April 13, 2005

Chocolate: Reloaded

So has anyone else noticed the runaway proliferation of candybar brand line extensions over the past year or so?

I remember the good old days, when choosing a chocolate or other candy bar was simple. Feel like giving yourself a break? Buy a KitKat. Hungry? Pick up an Oh Henry. Need hands free from melted chocolate? M&Ms it is.

Or was. I don't know what happened, but each of these chocolatey brands is expanding like crazy. Sure, it's not all new news. M&M peanut and M&M almond have been around for ages. But I think we're witnessing an unprecedented candybar branding explosion.

It all started innocently enough -- a dark chocolate varietal here, a holiday special version there (see: Hershey Kisses). Then there were the forays outside the candybar market -- like smartie, rolo, etc. flavoured ice cream. Today, I dare say things are out of control. Here are but a few examples:

The Brand"Old School"Empire-building
Milk chocolate, peanut, almond Peanut butter, Crispy, Minis, Baking Bits
Original/milk chocolate White chocolate, dark, mint, inside out, triple chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, orange, chunky, chunky caramel, chunky peanut butter, chunky M.A.X.[*], bites
Reese's pieces, peanut butter cups Peanut butter and white chocolate, extra smooth and creamy, crunchy, fudge, peanut butter lovers, chocolate lovers, Big Cup, white chocolate Big Cup, ReeseSticks, bites, reece's pieces with peanut butter and peanuts, nutrageous (pb, caramel, and milk chocolate)

Admittedly, the lists above draw from both Canada and the U.S. (which always carried different varieties, leading to a certain unknown factor here) and include special/limited editions that are currently available. But the lists are still not exhaustive, and many of the above are currently available in Ottawa. Last year, the shop in my work building probably carried two types of Kit Kat (the standard, plus chunky). Now there are at least five.

Where is all this madness headed? Already some of the varieties are a little bit ridiculous, like Reese's pieces with peanut butter and peanuts. As these brands continue to compete (even though they are owned by a small handful of chocolate mega-conglomerates at the top), to what lengths will they go to differentiate themselves? How about ...

I wonder if eventually this diversification will collapse in upon itself, leading back to dominance by the original varieties, somewhat similar to the way many movie theatres have returned to hawking the old-fashioned candies that graced the theatres of previous generations. Personally, I can't wait to see those campaigns, featuring "M&M Classics", no doubt, "Reese's pieces -- Just Like E.T. Liked 'Em", and "Kit Kat -- Now With Wafers and Milk Chocolate ... Again."

[*] Apparently this stands for "Maximum Appetite Xcitement". Be afraid. Be very afraid. Posted by anatole at April 13, 2005 10:02 PM


Well, what I find most interesting is the way the fundamental properties of these candy bars (we can't call them "chocolate", because of their low cocoa content, right?) can be repackaged at different scales. I suppose it's basically about a collection of tastes and textures, delivered to the surface of the tongue in a certain order. Each candy bar brand creates a certain experience on the tongue, and they've discovered that you can reproduce something close to that experience with a whole range of shapes and sizes of candy.

This, of course, just reveals the arbitrariness of the original candy bar sizes, because they are machine made and uniformly baked/cooked (I'm thiniking of the wafers -- who isn't?). So, where a home-made cookie will have a very different texture and even flavour depending on how big it is (since the range of textures and cookedness between the edges vs. middle will vary with cookie size), you could probably make a Kit-kat biscuit the size and shape of a cat, and it would taste just the same.

But amorphism in candy isn't necessarily a bad thing. It does afford opportunities they don't seem to be exploiting though, in terms of free-form structures upon which chocolate and caramel could accrue. We could look at the influence of the discovery of concrete in architecture (e.g. thin shells, tapered columns, etc.) in the early twentieth century for ideas about what an amorphous paste-based baking technology could do.

Of course, if you want to talk structure, you should really look at caramel...

Posted by: George at April 14, 2005 01:06 AM

It's actually not quite what I thought. I see that most of the new forms of, say, Kit Kat, involve new flavours. So it turns out that the "candy essence" of Kit Kat is more about the specific organization (timing and ordering) of a sequence of taste and texture events rather than being dependent on specific individual tastes (thought I'm sure one could go too far... spinach?).

It's somewhat like our choco-sushi idea: the formatting, or diagram, if you will, is what matters most. If you reverse the order of layering of two ingredients, or even change the thickness beyond a certain point of one of the layers, you no longer have something you could believably call sushi (or a Kit Kat).

And this, incidentally, is the way folks at Columbia and elsewhere think about architecture, in terms of diagram, rather than, say, "style".

Posted by: George at April 14, 2005 01:34 AM

There is no way I can compete with George's postings. But I will say this: candy bars are dead. Long live Nibs.

Posted by: Alasdair at April 14, 2005 01:41 PM

For the record, I would totally buy M&M ovals, if only to confuse the "all candy must be perfectly round" crowd in my office.

Did you know you can get M&M's in your favourite colours *only*? By the pound? No more brown ones!

Posted by: robyn at April 14, 2005 06:37 PM

I'm trying to bend my head around all of this, and the fact that somebody's office somewhere has an "all candy must be round crowd" in it is making it difficult.

Posted by: Mike Hoye at April 15, 2005 09:35 AM

It's ture. Software developers. *sigh*. They're weird like that.

They've also been known to measure the roundness of cupcakes.

What can I do but bring in oval m&m's?

Posted by: robyn at April 17, 2005 12:45 AM