Heath bar

From Academic Kids

The Heath bar is an American candy bar made of English-style toffee. A thin hard slab with a milk chocolate coating, the toffee originally contained sugar, butter, and almonds, and was a small squarish bar weighing 1 ounce. From its inception in the 1920s, the Heath bar was always somewhat unusual, because of its simplicity and size.

History

In 1913, L. S. Heath, a school teacher, bought an existing confectionery shop in Robinson, Illinois as a likely business opportunity for his oldest sons, Bayard and Everett Heath. The brothers opened a combination candy store, ice cream parlor, and manufacturing operation there in 1914.

With the success of the business, the elder Heath became interested in ice cream, and opened a small dairy factory in 1915. His sons worked on expanding their confectionery business. At some point they reportedly acquired a toffee recipe, via a traveling saleman, from a Greek confectioner in another part of the state. In 1928, they began marketing it locally as "Heath English Toffee", proclaiming it “America’s Finest.”

In 1931, when Bayard and Everett were persuaded by their father to sell the confectionery and work at his dairy, they brought their candy-making equipment with them, and established a retail business there. The Heaths came up with the interesting marketing idea of including the toffee on the order form taken around by the Heath dairy trucks, so that one could order Heath bars to be delivered along with one’s milk and cottage cheese. The oil boom in southern Illinois provided more customers from further afield.

The Heath bar started to grow in popularity nationally during the Depression, despite its one-ounce size and the five-cent price, equal to larger bars. Still made by hand until 1942, the candy went partially mechanized and big-time for good after the U.S. Army placed its first order of $175,000 worth of the bars. The Heath bar had been found to have a very long shelf life, and the Army included it in soldiers’ rations throughout World War II.

Popularity of the Heath bar grew after the war, although the manufacturing process remained largely a hands-on, family-run operation. All four of L.S. Heath’s sons, his two daughters, and several grandchildren were involved in the business. In the 1950s, the Heath Toffee Ice Cream Bar was developed, and eventually franchised to other dairies.

In the 1960s, the huge national success of the Heath bar led to family in-fighting of some heat, with at least one grandchild thrown out of the business. In the 1970s, the company bought the South Dakota company, Fenn Brothers, which made a cousin of Heath toffee – Butter Brickle.

Elsewhere, the Heath bar was making its way into other products. Already in use crushed up as a “mix-in” in Boston ice cream shops, the bar became the base for one of Ben & Jerry's most popular flavors when they opened their first shop in 1978. A Dairy Queen dish was developed using the candy. Heath bar cakes date from at least the 1960s on.

In the 1980s, a Heath Toffee Ice Cream Sandwich appeared, along with Heath Soft ‘n Crunchy – an oxymoron Heath bar for those who didn’t like how hard the original bar was.

In 1989, with the diminishing and splintering of the Heath family, the business was sold to a Finnish company, Leaf, Inc., which in turn sold it to Hershey in 1990. The Heath bar, however, as manufactured by Hershey, remains much the same as it was in 1928.

Other Aspects of the Heath Bar

  • For many years, the bar wrappers had the name “Heath” printed out in a memorable way – two very large “H”s bookending “eat”, which was thought to be a marketing ploy. It probably was.
  • Early ads promoted Heath as a virtual health bar – only the best milk chocolate and almonds, creamery butter, and “pure sugar cane.” The motto at the bottom of one ad read “Heath for better health!” It was surrounded by illustrations of milk, cream, butter, cheese, and ice cream, and off in a special corner – a Heath bar and a bottle of soda. The latter was probably Pepsi, as the Heath Co. bottled the drink for a number of years.
  • Early salesmen, confronted with the small bar, occasionally wondered if it were something like Ex-Lax rather than real candy.
  • It has been said that the Heath bar was Elvis Presley’s favorite candy bar, and the company once sent him a complimentary case of it.
  • Hershey created the Skor bar to compete with the Heath bar, before it bought out the company.
  • Since Hershey acquired its production, the bar has been elongated to be more visually competitive with its candy bar shelf-mates, and now weighs 1.4 ounces. Current ingredients are milk chocolate, sugar, dairy butter (sic), partially hydrogenated soybean oil, almonds, salt, artificial flavor, and soy lecithin. The wrapper's vintage brown color scheme has been kept in the redesign, and a small seal proclaims the Heath as "Finest Quality English Toffee." The font used for Heath is quite like that used on the earlier double bar.
  • Today, in addition to recipes for Heath bar cake, there are Heath bar coffeecakes, pies, cookies, brownies, frosting, cheesecake, milkshakes, tortes, and, straight out of Hershey’s test kitchens, Toffee Crusted Chicken Breast (sic), requiring two cups of crushed Heath Bars combined with bread crumbs to coat six chicken breasts.

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