Posts filed under ‘Marketing’

The First Milky Way Bar: Way Ugly

Milky Way Bar, live and in color, 1924.

Frank Mars introduced this one in 1923. It has been a hit ever since, although you can see that our current version has evolved a bit from these rustic beginnings.As you can see in the vintage image, the Milky Way was originally all about the nougat. And in the early days, the nougat was packed with sliced almonds–later, the almond, caramel and nougat would be reworked into a different candy bar. The caramel, which now shares top billing, was at first just a drizzle. And size mattered: note the repeated references in this ad to “actual size,” which was in fact massive, about 4 inches long and nearly 2 inches square, at a weight over 3 oz. Being mostly nougat, a lot of the volume was air. But even still, compared to current candy bar standard is closer to 1.5 ounces, Milky Way was a hefty morsel.

The rustic look of the bar and package suggests that chocolate enrobing and candy bar wrapping are still in a pretty primitive state. This bar was wrapped by hand, as were most of the bars of the 1920s. In fact, the wrapping looks kind of sloppy. I’ve seen ads for candy bars from both larger companies and tiny outfits, and this style of wrapping was pretty common, whether some sort of paper as in this example or an imprinted foil. Wrapped candies of this sort had just begun to dominate the candy market, so expectations for what the wrapping should look like were not very settled. And since most of this was done by hand in factories, at high speeds, a certain slap-dash wrapping style is not so surprising.

And what about the name, “Milky Way”? My last post featured a 1960s era ad that promised wholesome milk, corn and eggs, farm fresh ingredients that make the candy “milky.” But when the candy was first introduced in the 1920s, the “milky” reference was a little different, as you can see in this 1925 ad:

The promise of milk in a Milky Way was originally a reference to a soda fountain treat, malted milk. This ad promises that the bar contains “more malted milk by volume than is contained in a double malted milk at the soda fountain.” So instead of drinking your malted milk, you could eat it in the form of a candy bar.

The focus on milk is to promote the “food value” of the candy bar. But the comparison here is between two different treat foods, both of which you would eat outside the home. This preserves the distinction between meal food and treat food, a distinction that seems to have broken down sometime later.

In 1925, candy bars and malted milk sodas were obviously not for breakfast. By the time we get to the 1960s TV ad that I wrote about in the last post, the images of eggs, milk and corn in the context of the farm emphasize that the candy bar is food like any other (and I think of breakfast particularly when I see those images). And so we arrive at our current state of confusion. It is, after all,  just a little wiggle to move from candy bar to breakfast bar…

May 16, 2011 at 11:52 am Leave a comment

Juice for Babies? Madness.

Mott’s for Tots is boasting 40% less sugar than regular apple juice. If you’ve seen the TV ads in the last couple of weeks, you’ll recognize the campaign, cute toddlers enjoying their snacks while moms look on serenely, knowing that the special toddler juice formulation is safe for their wee ones.

Reduced sugar “for Tots.” So I guess that means it’s fine for the rest of us to continue with the full-blown sugar of regular juice? Why, if they can reduce the sugar, why don’t they just go ahead and do it?

This campaign has been really bugging me. I’m trying to figure out the rationale for targeting this reduced sugar juice to toddlers. I guess the most obvious point is that we are protecting our precious babies from the dangers of too much sugar. But doesn’t that imply that too much sugar might be a problem for people in general? The idea that babies are worth protecting but that everyone else should just go ahead and binge on sugary juice seems a little troubling.

Everybody seems to agree that its the sugar-laden drinks that are driving America from cute pudgyness to repulsive obesity. But juice somehow gets a pass. When the label can boast “no added sugar,” lots of people conclude that means “no sugar.” There is no practical difference between “added sugar” and the sugar that occurs naturally in sweet juices. Mott’s Plus for Kids 100% Apple Grape Juice has 130 calories and 30 grams of sugar in an 8 oz serving. Pepsi has 100 calories and 27 grams of sugar. The only argument I could understand here is that typical juice portions might be smaller than typical soda portions, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that the juice is sugar water in virtuous disguise.

One of the big PR sucesses of the healthy nutrition lobby has been to re-brand sodas as “liquid candy.” Since everybody knows candy is bad for you, calling soda a kind of candy has been a great way to get sodas out of the schools and off the dinner tables of America.

I’m all for this effort, I think water should be what we drink when we’re thirsty. And if you want a sweet drink? The latest generation of artificial sweeteners make for tasty, enjoyable sweet beverages. People who complain that the “diet” versions of soft drinks aren’t as good as the regular will soon have no excuse. Pepsi is working on a formula that would have 60% less sugar and be absolutely indistinguishable from the full-sugar version. I don’t say this often, but: “Go, Pepsi!”

Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone worried about calories or nutrition would choose a sugar-sweetened drink. Am I worried about artificial sweeteners? Maybe if I was drinking 10 bottles of Diet Coke a day, I might be concerned. But these non-caloric sweeteners work because they are intensely sweet in tiny amounts. One packet of Splenda in my iced coffee a couple of times a week, or a diet Snapple every few days, is not something to get excited about.

Soda and candy are different in one important way: sugar in a beverage is a flavoring. Sugar in candy is the candy itself. Put this another way: you could flavor a drink with many kinds of sweeteners, and still have a drink. A non-caloric sweetener will create a sweet drink that may be very much  like a drink sweetened with sugar. But this doesn’t work for candy. If you take out the sugar or corn syrup, you aren’t just taking out sweetness, you’re taking out the stuff of the candy.

So enjoy sugar in your candy, where it belongs. Or, if you really like the sweetness of sugar in something you drink, call it candy, and enjoy it the way you enjoy candy.

As for Mott’s for Tots, 40% less sugar is still lots more sugar than WATER. Juice, even reduced sugar juice, is still “liquid candy,” just like soda. My plea to the parents of America: stop giving apple juice to babies!

May 13, 2011 at 10:26 am 4 comments

Milky Way: It’s Milk!

I always figured that Milky Way candy bar was named after the galaxy. But as this 1960s TV ad reveals, the “milky” in Milky Way is meant to be taken literally:

These days, we assume “junky candy bar” is about as far as you can get from “wholesome glass of milk.” But if you follow this ad, it turns out Milky Way isn’t a candy bar at all! It’s  “good food bar”! How can you resist the images of all the natural food products that go into the candy bar: corn, eggs, milk from a gentle cow. The logic goes like this: candy comes from food, so candy IS food.

And where in this ad is the Milky Way? If you take away the voice-over and just look at the moving picture, you might conclude that this is a promotion for American family farms and fresh, local produce. Unlike most candy ads, there are no images at all of the actual candy bar until the final tag, which shows the candy safe in its wrapper. So what ever is in that wrapper, one thing we know is that it came from the farm.

It’s a fantastic idea: candy that grows on the farm. Slapping a picture of a barn or an ear of corn on the package of some highly processed food product is a pretty familiar ploy. We talk a lot about “real food” these days. The wish for “real food” isn’t new, though. This Milky Way ad suggests that even in the 1960s, an era that enthusiastically embraced all the wonders of food science, consumers  hoped that inside the wrapper the food would still be wholesome and have some relation to things that grow. And advertisers, then and now, bank on consumers not being able to tell the difference between a pretty picture and the truth.

May 11, 2011 at 11:39 am Leave a comment

Corn sugar and metabolism: ancient history

Let’s add this one to the current corn/sugar debates:

This is a 1928 ad from Corn Products Refining Company. Cerelose is a trade name for dextrose, which is a crystalline form of glucose. Recall that normal sugar is sucrose: glucose and fructose combined.

Already by the 1920s corn was an important source of food ingredients, especially sugars produced through enzymatic transformations of corn starches. Several important historical forces were pushing corn into the food supply, especially candy:

  • Wheat and sugar shortages in WWI–corn was a favored substitute.
  • New technologies of sugar extraction–corn was a domestic and cheap source of sugar products.
  • Prohibition–grains that used to go into alcohol were now diverted to other food processing uses.

What is really interesting about this ad for Cerelose, though, is its appeal to the new science of sugar metabolism.

Recall the recent alarms raised by Gary Taubes in his account of the dangers of sucrose and HFCS: the big problem is the fructose, which is metabolized by the liver and believed to be implicated in metabolic syndrome (see my post on “toxic sugar” here).

The current damnation of (refined) fructose goes hand in hand with the demonization of high fructose corn syrup and its increasing portion of the national caloric burden. But as we can see from this Cerelose ad, the effort to distinguish “good” glucose from other sugars is not new. In fact, here the promotion of glucose as the most metabolically ideal sugar is in the service of promoting nothing other than sugar derived from corn, an irony that might not be fully appreciated by the current foes of “corn sugar”.

The ad claims that since Cerelose (glucose) is directly utilized by tissues, it won’t make you fat. The implication is that beet and cane sugar–sucrose–which combines fructose with glucose, will make you fat because it is not the “normal blood sugar” of the body. Incredibly, this is almost exactly the conclusion Taubes is popularizing based on current research.

Is it true that Cerelose, or glucose, tends to form tissue rather than fat as this ad claims? This would raise a beacon of hope for all of us who are looking at our sugar bowls with a little more trepidation… But unfortunately, glucose is no where near as sweet as fructose. That’s why its HIGH fructose corn syrup that substitutes for sucrose; plain old corn syrup (glucose) just isn’t sweet enough.

