Article in National Post

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The following article appeared in the Weekend edition of one of Canada's national newspapers, the National Post, on December 30, 2000. Please scroll to underlined portion of the article to see PP-Mark Grim.  A few corrections, Panhandle Premium is located in Washington state not Oregon. Also, PP had nothing to do with Flaig's Coffee Crisp petition.

They want candy
A tragic result of the Brain Drain rarely explored: Canadian expats are enduring life without good chocolate

By Liisa Ladouceur
National Post
Toronto, ON Canada

December 30, 2000

Is there pride to be had in poutine? Should we boast of our beef? Crow about our canola? Or is it maple syrup that makes this nation great? While almost all of those foodstuffs could claim a place of pride in our nationalistic I-Am-Canadian souls, there is an argument to be made that Canada's greatest contribution to gastronomy is our chocolate bars. That's right. Move over Red Rose; hello Caramilk.

Most Canadians take for granted the rich, creamy taste and caffeine jolt of our candy bars. We know there's nothing more comforting than the layers of wafers and coffee filling in a Coffee Crisp. And when we leave the country, be it on a trip or something more permanent, we pine not for our beautiful scenery or our health-care system, and only occasionally for our beer. No, what we really care about are the treats of our youth, such as the mysterious Caramilk, the smackingly good Mackintosh's Creamy Toffee and syrupy sweet Cherry Blossoms. And, it is often only after fleeing the country that we sadly learn -- along with a segment of Americans who have stumbled upon our secret -- that many of these products are only available in Canada. Our cravings cannot be satisfied by such only-in-America confections as PayDay or Wonka bars. Thus, we go to extraordinary lengths to feed our habit, from cross-border smuggling to mail order.

Basel Aziz, who moved from Calgary to San Diego six years ago, is crazy for Crunchie bars. "From the moment I arrived, I discovered that the chocolate just does not taste the same here," he says. "Personally, I prefer a different variety of chocolate. For example, with Crunchie, there is nothing here with crisp sponge toffee in the chocolate. The taste is definitely what has attached me to these types of chocolate bars. I had to ask my friends when they would come down to the States to bring me some, but it makes it harder when you run out."

Karen Weagle, originally from Tay Creek, N.B., still gets her mother to mail Smarties and Cherry Blossoms to her home in Florida. "The only problem is that we don't know how to pace ourselves," she laughs. Because of the hot climate, Weagle is limited to care packages in the winter months, but she looks forward to her vacations when she can stock up on Coffee Crisp. "When I go home, I buy it by the case and carry it on board the airplane with me," she admits. "If you want a good chocolate bar, you have to go to Canada."

So innocuous. So humble. Who knew, for instance, the simple Smartie was such a national treasure? Distinct from the American M&M candy, a Smarties' milk-chocolate centre is covered with a thin candy made from food colouring, sugar, flour and corn starch, polished to a dazzling shine with wax from Brazilian palm trees. Available in brown, orange, blue, yellow, green, pink, purple and, of course, the infamous red, Smarties were first produced in England by Rowntree in the 1930s under the wholly unappetizing moniker Chocolate Niblet Beans.

The layers of crystallized candy and peanut butter wrapped in milk chocolate called Crispy Crunch and the hearty peanut-filled Oh Henry! bars have been around even longer. More recently, the 1970s gave us the crisp vanilla wafers, rice crisps, roasted peanuts, caramel-and-chocolate combination Mr. Big and the peanut-butter-packed Wunderbar. Each one -- exclusive to Canadian shelves -- has entrenched itself in the hearts and tummies of Canadians, who respond with their eternal loyalty.

Patriotism's charms aside, are these chocolate addicts as flaky as a Vachon cake? Not according to Graham Lute, senior vice-president of marketing and communications at Nestlé Canada. "Chocolate bars are very personal, very emotional," he claims. "It's like anything else you grew up with, you treasure it."

Unfortunately for expats, the confectionery business is one of local markets. This means that even if such products as Coffee Crisp and Caramilk are top sellers here (which they are), companies are convinced that it's because of local tastes. As a result, it is unlikely Canadian candy bars will be produced outside the country, so foreign fanatics are out of luck.

"There are virtually no global brands," explains Cadbury Canada's vice-president of marketing, John Bradley. "Of our 24 brands, 20 of them are sold only in Canada. In the U.S., they've grown up with Hershey-style chocolate. In Russia, dark chocolate is the predominant type. Canadians prefer a smoother, creamier taste, and our products reflect that. Of course, we're always trying to optimize our product range, and we do have an export division, but even if we introduced one of our products to another country, the recipe would probably be different."

