Before there was Oreo — and its many, many spinoff variations — there was Hydrox, the chocolate-and-crème sandwich cookie that debuted in 1908, four years before Nabisco’s iconic confection. In fact, many people still consider Oreo, which now makes billions of dollars annually, to be a straight-up rip-off of Hydrox. Yet die-hard Hydrox fans will attest that the two cookies aren’t interchangeable: Hydrox’s product is less sweet, crispier, and tastes more like dark chocolate. As with Clearly Canadian, people have long lamented the disappearance of the cookie, which was last produced in 2008 by Kellogg’s (for a very brief two months). Now, though, Ellia Kassoff, the founder of Leaf Brands — a company that specializes in resurrecting old products — is bringing Hydrox back, and production is set to start in just a couple of days.
This grand return was supposed to happen around a year ago, but it’s taken Kassoff quite some time to land on the right recipe. “In order for it to be done right, we’d have to make sure it was re-created and rolled back to its original formula, using real cane sugar and high-quality cocoa,” he says. (When Kellogg’s bought Hydrox, it changed the formula and added high-fructose corn syrup.) Kassoff was so intent upon hitting the correct flavor that his team used social media to hunt down Hydrox megafans — people who stock their freezers with decades-old Hydrox cookies — and asked them to taste-test his new product.
Kassoff knows that his core customer base is composed of parents and grandparents, but when resurrecting an old brand, his strategy is, in his words, to “never sell to the dead.” Like so many snack brands, Kassoff wants to appeal to millennials, and he says that, to his surprise, Reddit users are excited about Hydrox’s return. “Millennials like original stuff — that’s why they buy craft beer and small-batch products,” Kassoff notes. “People have been posting about Hydrox on Reddit often, and we have nothing to do with it. I even met someone at an airport who saw I had some Hydrox and was like, ‘Hey, that was just on Reddit like two weeks ago.’” Part of the attraction, Kassoff estimates, is that Hydrox is made with “real sugar” and non-hydrogenated oils and will cost roughly the same price as Oreos, but not feel as corporate.
Production is scheduled to begin this Friday at a 180,000-square-foot Los Angeles facility. Kassoff will start off making 56,000 packages per day. As national chains place their orders — he says ShopRite is already confirmed — he’s expecting to double that number, and possibly open a second production facility in the Midwest. This is especially good timing, considering many Americans — Donald Trump included — are outraged that Oreo is shutting down some production lines in Chicago and focusing on its plant in Mexico.
“I’m not saying we’re going to overtake Oreo any time soon, but we’re definitely going to be a competitor,” Kassoff predicts. “Hydrox was always second in the market. I don’t have a problem, in this case, with being No. 2 against a multi-million-dollar brand.”