By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine
Will you twist, lick and dunk?
Oreo cookies are as much a part of the traditional American upbringing as Coca-Cola and hotdogs. But will British shoppers be won over by these biscuits from afar?
The British biscuit is more than a sweet snack - it is one half of a venerable institution. And chief among the affections of British biscuit lovers is the custard cream, which last year was voted the nation's favourite.
Down Under, the Tim Tam has a similar grip on public affections while in America it's the Oreo cookie that holds sway.
But Oreo's makers, Kraft, have broader ambitions. What's become the biggest biscuit brand in China is now threatening to colonise British biscuit tins.
For a few years the black and white "sandwich cookie" has been available in Sainsbury's. Now it's being launched across the UK, on the back of its first (£4.5m) UK advertising campaign.
Unlike in China, where Kraft cut the sugar content because locals found it too sweet, the British Oreo is the same recipe that has conquered the US. The only difference is that it's been repackaged in the long barrel form familiar to British shoppers.
So can this Goliath of a global brand crack what is the largest biscuit market in Europe? After all, Brits' biscuit tastes - digestives, Rich Tea, Hob Nobs, malted milk, fig rolls - are notoriously patriotic.
And, as any Brit who has compared a Hershey's bar with a bar of Dairy Milk, will know, the American sweet tooth has a different pitch.
Jocelyn McNulty, director of UK Biscuits from Kraft Foods, says the British reaction has so far been positive.
"Oreo is a bit different. It's dark-coloured because of the high percentage of cocoa in the biscuit and consumers may look at it and think 'That looks different'."
'A family moment'
But when they taste the vanilla cream and the dark biscuit, then dunk it in milk, they'll be won over.
Dunk it in milk? This routine is central to the Oreo brand. The slogan is "twist, lick, dunk" and the television advert features a boy demonstrating the technique to his dog.
The classic Oreo, which first appeared in 1912
"This ritual that comes with Oreo makes it more than a biscuit," says Ms McNulty. "The ritual elevates it to a moment of child-like delight and a warm family moment. 'Twist, lick and dunk' is the language we use. Around the world, 'twist, lick and dunk' is Oreo."
It's not an attempt to patronise, she adds, but a way of underlining with humour what makes Oreos special.
"We had to be very careful. We're not giving usage instructions here. We're not saying 'This is how you have to eat an Oreo'."
The fact this is an American firm is not really relevant, she says, but Oreo should "invigorate" the British market. Its key targets are mums with children aged six to 12.
But it's a tricky time in the UK biscuit market, which grew by less than 1% between 2001 and 2006. This stagnation was blamed on shoppers being more health-conscious.
Ms McNulty couldn't say exactly how much sugar was in an Oreo but she says two biscuits are within "recommended daily levels".
"Mums are the gatekeepers of snacks and treats and what we've seen from our research is that biscuits are an important part of family life, and we trust mums to manage the balance of snacks and treats in the household."
But self-appointed biscuit expert Stuart Payne, author of A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down, says he was under-whelmed and disappointed by them.
"It's a very sickly-sweet, dark biscuit and I was expecting more from it". And it takes itself too seriously, he says of the ad slogan.
"It's like someone rudely coming into your home and telling you how to arrange your settee. It arrives here and says: 'I'm Oreo and this is what you do with me.'
"Well we've had biscuits for a long time and we know what to do."
He doubts it will succeed in the UK because in his opinion it has too much sugar, he says, which is the latest ingredient under scrutiny by health watchdogs after the battles over salt and hydrogenated fat.
But this is more than a biscuit, says Jonathan Gabay of Brand Forensics, it's a part of American life.
Brits love their biscuits so much, they turn them into sculptures
"The brand positions itself as much as crucial to wholesome family life as a glass of milk is for growing kids. In fact many school teachers in America use Oreos to explain basic maths.
"Now the cookie is coming over to the UK, again positioned as a wholesome treat you would want to give to kids.
"I have to ask how long it will be until we too will be families whose values are partially defined by a biscuit that is 29% cream, 71% cookie and 100% good old family values."
Biscuits are nostalgic and your favourite ones stay with you as an adult. Generations of Americans remember the good old days having an Oreo and milk.
Without any history in the UK, they can build that brand persona for the next generation through advertising, believes Mr Gabay. And many British youngsters will have an awareness of the brand already, through American soaps.
