Monday, January 18, 2010
Sunday was the first day of the annual Winter Fancy Food Show at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It’s my fourth time attending. This year I have a list of 250 companies exhibiting with confectionery products. I hope to make it through the list ... though my first day was cut a little short as I had to drive all the way from Los Angeles at six in the morning.
I haven’t noticed any specific trends, which is great to be honest. Yeah, there’s a lot of sea salt, chili and exotic fruits in candy now, but sometimes it’s not so much about trends but just new availability of ingredients. When I’m at Fancy Food, I usually concentrate on candy, but that doesn’t mean that other foods and drinks catch my fancy.
Here are a few things I noticed:
I love hot chocolate, though of course I don’t write about it much here because it’s not actually candy. Still, when I’m at trade shows I love to try the stuff. One of my favorites is the Mexican-style which varies quite a bit. This version from Kekua is stone ground cocoa, a touch of sugar. The tablets are easy to crush up and dissolve in milk (or water) either hot or cold. It’s available with or without almonds. I tasted the almond-less version.
What I liked about it was how it had a hearty toasted flavor, kind of like malt-o-meal or the barley tea I drink from Japan. They also make them in little nuggets so you have the option of either making hot chocolate with them or just eating them. Since the sugar isn’t combined with the cacao completely, it’s grainy and more like a dry cookie dough. (Kekua website.)
Lake Champlain has introduced a new Five Star Bar: Five Star Granola Bar. It’s in the same shape as the rest of the line and features a ganache/cream center filled with crunchy oats, almonds and cranberries covered in dark chocolate. The variation in crunch is fun as is the cereal heartiness of the granola. Of course the chocolate is nice too!
They also said there will be two new Breakfast Egg versions for Easter - they’re a larger Five Star Bar in either the Granola version or a Peanut Butter Crisp.
The folks at How Do You Take Your Coffee who make Javaz, the expertly roasted coffee beans covered in chocolate and beautiful shell also have some over-caffeinated products. I reviewed their GoGo Beans before and saw that they’ll have GoGo Drops soon. They’re the size and format of M&Ms, except the coffee flavored chocolate in a candy shell is then hyper-caffeinated. Not something I should be eating, but definitely a find for students and folks who need an extra kickstart.
Just about anything with whole nuts attracts me. I stopped at Valor which is a Spanish chocolate company that I’ve never reviewed before. They make an incredible hot chocolate, for those who have had Churros y Chocolate, you’ll what kind I mean. They also have chocolate bars and I mentioned in a previous Candy Tease that they introduced single portion bars. Well now I’ve tasted them - whole Spanish almonds in silky chocolate ... quite satisfying.
The other whole nut stop was Lindt where they were showing off their new Grandeur bars which come in milk or dark chocolate and feature whole Hazelnuts. I’m a sucker for hazelnuts as well, and Lindt’s chocolate pairs excellently with it. I’ve already seen these in stores (Target) and plan to pick up a full bar (or both bars) for review in the future.
Things are beautiful. Food is beautiful. Pralus, whom I’ve already fallen for, had an amazing display of their beautifully packaged products at their booth. There’s so much attention to detail at the Fancy Food Show. There were several other companies that I got a similar vibe from (that I’ll be covering later) that understand that we feast first with our eyes, then with our mouth and then with our minds. It’s a whole experience and I think gives more to appreciate.
One of the other non-candy things I do is discover cheese. I love cheese, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve become lactose-sensitive. So I have to eat less and less. The cool thing is that goat and sheep milk cheeses are easier for us lactose-averse folks to digest. So at the show I made full use of the tastings to find new products. One of the new lines I found is from Marcelli Formaggi of Abruzzi, Italy. They use sheep’s milk to make an incredible array of ricottas. There was a cave aged ricotta that was like a blue on the outside and a firm creamy ricotta on the inside. Amazing. I fear I’m going to be putting in a few web orders soon if I can’t find them in stores. (Marcelli website.)
(All photos above by Emanuel Treeson)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Half the time the stuff being announced in as new products aren’t really new. They’re just repackaging. Not that I have anything against that. I love a clever and useful boxes and tins and of course an engaging and colorful wrappers.
