10 Of The Most Influential Candy Bars Of All Time

People were so enamored with the concept of this treat—as depicted in the 1964 Roald Dahl novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—that Quaker Oats Company, which financed the 1971 film version, decided to make it a reality. The promotional stunt—which marked the first time a fictional candy bar had come to life—“was a big sensation at the time,” says candy historian Darlene Lacey, and the bars remain popular today.

When this bar debuted in 1923, it was the first to take inspiration from a real dessert: the milky way malted milkshake. (That’s right—it was not named after the galaxy.) Decades later, that same gimmick would spawn products like PowerBar’s Dulce de Leche-flavored snack and Kit Kat’s Strawberry Cheesecake bar in Japan.

When this bar launched in 1921, its makers claimed it was named after President Grover Cleveland’s daughter Ruth (who had died 17 years earlier at the age of 12).  But at that time, the more obvious association was with new Yankees star Babe Ruth, making this the first candy bar to profit from the success of a public figure—even though he wasn’t being compensated.

Prior to this bar’s introduction in 1937, candy-bar fillings were somewhat rich: nuts, caramel, etc. By using dirt-cheap puffed rice, however, Nestle helped mainstream the notion that candy could be almost anything you put into chocolate—an idea that brought candy-bar prices down and spawned treats like Krackel and Thingamajig.

The Cadbury family’s idyllic factory village in Birmingham, England—where these bars were created in 1897—helped inspire Milton S. Hershey’s own facility in Pennsylvania. “It was a sort of social utopia,” explains Deborah Cadbury, a family descendant and author of Chocolate Wars. “The Cadbury brothers as Quakers were the first to really look after their employees and provide pensions and security of employment and a living wage.” Although the Cadburys no longer own the company, its influence still looms large: its Dairy Milk and 5-Star bars are some of the world’s best-selling confections.

More than 80 years after its launch in 1930, this Mars bar is world’s best-selling international confection. And although it may not have revolutionized candy-bar taste or distribution, it’s unparalleled at selling itself: its star-studded ad campaign “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” helped sales hit around $3.5 billion in 2012, outpacing M&Ms, Reeses and Kit Kat. Also, says Kimmerle, it helps that Snickers offers nougat, caramel and peanuts—coated in chocolate, of course.

Prior to this bar’s introduction in 1875, bar-form cocoa was bitter, chewy and dark. And chocolatiers couldn’t sweeten it with regular milk, as the liquid invited mildew growth. By adding the condensed milk pioneered by Henri Nestlé for infant formula, however, Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter solved that problem—his product was smoother, sweeter and had a longer shelf life. That breakthrough paved the way for almost every modern-day chocolate bar, including Hershey’s, Lindt and Godiva.

This now-iconic triangular prism of chocolate, nougat, almonds and honey, which debuted in 1908, was the first flagship bar to debut with a filling, upending the traditional model. (That same year, Hershey’s launched a milk chocolate bar with almonds.) Today, Lacey calls the Swiss treat “a juggernaut in terms of the global candy market” and filling is standard in bars like Almond Joy, Mounds and Three Musketeers.


Nestlé may have invented milk chocolate, but Hershey’s made it mainstream. By building his factory right in the middle of dairy land—and using local milk to amp up production volume—Milton Hershey powered an unparalleled distribution network, says Sweet Tooth author Kate Hopkins, turning chocolate into an American obsession. Since its first bar debuted in 1900, Hershey’s has become one of the world’s most recognizable brands: its treats fed soldiers during World War II; its ad campaigns were revered; and now, there’s a $23.5 million museum dedicated to its legacy.

Beyond being the first candy bar to be marketed around sharing, which helped turn chocolate into a social snack, Kit Kat was also the first to gain a global following. Whereas Hershey’s and Cadbury cornered different markets with similar products, the wafer-filled Kit Kats launched in both Europe and the U.S. before entering Australia, Asia and Africa—paving the way for other blockbuster bars like Snickers and Butterfinger. Decades later, Kit Kat remains a global obsession: last year, Google’s Android announced its new operating system would be called “KitKat,” and in January, Tokyo welcomed the first all-Kit Kat store, featuring flavors like edamame soy bean, purple sweet potato and wasabi.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

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