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Fox's Delicious Cookies

Wednesday 1 Nov 2006

Well about the most popular program on British Television right now is the X Factor on a Saturday evening. The singing contest attracts massive audiences and for me invokes memories of how Saturday night telly used to be when I was a kid back in the 70s. On would go the Generation Game with whole family sitting around eating a tea of ham and cheese sandwiches, a shared pack of crisps, celery sticks, tea and biscuits in front of the telly as treat. Advertisers are keen to get such prime time slots, and last week between the adverts for burgers, pizzas, brown stuff to make it look like you've just been on holiday and phones there was an advert for Fox's biscuits.

Now I don't remember the last time I saw an advert for Fox's and the one last week was very much a brand building type of thing, rather than a specific advert for a certain biscuit. So what's going on here? Well there is much reading between the lines to be done but I think this weeks biscuits are an interesting reflection of what is happening right now in the biscuit world. Also it accords a good bit of freedom to innovate if we simply trust the name Fox's to deliver.

The two growth sectors in biscuits right now are healthy and indulgent, at first glance diametrically opposed. Despite the obvious problems with obesity an increasing number of consumers are becoming more aware of diet and making much more considered choices. Not only are people choosing organic, fair-trade they are also concerned with what is in their food. What both growth segments share is to show the enquiring eye lists of key ingredients, wholesome or decadent, take your pick.

Perhaps this explains why this trio of biscuits don't really have names, which is a bit of a revelation, akin to Apples iMac not having a floppy drive when it was launched. To determine what is contained within one has to look at the picture and read the little sentence on the pack front which contains the words Delicious Cookies picked out in brushed gold script. One has the word Sultanas the next Milk Chocolate Chunks and the last Extremely chocolatey. Indeed all three biscuits live up to their pictures and descriptions, and as we have come to expect from Fox's all three are very nice indeed, and why shouldn't they be after all we indulging ourselves.

The Sultana cookies have that all important randomness associated with some thing that looks more handmade than mass produced. The Sultanas are second in the list of ingredients followed by sugar and butter and the resulting biscuit reflects this uncomplicated approach. A rich buttery open textured biscuit with generous fruit. Although I initially steamed into them I quickly tired finding them a tad too greasy. Such biscuits are obviously at the very best when just cooled from the oven, and in order to keep the impression of such mouth pleasing meltingness straight from the packet the fat in the biscuit has to be carefully controlled. In the old days the black arts of hydrogenated fats could be relied upon, but nowadays some vegetable oil and a bit of butter are all that Fox's have at their disposal. In short very nice but resistible.

The chocolate biscuits were both the same thing really with the extremely chocolately ones picking up an additional coat of chocolate on their base. Big chocolate chunks form the main ingredient whilst the biscuit which is a pleasing brown colour would appear to be so due to some molasses rather than cocoa. Some oatmeal and desiccated coconut have been included which keeps the texture interesting. These are quite thick biscuits, (unfortunately I don't have dimensions as Wifey and the YMOS saw them all off before I could get near them with the tape measure). Definitely one to investigate if you like big chunky cookies with a good crunch to them. Also given their size those of you who like to keep strict tabs on the number of biscuits you tuck away should have no problems counting them.

So there we have it three appealing biscuits that have plenty of their key goodies designed to catch the indulgent shoppers eye. I think they have almost pulled it off but given that Fox's are a veritable powerhouse of innovation I'd expect to see plenty of siblings joining them and vying for our attention.

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Cafe Bronte Range

Thursday 28 Sep 2006

Its a tricky business for a purveyor of biscuits to put together the perfect couple of biscuits to go along with that welcome cuppa when you are out about. Especially difficult if they have to compete for attention against an array of tempting home made cakes, in some nice little tea room. Yes it's tall order for a couple of biscuits, they have to make you believe that you made the right call that you are indulging yourself just that little and above all that they were worth it. More often than not you'll have never met them before so you'll be judging them entirely upon first impressions. Step up to the breach Paterson Arran supplier of some the tastiest biscuits to the catering and hospitality trade.

At the start of year we took a look at a little windfall of Paterson Arran's Bronte biscuits that had turned up for a one off appearance at Asda. Much fun was had seeing off a box load of these premier league tasty biccies normally found in pairs next to kettles in expensive hotel rooms. Now Cafe Bronte has been launched as a range of stylish and tempting till side biscuits. The range includes dunking bars, shortbreads and soft cookies with such goodies as milk chocolate chips, raisins, cranberries and spices such as ginger and cinnamon (full list at the end). The range takes all the things Paterson Arran already do so well, such as shortbread (well they are Scottish), oaty biscuits (yep still Scottish) and crisp treacle laced ginger snaps and makes them temptingly larger than before. The soft cookies are really just large biscuits that manage to not be crisp and crunchy and yet don't trigger the excessively limp alarms like so many things bearing this moniker. The dunking bars are just big (30g) biscuits that have been optimised for immersion by making them long and narrow.