First thing that I noticed a few years ago is nostalgic packaging. The first one I heard about was a retro version of 3 Musketeers, Snickers & M&Ms sold at WalMart stores. Then I started seeing Hershey’s special packaging.
This year Just Born is into the act with nostalgic boxes for their most popular products: Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales and Goldenberg Peanut Chews.
Is the candy different? Did they go back to the original recipe or something? No, pretty much the same.
But I have to say, the Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews (review) taste a lot better than Chew-Ets. Maybe it’s that these were extra fresh ... or that it’s the first King-Size package I’ve had since I moved to California. (Though they were a sample from All Candy Expo folks, all the other above items pictured were from my personal stash.)
First, Mars is going to be making their M&Ms Premiums (review) available in single-serve boxes. Pretty hot looking. I like the flip top, I like that the box was jam packed with the little triple chocolate premiums.
I don’t have much info otherwise though ... I’m hoping they won’t be much more than the price of King Size M&Ms. (They are 1.2 ounces, not as much as a regular bag.)
Hershey’s is also creating a bar format of their new Bliss line (review).
I got this sample of the new Hershey’s Bliss Rich & Creamy Dark Chocolate Bar, it’s about the equivalent of five little Bliss bites.
Look familiar? Yeah, not that different from the format of the Dove chocolate line. Kind of sad how much they look alike.
Even though it feels like stuff is getting smaller and more expensive, I did find one bright spot in the news (in addition to the awesome new products, of course).
Instead of the classic tray the LifeSaver Gummis (review) now come in a 2 ounce single serve pack (“With 33% More Gummies”). I saw these at them on shelves at the 7-11 already.
The thing that I learned that was so surprising is that LifeSavers Gummis are the number one selling gummi in the United States. Not Haribo (who have been doing it far longer) or even previous domestic brands like Trolli or Black Forest. Nope, LifeSavers.
The final news nugget is the renaming of Crackheads to Jitterbeans (well, that’s not entirely true, you can get them with either name). I reviewed them last year and Candy Addict’s Brian even appeared on TV to talk about the branding of the product (advocating a name change ... and this is a pretty good choice).
The package is kind of intimidating. The same size as a regular Lemonheads box ... but this one advertises that it has as much caffeine as 6 cups of coffee. I haven’t counted up the beans, but I’m pretty sure that four would be my limit and never to be eaten after noon if I wanted to sleep.
There are probably lots of other associations we’re all going to be making when we see the stuff on the shelves. (Especially when the old & new styles are sitting side by side.)
What have you noticed so far?
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Today is the start of All Candy Expo, the national exhibition of candy & snacks sponsored by the National Confectioners Association. Over three days over 450 exhibitors will sample their wares on the show floor while tens of thousands of candy store owners, chain store buyers, wholesalers & distributors will will walk the aisles. It’s an awesome and intimidating place to be, it makes me a bit giddy and also overwhelmed (there’s so much!). Once again my dayjob prevents me from attending so I’ll sit here and remotely broadcast items of interest.
Here are some new product announcements:
Name: Wee Glee
Name: Sour Patch Chillerz
Name: Black Forest Juicy Oozers
Name: Goetze Gourmet Caramel Creams Licorice
Name: Sour Punch Bits
Name: Caramel Apple Pops
Name: Werther’s Original Creamy Caramel Filled
Name: Ghirardelli Luxe Milk Chocolate
All photos courtesy of the manufacturers unless otherwise watermarked
Friday, February 20, 2009
I have a bit of a cold and don’t think it’d be fair to review anything else this week. So here’s your candy tease of new products, some just arriving on shelves.
Name: Reese’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Name: Toxic Waste(r) Shockingly Sour Hi-Voltage(tm) Bubble Gum
Name: Gimme Calcium
Name: Breath Savers(r) Strong Mint Menthol and Energy Mint Caffeine
Name: Chocolate Flavored Mega Smarties
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
At the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I missed the opportunity to watch Joseph Schmidt make his famous chocolate bowls - though I did get to see the fresh works and talk with him briefly. Though some of the high end items like the bowl from Joseph Schmidt are undoubtedly crafted items, the current mass manufacture of the truffles doesn’t really keep with the artisan vibe.
