slightly cooling effect and it has a kind of thinness to the sweet note instead of the round syrup sweetness of sucrose (sugar). Eventually there’s a little hint of the floral berry flavors of pomegranate. There’s a layer just between the jelly center and the shell that has a little burst of sour.
I pulled quite a few of the candies apart. I found I preferred biting them to letting them dissolve. It’s not advisable to just crunch them up at first until you gain some experience at it, I think letting them warm and dissolve a little helps.
You can see the thickness of the shell here and how it’s dense but kind of crumbly.
The jelly center is complex. It’s smooth and thick, it’s also nicely flavored without being too sweet or tangy. Though I don’t think any candies really capture pomegranate flavor well, these are still an excellent flavor no matter what it’s called. It’s more raspberry to me - floral and jammy.
The sanding isn’t messy, no sticky fingers, but there is a bit of sugar dust in the bottom of the tins or the bags which can get everywhere.
The Clementine Orange Fruit Marvels sounded really good. I love citrus and the less-common oranges often have wonderful notes that make things so much more interesting than just eating spoonfuls of Tang drink mix. Clementines are a tasty little citrus, they’re easy to peel and are usually seedless - they have the tangy profile and juicy taste of a tangerine.
The outside sanded shell doesn’t give much indication of the flavor inside, just a soft orange color.
The flavor is truly like a tangerine. There are bold juice and citric acid notes but there’s also a really good zest component that sets it apart from straight-laced orange. There’s no bitter or lingering orange peel aftertaste though.
The White Grape Fruit Marvels are nearly colorless on the outside but a little on the yellow side after cracked open. (They were devilish to photograph, but I think you get the idea with the other two.) White grape was always one of my favorite fruit juices as a kid, so I’m very familiar with the flavor. This is extremely faithful. There’s a concord grape note to it, but also a brighter and lighter feeling to it, a little like champagne.
All three flavors are distinct and faithful to their profiles. The candy itself is unique, I’ve never had anything quite like it before so I give Wonka high marks for not just regurgitating the ordinary with a frivolous name and funny packaging. I like the concept of the boxes and that they’re more cost effective than the tins but still $3 for 5 ounces of sugar candy is on the high side, even for something that doesn’t have artificial flavors/colors. Also, the amount of packaging is silly, the outer sleeve could easily disappear without losing the feeling of upscale decadence.
I’m a little unclear about the target market for these, I’m guessing they’re not for little children like many other Wonka products lately like Kazoozles. Perhaps they’re targeting young adults, especially since the tins are great for sharing. They might also appeal to folks who want an intense flavorful indulgence without too many calories. Since they’re all sugar there’s no fat and each piece is about 12 calories. The tin makes each piece feel rather special. (Honestly, it seems like the target market is for grown ups for never quite grew up, which would be me.)
I like where Wonka is going lately.
These are in limited release right now, they’re available exclusively at WalMart stores until June 2010 when they’ll start appearing at Target. The candies are made in Mexico.
Monday, April 5, 2010
One of my favorite chocolate bars as a kid was the Nestle Crunch or Krackel. Both of them went downhill in the nineties (Hershey’s Krackel isn’t even a chocolate bar any longer) but the Nestle Crunch seems to be inching its way back to respectable. About two years ago Nestle released their “Now Even Richer” tweak, which improved the bar but it wasn’t hard when it was so waxy and flavorless before.
Nestle is going for it again with their Nestle Crunch Even More Scrumptious version. Since we’re in a crossover period where both the “Now Even Richer” and “Even More Scrumptious” version are on shelves, I picked up two for comparison.
The bar’s shape and size is exactly the same. Same package design with the familiar red, white and blue colors that have been used for at least 50 years but of course updated from time to time. The mold has the bold CRUNCH lettering that lets you know what it is inside or out of the mylar. I prefer a bar with segments. While pretty molding is nice if you’re eating the whole bar yourself and don’t care about the sanitariness of biting right into it, I usually break my bar into pieces so I can share or portion. Though the ingredients on the old and new version are identical as is the nutrition information, flipping both bars over reveals the most significant difference:
(Now Even Richer version on the left - Even More Scrumptious on the right)
Sometime in the mid-2000s (I think), Nestle started using these little BB shaped & sized crisped rice pieces. Not just in the Crunch bar but also in the 100 Grand Bar. I don’t like them. They lack the irregular air pockets that gives a Crunch bar its more rustic texture. But the big rice pieces are back, I took this as a good sign.
