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!

Live Smarter
Here's What to Do With Leftover Halloween Candy

Americans indulged their sweet tooth in a major way this Halloween, spending an estimated $2.7 billion on candy intended for front porch distribution. Rather than confronting a weepy child with an empty bowl because they bought too little, shoppers tend to buy in bulk. Come November, that can mean pounds of sugar-packed temptation still sitting in the house.

The good news: You can remove the risk to your waistline and do some good at the same time. A number of charitable organizations take leftover candy and send it to troops stationed overseas. Operation Gratitude has set up a number of drop-off centers around the country—you can search by zip code—to accept your extra treats. Once collected, they’ll send them to both troops and first responders. Last year, the group collected nearly 534,000 pounds of goodies.

Often, drop-off locations will be located in dental offices as a way of reminding everyone of the perils of tooth decay from excess sugar consumption. Some dentists even offer buy-back programs, paying $1 for each pound returned.

If donating to a national program is proving difficult, you can always deliver the extra candy to local food pantries or homeless shelters.


The Hershey Company
Hershey Unveils Its First New Candy Bar Since 1995
The Hershey Company
The Hershey Company

Halloween is over, but candy lovers still have another occasion to look forward to: On December 1, 2017, the Hershey Company will add a new flavor to its lineup of classic candy bars, called Hershey’s Gold, according to USA Today.

Hershey’s Gold, which the company describes as “a buttery-sweet creme with crunchy bits of pretzel and peanuts,” is the first new Hershey candy bar since its Cookies 'n' Creme flavor hit the market in 1995. It’s reportedly made “using a proprietary process to transform white creme into solid ‘gold’ by caramelizing the creme in a specialized kitchen,” according to a Hershey blog post.

In addition to Gold and Cookies 'n' Creme, Hershey offers two other kinds of candy bars, Milk and Dark chocolate. (These were introduced in 1900 and 1939, respectively.) Gold was created to satisfy a rising demand for sweet and salty combinations and unexpected flavors and textures, Hershey says.

Hershey’s Gold was announced on November 1, 2017, to commemorate the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. (The Hershey Company is an official sponsor of the United States Olympic Committee and Team USA.) The games kick off February 9, 2018—and now you know what you’ll be snacking on during the opening ceremony.

[h/t USA Today]


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