Where Have All the Candy Bars Gone?

Last year my friend Alec, who knows me to be obsessive when it
comes to candy, asked if I’d tried the new dark chocolate Kit Kat.
I hadn’t even heard of this bar, but I quickly set out to find one,
which meant visiting every single Mobil station in the greater
Boston area, because this is where Alec found his.

In the end, Alec brought me a bar, purchased from an obscure
pharmacy. It was absolutely mind-blowing, about 23 times as good as
the original version. The dark chocolate coating lends the fine
angles of the bar a dignified sheen and exudes a puddinglike
creaminess, as well as coffee overtones. This more intense flavor
provides a counterpoint to the slightly oversweet wafer and
filling.

Hershey’s introduced the Kit Kat Dark — along with a rather
unfortunate White Chocolate Kit Kat — in fall 2001, but only as a
limited edition. Sure enough, soon after its introduction, the bar
disappeared altogether, and I was left in a state of angry
bereavement. It was not the first time.

As a kid, back in the ’70s, I’d mourned several bars: The
Marathon, a simple rope of caramel covered in chocolate, which came
in a bright red wrapper that included a ruler on the back, a ruler
that was commonly used by those of us with male self-esteem issues.
The Choco-Lite, whose tiny air pockets provided a piquant crunch,
the oral analogue to stomping on bubble wrap. And, most
persistently, the Caravelle, which combined chocolate, caramel, and
crisped rice.

I realize these are the same ingredients as in the 100 Grand
bar. But I can assure you the two shouldn’t be compared. The 100
Grand always leaves me with a mouthful of rubbery caramel. The
Cara-velle tasted more like a pastry: The chocolate was thicker,
darker, full-bodied, and the crisped rice had a malty flavor and
what I want to call structural integrity; the caramel was that
rarest variety, dark and lustrous and supple, with hints of fudge.
More so, there was a sense of the piece yielding to the mouth. By
which I mean, one had to work the teeth through the sturdy
chocolate shell, which gave way with a distinct, moist snap,
through the crisped rice (thus releasing a second, grainy bouquet),
and only then into the soft caramel core. Oh, that inimitable
combination of textures! That symphony of flavors!

Around the time I was starting high school, the Caravelle
mysteriously disappeared from the racks, which meant that I spent
countless hours describing it to one or another bemused shopkeeper,
girlfriend, therapist. I was frantic, inconsolable, really
annoying.

The disappearance of all these delicacies caused me to start
asking a larger question: How is it that candy bars go extinct? The
basic answer here is late-model capitalism. Big guys buy out little
guys, or drive them out of business, and their candy bars go the
way of the dodo. Caravelle’s disappearance, for example, dates back
to the acquisition of Peter Paul by Cadbury in 1988.

In fact, the candy industry has undergone a mind-boggling
consolidation in the past half century. Between the world wars,
some 6,000 companies were cranking out candy. Most towns had their
own confectioner, and they all produced candy bars. Ray Broekel,
the world’s leading authority on the subject, estimates that
100,000 candy bar brands have been introduced in America alone.
Today, however, only several hundred candy companies remain, and
the candy racks are dominated by the Big Three: Hershey’s, Mars,
and Nestl?.

These companies do make some effort to foster variety by
introducing new bars, most of which are variations on their most
popular products (hence the endless variety of Snickers spin-offs).
The real problem, though, is that the Big Three have such huge
profit thresholds that they tend to pull from the market any bar
that doesn’t outperform their standbys. Thus, a few years ago,
Hershey’s teased us mint lovers with the scrumptious Cookies N Mint
bar, only to pull the plug after several months.

The same thing happened with the Kit Kat Dark. The irony is that
the response to the Kit Kat Dark was overwhelming. I can remember
finding one in New York City, at a newsstand on Seventh Avenue. As
I purchased the bar, a large man with muttonchops — a perfect
stranger — lunged toward me and said, ‘That’s just a great candy
bar!’

I myself ordered an entire case of Kit Kat Darks (12 boxes of
36) from a local candy distributor after realizing that Hershey’s
was going to cease production. When I went to pick up my supply,
the receptionist said, ‘Boy, you got these just in time. My phone
has been ringing off the hook. Everybody wants Kit Kat Darks.’

The Darks quickly developed a cult following on the Internet —
the last refuge of the candy fanatic — where several Web sites are
given over to public lamentation of their disappearance. It has
long been my dream to launch a company that could reintroduce some
of our finest lost candy bars, in their original wrappers. Most
people, after all, are utterly captured by the candy of their
youth. But in the absence of a large inheritance — something in
the range of, say, a billion dollars — this plan is unlikely to
come to fruition. Thus, I will have to make do with my humble
supply of 432 Kit Kat Darks, which is (I’m sorry) not enough to
share.

Steve Almond is the author of the new book Candyfreak:
A Journey Through the Chocolate Under-belly of America
(Algonquin). Reprinted from The Algonkian (Spring
2004), a little periodical that doubles as the catalog for
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. For a free copy, write to Algonquin
Books, Box 2225, Chapel Hill, NC 27515, or call 919/967-0108;
www.algonquin.com.

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