Monday, October 16, 2006
About a month ago I went off to visit another candy factory. This one is out in Covina, CA and is run by David Klein, inventor of the Jelly Belly jelly bean, so I know he’s got an inventive mind. His current candy life involved a product called Sandy Candy.
Sandy Candy is like sand art, but it’s made from candy powder (ala Pixy Stix). You can buy
kits and then pour the different candy powders into tubes and bottles, creating tasty, colorful layers.
While there on site he showed me some new products he’s working on, which involved using large panning machines (they look like cement mixers). But of course the bulk of his operation is devoted to the Sandy Candy which is HUGELY popular with clubs and groups.
The kit comes with the candy powder in little bottles (like travel-sized shampoo). Just flip the top and tip them over to fill up the little tube. You can make your candy tube according to the flavors (which are marked on the bottoms) or by color (the bottles are milky-translucent, so the actual product is brighter in the tube). The powder itself is far smoother and finer than Pixy Stix which have always been a bit grainy.
Tangerine (light orange)- come to mamma! Tart and citrusy with a little more zazz than a normal orange flavor. Goes well with most other flavors, which is a bonus.
Blue Raspberry (medium blue) - really nice. Tangy and floral and not as artificial tasting as it looked. And it’s seriously, deeply blue.
Watermelon (pink) - a sweet flavor, it’s fruity but has a very odd and very distinctive bitter aftertaste.
Banana (light yellow) - a sour banana, not just sweet. Good flavor but a little odd to have the tangy bite to it.
Root Beer (light brown) - I am in LOVE with this flavor. It’s soft on the tongue but has a nice spicy mellow feeling to it. It doesn’t mix well with most of the flavors.
Black Cherry (gray) - nice and tart with less medicine flavor and more of the lighter cherry notes. The color is not really black, but kind of a sparkly charcoal gray.
Pear (medium green) - tangier than I expected with only a slight hint of pear.
Green Apple (light green) - good and tart and with a strong artificial taste that I come to expect from green apple. A winner.
Wild Berry - (purply gray) - smells like cotton candy and tastes like strawberry and raspberry. Fruity and with a little tart zing.
Cotton Candy (light blue) - sweet and slightly tangy but with no other flavor. Not really cotton candy in my book.
Grape (medium purple) - very sweet and with a good fake grape flavor that one expects. Not tangy though.
Lemonade (medium yellow) - super tart but not much flavor. A winner.
Wild Cherry (medium red) - nice and tart with a good blast of cherry flavor. Not at all different from black cherry except for the color.
Fruit Punch (medium blue) - sour and floral with a very ordinary punch flavor going on.
Bubble Gum (blue/purple) - sour ... why is it sour? I should be sweet with a hint of cotton candy or strawberry or wintergreen in there.
Tart Apple (white) - pretty much green apple, but not green.
Cherry Cola (medium red) - definitely cola and definitely cherry. Blech. (Just not my thing)
Wild Berry (medium purple) - yes, berry! Sweet and tart and floral and really tasty. A winner.
Key Lime (light green) - lime with a slight soft flavor to it but still some tang.
Lemon Lime (light green) - lemon and lime, reminds me of Koolaid (and not in a bad way). A little tangy but with good flavor.
When you combine all of the above you’ll find your tongue becomes and dark green/black color.
Phew! You might think that’s all, but it’s not. That’s just what was in my two tower assortments. Other sweet flavors include: Sweet Cherry, Orange Creme, Sweet Vanilla Cola, Chery Creme, Sweet Fruit Punch, Sweet Lemonade, Cola Blue, Lime Creme & Strawberry. Personally I think the Banana and Cotton Candy flavors should be sweet, not tart, but who am I to argue?
Then there’s more! Another line includes Candy Pebbles, which are kind of like Wonka Nerds, but a little smaller. They’re about the size of sesame seeds with a good light crunch and zap of flavor. What’s really cool about these isn’t just that they can be used in the Sandy Candy Art, but that you can use them for other things. I think they’d be great as an actual flavored cupcake topper instead of lame plastic tasting jimmies.
Kits can be ordered with the mini bottles for home use or with big ketchup-sized bottles for large events. They look like a great fundraiser for a school fair or just an activity to do with kids where they get to eat what they create. The little 6 inch tubes that came with mine are a good amount of candy, about the size of five single Pixy Stix, so they’re not going to get too amped up.
If you’re someone who always wanted to order Pixy Stix by the pint, your search is over. I ate the whole Lemonade bottle while typing up this review. And part of the Root Beer ... hey, they’re both drinks, aren’t they?
If anyone out there has ever used these, please let me know how it went. It looks super-simple and now that I have this huge kit, I wish I had some kids around to play with it.
