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The Clucking Sweet History of a Candy Bar Called Chicken Dinner

The history of candy bars is a graveyard of odd and outlandish ideas. For every Milky Way and Hershey bar that found lasting success, there are hundreds if not thousands of Fat Emmas, Baby Lobsters, Coffee Dans, Dipsy Doodles, Prairie Schooners, and Choco’Lites. The short-lived Sal-le-Dande bar was named after a stripper, while the Vegetable Sandwich bar was an unfortunate combination of celery, peppers, and dried cabbage coated in chocolate. Candy historian Ray Broekel estimates that between the first and second World Wars alone, more than 30,000 candy bars came out. As with the film industry and the lottery, many have tried, and very few succeed.

All of which makes the success of Chicken Dinner quite remarkable. Yes, you read that right: a candy bar called Chicken Dinner. Introduced in 1923 by the Sperry Candy Company of Milwaukee, the oddly named bar sold for 10 cents and featured a roasted chicken on each package. “An expensive, high-grade candy” was how a 1924 Sperry ad described Chicken Dinner, giving it a puzzling air of exclusivity considering it didn’t contain any actual chicken (it was filled with nuts instead, and was coated in chocolate), and kids were the target market. Customers may have been tempted to simply stare at the succulent image of the roasted chicken rather than fork over the 10 cents.

But Chicken Dinner’s popularity was all about marketing. By naming its bar after a meal, Sperry was one-upping other manufacturers who had linked their candy bars with wholesome ingredients. Ads for Milky Way, which came out the same year as Chicken Dinner, drew a comparison with malted milk drinks, while ads for Mounds and Almond Joy showed the bars spilling out of a coconut. Sperry also seemed to understand the value of standing out in a crowded marketplace. While other candy bars adopted sweet and silly names (Jujubes, Peanut Chews), Chicken Dinner went the counter-intuitive route with a name was pretty out-of-left-field, even by 1920s standards. Sperry embraced the product’s oddness with marketing copy that touted the bar as “Distinctly Different.”

And yet, there was also something comforting about a chicken dinner at that time in U.S. history. Released six years before the Great Depression struck (numerous sources have incorrectly linked its release with the Republican Party’s 1928 campaign pledge to provide “a chicken in every pot”), Chicken Dinner seemed to promise value for cash-strapped Americans. As Broekel wrote in The Great American Candy Bar Book:

“In the years following World War I, the economy made many families feel fortunate if they had one good meal a day on the dinner table. A whole roasted chicken on a candy bar wrapper symbolized something substantial in terms of food value.”

Sperry helped sales along by aggressively marketing Chicken Dinner with billboards, magazine ads and, most notably, a fleet of trucks decorated to look like chickens. After Sperry dropped the price of the bar to five cents, the decked-out chicken-mobiles canvassed the U.S. Apparently the trucks’ horns would cackle and crow when pressed.

Production of Chicken Dinner bars ceased in 1962 after Pearson’s, the makers of Bit-O-Honey, bought Sperry. All told, Chicken Dinner spent an impressive 40 years on shelves. Although it’s often referenced as one of the more outlandish relics of candy’s colorful history, Chicken Dinner was ahead of its time as a cleverly advertised, out-of-the-ordinary product. It’s not too farfetched to imagine it in the candy section of Trader Joe’s today. Case in point: In its recent rundown of the 13 most influential candy bars, Time put Chicken Dinner at number six, calling it a nutrition bar that paved the way for contemporary energy and meal replacement bars like Power Bar, Clif, and Luna. Winner, winner!

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Kinder Eggs Will Finally Be (Legally) Available in the U.S.
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Kinder

Kinder eggs are finally coming to the U.S., bringing delightful toys and milky chocolate to Americans, according to CNN Money.

While black-market Kinder Surprise eggs are already relatively easy to find in the U.S., they are technically forbidden by the FDA because they contain inedible toys, which makes them a choking hazard in the eyes of the law.

The legal Kinder eggs coming to the U.S. in January 2018 will be a little different than those available in Europe. Instead of Kinder Surprise, the eggs that Ferrero (the Italian company that makes, in addition to Kinder chocolate, Nutella and Tic Tacs) is launching will be Kinder Joy, a variety that comes in two individually packaged halves. One half contains chocolate cream with two wafers and a teeny spoon to eat them with, and the other contains the toy.

Kinder Joy eggs also differ from Kinder Surprises in that their marketing is gender-segregated, with both a blue "boys" version and a pink "girls" version (despite the fact that many toy makers have moved away from marketing their wares to specific genders, doing away with stereotypical assignations for action figures or princess dolls).

As with all Kinder products, the U.S. is way behind—Kinder Joys have been available in Italy since 2001, and are widely available around the world.

The spoonable cream of Kinder Joy may not satisfy the die-hard fans of Kinder Surprise’s sweet chocolate shell, but alas. Gotta protect the children.

[h/t CNN Money]

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The 11 Sweetest Taffy Shops to Hit This Summer
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What’s a vacation without a sweet treat? You may stick to your diet the rest of the year, but walking down a boardwalk just isn't the same without a few pieces of salt water taffy in your bag.