"The closest thing we have to it is the Milky Bar kid but Oreos are stronger. The Milky Bar kid has to 'ride' out to the sweet shop to find his 'gold'. Oreos comes to the home and so they also win the tacit approval of Mum and Dad, which is acceptable as the kid is still pre-teenage."
Below is a selection of your comments.
Oreos are very nice biscuits, but they are not quite chocolate digestives. Plus a lot of British people are not going to want to eat the same biscuits as Americans, especially since tea and biscuits is a British thing.
Heather Stanbury, Exeter
As a North American in the UK, the bag of Oreos is one thing I miss hugely (yup, they're sold in an actual sack back home, not a piffling tube). Whenever my family makes the transatlantic trip it's always Oreos I ask them to bring. It's been hard work finding sources here, and you can usually only get them in packs of four (four? FOUR?). And yes, twisting, licking and dunking in a glass of milk really is as culturally significant as a Rich Tea dissolving in a cup of Earl Grey. You might want to import a North American attitude to dentistry at the same time, mind you...
Nick, Cromer, UK
They'll probably sell quite well for a little while as everyone has heard the name and a lot would like to try one. But I doubt it'll last as they just don't taste very nice, and even if they did, don't dunk well in a cup of tea - useless!
I've been eating Oreos for a few months and while they are nice enough I have to say that the whole twist thing is rubbish. You cannot just twist it apart if you try it will just shatter in your hand. I found that you have to use the same method used for the custard cream ,ie the bite one half of the biscuit off. And taste wise the custard cream beats it hands down, all in all i cant see it beating our British fave anytime soon.
david Woodward, Croydon
My youngest has 'grown up' with the Oreo and loves them, but my other 2 who only left the UK at 10 and 5 yrs still love English biscuits, Jammie Dodgers and Jaffa Cakes in particular. Unless Kraft get the Oreo sold to new Mums, they don't stand a chance.
Ruth Trier, Miami, USA
I went to school in Canada and always had an Oreo in my lunch box. I loved them then and still love them today. All we need now is jars of peanut butter and grape jelly and my world will be complete.
Janet Shaw, Romford
I've tried these, and was disappointed. The dark colouring makes them look as if they'll be really dark-chocolatey, which would be great, but they aren't at all. Give me a plain chocolate digestive any day!
roger, Newcastle, UK
Tried it, didn't like it, won't be buying anymore.
Lesley Foster, Southam, Warwickshire. UK
I quite like Oreos but tend to agree with Stuart that they are too sweet. The cream in the middle could do with more flavour and less sugar. They dunk quite well but tea is the natural environment for biscuits not milk. Stuart is more than a "self-appointed expert", with Wifey they are my biscuit gurus and his book has pride of place in our loo.
Given the American invasion into our culture, I suspect Oreos will be a large success here. I remember when I was young that I got idea of cookies and milk from American TV shows and loving the combination. Oreos can be seen eaten in a lot of American TV programems (of those that get broadcast over here) and so I suspect it won't be long until the pester-power of kids will bring Oreos into homes all over the country.
DS, Croydon, England
Ugh! These monstrosities, like Hershey's revolting "chocolate" just go to reinforce the stereotype that Americans have no sense of quality. Give me a custard cream every time!
Rob Moss, Swindon, Wilts
Funny you should compare Oreo and Tim Tam. Oreo typifies the highly processed, almost "chemical" tasting US foods. Tim Tam and its manufacturer actually taste of buscuits we had in the UK when I was a kid, long gone under the United Biscuits and similar regimes. Oreo are rubbish when compared to "real" buscuits!
John, Abu Dhabi
I've loved Oreos for years, so I'm happy for them to be be easier to get, but for me they'll never beat custard creams or chocolate digestives.
Surely, being American, the Oreo is a 'cookie' not a 'biscuit' (which over there are more like scones). I agree Oreos are far too sweet and also, I find they are not 'crunchy' like you expect a biscuit to be, more 'smooshy' in your mouth. Don't let them take over!
JJ, Aberporth, Wales
I have eaten Oreo's for a few years now since I went to America and tried them. They are in their own right a great biscuit but I don't think they'll ever beat a good old fashioned English biscuit such as a Rich Tea or a custard cream for tea dunking
I thought they'd been on sale here for years?? I've been buying them from Tesco's and local shops. Anyway, they are VERY nice!