Snap those fingers

the material world

Lindy Sharpe
Friday 20 October 1995 23:02 BST

In the United Kingdom, we eat 47 Kit Kats every second. In the two minutes it takes you to read this article, another 48,120 Kit Kat fingers will have been consumed worldwide. Imagine: a blur of red wrappers; different sorts of fingers peeling off the foil; chocolate sticks being popped into mouths of all shapes and sizes at the rate of 401 a second.

It's a nauseating thought and it's not just Kit Kats. In the UK, we also eat 2.2 million Mars bars every day, plus tons of Galaxy and Milk Tray and fresh cream truffles, giving us an average intake of eight kilograms (the largest polythene bags of potatoes sold in supermarkets weighs only 5kg) each per year, which is the highest in Europe. Worldwide, Cadbury produce 250 million bars of Dairy Milk every year; Kit Kats are exported to more than 90 countries, and produced in several more. You may cringe at the consuming imperialism all this represents - the insinuation of tooth-rotting products of little nutritional worth into so many diets - but there is something touching about the idea that, however many diverse millions of us there are, we share the impulse, and the means, to indulge in small sweet treats.

Have a break

Kit Kat is the biggest-selling chocolate bar in the UK, and it has been for eight years running. There are many subjective explanations for this: it's seen as a lighter, less naughty snack than, say, a Mars (although, in fact, weight for weight, Mars has fewer calories and less fat); the finger format means you can pretend you're not going to eat it all; the flat shape doesn't make a nasty bulge in your pocket; and there's something ritualistic about sliding off the sleeve and then picking off the foil, a bit like taking the cellophane off a pack of cigarettes. The objective reason for Kit Kat's success, though, is a technical one, to do with the way we organise our shops. Because of its wafer centre, Kit Kat classifies as a biscuit as well as a chocolate bar, and is consequently displayed in two different sections of the supermarket. (The same applies to Twix, which is the fourth biggest seller, behind Mars and Dairy Milk.) As a result, Kit Kat also appears near the top of the biscuit ratings.

Joining the Kit Kat club

The Kit Kat was one of a clutch of successful products (Aero, Smarties, Black Magic and Dairy Box were others) introduced by Rowntree during the Thirties, when a man called George Harris was in charge of new brands. The name Kit Kat, which Rowntree registered in 1911 for possible future use reputedly because of its associations with the club of the same name, was introduced tentatively. In 1935, when it first appeared - already in the scarlet sleeve - it was called the Chocolate Crisp. Two years later, the Kit Kat logo was added, looking almost exactly as it does now. Early advertisements refer to the Chocolate Crisp, "nicknamed Kit Kat".

In fact, in those days, the Chocolate Crisp often wasn't: only in the Fifties did improved production techniques eliminate a tendency to sogginess. In 1957, when the advertising agency J Walter Thomson was asked to produce the Kit Kat's first television advertisement, they picked up the idea that the "snap" of a breaking bar could now be guaranteed, and combined it with an earlier line, that the Kit Kat was "the best companion to a cup of tea". The resulting slogan, "Have a break, have a Kit Kat", has been in use ever since, and the initial sales surge of 22 per cent helped establish television as the powerful new advertising medium. The "endline" is now translated for campaigns all over the world: Da um tempo coma um Kit Kat, as they say in Brazil

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