Why I no longer buy Kit Kat bars in America

Happy Birthday to the Kit Kat bar, who turns seventy-five years young this year. Funny. It doesn’t look a day over forty.

Here’s my favorite fact about Kit Kat. In 1969, Rowntree, the owner and creators of the Kit Kat Bar, gave license to Hershey’s to produce and distribute the bar here in the United States. Rowntree, meanwhile, kept the rights for Canada.This wasn’t a huge issue at the time, and only those who traveled beyond the border of the U.S. would have noticed the difference, and then only if they had an immensely sensitive palate. However, after Nestlé purchased Rowntree in 1988, the differences became more apparent.

Mostly this is due to the fact that Nestlé had the wonderful idea of extending the brand beyond the tried and true chocolate flavor. They tested chocolate/orange bars and chocolate/mint bars in the UK, and sales warranted further flavors.

This innovation didn’t happen in the United States, or rather, Hershey’s opted to focus on extending the Kit Kat Brand by offering variations of chocolate, rather than adding additional flavorings. To be fair, Hershey’s did bring out the orange and mint flavors, but only on a temporary basis. One is more likely to find a Kit Kat Dark in the United States than a Kit Kat Mint.

For those of us who live within a days car ride to Canada, the difference between Kit Kats soon became readily apparent, and the larger assortment available in the Great White North made them more interesting. My trips to British Columbia invariably require a trip to a candy counter of some sort in order to see what new and different flavors have become available. When I could get Kit Kat Banana or Kit Kat Peanut Butter on one side of the border, but the same ol’ regular Kit Kat on the other, suddenly the Nestlé version became more exotic.

Think about that for a moment. I just used “Nestlé” and “exotic” in the same sentence…and meant it. My world had turned upside down. I began to curse Hershey’s for their lack of commitment to this sort of innovation.

Meanwhile, the range of flavors of Nestlé Kit Kat exploded, especially over in Japan. Soon I could read about Kit Kat flavors such as Strawberry, Ginger Ale, Rose, and even Wasabi. What could my local candy aisle offer? Milk Chocolate and some pasty white coating that Hershey tried to pawn off as white chocolate. They might as well offered soot flavored Kit Kat for all I cared. Hershey’s had officially lost my Kit Kat vote.

I recognize now that this is mostly my preference. I suspect that if had been demonstrated that Orange or Mint Kit Kat’s could sell here to a reasonable level, Hershey’s would have done so. After all, this is a company which is still trying to pimp their horrible Take 5 bar to the U.S. market. But it was likely that sales never met the threshold that Hershey’s had set, so no Banana Kit Kats for us.

As for me? There are times I whistfully sigh out loud when I see a Kit Kat bar here in America, and I think to myself what could have been. I then move on to another brand of candy while thinking to myself that it’s about time I make another trip to Vancouver.