Monday, April 17, 2006

Brach's - An American Dream, Built Upon Sugar



I had a weird dream last night in which my wonderful mother approached holding a large bag of candy corn, lifting it up to me as though she were offering up jewels. She was so happy, and so was I…until I saw that they weren’t Brach’s Halloween candy corns, but rather that imitation stuff, which is not the classic white, yellow, and orange triumvirate, but rather has a bit of black in it, and is often served in mix packs with poorly delineated pumpkin and witch-on-broom figures.

I tried to put on a happy face for Mums, but then I just got pissy. “This is not the kind of candy corn you’re supposed to buy!”

It was really mean of me, even if it didn’t happen. Sorry Mom.

That said, c’mon, Dream Mom should’ve known better. You don’t replace Brach’s. Ever. And you certainly don’t ever throw a Brach’s bag away.

And yet, it seems like more and more Americans are doing just that. I first made the observation a few years ago, while living in New York and looking to load up the apartment with candy for Halloween night. (No, I wasn’t expecting any trick-or-treaters.)

Whenever I went into CVS or Walgreens, the Brach’s pumpkins and candy corns were all relegated to the bottom shelf. Their traditional perch on the coveted, eye-level shelf was now taken up by unknown brands whose unprofessional logos and facile marketing tactics (e.g. CRAZZZY Candy! ) indicated that some stocking boy had been paid major baksheesh by a B-list candy company.

Then Easter came around, and Brach’s—the maker of the world’s finest, most sugary jelly bean—was once again found on the bottom shelf. How would a generation of young candy lovers ever discover our great American tradition when it was located below the packs of Peeps and cheap supermarket, eye-less chocolate bunnies?

And then came the moment of truth. In September 2003, abandoned by its compatriots, Brach’s finally gave in. The company was acquired by Swiss candy monsters Barry Callebaut, which promised a thorough restructuring of my favorite loose candy confectioner of all time.

Well, they brought in a few too many suits and got rid of several of the good, hardworking factory workers of Chattanooga, Tennesee, who know that you don’t mess with the finely calibered sweetness-to-nausea ratio of seasonal classics like Brach’s pumpkins, candy corn, and jelly beans.

Next thing you know I was seeing “new formula!” “more honey, less sugar!” and even “fat free!” on various Brach’s bags. Those Swiss nutters must have thought we Americans were really stupid. (If you ask me, stupid is dressing your cows up like princesses and marching them up and down the mountain twice a year. But that's for another post...)

But it seems that over the past year or so Brach's has returned to its original jelly bean and pumpkin formulas--an effort I support wholeheartedly. The question is, will the rest of America take Brach's back? What was in your Easter basket?

Today is April 17th, and the old Brach’s men in Chattanooga are sitting about a rickety wood table in a building whose walls of peeling, faded green paint speak of years of declining candy sales. Sitting below the frame of their first-earned dollar bill, the men pull at their ties and loosen their collars as they confront The Day After Easter. Did you, my American consumer friends, come through for them? What will the Swiss do when they hear that the little American candy company that could just isn’t pulling its weight?


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