Can it be a Hershey bar without chocolate?
The maker of the great American chocolate bar says yes. After three years of development in Hershey, Pa., the company has readied a new bar for millennials, a "caramelized creme" sweet confection blended with pretzel and peanut bits, the first new permanent bar flavor in 22 years.
Hershey Gold will go on sale next month, in time for moms to purchase as Christmas stocking stuffers. The Hershey Co., one of the world's largest chocolate companies, will then have a "big launch" through television advertisements around the Olympics in early 2018.
But Hershey officials also say that this is a permanent edition and not strictly tied to the Olympics hoopla. Hershey Gold could invigorate the Hershey brand targeting younger adults and take product market share from the snacking category, instead of taking sales from other Hershey chocolate-based products.
"The probability scores for success of the product are through the roof, some of the highest in the company," Melinda Lewis, senior director and general manager for the Hershey's franchise, said in an interview this week. The Hershey Co. monitors candy trends globally and first saw the success of "blond" bars in Europe, Lewis said. The company adapted the product to the U.S. market, experimenting with different "inclusions" such as puffed rice, mixed nuts, and cookies, she said.
Hershey Gold packs 220 calories, with its biggest ingredient sugar, followed by vegetable, palm, shea, sunflower, and soybean oils, according to the packaging.
The wrapper doesn't look like the classic Hershey brown. It's tan and gold, with some brown and blue. Even the "pips" — the bar squares themselves — are divided differently. "It's not chocolate. It's gold. We are saying this is something new and different for Hershey," Lewis said.
The Hershey Co., which is controlled by the $14 billion Milton Hershey School for impoverished children, has said it will introduce new products as it seeks to boost revenue growth. It and other packaged-goods food companies have experienced slowing growth with shifting consumer tastes and retail trends.
Hershey announced earlier this year that it would eliminate about 15 percent of its workforce, or about 2,700 employees, over the next several years, using the $175 million in cost savings to boost operating margins in its legacy brands and to look to expand beyond confections in the $100 billion U.S. snack market.
The first order of business, Hershey CEO Michelle Buck told Wall Street analysts on March 1, will be to "reignite" Hershey's core brands and then diversify.
The last new Hershey "flat" bar flavor was launched in 1995, cookies and cream. Before that, Hershey introduced the dark chocolate bar in 1939 and the milk chocolate bar in 1900, the company says. The company sometimes releases "limited edition" flavors tied to holidays.
Inquirer and Daily News reporters and editors, among them food and restaurant critic Craig LaBan, nibbled on Hershey Gold samples this week. Reactions that ranged from "yummy" to "tastes vaguely peanut buttery." Most noted the sweetness.
"Hershey has really gone away from its strong point — chocolate," LaBan said in an email. "The pretzel's saltiness definitely does surge forward if you make it far enough into a bar (which I did), and the magnet trick of salty-sweet jujitsu becomes pretty hard to resist once it starts rolling. Intriguing, but still not awesome. Dip it in special dark chocolate, and then I'd concede a hit."