choc factor: a sweet column by peter paphides
chocolate matters. no-one is above thinking that chocolate matters, and no more so than in britain. chocolate matters so much here, that “limited edition” variations of popular chocs fly off newsagent shelves way in advance of their deletion dates: coconut toffee crisp; smarties tubes containing only the orange ones; and most recently the mint kit-kat. these preoccupations even occur in places where you might least expect them. one of my favourite tales from my years in music journalism, concerns a road-trip with senser. you may remember senser. they made angry agitprop records about how capitalism had turned us all into brainwashed robots and only once britain was turned into a big kibbutz where cider was available on the NHS would we be liberated from the manacles of the free-market power game. anyway, the incident I wanted to relate took place when senser’s van pulled in for petrol at the motorway services. “I’m going to get a mars bar,” announced band member haggis. “anyone else want one?” no-one replied save for senser’s militant furrow-browed rapper heitham. heitham wanted a chomp. alas though, haggis didn’t know what a chomp was, so heitham had to explain. “you’ve never had a chomp? oh, they’re great! It’s chewy caramel covered in chocolate. and the best thing is, they’re really small, so they only cost 12p.” this scenario really wasn’t so very different to, say, watching a young gil scott-heron feverishly extolling the virtues of reece’s pieces to his bassist. it tells you a lot about growing up in britain. even crusty rap-blokes with earnest agendas demarcate significant brain-space for chocolates. I suspect even thom yorke — musical mouthpiece of the “no logo” generation — must get a little excited when he goes to his newsagent and notices that cadbury’s have launched nutz, their own rival to the mars corporation’s massively popular snickers. “mmm,” he must think quietly to himself, “nutz. that’s new. I’ll give that a try.’
on their website, radiohead suggest you avoid buying nestlé products as a result of their controversial presence in the third world — selling powdered milk in africa. if that wasn’t a good enough reason to boycott nestlé, the kit-kat redesign surely clinches it. for more than sixty years, the kit-kat has remained fundamentally unchanged. it’s appeal transcended mere taste, in the same way that toasting marshmallows isn’t about the damn marshmallows. its appeal lay partially in the thin silver leaf foil wrapper that you’d carefully remove whilst contemplating the chocolate awaiting you. In modern production terms, this was a relatively expensive process. within the industry, nestlé had made no secret of the fact that they wanted to rehouse kit-kat in a modern all-in-one sealed wrapper. the new kit-kats have just hit newsagents this month, boasting extra “freshness’. where once they looked like a pre-war corner shop treat, now they look like every other modern chocolate. thank you nestlé, for finally helping me boycott your chocolates. as with the modern pop single, the kit-kat has adapted to multi-formatting. there are different kit-kats to suit different self-images. on one hand, you have the flat four-fingered variety; on the other, there’s the more phallic “bar” shape. such distinctions may have a remedial whiff of freud about them, but the research carried out by chocolate manufacturers suggests freud may have been onto something. before the long, thick kit-kat “chunky” appeared two years ago, the product was bought by more women than men. men, it seems, are drawn to the chunky bar. in general research says that, women will generally go for bagged chocolate pieces — maltesers, minstrels, m&ms.
the other main divide in chocolate consumption takes place according to ingredients. according to tony bilborough of cadbury’s UK, ingredients come in two categories: polarisers and unifiers. “anything with coconut or cherries in it tends to be either loved or hated. turkish delight — that’s another polariser.” crunchies, on the other hand, are loved by almost everyone, thanks to their crispy, golden interior. the fuse bar too, with its mix of biscuit, chocolate fudge and raisins, is very much a unifier. In fact, says tony, “we knew the fuse was going to be a success before we launched it, because it contained only unifiers.” “wow! are we that predictable?” I tell tony, “we’re just brainwashed chocolate repositories to companies like you, aren’t we?”
“is that what you think?” he replies.
“well,” I tell him, “I don’t know. the problem with senser’s manifesto was that their frontman really loved chomps. maybe his love of chomps was all that stood between him and absolute anarchy.”
“I see,” ponders tony, “well, I’m deeply touched. we’d better carry on making them.”