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Hydrox in the wings, Oreos struggle to survive

Oreo cookies are in trouble and Nabisco (a gargantuan corporation now owned by an even more gargantuan corporation, Mondelēz International) is offering a couple of new novelty Oreos to try to revive them.

They are thin Oreos and key lime Oreos.

The politics of cookies are not that different from other kinds of politics. The company has previously made Oreos thicker and has cranked out flavor after flavor such as cookies and cream€ and fruit punch. (Like all commercial s’€™mores products, Oreo’€™s s’€™mores flavor does not taste like s’€™mores. Nabisco, like all other corporations, cannot seem to understand that the key to creating genuine s’€™mores taste is the burnt marshmallow flavor.) It also has “€œflavors”€ like “€œRed Velvet,”€ which is a color and a texture, not a flavor.

There is a restaurant in Las Vegas which claims to serve the best deep fried Oreos in the world, probably not a high standard to meet.

Anyway, Nabisco is now resorting to Oreo-flavored Oreos, pitting regular thickness Oreos and thick Oreos against new thin Oreos,€“ though it,€™s probably a mistake to use the term “€œoriginal”€ in describing these cookies. After all, they are a ripoff of Hydrox cookies, once manufactured by Sunshine Biscuits and later discontinued by Kellogg’€™s (mergers and acquisitions wreak havoc with the public’s preferences,€“ between Sunshine and Kellogg’€™s there was Keebler). Hydrox arrived on the market in 1908. The imitator, Oreos, arrived four years later.

I remember in the 1970s reading an article in Esquire magazine about Oreos. The author was surprised to discover in his research that Oreos are Hydrox imitations, but after tasting both he preferred Hydrox.

Oreos seem to have been designed to make Hydrox look good. Hydrox were made of firmer cake layers, so that when dunked in milk they didn’t break apart and fall to the bottom of the milk glass like Oreos. (Oreo claims that “€œYou can still dunk in the dark” when, in fact, you can’€™t,€“ not and keep the cookie in one piece.) Oreos absorb milk like a sponge. Hydrox absorbed milk more slowly. Sweeteners were loaded into Oreos. Hydrox were sweet but not syrupy and cloying.

Hydrox lovers never gave up on them. In January 2008, the Wall Street Journal ran an article headlined “€œThe Hydrox Cookie Is Dead, and Fans Won’€™t Get Over It.”€ Later that year, Hydrox temporarily came back on the market.

Today the Hydrox name and recipe are owned by Leaf Brands, which keeps putting new posts on its website promising the return of Hydrox. Until that happens, Hydrox lovers say that the Paul Newman sandwich cookies are the closest thing on the market to Hydrox.

Leaf also promises it will drop high fructose corn syrup from the product in favor of actual sugar.

Last week a press release service issued an essay, “€œHow Oreo Stayed Relevant for 100 Years”€, written by a marketing professor. Of course, if Oreo were still “€œrelevant”€ (whatever that means when applied to a cookie), Nabisco would not be desperately searching for a way to save the product.

A few days earlier, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle went onto the House floor to denounce Nabisco: “€œThe company that makes Oreo cookies and Ritz Crackers, two very well-known American brands, decided that for the first time in 60 years they would close their legendary Philadelphia plant in the heart of my district.”€

NBC has run a piece questioning whether the new thin Oreo is healthy, which is like asking if a hot fudge sundae is healthy. It’€™s a cookie, for crying out loud. Granted, calling it a “thin”€ cookie does smack of language intended to deceive consumers into assuming that the product is low calorie.

What exactly caused Oreos to decline in popularity with the public is anyone’s guess, but using a 2009 advertising campaign to associate Oreos with Donald Trump probably didn’€™t help.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’€™s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’€™s chief deputy secretary of state.


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