There are two ways to order. For retail orders go to SandyCandy.com. For wholesale orders go to NiftyCandy.com. The extra large kit shown here is $50 and has 50 candy straws and includes 20 bottles of different flavors. Smaller kits are also available.
I give the whole kit a 7 out of 10. I really love the concept and think that it’s great fun for kids, especially if you spring for the fun shaped bottles. The variety of flavors is great, especially the fact that there’s Root Beer in there! The only drawback is the difficulty of ordering and the packaging isn’t really that all that exciting. (If I could just order single bottles of my favorite flavors, well, I’d be in trouble.)
Finally! Someone’s making it easy to give wholesome, slaveless candy for Halloween!
I just popped over to Artisan Sweets (who seems to be the ONLY place on the internet to find Montelimar Nougat) and they’ve got a Natural Trick or Treat candy bag!
All for $20.00, so if you don’t have a store near you to get what you’re looking for, finally someone has combined the hard candies and the chocolates into one batch. Yeah, it’s a little expensive, but you know, not using slaves just drives up the price of things! They’re running a special - 10% off of Halloween treats, but please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t give children Sunspire Drops.
Link to Artisan Sweets Halloween.
Monday, September 25, 2006
There are plenty of sites that can offer you info on all the gross and spooky treats for Halloween. I thought I’d offer up a series of posts that might help you make some more environmentally and socially aware decisions for Halloween.
It’s a good opportunity to give kids a special treat that isn’t necessarily full of artificial chemicals or results from a lot fertilizers and pesticides being applied to the earth. And just perhaps child slaves weren’t used in the creation of it. But who wants to be that house on the street that gives out toothbrushes or quarters or apples? There must be products out there that can satisfy everyone.
I’ll be posting for the next few weeks on the topic of different good tasting treats you can hand out to the kids, some that might even be affordable and available in your local area.
If you want a top-to-bottom approach for the whole Green lifestyle, Siel at GreenLAGirl is going to be helping me out by posting about the big picture. She started today with the first in her series. She’ll cover the politics of chocolate, organic and fair trade issues and of course positive changes we can all incorporate into our lives.
Here are a few of the organic and fair trade sweets I’ve reviewed to date. Not all are appropriate for handing out to Trick-or-Treaters, so I’ll make an effort to bring you more about those, but learning more about the brands that are available might help you make a decision at the store:
I’ll have some hard candies, lollipops and more chocolates soon!
Sunday, September 24, 2006
There are some great candy webstores out there. And there are also that are not so great. I’ve been contacted twice in the past month regarding HometownCandy.com, which is run by the same company that runs JordanAlmonds.com and ebulkcandy.com. (I’m not doing any linking here where not necessary.)
The complaints I’ve heard are from people who place an order and never get their candy. Their credit card is charged but then nothing is shipped and of course their emails and phone calls go unanswered.
First, JordanAlmonds and ebulkcandy are not completely secured. Sure, when you put stuff in a cart and check out at either site, it is a secure page (that’s when you see the https:// in the address). But there are also prompts on JordanAlmonds to input your credit card on unsecured pages and on ebulkcandy. Bad form. You’re opening yourself up to someone else sniffing out your credit card number and other personal info.
Now, I haven’t ordered from either of these companies so I cannot testify one way or another personally. But here are the Better Business Bureau listings for them:
HometownCandy.com - 1 complaint which is unresolved. HometownCandy is not a member of the BBB.
JordanAlmonds.com - 7 unresolved complaints this year. Not a member of the BBB.
EBulkCandy.com - 52 complaints, 4 resolved in Morrisville, PA. It’s not clear if this site is still in operation. It’s up, but doesn’t appear to have been updated this year. The have had several different locations, and each one has its own file with the BBB. Ewing, NJ (28 complaints, 2 resolved), Hamilton, NJ (1 complaint, unresolved), West Trenton, NJ (18 complaints, 3 resolved)
Also, go to Complaints.com and check any one of those business names.
Alexa and a domain name search reveals that ebulkcandy’s domain is held in the Czech Republic by the same contact info as HometownCandy but doesn’t show a direct relationship to JordanAlmonds (except for an address in NJ in common).
Now, for the record, just having complaints filed at the BBB does not make the company bad. Lots of large companies have complaints lodged against them (sometimes people go there first, without contacting the company directly). The key is whether or not the company is a member of the BBB and further, if they respond to and resolve the complaints. Volume has a lot to do with it as well. Even when you have 99.9% satisfaction, if you have 100,000 transactions a year you might have 100 unhappy people ... and if 10% of those don’t get a resolution through you, they’re gonna go complain elsewhere. It’s not just complaints that are important, but resolutions.