(Now Even Richer version on the left - Even More Scrumptious on the right)
The color of the two bars is slightly different. It could be age, the new formula is obviously a fresher bar though both are within their freshness dates.
But what’s the difference in taste, how did they make it better without actually changing the ingredients or nutritional profile?
Well, it’s creamier. Not by much but the fact that the rice pieces are larger seems to make a difference as well. The bigger crunch makes the chocolate texture difference more noticeable. Is it really that much more scrumptious?, I’d say yes, there is some notable improvement in the creaminess and sweetness level of the chocolate. It still lacks a well-rounded chocolate flavor and texture. It’s far too sugar intense and not chocolatey enough for me, or even milky enough. It’s an entertaining enough piece of candy for the price, but not a satisfying bar of chocolate. It does earn the right to scootch up from at 6 out of 10 to a 7 out of 10. I hope the other holiday versions get this changeover, too.
(I think that’s Jenilee Harrison as the first bar-eater. What I got from this commercial is that it’s a candy bar that white people like.)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Wonka introduced a line of jelly beans back in 2006 (original review). They were matte, opaque pastel jelly beans with a strange grainy shell but familiar SweeTart flavors.
This year the product seems to have been reformulated, though there’s no mention of it on the package which is also redesigned. Readers alerted me that they were different this year.
The 2010 version of SweeTart Jelly Beans are more vibrant and come in the current SweeTart flavors of Cherry, Lemon, Grape, Blue Punch, Green Apple and Orange.
I noticed the color difference before I even took the bag home. They’re more opaque and shinier with consistent colors. They’re at once familiar and a little different.
The version I’ve had before had a grainy and cool-to-the-tongue shell. When I saw these and remembered the comments, I was wondering if Wonka was just using the Spree Jelly Beans which have a harder shell.
The shell is more crisp than the previous version and the flavors seem a little more distinct and intense. They also seem to be more faithful to the flavors of the chalky original SweeTarts disks. But what’s missing is probably the tangy hit that the real SweeTarts have.
As you’ll notice, I found quite a few abnormal ones in my bag. These were a few that had distinctive shapes, quite a few were just larger than what I’d call normal or smaller than what I would have thought should be the target. They all tasted fine - the narrow ones obviously had more shell to them proportionally.
They’re still nice - the grape is much better as it is tangier now. I enjoyed the citrus flavors even though they weren’t particularly sour. Green apple is okay, though bland and I usually pick out the cherry and blue punch ones but if I ate them it’s not the end of the world.
In the end, the update is definitely different but I wouldn’t call it an improvement. I think it brings them more in line with what I’d expect from a product extension but still not as good as actual SweeTarts. Now if they could only do the SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies with all the flavors of SweeTarts we’d have something to talk about.
The versions I’ve tried before (2007 & 2008) were made in Canada. This bag was made in Mexico. There are no allergen statements on the bag, so they may be nut free/gluten free and contain no animal-derived products.
Friday, March 5, 2010
They’re the third item in the new launch of the better quality Wonka chocolate products hitting store shelves now. The ingredients are all natural, the packaging revamped and the quality vastly improved.
Now that I’ve tried all three varieties I can say that they’re right, the quality of the chocolate is much better. The chocolate is smoother, has a bolder flavor and of course the fact that the ingredients are better should make it easier for families to choose Wonka. I’ve compared them before to Dove and Hershey’s Bliss - but what these have going for them is that the packaging is all about imagination - the bright striped foils are going to appeal more to kids than the sedate and elegant positioning of Dove or Bliss.
The pieces themselves aren’t quite as stunning to look at as the other two Exceptionals. The little domed blocks don’t stack either. I was hoping for some glossy dark chocolate, and while it’s tempered properly, the piece looks like well worn coat button instead of a sumptuous piece of dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate flavors are quite sharp. It’s acidic without being tangy, not quite chalky but a little dry. It’s smooth but I wouldn’t characterize it as the same silkiness as the milk and white chocolate from the Waterfall version. There are berry and raisin notes to the cocoa but nothing overtly complex. It’s toasty but not so dark that it’s roasty and too bitter like black coffee. The sweetness is pretty overwhelming, sugar is the first ingredient on the list.