Such is the case with Kit Kat. The No. 1 candy bar in Canada has four shareable sticks of light wafers covered in Cadbury milk chocolate -- not the same as Kit Kat sold in the U.S., which is produced by Hershey. (Ditto Oh Henry!, which has an exclusive Canadian recipe.) As expected, Canadian candy aficionados turn up their noses at the American variations and have turned to the Internet to find ways to satisfy their cravings.

In Oregon, Mark Grim's has been hooking chocoholics for more than a year. Grim, who grew up in Bellingham, Wash., and developed a taste for Canadian treats at sporting events and concerts in Vancouver, sells chocolate bars by the case. Almost all of Grim's orders are for Coffee Crisp bars, his personal favourite. He initially wanted to import the bars directly from Nestlé, but says they weren't interested. "They didn't even want to talk about it," he says.

John Flaig did. Six months ago, the Web designer from Milwaukee started an e-mail petition to get Nestlé to sell Coffee Crisp in the United States. Flaig, who says he uses a friend in Edmonton to get his stash, fell in love with the bar as a child visiting Winnipeg.

"One of my earliest memories is of my grandfather lying on the couch and tossing Smarties to me," he says. "Then we discovered Coffee Crisp, and ever since we made sure to buy a case on every visit. Last summer, I saw Coffee Crisp ice cream and almost died."

Along with Grim, Flaig set up www. (this is actually not correct) to gather petitions from concerned Coffee Crisp lovers. Initial response from Nestlé USA included e-mail messages such as "stop spamming us," but eventually it was Nestlé Canada to the rescue. Last fall, they began exporting Coffee Crisp bars to select American cities. Nestlé's Graham Lute sympathizes with the Crisp fans. "This product is unique; there isn't anything comparable to it anywhere else in the world, so I'm not surprised there is a demand," he says. "But I wouldn't encourage Smarties fans to start their own petition or anything."

San Diego businessman Christopher J. Boring and his Canadian partner, Robert Peters, of Kitchener, Ont., launched in June to sell candy and other Canadian delights -- such as Tim Hortons' coffee and Alphaghetti -- over the Internet. He says from the beginning he was flooded with orders and special requests from homesick Canadians. "They want the things they associate with home," he explains. "But it's also a different flavour. Initially, we didn't carry Kit Kat bars because they are available here. But it's not the same chocolate. People wanted the Canadian Kit Kats, so we responded."

Cadbury's Bradley agrees it's unlikely that our Canadian chocolate bars will be mass marketed to America. Individual retailers, he points out, can better serve the niche market by importing small quantities. And Bradley knows first-hand how agonizing it is to cope without the comforts -- or at least the chocolate -- of home: Brit by birth, he came to Canada from Cadbury UK and grew to accept our chocolate products. "To be honest, I do prefer the Jersey Milk bar produced in Canada to the U.K. version. I guess I've just been here long enough. Good chocolate is the chocolate you prefer, that's it."
All of which seems to prove that we don't make "nice light snacks." We make The Best Chocolate Bars in the World! Don't live here? Pity.

- In 1999, the caramel used to fill all the Caramilk bars sold in Canada weighed almost as much as nine full-grown blue whales.
- Crispy Crunch was developed in 1923 at the suggestion of Cadbury employee Harold Oswin, who was paid $5 for the recipe.
- Eat-More, one of the few candy bars not covered in chocolate, is more popular in Alberta than anywhere else in Canada. Quebecers prefer Cherry Blossoms and Mirage.
- If laid out end to end, all the Mr. Big bars sold in Canada last year would stretch from Vancouver to Ottawa.
- Canadians eat 875 Smarties every minute. There are approximately 56 Smarties in every box, including blue ones, which replaced light-brown ones in 1987.
-- L.L.
Published with permission.

Dear Editor: Thanks for your positive coverage in the article in the Dec. 30 Weekend Post by Liisa Ladouceur titled "They Want Candy." I really appreciate your including the fact that we have been in business for more than a year (we started in October of 1999). 
There are a few points of clarification that should be made. Panhandle Premium is actually located in Blaine, Washington, just south of the British Columbia border, not in Oregon as was reported. (now in Bellingham, Wash.)
In addition, I didn't work closely with John Flaig in starting that Coffee Crisp petition. He was acting totally independently of myself and Panhandle Premium in that effort. But that's not that big of a deal. 
Once again, thanks for the stuff you did get right. It was greatly appreciated.

Mark Grim, Owner, Panhandle Premium, Blaine, Wash., USA