Sweets and Snacks Expo 2011: Old is New with Pops, Mo’s, and Goos.
I got home late last night from Sweets and Snacks Expo 2011, the big national trade show for candy and other snacky things. It’s a big show, three acres comprising booths and displays for some 550 exhibitors, large and small, all vying for the eyes and wallets of candy and snack buyers and brokers. I’m still a little bleary but I’m eager to share my impressions of what’s happening in the land of big candy (this being CANDY Professor, I didn’t focus too much on the savory snack side…not sure if there is a “Chips and Meat Sticks Professor” out there…).
My legal team requires the following disclosure: this event was sample-palooza. Every candy I will discuss was a freebie, some pressed on my less-eager hands by the manufacturer, others sought out by me, but all free none the less. Will that bias my judgement? We will see.
Today’s theme is everything old is new again. For better or for worse, here are some very not-new candies that caught my eye.
Grape Pop Rocks: They used to come in grape flavor, then they didn’t, and now they do again. This has occasioned several press releases and a new advertising campaign. I am missing something here. I include a mention of this item as a scrap thrown to the publicists who stuff free things into media bags in the hope of generating hype. That is the only explanation I can find for why these were featured at the National Confectioners Association New Products Media Preview Event on Monday night before the show. Now I feel I have paid off my karmic debt for a lovely spread of hot hors d’oeuvres and cocktails.
Modjeskas: Where the marketing professionals have sunk there teeth deep into Pop Rocks to make something out of nothing, Modjeskas are an example of a real something that will be taken for nothing unless some marketing savvy turns things around. First off, the name. Mo-what? I can barely say it, much less remember it. There is some kind of quaint story about the origin of the name, but it never sticks in my head. (Wait, here it is, stapled to the back of the company brochure: A Polish actress, Helena Modjeska, gave a memorable performance in “A Doll’s House” in Louisville Kentucky in 1883. Hmm.), The candy’s appearance, which is basically a blobby brown lump wrapped in plain wax paper, doesn’t help. All of which is too bad, because these are ONE OF THE BEST AMERICAN CANDIES ever.
A version of this candy has been made by Bauer’s Candies in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky since 1889. A Modjeska is caramel-covered marshmallow. The caramel is soft with a bit of grain and a medium chew, while the marshmallow is firm and not too sweet. The terrific mouth-feel, and the interesting contrast in textures and flavors, make this candy irresistible. When they are fresh, which they must be, they have a tender, right off the farm sort of quality. These are the kind of candies the nostalgia boom is desperately searching. These candies embody the local and the authentic and the small. Anna Bauer makes them still, no longer in her parent’s basement as she did when she was a kid, but the attention and commitment of a family business make a huge difference. Modjeskas (or maybe we could call them “Cara-Mo’s”?) should be on the shelves of every faux-farm food boutique in the nation. If you see one, eat it right away.
Goo Goo Cluster: Not a new candy, but a great story.
Lance Paine, Executive VP of Goo Goo Cluster wins the prize for effective communication technique at a candy trade show. Goo Goo was on my show must-see list for two reasons: it is the oldest composite bar in America (1912!) and after 100 years, they decide to change the classic cluster from round to square. This is not the kind of change we here at Candy Professor can allow to pass unexamined.
I stroll up to the booth and announce, “So, I hear you’ve started making square Goo Goos.” Lance raises his eyebrows. “Square? Who said that? Those rumors are flying all over the place!” Then he grabs a wrapped candy bar, rips it open, and displays the Cluster within. “Does that look square to you?” he demands.
I must confess, it is not exactly square. It’s more of a… cluster. But before I’ve had a chance to insist that it is kind of squarish, and I do sort of remember something more definitely round-blobbish, he jams the bar in my mouth. What can I do? I bite. Oh my goodness, that is a good candy bar. Is it square? Is it round? I suddenly have forgotten the question.
Which, after I’ve chewed, swallowed, and regained my composure, turns out to have been Lance’s strategy all along. Because the point of Goo Goo Cluster is not its shape, but it’s essential Goo Goo-ness. Lance now admits that yes, the nougat base is square, and it used to be round. But once you pour on the caramel and the peanuts and the chocolate, the square is square in theory only.
The reason for the change, Lance explains, is technical. The round nougat base was made using the starch mold process: round indentations are pressed into a tray of starch, then the nougat is poured in and allowed to dry. Goo Goo decided to change to a slab cut process: take a slab of nougat and cut it into squares. Lance claimed that moving away from starch moulding resulted in a more moist and tender nougat. The bar I tried was indeed moist and tender, delicious and dare I say tending toward the confectionery sublime. So I’ll take the square.
By the way, I has somehow escaped me until now that a Snickers bar is basically a streamlined Goo Goo Cluster. Nougat, peanuts, caramel, chocolate. In the candy business, the candy matters, but so does everything else.
Next post: more candies from the show, new and old, and I reveal what I ate that I never thought I could eat…