Will dextrose/glucose based candies start promoting “fructose free” on their labels? Back in the 1940s, candies advertised that they were “high in Dextrose” for extra energy, so it wouldn’t be totally unprecedented.

I’ve written several posts on corn sugar, as it comes up again and again in the candy archives. Here’s a round up of relevant previous posts:

May 2, 2011 at 10:45 am Leave a comment

Another Copy of Oh Henry!

One thing I love about the candy business is the general spirit of fun. Granted, things get messy sometimes (witness the trail of lawsuits left by every major candy company). But generally, something about the candy trade seems to appeal especially to folks with a good sense of humor.

And sometimes humor will get you a lot farther in business than any thing lawyers might come up with. Exhibit A, The COPY Bar.

It’s 1926, and the Williamson Candy Company is flush with the success of their signature candy bar, Oh Henry! Millions sold every month. The only problem is those pesky competitors, who keep trying to grab a share of the Oh Henry! riches with cheap knock-offs. Williamson prevails in court (see my post on the suit against Oh Johnnie), but the onslaught continues.

Fighting head on doesn’t work, so Williamson goes Zen, bending like the bamboo. If everybody else is going to sell a copy of Oh Henry!, then Williamson will too, by gum. The “Latest Copy of Oh Henry!” is a Williamson original, priced at 5 cents against 10 cents for big brother Oh Henry!

This new 5cent bar is a radical departure for us. Heretofore other manufacturers have made the imitations of our product. But, in line with our endeavor to be ‘first with the latest,’ we have decided upon the policy new, even radical in the candy industry–of making our own imitations.

Williamson conceded that it wasn’t “as good as” Oh Henry! At half the price, it couldn’t be. But on the other hand, he claimed it was better than the cheap Oh Henry! knockoffs everybody else was selling for a nickel.

In tandem with the announcement of the new bar, Williamson launched the “Confectioners’ “Copy” Club.” The Club’s founding document was published in the November 1926 issue of  Confectioners Journal, together with a space for a roster listing the members.

Here I transcribe the text, as my summary could never do justice to this witty attack on the trade:

Sometime ago when Oh Henry! came into prominnece, there was such a rush of imitators that the candy trade, both wholesale and retail, was seriously embarassed. Few were able to keep up with the daily growing list of imitations.

To forestall this difficulty when “COPY” begins to be copied, and also to engender a clubbier feeling among the manufacturers who copy “COPY”, we are organizing the “CONFECTIONERS’ ‘COPY’ CLUB.”

The only requisite for membership in the COPY CLUB is the manufacture of a bar similar to “COPY”… From month to month the names of the duly self-elected memers will be published in the roster of the COPY CLUB in these pages.

By this means we hope to keep the candy trade posted as to who is copying “COPY” so that there will be no difficulty in identifying the clever manufacturers who have had the originality to make a bar like “COPY”.

Candy bar business was, as this snarky ad suggests, cut throat. Margins were slim. Williamson was committed to a quality product, but that meant selling Oh Henry! at 10 cents, even as more and more bars were coming out for 5 cents. COPY let Williamson have it both ways, defending Oh Henry! while also competing for the lower segment of the market.

COPY didn’t last long, and seems to have been advertised primarily as a footnote to Oh Henry! But COPY wasn’t really so much candy as a weapon. Chocolaty and sweet pea-nutty, to be sure, but a weapon nonetheless.

April 29, 2011 at 10:24 am Leave a comment

Oh Henry! and the Copy-Cat Candy Bars

Oh Henry! is not the most popular candy bar in America today, but it’s been around a while. It’s one of three major contemporary candy bars that you could have bought in the 1920s. Milky Way and Hershey bar (plain or with almonds) would be the other two. But there were others, hundreds nay thousands of others, now gone and forgotten. Why did Oh Henry! survive?

The candy bar market in the 1920s was a bit like the wild west, fast and lawless, any buckeroo with a candy kettle and a wrapping machine out to make a buck. Oh Henry! soared above the competition because George Williamson knew a few things about marketing. He bought billboards, magazine ads, newspaper spots to promote his bar. He focused on the one product. And he had some pretty innovative ideas about how to expand the market for candy bars, like a booklet of 60 recipes for cooking with Oh Henry! (see my post on Oh Henry! stuffed tomatoes here). Not surprising, there were some who figured on riding the Oh Henry! coattails to grab a little piece of the candy action for themselves.