As a dark chocolate, it’s very accessible, and probably won’t dissuade children from eating them. They remind me of eating chocolate chip cookies - the melt is similar to that in a fresh cookie.
I think Nestle has done a great job of reinvigorating the brand. It takes more inspiration from the original books and taps into the dreamy quality that Wonka has evoked in every kid who every kid who’s read it.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The new line of Wonka Exceptionals are better quality chocolate candies. Nestle calls them The world’s most incomparably imaginative chocolate. The initial launch includes three chocolate products and to increase consumer interest a Golden Ticket giveaway for 5 trips around the world valued at $40,000 (that’s 5 different prizes, not 5 circumnavigations for one person).
Since the products are just being rolled out, they may not be on shelves everywhere yet. I found the Wonka Exceptionals Chocolate Waterfall Pieces at Ralph’s at a rather shocking price point of $4.99. The bars, which are 3.5 ounces are supposed to retail for $2.49. The package is gaudy and rather befitting the proud Willy Wonky tradition. The back of the package has the fun quote from the original Golden Ticket text from the book and exhorts folks to read the original book by Roald Dahl. (How many candies encourage that?)
The Waterfall chocolate is logged on the package as Bar No 99: Delectable combination of swirled milk & white chocolate.
The pieces are wrapped in blue and purple striped foil. They’re a nicely sized block of one or two bites (9.25 grams or 1/3 of an ounce). They’re 1.25” long, 1” wide and about .33” high.
The package (which is sometimes hard to read because of how busy it is) says that it’s truly amazing chocolate made with natural ingredients and then says refer to the ingredients list. The list is then asterisked with only one ingredient not flagged as all natural - the soy lecithin. I’m guessing it’s because it’s from genetically modified (GMO) soy. Still, it’s all real chocolate - basically sugar, milk and cacao with a little vanilla & emulsifiers (lecithin - no PGPR).
The milk and white swirl is nicely done, usually in three expertly centered spokes.
The pieces smell milky and sweet. The bite is quite soft, but still has a good snap to it for a high-milkfat chocolate. The texture does not disappoint. It’s very smooth and silky with a good fatty melt. The chocolate flavors are eclipsed by the dairy, but it’s still a comforting cocoa note that sticks to the woodsy and malty side of things. It’s very, very sweet though. They’re quite different from the Hershey’s Bliss White Chocolate Meltaway, which is not as sweet but of course doesn’t have the milk chocolate component.
There aren’t that many milk and white combination chocolates here in the United States, so this is a fun and original option. It’s probably not one I’d choose for myself but I don’t see the folks at the office complaining about them. (I’ve had the selection of all three versions in a jar for about a week on my desk.)
Monday, March 1, 2010
The Wonka brand of candies was launched shortly after the release of the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. They were originally made by Sunline but Nestle bought up Sunline (also the maker of SweeTarts and Pixy Stix) in 1988. At that time the Wonka brand consisted of a combination of candies mentioned in the book, such as Everlasting Gobstoppers but mostly fanciful original creations such as Peanut Butter Oompas (picture here), Super Scrunch (picture here). They later focusing more on profitable and successful sugar candies such as Wacky Wafers (picture here), Dweebs, Runts, DinaSour Eggs (picture here) and of course Nerds.
The early Wonka Scrumdidilyumptious bar was a “chocolately caramel crisp” - the format was rather long, thick and narrow. (See this counter display.)
Nestle is reinvigorating the brand, both the sugar candy side (new gummis like Sluggles & Puckerooms, sour filled licorice like Kazoozles and chocolate popping candy like Tinglerz). Their chocolate line called Wonka Exceptionals capitalizes both on the imaginative side of the Wonka character from the Roald Dahl books as well as the quality aspect which has been largely lacking in previous chocolate products. The launch is with three different bars and foil wrapped pieces: Scrumdiddlyumptious, Domed Dark Chocolate & Chocolate Waterfall.
