If you tamper with the product, you tamper with people’s memories." -- Rob Nelson, Elmer's CEO
There was a run on the Easter candy aisle in the Walgreens near my house this week. The store is closing down and reopening a few blocks away, and the Easter candy was all on sale.
There were still plenty of bags of Reese’s peanut butter eggs and jelly beans left. But the stash of Heavenly Hash – on a prominent shelf near the front door - was nearly wiped out.
Along the Gulf Coast, Heavenly Hash Eggs are as much a part of celebrating Easter as the bunny and the basket. More than 10 million of the chocolate marshmallow treats are sold around this time each year, many of them showing up on Easter morning in houses located somewhere along I-10 between Houston and Pensacola.
Unlike Valentine's Day, when heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are fairly standard from coast to coast, Easter baskets are still filled with regional favorites.
Heavenly Hash, the Pecan Egg and Gold Bricks are the top three selling Easter candies in the Gulf South. They’re all made by the 158-year-old Elmer’s Candy Corp. in Ponchatoula.
The shiny blue-wrapped Heavenly Hash eggs have been local tradition since at least 1923. That’s the year Elmer’s acquired the recipe.
Over the decades since then, Heavenly Hash has suffered only a few tweaks. At one point, pecans showed up instead of almonds.
A dark chocolate version was introduced in 2010. There’s also a strawberry Heavenly Hash in a pink wrapper.
But, for the most part, Elmer’s has resisted the temptation to pull a New Coke, and change what, by many tastes – mine included – is a chocolaty, nostalgic bite of spring. It's a simple candy, just a thin chocolate coating encasing two almonds and a soft, pillowy marshmallow that stretches, almost taffy-like, with each bite.
I recently chatted with Rob Nelson, chief executive officer of Elmer’s, about the candy’s past and future.
Q: Elmer acquired the Heavenly Hash recipe in 1923. Do you know who invented the recipe?
“It was actually invented by one of the department stores on Canal Street. I’m not sure which one. I think it was around the turn of the century, probably in the early 1900s.”
Q: Over the years, even the Heavenly Hash packaging has stayed the same?
“I’ve been here 30 years, and in that time, there have been a few minor tweaks. That’s something we’ve had to deal with as a company. That blue wrapper is how people find it. But it’s not really an Easter color. We can’t change it because we’d have a revolt in Louisiana. One year, we worked on it a little bit. In the mid- to late 1990s, some of the wrappers were changed. The Gold Brick was a different shade of gold, more of a greenish gold. And it didn’t work. People would stand right in front of it in the store, and say, ‘That’s not Gold Brick.” So we reverted back. People associate these products with certain memories. If you tamper with the product, you tamper with people’s memories. We come out with new things, but we don’t change the originals.”
Q: What’s the bigger seller: Gold Brick, Pecan Egg or Heavenly Hash? My bet is on Heavenly Hash.
“Gold Brick and Heavenly Hash are neck and neck. Every year it goes back and forth.”
Q: Elmer’s also is the nation's second-largest manufacturer of heart-box chocolates for Valentine's Day. How do your sales for the two holidays differ?
“For Valentine’s Day we make a lot of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate -- 40 to 50 million boxes. What’s on the east coast is the same as the west coast. Easter is a season where regional tastes take over. There are different parts of the country that have their own Easter brand traditions. In the Gulf South, that’s Gold Brick and Heavenly Hash. Some places it might be marshmallow Peeps or jelly beans.”
Q: What goes into making a Heavenly Hash egg? It’s a two-day process?
“We make the marshmallow center. It’s a puffy marshmallow but almost in a liquid state, and deposit that in a cornstarch mold. It sits in that cornstarch overnight. It draws moisture out of the piece, and you’re able to move it around and cover it with chocolate without it falling apart. The next day, the nuts go on, we cover it with chocolate and wrap it.”
Q: Does Elmer's have any new Easter candy flavors?
“We do a marshmallow (egg) that tastes like cotton candy, and we do a marshmallow that tastes like a toasted marshmallow cooked on a campfire. You can take the toasted marshmallow egg, put it between two graham crackers and microwave it, and it tastes like S’mores. We also have a bubble gum creme egg and Yumberry (a chocolate-covered fruity flavored egg.)
Q: Do you sell Heavenly Hash or Gold Brick at any other time of the year?
“We don’t right now, but a few years ago we did some Gold Brick and Heavenly Hash tied to the Saints. It was the year after the Super Bowl. We haven’t done it since then.”
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