When entering the cookie isle in most large American supermarkets you will probably run into this large blue section, full of similar packages. Full of Oreo cookies. It’s one of the biggest cookie brands in the US and has claimed even more shelf life by creating tons of variations on that same cookie. There’s red velvet Oreo’s, mint, chocolate, peanut butter, cinnamon roll, birthday cake, etc. If you’re looking for cookies they’re almost impossible to miss.
But, did you know that at a time there was another Oreo-type cookie? It was called Hydrox, as I learned during a Planet Money podcast. Apparently, there still are quite a lot of Hydrox fans who just don’t like the Oreo cookie. Both look very similar, the basic version is round, not too large, has very dark brown to black cookies with a white filling in between. But, they’re not the same, how different will depend on whom you ask, but they’re not identical.
So, when we saw that box of Hydrox cookies in a supermarket, a light blue bag hidden in between all the dark blue Oreo’s, we had to try it out!
In the food industry brands are often vital for selling a product. Recognizing a product, liking the brand will help consumers to buy products again and again. Since brands can be so valuable, companies will want to protect these brands, they wouldn’t want everyone to be able to call their black and white cookie an Oreo cookie. This protection is done through trademarks. Trademarks will give a company the exclusive right to use a certain brand for their products. It’s often product type related, Oreo can use their brand on cookies, however, you might well still be able to develop a sweet pink soap bar with the name oreo.
The story of Hydrox
Hydrox is also such a trademark and was introduced more than a 100 years ago. Even though most (including myself) might think Oreo was the original round black and white cookie, Hydrox actually was there first. However, over time, Oreo became more popular than Hydrox over time. Why that was the case can have a lot of causes, all contributing to the success of a food product, to name just a few:
- Better taste and texture – but honestly, this really is only part of the story
- Better marketing – more people might have known about Oreo than about Hydrox
- Higher marketing budgets
- Better & more attractive packaging
Which was the reason for Oreo’s success and Hydrox’ ‘failure’? I wouldn’t know, there’s probably a variety of reasons for it working out good. But in the end it didn’t succeed and Oreo grew and grew and made more and more varieties.
The return of Hydrox
Hydrox did come back though in 2015. How? Trademarks do not have infinite protection. If you’re not using your trademark for a certain moment of time, the trademark will become available for others to use again. This is what happened to Hydrox. The trademark hadn’t be used for a certain amount of time and it was possible for Hydrox fans to get a hold of the trademark (listen to the podcast to find out more details)!
Just a trademark though, doesn’t bring you a product. When you get a trademark for a cookie, you don’t get the recipe with it, nor the process of how to make it. So even if you get an existing trademark, you’ll have to re-invent the cookie and make sure it’s up to current standards and costs. Also, you don’t immediately get all the varieties of cookies that Oreo has built up over the past year. That said, if you’re good enough, you can gain some market share. Which is what Hydrox is doing. Which gives us the chance to taste Hydrox vs. Oreo. Is there really such a big difference?
Oreo vs. Hydrox
As you will see in the photos, the two cookies look very very similar. They’re the same size and shape, about the same thickness and even their colour is almost identical. That said though, they don’t taste the same, which was kind of a surprise. The Oreo cookie is a little more bitter than the Hydrox. What’s more, it tastes less like chocolate (to us that is) than the Hydrox cookie. This though, may be a very personal perception, as we discussed before when discussing why an Oreo cookie is black as well as when discussing the types of cocoa powders. If you’re used to a different type of chocolate or cocoa powder, you might find an Oreo taste more like chocolate instead of the Hydrox!
Apart from the cookie flavour, the filling of a Hydrox cookie is slightly different. The filling seems somewhat sweeter, but the overall balance for me is better in a Hydrox than in an Oreo cookie, it’s less sweet overall. Also, the crunchiness of a Hydrox is somewhat better than that of an Oreo. Even though differences are small, they clearly taste very different in a blind taste test.
When reading the ingredient list of the two cookies it might seem that the Hydrox cookie contains more sugar, since it’s first ingredient is sugar. However, an Oreo contains both sugar and corn syrup, which is why the overall sugar content (as you can find in the nutritional information on the labels) is higher (14g in an Oreo vs. 12g). The ingredient list apart from this is actually very very similar. They contain almost identical ingredients in almost the same order. Which makes sense, since they look and taste very similar, the difference is nuanced.
Cookies can tell you a lot of stories, one on trademark, recipe development, process development (Hydrox had to figure out how to get such a nice detailed design on their cooking that wasn’t lost during baking for instance).