Are they still artisan confections when they’re consolidated into one manufacturing plant in Illinois? Were they even still artisan when Hershey’s bought them in 2005?
A little history: In 2005 Hershey’s started a spinoff company and seemed to tap into a new trend in the United States: small batch, carefully crafted confections. They created an autonomous company called Artisan Confections Company and into it went Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen Berger and later in early 2006 Dagoba.
Milton S. Hershey started as what could be described as an artisan confectioner. He made hand-stirred caramels, eventually made his fortune with a company called the Lancaster Caramel Company. Of course this was all at the same time that the industrial revolution and the assembly line was transforming everything from stockings to cars and then chocolate with Hershey’s five cent milk chocolate bar.
But mass production doesn’t mean bad. Or at least it doesn’t have to mean it.
What this meant initially was greater distribution and monetary muscle for these tiny chocolate companies. (Scharffen Berger & Dagoba are chocolate factories, Joseph Schmidt is a chocolatier.) And it’s done quite a bit for the public. Access to these varieties of products has done munch to educate consumers about the nature of chocolate, how flexible it is, how specific beans grown in a particular valley can taste vastly different to mixed beans. Dagoba showed us that organic and ethical doesn’t have to taste like the heaps of faint praise given to children who make macaroni art.
But most chocolate lovers have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. After all, this is Hershey’s - a company that isn’t known for the quality of its products these days or the respectful way that it treats its customers.
The announcement yesterday sounded like this:
The names Scharffen Berger and Joseph Schmidt appeared nowhere in the official press release. In fact, I read over this fourth quarter report, even twittered a smidge, without even realizing what that meant. Subscale? Rationalization? It wasn’t until later that evening that the SFGate posted the news and Cammy from Munchcast popped me a note.
There were assurances from Hershey in 2005 that the company would retain its staff and location (though it did expand, I don’t think anyone can be upset by that, as they did say that they wanted to grow the brand). The sad truth is that this is merely a formality. Scharffen Berger chocolate has, for the most part, been made in Illinois for a couple of years. The Berkeley factory is a bit of theatre. Sure, it’s a working factory, but it may as well be Chocolate World for the well-heeled.
But this leaves a hole, a new opportunity for the actual hand crafted chocolate makers out there. And Scharffen Berger should look sharp, there are far more than back in 2005 when it got its infusion of cash. Askinosie, Amano, DeVries, Taza, Theo, Tcho, Patric, Mast Brothers, Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, Rogue Chocolatier and Jacque Torres ... that’s just bean to bar folks in the United States.
If you’d like to see Scharffen Berger & Joseph Schmidt’s roots, I’d recommend a trip soon.
UPDATE 1/29/2009: It appears that Scharffen Berger has already stopped the free tours, even though word is that the factory will continue production at least until April.
UPDATE 2/10/2009: Joseph Schmidt is closing its doors for good, there is no shift of production. They will continue and fill orders through the Easter holiday. Though 150 other Bay Area folks are out of a job (including the Scharffen Berger folks), Joseph Schmidt himself will continue to be employed by Hershey’s. I expect that he will continue his appearances at trade shows and events, and perhaps consult on recipes.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
So I’m curious what Hershey’s is saying to consumers when they write in. (I’ve had my own experience that I’ve documented.)
So, if you’ve written to Hershey’s, tell us here what their response was! (And if you haven’t, give it a try.)
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I’ve gotten a few comments and emails and I thought I’d address them:
1. Palm Oil
Environmental matters aside, consider the health effects of merely eating Palm Oil. The World Health Organization believes it contributes to cardiovascular disease. New research reveals that not only does cocoa butter not harm us, it actually increases the antioxidant properties of chocolate and is neutral to our blood cholesterol levels. (But it’s not like the health benefits of a milk chocolate coating on a candy bar are in any way remarkable.)
There are a lot of stories, web pages and sites devoted to the issue, so you can read up on it elsewhere for a fuller picture than I can paint. (And in various posts I’ve made other helpful readers have left links to websites they recommend.)
