New parent company Ferrero set out to build a better candy bar.

By Adam Campbell-Schmitt
December 13, 2018
Abby Hocking

I can’t remember the last time I ate an entire candy bar. Specifically the variety in bright, graphical packaging that sits just below the cash register at every pharmacy and supermarket (or, in the case of some bodegas, behind a thick wall of plexiglass). When Halloween comes around, I’ll certainly down a whole Fun Size bar, no sweat, and those tiny, mini cube-like bars are all too easy to pop (probably to the point of adding up to an entire standard serving). But I could not, for the life of me, recall voluntarily purchasing and consuming an entire candy bar. Whenever that last time was, however, it was very likely a Butterfinger. But that Butterfinger I bought a decade or so ago is getting an upgrade thanks to a recipe reformulation that’s set to hit store shelves early next year.

Why change the recipe now? In short, there’s a new chocolatier at the helm. While the original Butterfinger made its debut in 1923, it’s had a few different corporate “homes” over the years, from its originator — Curtiss Candy Company — to Nestle, to, as of April 2018, Ferrara, an American candy company owned by (as of December 2017) Luxembourg-based Ferrero, which then added Nestle’s U.S. product line (including Nerds and Baby Ruth) to its portfolio earlier this year. Yes, apparently the candy business requires a Game of Thrones devotion to keep track of all the twists and turns.

So with an adoption by such a renown parent company, it’s only natural the humble peanut butter-based candy bar once hawked by Bart Simpson would be subject to a little refinement. “We started with the key ingredients — peanuts, cocoa, and milk — behind this bar that people are obsessed with and love, and looked at how we could make it even better,” Ferrara Marketing Senior Director Kristen Mandel told me. “The Ferraro philosophy is that quality always wins.” Those higher quality ingredients include U.S.-grown jumbo peanuts which, according to Mandel, allow for a more “uniform and well-rounded roast.” The cocoa in the chocolate-y (not technically full-on “chocolate”) coating has been upgraded as has the amount of milk in the mix, with the goal of a smoother, less gritty mouthfeel and stronger chocolate flavor. As Mandel succinctly explained, “It’s been taken up a notch.”

But the Butterfinger bar itself isn’t the only thing being revamped. The wrapper has gone from single-layer to thicker double-layer packaging, aiming to preserve the freshness the company is putting into its reformulated product. And when the bars arrive on shelves in late January/early February next year, you’ll see a brighter yellow beaming at you from the rainbow of confectionary options in the candy aisle. Gone are the more golden tones of the previous incarnation, but included is a picture of the candy bar’s crunchy interior, an image (and often an accompanying crunchy sound effect) that has been a hallmark of the brand’s ad campaigns for decades. Another change to the wrapper is the list of ingredients, which has shrunk to eliminate hydrogenated oils and tertiary butylhydroquinone or TBHQ, a move the brand says is in line with consumer demand. (Artificial colors and flavors were nixed from Butterfinger a few years ago.) For the time being, there’s also a red flag on the corner boasting the “Improved Recipe.”

How does it taste? The new recipe certainly delivers on an elevated Butterfinger experience, though the devil is really in the details. The chocolate-flavored coating is less waxy, less cloyingly sweet, and more cocoa forward. The famous “crispety, crunchety” interior is still flaky but boasts a more natural-tasting roasted peanut flavor. There’s also a richer aftertaste that lingers on the roof of the mouth, which, unlike the old recipe, feels as though it’s a side effect of eating peanut butter rather than candy. Honestly, the new Butterfinger isn’t quite the same, but I (and those of my colleagues who sampled it) agreed it was a “better” product. I’d liken it to a take on a Butterfinger you might expect to find at a small chocolate shop, which seems to be exactly what Ferrero is going for.

Of course, with such an iconic product being altered in any way, I had to ask if the Butterfinger folks were worried about a New Coke-style debacle, with the recipe update turning off the candy bar’s core fanbase. “You absolutely run the risk. We’ve been very particular about making sure not to alienate current users in the process,” Mandel said, explaining that feedback was sought throughout the development process. “We want to bring in more people to love the Butterfinger bar, but definitely with a keen eye of making sure that this is seen as a positive from our loyal fans.” 

As traditional candy bars have tried to both stay the course and navigate the public’s ever-changing taste trends and health concerns, the new Butterfinger might well be considered a case study in evolving just enough to keep with the times. If every candy bar turned to a similar approach in upgrading itself without sacrificing its core product, I might just find myself buying a whole one again.

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