Now I have to say that this for me is one of the best things about the whole range, lets take it as read that the whole range is really very nice indeed so quality is not an issue. The most common problem with little packs of biscuits is just that.. they are little. This sets up all sorts of unnecessary tensions in the customer, who invariably wishes the pack had at least another biscuit in it, and wonders if they should go back for another and if everybody else will stare and point at them if they do. Not conducive to a nice sit down.

The biscuits in the Cafe Bronte range are all substantial offerings and should comfortably accompany even the largest mug or small pot of tea. Much more relaxing. Released from your fear of premature biscuit finishing you can now turn your attention to the other customers and stare and point at them at your leisure.

The biscuits are presented in clear cellophane packs dropped into little shiny black card wallets each with two little legs. A large sticky label keeps the whole lot in place and tells you all you need to know. I presume these are there to literally raise them up above the competition thereby catching your eye in that first all important encounter. Having had a big pile of them to work through we soon found that you need to peel off the label first to release the biscuits sufficiently to gain access. Once you are in you won't be disappointed, and you won't regret passing on the cakes.

Cranberry, All Butter and Choc Chunk shortbread. Oat & Raisin, Double Choc Chip, Ginger Snap, Cinnamon Snap, Fruit Shrewsbury and Choc Chip & Orange dunking bars. White Choc Chunk, Apricot & Coconut, Milk Choc Chunk & Orange, Cranberry, Dark Choc Chunk & Stem Ginger soft cookies.

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McVities Fruitsters

Friday 15 Sep 2006

Hard on the heels of McVities indulgent Belgian Choc Moments range comes a range of biscuits designed to tick as many of the healthy boxes that can sensibly be put against a packet of biscuits. So we wanted to find out if one can indulge one's fruity side and still feel good about it. McVities have even gone as far as saying the new biscuits are 'crammed full of goodness', and a little goodness never did anybody any harm did it?

The first hurdle to cross is which ones to go for? Sweet Cranberry & Almond, Succulent Sultana & Hazelnut, Juicy Blueberry & Oat or Sun-drenched Apricot & Honey. Can you see a pattern here? Dubious adjective followed by reasonable name. No doubt the blueberries at some point in their history were juicy but with the best will in the world after they have been dried then crammed or even gently placed in a biscuit and baked in a hot oven juicy is not that pertinent. Anyhow we picked up a packet of each just to make sure we weren't missing a trick.

Now I can't stress how important it is to bear in mind that McVities have set out to create biscuits that appeal to people who are choosing healthier options, a huge growth area in the industry. My point about the tick boxes is born out by the four points along the bottom face of the pack each proceeded by a tick - Contains 40% wholegrains - A good source of fibre - No artificial colours or flavours - No hydrogenated vegetable oil. Back at the beginning of August McVities parent company United Biscuits announced that they had now removed hydrogenated fat from all of their products which includes their cakes and snacks as well as biscuits, so well done UB. They might have also added to their tick list something about the sodium levels which are also impressively low, and another thing McVities have steadily been reducing across their range.

Of course all this change doesn't go unnoticed and some people have struggled with the changing textures and tastes. So it's all a lot easier to do when you have a blank canvas and are creating a new biscuit from scratch rather than tinkering with an old faithful. Its quite another thing to create a engaging personality for such a new product when it has been tailored to some sort of corporate brief on expanding market segments and opportunities, hence the aforementioned adjectives.

So how does all of this goodness taste? Well I'm sure if one was to eat these regularly then one would get used to them, but to the unsuspecting palette its going to be quite a shock. The fruit certainly makes itself known with big chewy pieces of it generously provided in all four varieties. The flavours are all present and correct too. But perhaps the most noticeable healthy feature is the sugar content which has stepped to one side to allow more of those whole grains to be crammed in. Thus the biscuits are not that sweet and the texture is soft and crumbly rather than hard and crunchy. All in all it's like a soft mealy semi-sweet shortbread with bits and pieces of fruit in.

You would do well to mentally prepare yourself prior to tucking for the first time. When we compared the nitty gritty figures against McVities Digestives then it turned out that they were broadly similar in terms of calories, fat content with the Fruitsters having less sodium and more fibre. Watch out for wholegrains and fat, as in a lot of whole-meal breads the recipes use quite a bit of it. So I don't think you can swap your celery sticks for a pack of these quite yet, although you should find them more filling than a digestive.