2. Hershey’s New Facility in Mexico
UPDATE 8/14/2009: Hershey’s is now making the Hershey’s Miniatures in Mexico as well as the York Peppermint Pattie.
3. The Word Mockolate
Basically mockolate is any product which pretends to be chocolate but doesn’t qualify for one reason or another due to the FDA definition of chocolate. In the case of the Friends episode, I believe that product had absolutely no Theobroma cacao content at all. The present Hershey’s products do actually “contain” chocolate but for the most part the cocoa butter has been replaced completely or in part by other vegetable oils.
I use the word because in many of the cases where it appears in a confection it’s intended to act like chocolate. (And might have been a real chocolate product at one time.)
I did mention the Nestle mockolate products to the producers of Today, but that was not the focus of the piece (and that’s certainly their prerogative). So I confined my examples to Hershey’s products. There are also companies that have always made poor quality chocolate and mockolate. That’s not what this story was about either.
I provided as many candy products as I could find over the weekend that were both the old and new formula. That was pretty much the Kissables and Almond Joy (and since Hershey’s confirmed that they went back to milk chocolate, that became moot). Everything else was representative items of the “new versions”. I referred the producers to some great sources of what the wrappers used to look like: Mike’s Candy Wrappers and Brad Kent’s Wrappers (and even Flickr).
I think the Kissables change was a good example of how subtle it was ... removing one word and putting in a different one. Milk Chocolate became Chocolate Candy. It would have been great to have the old and new Mr. Goodbar, because the print is so much smaller for the new “made with CHOCOLATE AND PEANUTS” versus the former “PEANUTS IN CHOCOLATE.” (As of today the Hershey’s Mr. Goodbar page still displays both versions - the new one on the top of the page and the little one in the middle of the page.)
Kirk Saville, spokesman for Hershey Company said later to the Harrisburg Patriot News, “The Mr. Goodbar formula was changed to allow the peanut flavor to come through.” I take issue with this because there was never any change to the wrapper except for the legally obligated ones. No big splashy “better tasting!” or “more peanut flavor.” Instead it was done quietly and subtly.
Hershey’s has not left the venerable Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Kisses and KitKat untouched. While they are still milk chocolate products, the formula has changed. If you want to tell for yourself we’re in another crossover right now. The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar now has PGPR in it. It’s an additional emulsifier to the soy lecithin that nearly all chocolate products have.
If you look sharp you should be able to find both products (and the previous PGPR free ones still fresh) and can compare for yourself.
(Long ago I called Hershey’s to ask about this PGPR stuff that I saw in the Kisses ingredients list, it took a lot of wrangling to find out the origin of the product, theirs comes from castor beans. For some reason they always state where the lecithin comes from but not the PGPR.)
While I don’t know if there is a real difference in the flavor or texture, but I have gotten two notes from readers that say that the Hershey’s Kisses do not behave the same when baking. (Specifically when making those thumbprint cookies the Kiss comes out chalky instead of fudgy.)
I never said boycott Hershey’s. I said that I will not be buying the inferior products any longer (basically the Kissables and Take 5 - I stopped buying the 5th Avenue years ago), I’ve not taken all Hershey’s products off my list. A boycott is not when you simply don’t like a product any longer and don’t recommend it. I will still be buying products for review - that’s kind of what I do here.
I don’t think that this issue has enough traction to be a successful boycott anyway. However, as was demonstrated with the information at the end of the segment, Hershey’s did bring the milk chocolate coating back to the Almond Joy after consumer feedback. So maybe that’s all that’s required here.
Have you eaten something you weren’t happy with? Have a concern about an ingredient? Don’t like the way something’s advertised? Call them or send them a note.
Or via their online contact form (be prepared to tell them how old you are and they’ll ask you lots of other personal info that you probably don’t have to answer).
Friday, September 19, 2008
This is a tedious post and I don’t really expect folks to read it in earnest. It’s here for my reference and yours.
Since the whole change in Kissables, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the Hershey’s website and even did a screen grab on August 27th, 2008 before they started changing it in the past couple weeks after the ABCNews.com story. (I don’t know that was definitely the motivator.)