Bringing back a souvenir box of taffy is almost a given if you are heading to the beach—or down the shore, as they say in New Jersey, where salt water taffy got its start. Many boardwalk candy stores feature a machine going through the mesmerizing display of pulling and twisting the taffy. And though candy stores seem to collect at beach resorts like seagulls, there are a number of taffy stops farther inland as well. Here are some of the most interesting in the country:

1. & 2. FRALINGER'S AND JAMES' // ATLANTIC CITY, NEW JERSEY

Atlantic City is the mecca of salt water taffy, as it should be: The stuff was invented there. Fralinger’s and James’ are two venerable taffy establishments that were once rivals, but are now actually owned by the same company. Joseph Fralinger started selling taffy on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1880s and got the idea of selling gift boxes of the sweets as a seaside souvenir—Fralinger’s still sells a vintage-looking taffy box that says “Sea air and sunshine sealed in every box.” Very quickly, Enoch James came along and created a salt water taffy recipe that was slightly less sticky and easier to unwrap. For a quick visual identification of the two brands, Fralinger’s taffy is shaped like a small log, while James’ is shorter and wider, a shape “cut-to-fit-the-mouth,” as they advertise.

3. ROMAN CANDY // NEW ORLEANS

Roman Candy has been selling its candy for more than 100 years not from a storefront, but from a horse-drawn wagon (well, now the company uses a mule to pull that same wagon). Their primary fare is long sticks of taffy that are based on the original family recipe used by Angelina Napoli Cortese in the early 1900s. The taffy is made right in the wagon, and unlike taffy operations that offer dozens of flavors, Roman Candy has just three: chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.

4. DIAMOND HEAD TAFFY // HONOLULU

If you'd expect that taffy from a tropical paradise would come in tropical flavors, Diamond Head Taffy doesn't disappoint. Among their offerings are flavors like coconut, guava, mango, and li hing mui (dried plum). The company says its product is creamier than other taffies and includes egg whites and Hawaiian sea salt in the mix.

5. LLOYD'S OF AVALON // CATALINA ISLAND, CALIFORNIA

Lloyd’s of Avalon is one of the shops that places its hypnotic taffy machine front-and-center in its store window. And though the shop, which first opened in 1934, is a favorite for its selection of taffy and ice cream, it's also popular with the sightseeing crowd—a teenaged Norma Jeane (Baker) Dougherty worked there during her first marriage, a few years before she became Marilyn Monroe.

6. TAFFY TOWN // SALT LAKE CITY

It may not be by the ocean, but Salt Lake City certainly has both salt water and taffy. Taffy Town offers more than 70 flavors of taffy, including some out-of-the-ordinary ones like carrot cake, chicken and waffles, and maple bacon. The company was founded more than a century ago as the Glade Candy Company, but changed its name to Taffy Town “to reflect our total dedication to taffy excellence.”

7. ZENO'S BOARDWALK SWEET SHOP // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

Zeno’s calls its product the World’s Most Famous Taffy and has been selling it on the boardwalk at Daytona Beach since 1948. They say their whipping technique creates a taffy that is light and smooth—and it must be popular, considering they make roughly 400,000 pounds of it a year. Zeno's selection is huge, with more than 100 flavors available (flavor #101 was pineapple upside-down cake).

8. YE OLDE PEPPER CANDY COMPANIE // SALEM, MASSACHUSETTS

The Pepper Candy Companie—the oldest candy company in the United States—traces its roots back to 1806 and a Mrs. Spencer who saved her destitute family by making candy. The company’s name comes not from an ingredient, but from a man named George W. Pepper, another candy maker in Salem who bought the business from Mrs. Spencer’s son. Although taffy was not one of the company’s original sweets, they do sell Wicked Awesome Salt Water Taffy. Their New England-oriented flavors include Cape Cod cranberry, maple syrup, and chocolate mousse.

9. DOLLE'S CANDYLAND // REHOBOTH BEACH, DELAWARE

Dolle’s was founded in 1926 and moved to its present location on the boardwalk a year later. The company almost lost it all in a hurricane in 1962—the building was destroyed, and one of the only pieces of equipment left was the taffy machine, which dropped through the floor into the sand and had to be pulled out with a crane. It was successfully repaired and is still making taffy today. Dolle’s sells their sweets in a dozen regular flavors and another dozen summer flavors like root beer and piña colada.

10. SHRIVER'S // OCEAN CITY, NEW JERSEY

Shriver’s has been selling salt water taffy at the Jersey Shore since it opened on the boardwalk in Ocean City in 1898. The company sells more than 30 flavors of taffy at its store (which is housed in the oldest building on the boardwalk) and online. During their busy summer season, the store makes more than 2300 pounds (or 100,000 pieces) of taffy each day, with chocolate being far and away their most popular. 

11. MARINI'S // SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA

Marini’s was originally started in 1915 by Victor Marini as a popcorn stand on the boardwalk and soon expanded into salt water taffy and candy apples. Still family-owned and in the hands of its fourth generation of candy makers, Marini's taffy recipe has remained the same since the days Victor was making it. And they still wrap the candies using a cast iron machine bought in the 1920s. That's a lot of history for a bite-sized piece of taffy!

This piece originally ran in 2016.

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