If you’re looking to buy something online and you feel a little odd, check around. It’s your money and your candy. Running a candy store is not rocket science. You put up a list of what you have, people order it and you send it out to them. There are lots of ways to screw it up (send the wrong thing, charge the card wrong, send it to the wrong place, pack things improperly), but lots of ways to fix it if you do make a mess. The fact that there are so many choices out there means that you can make informed choices.
The first thing to check for is a real address (usually found on their “returns” section), a real phone number and names of the people who run the company. Membership in the BBB, a Yahoo! Trusted Sites seal, a well organized site that uses the latest in web design and technology. Google the company and see if they have complaints against them. If you’re worried about it, move along, there are plenty of places to get candy.
So, if you’ve ever ordered from one of these companies, what was your experience. Good or bad?
UPDATE 2/22/2007: I got this email earlier today:
This does not mean that the websites are gone, the obviously found other internet service, but it’s an interesting approach, getting the service provider involved.
http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/comp.htm - (Use the OCP complaint form.)
Since I’ve never ordered from them, I’m unable to file a complain on behalf of a third party.
Also, there is a website called Consumerist.com that helps people get the word out about bad companies. I’ve contacted them, but I’m not able to offer a first-hand experience. Check them out and see if they can give this issue wider exposure. Try this site as well: www.ripoffreport.com.
UPDATE 7/2/2007: Some commenters have noted that the NJ Consumer Affairs office refuses to investigate, saying that it is a federal matter. If you’d like to file a formal complaint, direct it to the Federal Trade Comission, which investigates mail fraud (and now covers internet transactions).
This should be the correct form (do NOT enter your Social Security Number in this instance, as that item is only needed when they’re investigating credit report scams or identity theft. You can read more about the rules governing internet commerce on this page.
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Many months ago a reader, Todd, told me about Powell’s Sweet Shoppe in Windsor, California.
Little did I know my summer vacation would take me right there ... twice.
Powell’s Sweet Shoppe is more than just a simple candy shop. They have a fantastic selection of retro candy bars, bulk candies like ColorWorks M&Ms, Jelly Belly and other wrapped candies like Smarties, salt water taffy and Mary Janes. They also have a large selection of Twinkle lollipops and novelty items including tins of gum and mints all displayed in old buffets and apothecary cupboards. Don’t worry, they didn’t leave out chocolate aficianados, there was a decent selection of high end chocolate bars from Scharffen Berger, Hachez, Michel Cluizel and others.
Then there’s the gelato ... and soda pop. They have a huge selection of sodas in glass bottles from the plain old Crush to the microbrewed Root Beers.
But they also had a good selection of UK import bars, classic candy boxes and huge display of Fizzies (which have returned after being off the market for decades).
The prices were decent. I picked up a few classic regional bars for 89 cents each.
The biggest find there was a trove of Reeds candies in Root Beer and Cinnamon flavor. I know that there are quite a few people who have been looking high and low for them, well there are at least a dozen full boxes there in Windsor.
Windsor itself is an odd town. At first glance it looks like Healdsburg or any number of Victorian-era settlements off of Highway 101. But a closer inspection reveals that it’s all new construction. The center of town with its charming facades and pastels/terra cotta colors is pretty much turn of this century. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to live in a town that has a vibrant downtown and centralized gathering place. It just took me by surprise. For more on that see this article from SFGate.
Powell’s is completely themed with candy but a bit of a jumble. There is a soundtrack for the store and it consists of the song “Pure Imagination” sung by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Over and over again. Add to that a little viewing area in the back with a loop of the movies. I was in the store for four loops of the song ... I don’t know how you could work there without going batty. That said, when I asked the sales staff about the Reeds candies, all they knew was that they were discontinued, they wouldn’t sell a whole box at any discount and they flat out refused to consider shipping them at all.
I also stopped at their sister store in Healdsburg (purely by coincidence) which is slightly smaller but had the same inventory.
If you’re toodling around wine country, it’s a great stop for something a little different. There were plenty of families with kids there, but also a good share of grownups shopping by themselves.
Powell’s Sweet Shoppes
322 Center Street
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
I found a new candy store and they have everything! (I can’t remember who suggested this, but I thank you most wholeheartedly!) Mel & Rose, which is on Melrose Blvd near La Cienega (just north of the Beverly Center).
Well, maybe they don’t have everything, but a lot of the things I’ve been looking for and a good assortment of things I didn’t even know existed. They didn’t have KitKat bars from around the world, but they had Kinder Eggs.
Mel & Rose is a liquor store, wine store (in a separate space) and deli with a large selection of fine chocolate bars. They also have a huge selection of imported consumer candies, such UK imports like Flake, Cadbury, Aeros and Bassett’s. There are German candies like Ritter and a whole line of Haribo bagged treats. Australian brands like Cherry Mash, Life Savers and Aussie licorice.
