News Not So Sweet In Candy Bar Research

September 4, 2008

The Canadian National Post presented a slightly disturbing piece on August 27, 2008: News not so sweet in candy bar research

Canada’s National Sciences & Engineering Research Council, in cooperation with Brock University and Carleton University, studied the candy bar stocks of eight major Canadian retailers to determine how long it took for treats to reach consumers. How long might that be, then? On average, 140 days! Researchers also determined that roughly 3% had exceeded their estimated shelf life. Ew.

That’s a bit unnerving, but not entirely surprising. Candy bars are not really high-priority foods in most retail outlets; milk, eggs, bread and other more traditional staples are kept under greater scrutiny and practically fly off the shelves compared to overlooked checkout items. Candy is left on the shelf, hidden within plastic wrappers for as long as it takes to sell or be unseated by a newer product.

This article reminded me of a package of Hershey’s chocolate bars I’ve had lying in the pantry for over a year. (Someone kindly gave me the bars after an aborted s’mores spree, unaware of my distaste for Hershey’s chocolate.) I opened one of the bars a few moments ago, then another, and another, and found on none of them the slightest outward trace of spoilage. At worst I spotted a light, dull sheen on the bars but chalked that up to Hershey’s high wax content. Other than its usual bitter scent, the chocolate did not betray any foul odor. Considering their age and the assumed loss of quality, that’s a bit counter-intuitive, isn’t it? Assuming the 140-day shelf wait, these bars could very well be two years old. Granted, I’m in the United States, not Canada, but even at just a year old they look alright.

We all know perfectly well that confections like candy bars are designed to be cheaply produced and packed with commercial incentives. And I’m not outraged that products like these stay on the shelves for such shocking amounts of time, though I suspect I should be. But shouldn’t there be more attentiveness taken later on in the supply chain? Why aren’t stores more vigilant? An overaged candy bar loses quality rapidly, and if that’s not enough to trouble a vendor, at least the customer’s satisfaction should be considered. The price of a candy bar is enough disincentive to purchase one; add a game of chance that doesn’t guarantee that expectations will be met, and we may as well forget it. (Buy an apple–at least you can squeeze it!)

Fussiness aside, the study found that retailers like 7-11 and Wal Mart offered consistently fresher products as opposed to smaller scale vendors. Also, larger, more popular candy manufacturers like Mars presented a more consistently fresh supply of products. So basically, if you want the newest candy bar possible, stop by Wal Mart for a Milky Way or Snickers. Their turnover is so great, the stocks are replenished more frequently. I’m not inclined to promote Wal Mart over mom-and-pop shops–that’s insane–but as per this study, newer candy bars are most likely to be found there.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to contact haz-mat regarding those three bars lurking in the kitchen.

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