Copying was a huge problem in the candy business. The yummiest combinations were pretty well established. And if there was already a good version of, say, peanut marshmallow chocolate bar, you could understand the temptation to just try to sell your own as “almost” that other one. Candy innovation could only take you so far. Names, colors, and packaging–the stuff of trade mark and trade dress– were increasingly important, maybe even more important than the candy itself.

The success of Oh Henry! could be measured in the proliferation of copy cats. The worst offender was “Oh Johnnie,” sold by the Uncanco Candy Company of Delaware. “Oh Johnnie” looked like “Oh Henry!” and tasted (sort of ) like “Oh Henry!”, and you had to admit that there was something familiar about the name “Oh Johnnie.” But Oh Henry cost 10 cents. Oh Johnnie, on the other hand, was half the price.

George Williamson was not happy. Lawyers got involved. Williamson sued for trademark infringement, claiming Uncanco was deliberately attempting to fool people into thinking their bar had something to do with the more successful Oh Henry! The judge agreed:

Thus far the ‘Oh Johnnie’ bar had the appearance of being the same as the ‘Oh Henry!’ bar save in size, price and possible quality. They were alike as two brothers of different years.  … It would be strain upon human credulity to believe that such and so many points of similarity as here found, could innocently exist. … The only plausible purpose for the similarity was to enable the smaller bar to be passed off as the product of the plaintiff.

Williamson won, and Ucanco was found guilty of trademark infringement. The lawsuit stopped Oh Johnnie. But lawsuits were an expensive, time consuming, and clumsy way to swat at the flies of candy competition in the roaring ’20s. Here comes Oh! Jiggs. And watch out, over there is Hey Eddie! Williamson didn’t give up fighting off the copy cats, but he did change tactics.

Next post: if the law fails, bludgeon them with sarcasm.

April 26, 2011 at 10:17 am 2 comments

Sunday Candy

When I was growing up, my mother took me and my brother and sister to church every Sunday. And on the way home, we always stopped at the candy store. Each of us got 15 cents, and we could eat our spoils however we liked. We called it “Sunday Candy.”

Where did this tradition come from? I’ve met a few other people who had similar Sunday rituals, but not many, so I conclude this was not a wide-spread practice. My mother grew up in Illinois, and has a vague recollection of candy on Sundays. My initial theory was that Sunday penance at church was matched by Sunday indulgence in the bon bon box.

I’ve found some references to the idea of “Sunday candy” as a special treat in the early 1900s. Especially where pennies for candy might be hard to come by, a child might get candy once a week, on Sunday. Newspaper ads from the period also promote special items for the “Sunday candy feast,” suggesting that it was a frequent custom for special family Sunday dinners to conclude with candy.

But I’m also beginning to suspect that Sunday Candy, like just about every other American candy tradition, was an invention of the publicity department at the National Confectioners Association. V.L. Price began beating the drum for holiday candy promotions in the 1920s (Halloween, St. Valentine’s Day, and more). And soon, candy promoters realized that boosting candy sales on holidays was only the beginning.

In 1928, the NCA sponsored a co-operative advertising campaign with the slogan “Sweeten the Day with Candy!” Ads in major magazines like the Saturday Evening Post encouraged Americans to enjoy candy every day. And as part of this campaign, ads included the reminder: “Take Home Candy for Sunday.” Promotions along these lines, with the same slogan, had appeared locally beginning in the early 1920s; the NCA was attempting to make the Sunday Candy idea a national tradition.

Here are some illustrations of this theme that appeared in the trade publication Confectioners Journal. These might have been used as window cards in candy stores or as images for ads in local papers.

Both these designs emphasize a connection between church and candy, without specifying what that connection might actually entail. The stained glass window and angelic choir certainly lend the product an aura of sanctity. Will candy eating get you to heaven a little faster? Or is candy a bit of heaven on earth?

Notice the promotion doesn’t say “buy candy on Sunday.” “Blue laws” limiting trade on Sundays were increasingly in force in the 1920s, and so in many communities most stores were closed. The idea was that mother or father would stop at the candy store on Friday or Saturday and stock up with boxes of family favorites for Sunday.

I found reference to one shop that offered a special weekend promotion: a pound each of chocolate, hard candy and gum drops for 99 cents. A mere three pounds of candy to get the family through the weekend.

Candy for the household at the week-end, a package of candy, good candy, that can reasonably be counted upon to please the taste in candies of all the grown-ups, the children, and any possible casual visitor, just the right variety and not too much of it, yet enough and not too expensive—that has become another of the housewife’s important problems in this candy-eating age.

Anyone else remember Sunday Candy? I’d love to hear your stories!

Quote is from “A Candy Method of Loft’s Inc.” Confestioners Journal Aug 1925, p. 105.

January 28, 2011 at 9:42 am 13 comments

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

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