If you’re into high-end chocolate bars, I think that’s probably what they do best. Vosges, New Tree, Michael Cluizel, Dolfin, Cafe-Tasse, MarieBelle, Cote d’Or, Hachez, Dagoba, Green & Black’s, Americi, Santander, Divine, Galler, Chocovic, Chocolat Bonnat, El Rey and Guittard. (The only chocolate I thought was missing was Scharffen Berger.)
The prices aren’t rock bottom, but they’re on par with places on the web like Chocosphere when you factor shipping and you get to read the labels and sniff them before you buy.
Check out this Flickr set of photos that I took in the store ... until the fellow behind the counter told me there were no cameras allowed in the store.
Mel & Rose
I picked up a couple of other exciting things that I’ll be posting about soon.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Here’s a fun new added feature for CandyBlog.net! I’ve started mapping candy using Frappr.
If you’re not familiar with Frappr, it’s an interactive map creator that uses Google’s maps and the ability to create custom “pins” with photos and info.
I’ve added about a quarter of the posts made so far here at CandyBlog to the map - you can find places near, explore places you plan to visit or just see where your candy comes from. I’ll be adding lots more as the weeks go on, but I thought I’d give everyone a sneak peek!
You can roll over each little pushpin on the map for a photo and name of the company. I’ve categorized them into factories, stores and tours, so you can find places that you can actually visit. Each callout for the location includes a link back to a post here on CandyBlog for more information about the company, tour or candy.
You don’t have to be a member of frappr to use the map (I’m not asking you to divulge where you live ... this is just for you to browse.) At the moment it just covers the United States, but I’ll slowly expand to other countries as they’re supported by the system.
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
I talk about Trader Joe’s a lot as a candy source; the store opening in Manhattan was big news. But on my trip to NYC, I found that they already have an extraordinary store, Fairway. We pretty much stumbled upon the market while walking back from the Upper West Side to our hotel in Times Square.
Like Trader Joe’s the store focuses on more gourmet, upscale or wholesome fare, with many items sold with their private label but at super-delicious prices. The best part, of course, was their candy section. They had a huge aisle of pre-packaged bulk nuts and panned chocolate goods, most of which made by Koppers.
The first thing that caught my eye were these little M&M sized dark chocolate goodies called Cayenne Pepper Savory. It was just what I was looking for all these years, a peppered chocolate in easy to eat morsels. But when they say Cayenne Pepper, they really mean it. It’s far too spicy for comfort. I might try putting them in cookies or something, but it’s too bad, the chocolate is really nice, but the afterburn is serious. ($5.99/lb)
Of course I have a hard time believing that they really were that hot, so after a couple of days I try another one. Same result ... whoo! I don’t know, it’s growing on me.
This was by far the best of the Koppers finds. It’s little cubes of dried apricot covered in dark chocolate. So simple. The chocolate has a nice smoky, dark bite. It’s sweet but doesn’t overpower the natural sweetness and tart chewy bite of the apricot.
It’s nice to find an affordable version of the glace apricots that I’ve seen at the upscale chocolatiers. Of course these don’t replace them, but they’re portable and high quality. ($5.99/lb)
Oh, I had such high hopes. Look at them, they’re gorgeous! Dark and glossy and sweet smelling. But there’s something so wrong about the taste and even though I’ve been sampling these for weeks, I can’t quite put my finger on it. They chocolate is sweet, but bitter. Smooth but a little waxy and it has this odd dairy taste to it, even though it’s dark chocolate. The malted center is not really malty or maybe the chocolate is overpowering it. I was just so disappointed. ($4.99/lb)
And here’s the big secret - Fairway sells Lake Champlain! Only it’s their house brand and it’s far cheaper. I picked up two 5 Star Bars and they were only $2.19 each! I picked up the Caramel one, just to make sure the Fairway house brand was truly the same as the Lake Champlain, and I also got this one, the Fruit & Nut Bar.
This stunning 2 ounce brick ‘o chocolate is dark chocolate on the outside, filled with a hazelnut praline (think Caffarel’s Guanduia) studded with pecans and dried cherries. Now I know I say that I don’t like cherry flavored things, but I have no problem at all with the real ones. This bar was really nice, the dark chocolate was bold and reigned in the thick flavor of the hazelnut praline quite nicely.
The nuts weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped, but the bite of the sour cherries and the chewy texture was a nice mix. I do like the inventiveness of mixing pecans and hazelnuts - two sadly neglected nuts in American candybars. Of the two that I’ve had now, I still prefer the Caramel bar, but this one is certainly interesting and I’m wondering how it compares to the 5-Star Hazelnut bar.
Fairway had a large selection of candies, both in their own packaged bulk items like the Koppers, upscale brands like Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. I also saw a huge variety of imported candies like European brands like Cadbury and Nestle (not the American versions).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.