This new version of the Wonka Scrumdiddlyumptious Bar is spelled slightly differently: diddly instead of didily. It’s listed on the back of the package as Bar No. 17 and described as Milk chocolate with scrumptious toffee, crispy cookie & crunchy peanuts. Sounds good! No one else is making a bar quite like this, so it’s exciting to see them creating something original instead of a different packaging format of an existing product.
The little foil wrapped pieces are cute. They’re 1.25” long, 1” wide and about .33” high. They smell lightly chocolatey, but not as peanutty as I expected. The texture of the milk chocolate is super smooth and silky - a far cry from the waxy stuff in other Nestle products. It’s exceptionally sweet though, so too much of it and it burned my throat. The inclusions were little bits of graham cracker like cookies (digestive biscuits is perhaps more appropriate for comparison), little buttery toffee nuggets and peanut bits.
The variations in the nuggets meant that some pieces and bites were more interesting than others. The toffee had a good crunch to it and a salty note. The peanuts were not deeply roasted and were more grassy but still gave a different chew. The cookie pieces were mild and gave a malty cereal note to it.
The chocolate quality is a huge upgrade from the Wonka Bar (which is now discontinued - these will replace it). I don’t think I’d spend the premium for this in a bar format mostly because the Green & Black’s Peanut bar is truly scrumptious, similarly price but also organic & soon to be Fair Trade). However, foil wrapped pieces are different enough to warrant consideration.
Each piece is less than 50 calories, so if you have trouble controlling portions with a large bar, these are a nice option.
The packaging is fanciful, though definitely cluttered and not that easy to read as most of the colors are the same value. The holographic plastic is a bit of overkill as far as I’m concerned (and probably resource intensive) but I’m guessing the bags without the “Golden Ticket” giveaway will be a bit clearer. I was most impressed with the fact that they were even creative with the bar code on the package.
The product line is expensive, we’re talking Dove or Hershey’s Bliss level, not the ordinary Nestle Crunch prices. The bags I picked up hold 9.5 ounces and were $4.99 each. (The press release from the company said retail is $4.49 and I’m guessing there will be sales where you can find them for about $3 a bag.) The bars are 3.5 ounces and retail for $2.49 each.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
What I found most interesting about them, as the gooey center has been done quite a bit already, is the flavor array. These aren’t ordinary berries. Though there’s no Snozzberry the flavors are: Raspberry, Blueberry, Goji Berry and Cloud Berry.
Like the other new Wonka gummis, these are made in the Czech Republic and boast no artificial flavors or colors.
Each piece is about the same diameter as a nickel (about 3/4”). They’re high and domed candies. They’re not greasy to the touch, just soft and matte. They have a translucent amber colored gummi top with a dark red fruity goo center and it all sits on an opaque white base.
The texture is soft and chewy, with a good latexy bounce to it. The molding of each of the pieces is great and for filled gummies, I was pleased to see that none of them had oozed in the bag.
The goo reservoir in the center is rather small, just a little dab. It’s also not liquid, more of a jelly so it’s more moist than the rest of the gummi, but not a flowing syrup.
Raspberry (far right) is vivid and jammy. It’s not quite specific enough to be exclusively a raspberry, sometimes I thought it was more like a blackberry with a little black cherry note to it.
Blueberry (middle) is also lightly tangy. The unique flavors come from the goo center. It’s a little more tannic, more like it has notes of black tea mixed with the more vanilla berry flavors.
Cloud Berry - I’ve never eaten a cloud berry so I can’t talk about the authenticity of the flavor. What I can say is that it pretty much tastes like all the other gummis in this assortment. It might have a little note of green apple, but it’s very pleasant and a little more custard-like, probably because of the white kind of marshmallowy base. This was the most prevalent flavor in the bag, so I had quite a few of them.
I was hoping these would be a little more vibrant, that they’d have a little more pizazz. Wonka candies are usually known for being bold. Candies like Nerds and Runts are very specific. These were kind of tame. I appreciate the risks of making a naturally flavored & colored product and the unusual actual berry flavors instead of made up flavors. On the other side of that coin, all the flavors went together really well so it’s not like I noticed getting a “bad” flavor.
The allergen info on the bag has all the hot targets on it: made on shared equipment with peanuts, nuts, soy, milk, wheat and eggs. Also, it contains gelatin so it’s not vegetarian friendly.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.