The nation is unlikely to ever crown a Bounty its favourite snack. The coconut is far too divisive. But Bounty fans like me love the chocolate bar precisely because it is packed with the fudgily sweet coconut filling, not in spite of it. So when I unwrap a brand the “healthier” version of the product, due to hit Tesco shelves this week, I feel robbed. Worse, tricked.
The reformulated Bounty “Triple Treat” is almost entirely coconut free. Instead, it is a bar made primarily of date paste, bearing a miserly sprinkling of desiccated coconut – 1.1 per cent compared to 21 per cent in the real thing – and a drizzle of milk chocolate.
Bounty adverts have always offered a “taste of paradise”, the promise of a moment in the Caribbean during dreary tea breaks. But I can’t see this Bounty getting me further than a log-jammed ferry terminal.
Bounty is not alone in being reformulated – Mars, Snickers, Bounty and Galaxy (RRP 80p) have also been given the “Triple Treat” makeover. Each one has the same date, raisin and peanut base, the sort of thing we’ve seen before in Nakd bars, or the round snacks resembling bird feed known as “power balls”, which began life as post-gym fuel. I’m not knocking date balls. I often make my own. I don’t, however, see them as being substitutes for chocolate.
In the “Triple Treat” bars, dates are blended with raisins and peanuts and topped off with something to identify each as a different product. They are not close relations to their forebears, certainly spin-offs rather than sequels. And while the new version of Bounty seems to have travelled furthest of the four from its inspiration, the others leave me wanting too.
What strikes me about the Mars “Triple Treat” is the absence of the chewy nougat layer which surely makes a Mars bar a Mars bar. The same is true of the Snickers. But when I try both, there is something of that chewy cookie-ish taste and texture to them, which from looking at the ingredients must be what Mars is describing as “malt-infused”. There are also some fudge pieces to replicate the caramel layer, and roasted peanuts on the Snickers.
All this makes the eating experience a sweet one. If it’s a sugary pick-me-up you’re after, these won’t disappoint. But are they similar enough to replace a 3pm tea accompaniment? If you don’t like dates, this probably isn’t for you. With the Bounty, I can taste some coconut throughout, but this hardly makes up for the lack of, it’s more a whiff of Malibu. Again, the Galaxy smells of a Galaxy, but there’s nothing melt-in-the-mouth about it.
So why is Mars messing with our favourite snacks? It’s brave, to say the least. Remember the consumer uproar when the Dairy Milk in Creme eggs was replaced with “standard cocoa mix chocolate” in 2020? Unsurprisingly, the motivation is not altruistic.
Upcoming regulations on HFSS foods (high in fat, salt and sugar) mean that BOGOFs and two-for-ones are for the chop along with various in-store advertising, such as placing HFSS products prominently at the end of aisles.
The new rules were slated for October 2022 but have just been delayed for a year, with the Government citing the cost of living pressures. Plans to restrict junk food advertising on TV have also been pushed back. But brands have been preparing anyway.
“Triple Treat does exactly what it says on the tin,” says Kerry Cavanaugh, marketing director at Mars Wrigley UK. “It’s packed with a knockout trio of fruit, nuts and our iconic chocolate, and is delightfully delicious to boot. At Mars Wrigley, we’re thrilled that Brits can now enjoy a great tasting – and HFSS compliant – Galaxy, Mars, Snickers and Bounty Treat.”
But does “HFSS compliant” automatically mean healthy? Mars boasts its new bars are all over 75 per cent fruit and nut and high in fibre. Obviously, dates and nuts aren’t calorie or fat-free, but I am surprised how similar some of the nutritional information is between the new and OG bars.
The Snickers “Triple Treat” has 426 calories per 100g, 20g of fat (5g saturated) and 49g of carbohydrate (42g of which sugars). A real Snickers has 510 calories per 100g, 28g of fat (9.6 saturated) and 54g of carbohydrate (of which 45g sugars).
For the Mars Bar the stats are 433 calories against 488 for the real thing and 26g of fat compared to 19.6g (21.4g/5g saturated). With the Bounty and Galaxy it is also the saturated fat that is the major difference, at 5g per 100g compared to 21.4g and 20g in the real bars.
We all need some help with portion control, and the “Triple Treats” clock in at 32g each compared to around 50g for the originals. Curiously, they are also all big on peanuts, which means they’d be banned from most schools – and some other settings – to protect anyone with a severe allergy.
I sat down with Nena Foster, a nutritional chef with a background in public health. She tastes each product, bemoaning the health industry’s enduring obsession with reducing fat intake, when sugar is the real enemy. What’s more, she points out, each bar contains only 2-3g of fibre. Although enough to permit its “high in fibre” tagline, adults need around 30g a day.
But will they keep us full for longer than a regular chocolate bar? “There is some protein (around 3g per bar) but it’s minimal,” says Foster. “And there’s the majority of our daily intake of free or added sugar. And in just one bar. People think dried fruit is better for you, but actually the sugar hit is more concentrated. Just because it has dates in it doesn’t make it healthy.
“The amount of sugar is certainly not commensurate with the amount of protein or fibre to in any way market this as a healthier option.”
We’ve seen brands reduce product size before and experiment with sugar substitutes like stevia, often used in soft drinks since the “sugar tax” came into force in 2018.
To avoid being labelled HFSS, brands need to come up with substantively different products, and the whole industry is gearing up to the challenge. Last week Twiglets announced a new recipe is on the way, using 60 per cent less salt. New versions of Hula Hoops, Tyrrells and Popchips are also on the horizon.
But what we desperately need is education, not reformulation. I don’t want anyone to take my Bounty bar, but I do know our diets need dredging of the sugar causing obesity, type 2 diabetes and so many other related illnesses.
There are plenty of young “challenger” brands out there creating new types of snack instead of fudging it with cheap hacks. I’d eat one of these “Triple Treats” again, but consider it in the same ballpark as any other sugary, chocolatey snack.