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Tuesday 30 Mar 2004

When Nestlé stopped foil wrapping their KitKat and slipped them into plastic sachets instead it was a bit of a disaster. It was said that it was done so that we could enjoy our KitKats even fresher, but I think you would find it hard to find a gone off KitKat. It was obviously a cheaper and more efficient way of packing the product. The foil was integral to what KitKats were all about, and taking it away was like taking the Pot away from a Pot Noodle. We liked how we could run our thumb nails down the groove between the fingers. We liked how we could run our finger tips over the top to reveal the cursive KitKat logo cut in the chocolate. We even liked how we could roll it up in to little foil balls and bat them around with our fingers, or make little sculptures. So when I decided to take a look at a pack of 2 finger KitKats, I was very amused to find inside the large outer wrapper some foil wrapped KitKats.

According to the press, KitKats have been having a bit of a hard time recently. Last year their sales dropped by 9%, which if you consider it's the market leader with sales that were in excess of 100 million pounds, 9% is a lot of chocolate. Of course the more bizarre plans to revitalise the brand have grabbed the attention of the media. Lemon cheesecake flavours have worked well in Germany and Japan and there has even been mention of liquorice and even curry flavoured versions. Now it's probably fine to try stuff like this in markets where the product doesn't have a particularly long history, but we've been enjoying sensible KitKats since 1935.

There is some dodgy story about why the KitKat got its name, but its a bit dud so I'll spare you the details. If you're curious you can look it up on their website, but don't say I didn't warn you.

As for the KitKat, well very obviously it's a classic British brand which Nestlé acquired when they took over Rowntree, and to be fair they have built into a global brand. They are made in the UK in York, and Nestlé has started making them in several sites in Europe, not just to grow the brand but because of exchange rates.

If you are some kind of space alien visitor from another world then you'll need me to describe a KitKat to you, everybody else has been eating them for as long as they can remember. Right, they are thin wafer fingers that are sandwiched together with something brownish, but I don't think it's chocolate. This doesn't matter as they are entirely coated in chocolate, lots of it. Hence most people consider them to be a chocolate bar. Oh and for some completely unfathomable reason they have yeast in them!

So why have we decided to start talking about the KitKat, which by the way 38% of you consider to be a biscuit? There are a few things that make me think that maybe the marketing people who steward the brand haven't completely lost the plot. Well putting aside the KitKat chunky which was a splendidly successful thing, but is now going into decline as we are all bored with it. Now there is the Kube, which according to the adverts you just eat lots of it slowly, which is probably the best advice to those hoping to put on weight. So just before they roll out the Masala flavour KitKats lets take a close look at the two finger jobs.

Well the logo is still on top, but it's a new one, and its been shoved to one end. As you know, generally we fear change, but in a gesture of goodwill, and given that all the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing I'll think we'll let that go. What is new are some random messages on the top to do with 'Taking a Break'. This 'leverages' the brass rubbing foil fondness we have, and has to be a good thing. I also always enjoy something that is a bit random but mass produced, as they seem contradictory. Additionally, the recent nationwide radio led 'Take a break' Friday which encourages us all to sit down and eat KitKats is also enjoyable. As this is a radio thing there is some concentration on descriptions of favourite eating techniques which works well for radio. Again top marks here, as this is what we all really care about, and it celebrates this much loved product. Also having just scoffed down the review pack with the younger members of staff I am reminded that there really isn't anything that hits the same exact spot as a KitKat, and for that alone it deserves to be around for another seventy years.

 Your feedback 13 messages

Bakers Tennis Biscuits

Wednesday 17 Mar 2004

Well it's St Patricks day today and the Wife being Irish has had us up since the crack of dawn listening to Danny Boy and the like on every CD player and MP3 capable device here at NiceCupOfTeaAndASitDown HQ. The younger members of staff have luckily escaped to their day release facility, especially after they committed heresy by saying they preferred my dodgy old music collection. So we don't actually have an Irish biscuit for you today but we have the next best thing, a biscuit hunted down for us by a nice Irish lady called Gail. No doubt there is some connection between South Africa and Ireland that I'm not aware of, but as half the planet seems to be Irish on St Patricks day we can probably make it stick.

