RetroBlast! Visit to the All Candy Expo
Article by James Hills
Classic Candies – What’s Old is Old But Sometimes Better!
At the recent All Candy Expo in Chicago, a lot of retro / “classic” candies were on display that I am sure most of your remember for your childhood – and your parents and grandparents may have also. Everywhere I turned there was something – Necco Wafers, Smarties, Sweet Tarts, Cow Tails, Pop Rocks, Laffy Taffy, Chick-O-Stick, and more.
Each of these products faced the same problem: You and I remember them – but our kids don’t and probably wont! Though marketers from tiny Atkinson’s to giant Mars are working hard to make sure this isn’t the case!
To counteract the problem, a manufacturer has four options. They can stop making it. They can change the packaging. They can change the form of the candy. Or, they can add new flavors to match today’s market.
This is similar to what we see everyday with classic video game properties. Just like Pac Man World or Frogger: Helmet Chaos. Sometimes these adaptations are good … sometimes they are a disaster.
First up, we’ll look at Necco Wafers from New England Confectionary Company. Most of you will remember the venerable Necco Wafers … you know, the chalky little discs that came wrapped up in wax paper. Their problem was that they had a brand that most people recognized but a product that not everyone loved. In fact, despite their loyal cult following, many people just absolutely hated it.
To address this problem, they decided to introduce Necco Smoothies. Instead of the classic lemon (yellow), orange (orange), lime (green), clove (purple), cinnamon (white), wintergreen (pink), licorice (black), and chocolate (brown), Smoothies features blueberry (blue), banana caramel (yellow), tropical (white), peach (orange) and strawberry cream (pink).
After a quick taste test I have to say I am hooked again!
The new taste is certainly something that updates the candy, without changing it significantly. I liked the fact that unlike other similar products this is not overly sweet and not overly sour. It is just a nice smooth flavor when you want something light and fun.
On the other hand, Cee Dee Candy had the opposite problem … everyone loves Smarties but their flavors aren’t really distinctive, they tried “Tropical” instead of the classic flavors and they tried a “Valentine” versions and even putting it on a string to make a “necklace”. Now they are taking the next step – Bubble Gum!
This is perhaps one of the worst choices I have seen for a classic brand. The packaging is identical, except that it is now blue writing and blue print at the ends of the roll. So the consumer assumes that it is still the classic candy they know and love – just a different flavor. WRONG!
The pellets are actually tiny pieces of gum.
This is a rude awakening when you are expecting a piece of pressed candy and instead you get a miniature piece of bubble gum. In fact, while many of you reading do as I do and dump the whole roll of Smarties in your mouth at once, this is really the only way to eat the gum. Except that it doesn’t work well that way either because you have tons of tiny individual gum pieces at first and this results in a high likelihood of swallowing at least one.
Sweet Tarts – another of my favorites – faced the same problem. They also reacted in a similar way but much more effectively.
This time, they threw the whole legacy product out the window and created SweetTarts Squeez. Now, instead of eating individual candy pellets, you can squeeze the whole thing into your mouth … just like toothpaste!
Personally, I liked both the flavoring (still the same classic taste) and the packaging. However, my wife was absolutely disgusted by it and is still mocking me for taking a sample home for “further testing.”
Of all the exhibitors showing off their classic candies I have to say that Goetze’s, the makers of Cow Tails, probably best understood their brand and created the best “modern” interpretation. One that has more appeal for today’s market – without alienating the older generations.
As you can see in the picture, they have introduced a new flavor (strawberry) of their absolutely delicious caramel, cream confection. They also subtly updated the packaging to appear more contemporary without looking alien.
If you look closely, the “cow” logo is now much more prominent and on two different axis, their company logo is somewhat smaller and perhaps as a sign of the times, the “American Made Since 1895” is no longer on the front of the packaging. Additionally, part of the modern packaging is also in Spanish.
The best part though is that their candy still tastes, feels, and looks just like you expect it to. I can certainly see a grandfather, father and daughter sitting down, sharing a Cow Tail and everyone being happy!
The next product, Pop Rocks is another that I am sure we are all a familiar with. They have pretty much kept their classic packaging and classic feel. Granted it is a great product and a little newer (1970’s vs. 1895 for Cow Tails). I thought that was nice that something distinctly from MY childhood was still pretty much identical to what I remember.
Atkinson’s Candy, a name familiar to some of you was also at the expo. They decided to take the “retro” factor of their product line to the next level by wrapping everything in the classic feel and even promoting it that way. They have a collection of products that many of us remember, especially Chick-O-Stick, but they also are buying classic brands such as Long Boys.
Now, here is where it gets a bit odd. While Chick-O-Stick is a great product and a pretty well recognized name among retro culture enthusiasts (many of whom I am sure are reading this), it recently received a HUGE burst in sales – because it was featured in a rap song!
A representative from Atkinson’s relayed to us that in fact, the product is now growing exponentially in specifically urban areas. Though he wasn’t able to share the lyrics of the song with us, apparently it spawned a movement similar to what happened when Laffy Taffy was also featured in a rap song.
So what is the future of retro candies?
It seems the future is safe and even growing –
mirroring the growth in other classic / retro markets. Those candies that
are truly popular will always find a way to survive, just like classic
games. Look at the video game market today – while you can buy modern
knockoffs of classic games, the staples, Pac Man, Street Fighter II and
more are all finding new homes – in MAME, Xbox Live Arcade and even