When is a piece of confectionary not a piece of confectionary? When, my friends, it is a Peanut Butter Cup.
This little corrugated cup – filled with peanut butter and encased in delicate, wafer-thin chocolate – was invented by Mr Harry Burnett Reese in 1928 and has become not only a salve for sweet teeth but also a staple of day-to-day life across the US.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are – according to Nilson, the international measurement agency – the most popular sweet in the US, making $2.6bn (€1.9bn) in 2012. Considering the cups sell for $1 (€0.70) a pack, these are eyewatering numbers indeed.
But Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have become part of the fabric of the US and continue to play a cameo role in the lives and times of Americans across the country. In 2012, a cornerstore in Ohio reported that it had been the victim of a serial Peanut Butter Cup thief; the perpetrator, who has never been brought to justice, stole $600 (€440) worth of the confections. That’s a lot of Peanut Butter Cups.
On death row in the US, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are among the most requested items for inmates crafting their final meals. And at the memorial service of Chandra Levy, the Washington intern who was murdered in 2001, it was Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – her favourite sweet – that were handed out to mourners as they entered the chapel.
The Peanut Butter Cup is, then, more than a sweet – it is part of something deeper. So the news that Butterfinger, the Nestlé-owned chocolate brand, has launched its own version of the Peanut Butter Cup may well raise eyebrows for those accustomed to tearing open the bright orange packaging (the word “Reese’s” scrawled in bright yellow across the front) in order to satiate their peanut butter and chocolate fix.
Nestlé isn’t going about its challenge to the Peanut Butter Cup throne lightly. A huge media campaign at the end of last year and a major advert during the Super Bowl this January will, it hopes, cement Butterfinger Cups in the national psyche and place them firmly on the national palate.
But one thing Nestlé might want to consider is that unseating a brand that has seeped so deeply into its consumers’ lives will not be a simple task. Brands are more than the products they sell; they speak to something else, whether we realise it or not. They reassure us and promise us that the same old comforts will remain the same old comforts.
But competition is inevitable in a commercial world and Nestlé’s foray into the Peanut Butter Cup market is, you might say, a delectable democracy at work. Whether Butterfinger becomes the Pepsi to Reese’s Coca-Cola remains to be seen. But for those with a penchant for peanutty paste cradled in sweet milk chocolate your cup doth, for the moment at least, truly runneth over.
Tomos Lewis is a producer for Monocle 24.