Tennis Biscuits are apparently South Africa's favourite biscuit, at least that's what the packet says. I nearly had my hands on them once before, as my South African operative Nick brought a pack for us to sample. Alas his girlfriend ate them, which was our loss, but illustrates that are obviously quite desirable.

Once again made by leading South African manufacturer Bakers, as have all the SA biscuits we have tried. The Tennis biscuit is a light crispy little item which is possibly like a cross between a good butter biscuit such as the Galette Bretonne, with a dash of syrup and a well balanced coconut flavour. It's refreshingly square, which is actually not a common shape for biscuits, and has some frilly petal like patterns all around its dockers, (the little holes that let the steam out). Occasionally you come across a small fleck of coconut, and by rights I shouldn't like them at all. However, my tastes must be changing as these are really very good.

We fairly demolished half a pack with the younger members of staff monopolising Wifey's mug of tea for dunking purposes, so much so that she had to get herself a second one. These are also the sort of biscuit that finds itself being broken up in its native South Africa to make 'fridge tarts'.

Now to the obvious part as to why they are called called Tennis biscuits? I don't know. There seems nothing about them to connect them with the sport other than the obvious assumption that:

a) They needed a name and 'Tennis' hadn't been used for biscuits up to that point.

b) People playing tennis might have eaten them before during or after a match, probably with a nice cup of tea or even a cold drink.

I'm sure if you know you'll tell us.

 Your feedback 5 messages

Marks and Spencer Dark Chocolate Ginger

Tuesday 9 Mar 2004

Laura Allen got in touch a little while ago to suggest that we review M&S Dark Chocolate Ginger biscuits, and finding myself wandering around in an M&S a few weeks back I decided to follow up on the tip off.

When it comes to food M&S don't muck around, and a trip round their 'food halls' is always a mouthwatering experience. As a child I always remember how M&S always seemed to be at the cutting edge of potato snack world. Which ever new shape, texture or flavour creation had just been dreamed up, M&S would have it, in bags the size of pillows. As a destitute student I remember once blowing the best part of a weeks grant with my girlfriend and buying all the bits for a luxury picnic, such little bar-b-que chicken legs and tubs of potato salad and some cream buns. We climbed to the top of a hill that over looked the City and made ourselves comfortable in the shade of some broom bushes. As we opened the chicken we were pounced upon by ginger striped hill cats, who assailed us with a mixture of purring, longing looks and moderate aggression. Obviously they had never tried to part a student from a M&S picnic before, but eventually made off with some chicken skin.

M&S have had a long and happy association with Foxs biscuits over the years with Foxs producing the bulk of their range. I don't happen to know if these are a Foxs production, but I would in this case be a little amazed if they weren't. The 52% dark chocolate is mostly to be found on top of the biscuit as can be seen in our cross section. The biscuit is fairly pale and porous, with a delicate ginger flavour that is much more like that of preserved ginger than the robust flavours of conventional gingernuts. The reason for this is the use of ginger oil rather than powdered ginger. Ginger is yet another one of those things I didn't know you could get oil out of, but apparently you can. Its full of mad stuff like beta-sesquiphellandrene and zingiberene, so you are probably best not putting it on your bicycle chain or frying your chips in it. I expect we'll shortly find out how its the very thing that your hair looses when you blow dry it, and they'll start adding it to shampoo.

Overall the plain chocolate and ginger combine to create quite a piquant little biscuit. However, there is always a slight note of tension when you open a box of biscuits and can instantly count them. In this case there were 12 which is only just into double figures, so with most other items in the M&S food hall these are really a luxury item.