Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chocolatey Thoughts

One of the worst things about a consumer society is the perpetual tizzy of new products that surrounds it. It induces an unpleasant vertigo. This seems most noticeable when it comes to chocolate bars, soft drinks and other sugary snacks.

Most of us feel a certain attachment to Mars bars, Twix, Dairy Milk, Galaxy and so forth. They are steeped in nostalgia and pleasant associations. They have become (to use this horrible term) "iconic". And they are rather classic, and classy, in their design. The same goes for Coca-Cola (whatever other reasons for hostility you might have towards it), Skips, Monster Munch, Jelly Babies, and all the other familiar brands.

But haven't you had a certain unpleasant sensation when you stand at a sweets counter and see product after product that you don't recognize, and that are entirely lacking in those warm, fuzzy associations? Personally I am appalled by these parvenus. When I go to buy a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps-- or even when I come across them, while visiting a shop-- I want to be greeted by old friends, not by brash upstarts.

Even worse are the infinite variations that are played upon the old favourites. It's only a matter of time before there's a toffee-and-treacle Twix, or a strawberry Star Bar, or a blueberry-and-banana Bounty bar. Actually, this impertinent ringing of changes on beloved snacks has moved on from flavour to format. Some day there will be square Maltesers.

I am not being a nostalgist here. I have little awareness-- in fact, a scandalous ignorance-- of the history of chocolate bars and fizzy drinks. Perhaps there twice as many different types of chocolate bars on the market in 1985, or 1905, than there are now. Maybe there was a line of Duke of Wellington bon-bons in 1850. I don't care. I still think there is something horribly unsettling about standing in the queue at the shop and looking at Lord of the Rings bubblegum, or Zombie Apocalypse glow-in-the-dark fruit gums.

But I do think the snacks that have endured have a sort of classiness. Take a Mars bar. It could hardly be simpler. The wrapper is not at all loud, or tacky, or gimmicky. Even the typography on it is restrained. And, though I understand it was slightly redesigned in recent years, it seems pretty much the same Mars bar I remember from my childhood.

Not being paticularly bothered about economic freedom, I am all in favour of a licensing system in order to foster stability at the sweets counter. Time-honoured chocolate bars and fizzy drinks would be protected like whales, or rare flora. No interference with their recognized forms would be permitted. Let a Yorkie bar remain the beautiful thing it is-- uncomplicated, trusty, ever the same. And when it comes to crisps, think how much more innocent and contented we'd all be if the traditional triad of Salt and Vinegar, Cheese and Onion and Smokey Bacon had never been upset by the introduction of Prawn Cocktail, Sour Cream and Onion, and the bewildering array of other new flavours!

As for entirely new products-- well, after a lengthy period of investigation, and provided there was nothing tacky about the design or the concept, I would allow them to go on sale in a limited market-- perhaps one town or suburb. After a year or two, and if they remained profitable, they might be expanded to a region, and finally to a national market. But the overnight mushrooming of bizarre confectioneries and other sweets would be stamped out altogether.

Isn't our society bewildering enough? Can't our sweets counters, at least, be places of comfort and calm?


  1. Appalled you could write an article of this length on this subject without mentioning the king of old school chocolate bars.

    Please be upstanding for... the Curly Wurly

  2. I've never actually had a Curly Wurly. I don't know if I can really award it classic status. I rarely hear anyone mention a Curly Wurly, I don't think I've ever seen anyone eat one. I do appreciate your appall-ment but on a subject of this gravity I don't think I can just lower the bar to let any old confectionery in.

    I think I will make it my business to buy and eat a Curly Wurly as soon as possible but I remain an agnostic. If I have a Road to Damascus moment, I will of course amend my article, with apologies to Curly Wurly lovers everywhere.

  3. Popularity no guide to greatness although CW were de rigeur in the Cork of my childhood.

    Enjoy that first Curly Wurly. Your life is about to change forever.