Change is good, they say.
But what if change comes to something you have long treasured — a cherished daily companion, a regular cause for happiness, a reliable antidote to afternoon doldrums?
Like SnackWell’s Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes.
I have been addicted to them for years. Mmmmm, those rounded domes of chocolate cake covered with a thin layer of marshmallow and then a coating of chocolate with just the perfect amount of crispness as you bit into it.
Oh, and they’re also fat-free.
Which was why, when RJR Nabisco introduced them in 1992, the snacking public went wild. The company sold out in three months. People started hoarding them and following delivery trucks.
Me, I didn’t stoop that low. I stooped just low enough to get a clerk at my grocery store to tell me the day of the weekly delivery of the snack crack, and to shop accordingly.
But the supplies increased, we addicts settled into our dosages and our routines, and all was well.
I remained serene even when other processed foods began reformulating their ingredients to remove artificial trans-fats, which will be banned by the Food and Drug Administration within three years.
SnackWell’s Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes were fat-free. They had no trans-fats to remove. I was safe.
What had happened, it turned out, was that SnackWell’s had been sold.
In 2013, SnackWell’s, then part of Mondelez International, was acquired by the Back to Nature Foods Company in a joint venture formed by Mondelez and a private equity firm. Back to Nature had to build a new delivery system, explained Vincent Fantegrossi, the company’s president and chief executive officer. For a time glitches kept some markets from getting their deliveries, he said, but the system smoothed out and the SnackWell’s were once again flowing.
Changing ingredients of a beloved product is dangerous business. Just ask Coca-Cola.
What if the new formula destroyed the old magic?
Not to worry, said Fantegrossi kindly, possibly sensing a fanatic on his hands. The company was improving the cookies, making them more attractive to the modern health-conscious consumer.
“Today just being fat-free is not enough,” he said. “You have to have the right ingredients as well as being fat free.”
But the taste, I whimpered. That delectably smooth chocolate coating so delectable, that perfectly thin layer of marshmallow –
“It really will taste good,” he promised. “We have tasted it. It will taste the same.”
Well, I’ll be the judge of that, I thought. And a few weeks ago, I got the chance. I spotted the new version in a store, brought a box home, took out a cookie and took a bite.
Fantegrossi was surprised to hear it when I called to report my findings.
“Let me eat one right now while we’re talking,” he said.
There was a munching sound as he conducted his research.
“I don’t know, Barbara; I think it hits the spot,” he said.
After we talked, he consulted his company’s marketing department and its vice president of research and development.
Back to Nature has gotten no complaints about the new cookie’s flavor, he reported. And the only change that could affect the taste was replacing high fructose corn syrup with sugar, which would alter the sweetness slightly.
I did further research of my own. I bought a box of the original recipe cookies online, and my husband and I did blind taste tests comparing the new and the old.
We could tell them apart easily. And we both thought the original tasted better.
But the writing is on the box, literally. The new package touts the absence of now-disreputable ingredients.
It is the way of snacking future. Who can argue against it?
But the original SnackWell’s devil’s food cookies were never as devilishly unhealthy as many other snacks. They never did have trans fats, the partially hydrogenated oils that lower “good” cholesterol and raise “bad” cholesterol and thus increase the risk of heart disease.
Was removing high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and preservatives worth the hit to the taste?
Apparently, since I seem to be the only one complaining.