While Hershey’s has a clear disclaimer on the product pages with the nutrition information that reads: Hershey’s goal is to keep each product’s nutrition information up-to-date and accurate but please consult the label on the product’s packaging before using. If you notice that something is different on a product’s label than appears on our website, please call us for more information at (800) 468-1714. I can tell you from personal experience that getting information about Hershey’s about what’s actually in their products isn’t as easy as calling or emailing.
I understand that often in times of product formulation transition that the website needs to reflect what a consumer is most likely to find, some of the items on the Hershey’s website are far from just out of date, they’re inaccurate to the point of misleading. Here’s the last saved version of products page from March 2008 via Archive.org. (Images are not archived, so they may be linking to current images, not those that appeared during the time the archive was made.)
Plainly put, the descriptions on the Hershey’s Chocolate Products page don’t match what’s currently available in stores, further, what they say is in the products is inaccurate.
The first was the 5th Avenue, which shifted from a milk chocolate coated bar to a rich chocolatey coating bar back in 2006. The image on the site and the text both said that it was milk chocolate. The image has since been changed out, Google’s cache from September 4th still showed it as a milk chocolate bar image & text), but the text still reads:
While it’s accurate to say that it was a chocolate bar in 1936, they’re not exactly saying that it’s not any longer - you have to look at the picture and the caption just says “chocolate.”
The next is the Kissables description:
While the classic Kisses are still considered milk chocolate, the Kissables are not, so saying that they’re just mini Kisses covered with candy is misleading because, well, it’s simply not true.
Hershey’s Miniatures were a recent disappointment to me. I don’t know if they can get away with calling the product Hershey’s Miniature chocolate bars when I found that 41% of my package were not chocolate bars at all.
Milk Duds haven’t been chocolate for years, but the description is still there:
The Mr. Goodbar section is full of inaccuracies. The name of it is Mr. Goodbar chocolate bar and the image on the directory page says peanuts in chocolate and the description says:
On the actual product page the header image shows made with chocolate and peanuts but the image below it and the caption still say peanuts in milk chocolate. The description there goes further into the history which confuses matters because it once was a real chocolate bar:
The final one in the Hershey’s repertoire is the Take 5. The description is shown there in the screengrab and it says that it’s covered in milk chocolate. (Which I’m guessing is a selling point, it was for me.)
The Hershey’s product page for the Take 5 has been heavily edited now. There were four versions of the bars (White, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Cookie and for a while a Marshmallow) listed there earlier this year. The current product page is now completely accurate with its images and description. I can only be disappointed by my memories.
Hershey’s has several mini-sites. One of the major ones is for their Reese’s line of products. It was relaunched just last week with an intricate flash-based page (which means no way to link to individual product pages). I would expect that this would mean that the info would be especially accurate. Sadly it’s not so.
The Reese’s subsite lists 11 Reese’s products. Four are characterized erroneously as real chocolate products in the copy that accompanies them.
ReeseSticks (which I revisted in today’s review) is described as milk chocolate though the image is correct
Nutrageous is described as a “chocolatey candy” on the wrapper (and in the image) but the accompanying text says that it’s, “loaded with crunchy roasted peanuts, smooth rich caramel, chocolate and the distinctive taste of Reese’s Peanut Butter.”
Reese’s Whipps is a new product and has never had a smooth milk chocolate on it. So while this whole “transition” thing with new products might be forgiveable, this is not.
Reese’s Crispy Crunchy is a little older than the Whipps, but also never sported a “smooth chocolate coating.”
So there you have it. Hershey’s says that their changes are transparent to the consumers and that everything is clearly marked on the packages. While going straight from the package, with no previous experience with the product might mean that consumers understand fully what they’re eating, the rest of this noise - the fact that the wrappers are designed to look so incredibly similar and that the supporting materials like the Hershey’s website don’t reflect what’s truly in the bar - provides evidence the Hershey’s wants us to be confused.
I fully expect that many of these inaccuracies will be rectified soon. I know that Hershey’s staff members and their PR companies read this site.
The above web images were taken on September 18, 2008 for the Reese’s Whipps page and September 17, 2008 for the Hershey’s items.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.