By The Wall Street Journal
Robert Fliegel was craving a Hydrox. The 52-year-old computer consultant says he always liked the way the chocolate sandwich cookie, which he found crisper than Oreos, ”stood up to the milk” when dunked.
But Mr. Fliegel, who used to be able to devour an entire package of the creme-filled biscuits in a sitting, couldn’t find them in any stores near his East Stroudsburg, Pa., home.
Only when he went online a few months ago to try to order some did he learn the truth: Hydrox is dead.
In 2003, without warning or announcement, Kellogg Co. killed off the cookie – by then rechristened Droxies – after failing to gain ground against the dominant Oreo, one of the country’s best-selling snack foods.
While aware that Hydrox cookies were becoming harder to find, many of their fans are learning only now they are gone.
”This is a dark time in cookie history,” wrote Gary Nadeau of O’Fallon, Mo., last year on a Web site devoted to Hydrox. ”And for those of you who say, ‘Get over it, it’s only a cookie,’ you have not lived until you have tasted a Hydrox.”
Still reeling from their loss, Mr. Nadeau and other ”Hydrox people” have yet to accept their fate. Some have started an online petition demanding that Kellogg bring the cookie back. They have collected 866 signatures. Others in recent months have reported Elvis-like sightings – and tastings – of the defunct product.
”Some people say Hydrox haven’t really gone away,” says Kim Burton, a 27-year-old engineer for Cessna Aircraft Co., in Wichita, Kan., who started the Hydrox Web site in 1998 while in college.
One guy emailed Ms. Burton a photo of a dark cookie chunk found in melting ice cream. He was eating a cup of Edy’s ice cream with crushed cookies, he explained, when he licked the ice cream off a cookie piece clearly embossed with the word ‘Hydrox.’ Another posting reported spotting Hydrox as a snack on a Delta Air Lines flight.
For many years, the contest between Oreo and Hydrox was akin to that of Coke versus Pepsi, the Beatles against the Rolling Stones, dog people and cat people. It was not just a choice, but a declaration of identity.
Eating Hydrox was ”a badge of honor,” says 54-year-old Charles Clark, who processes records for U.S. Army reservists in St. Louis. He remembers receiving a package of Hydrox cookies on his sixth birthday and sleeping with it under his pillow. ”Oreo had all the advertising, but those in the know ate Hydrox.”
Hydrox eaters tend to be independent-thinkers, favor underdogs and be skeptical of corporate marketing, he says. Even with Hydrox gone, they won’t switch sides.
The Oreo ”left some kind of yucky coating on the roof of my mouth, like it was full of Crisco or something,” wrote Cathy Dixson, a 58-year-old photographer in Norfolk, Va., on the Hydrox Web site, recalling her childhood reaction. She says she was ”devastated” at the news of Hydrox’s passing.
She and others preferred Hydrox’s tangy, less-sweet filling. Many fans seem to remember that the cookies held together better than Oreos when dipped in a glass of cold milk. Some argue Hydrox cookies were more healthful than Oreos, since Oreos used to contain lard. The pork-fat difference also meant Oreo wasn’t kosher, while Hydrox was. A kosher certification refers to both the ingredients and the production equipment used.
”We are very proud of Oreo’s place as a truly iconic brand,” says Laurie Guzzinati, a spokeswoman for Kraft Foods Inc., which in 2000 bought Nabisco, the maker of Oreos. Ms. Guzzinati says that Oreo is available in more than 100 countries and exists in several dozen variations. Lard was removed from the Oreo recipe years ago and the cookies have been kosher since 1997, she says. Star NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning are currently pitching Oreos on television.
But Ms. Burton, who maintains the Hydrox Web site, is unconvinced. She says she grew up in a ”Hydrox family.” Her grandparents ran a grocery store when her father was a child. ”He had access to all sorts of cookies,” she says.
In college, when friends ridiculed her for preferring the cheaper knock-off Hydrox to the real thing, she did some research. Among her findings: Hydrox was created in 1908 by what would later become Sunshine Biscuits Inc. That was four years before the National Biscuit Co. (later called Nabisco) came up with the similar Oreo. Oreo was the knock-off.
The Hydrox name came from combining the words hydrogen and oxygen, which Sunshine executives thought evoked purity. Others thought it sounded more like a laundry detergent. Still, the biscuit gained a loyal following. In an informal taste test held in Manhattan in 1988 by Advertising Age, 29 tasters voted for Hydrox, 16 for Oreo.
More damaging to Hydrox over the years was Nabisco’s far larger marketing budget, Hydrox fans believe. Sunshine also stumbled in 1991, when it tried to revamp its mascot, a glob of vanilla creme that morphed into a smiley figure named Drox. Pillsbury sued Sunshine, arguing successfully in court that Drox resembled the Pillsbury doughboy. Sunshine was forced to shelve the little fellow.
When Keebler acquired Sunshine in 1996, Sunshine was a distant third behind Keebler and Nabisco. Keebler then replaced the original Hydrox with a reformulated, sweeter cookie aimed more at children, called Droxies. When they failed to make a dent in the Oreo, Kellogg, which had acquired Keebler in 2001, quietly stopped making Hydrox two years later.
Last fall, Craig Young, a 57-year-old builder in Arcadia, Calif., was food-shopping, having learned just a couple of months earlier that Hydrox had given up the ghost, when he spotted Famous Amos creme-filled sandwich cookies. He wondered whether they were Hydrox in disguise since Kellogg also owns Famous Amos.
When he tried one, he says, he shouted, ”Oh my God, this is it!” He bought four packages. ”I want to do my part to make sure they don’t disappear again.”
Others think they taste the Hydrox recipe in supermarket chain brands including Tuxedos, Twisto’s and even the Paul Newman version, called Newman-O’s.
Kellogg acknowledges Hydrox still exists in ”crushed cookie form” as a mix-in for yogurt and ice cream – which explains some of the recent sightings – and in ”ground cookie meal” for pie crusts. But a Kellogg spokeswoman says the Hydrox recipe differs from the Famous Amos version, and the company has not sold the recipe to anybody else. There are no plans to bring back the cookie itself, she adds.
Some fans hope Kellogg changes its mind, especially since this year is the cookie’s 100th anniversary.