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The Oreo invades Britain

What fresh vulgarity have the Yanks brought now? Milk dunking!

By Brendan O'NeillCorrespondent / May 13, 2008

A TWIST ON TEA TIME? The upstart Oreo cookie is taking on the traditional British biscuit. It’s seen all over now, including in ads on traditional London double-decker buses, like this one passing through London’s Trafalgar Square.

BRENDAN O’NEILL

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London

"It's very dark. It's almost black." May Woodward, an office worker in central London, is holding an Oreo cookie in her hands. It's the first time she has ever seen one "in the flesh as opposed to on an American TV show," and she's not sure she likes what she sees. "It's the color of wet mud!" she complains. "And the bit ... looks like toothpaste rather than cream."

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She twists and turns the cookie in her fingers, staring at it from every angle with a screwed-up look on her face that seems to say, "Gross!" not "Mmm, cookie time." You could be forgiven for thinking she's handling some dangerous alien element, Cookie Kryptonite, say, rather than one of the best-known biscuits in the Western hemisphere.

She bites, chews, raises an eyebrow, chews some more.

"OK, I get it," she says, finally. "I can see the attraction. It's very sweet." Suddenly she seems to change her mind. "Actually it's too sweet ... it's becoming mushy," she says, alarmed as tentative chewing becomes frantic munching to wolf the cookie down.

My impromptu taste test in Leicester Square is now attracting the attention of puzzled passersby giving us weird looks.

Ms. Woodward's verdict is that the Oreo is "too ... damp."

I tell her that, according to the ads, it should be "dunked" before eaten.

"In tea?" she asks. (Dipping biscuits – we Brits call all cookies "biscuits' – in a steaming hot cup of tea is an almost sacred ritual here.)

"No, in milk," I reply.

"Milk?! A biscuit dipped in milk? Who does that?"

"Apparently Americans do," I explain.

"Well, let them," she say dismissively. "I won't be doing it anytime soon." And with that, she disappears into a throng of pedestrians, nonplussed by what has been labeled here as "America's Favorite Cookie."

• • •

The Oreo has landed in Britain. And it is giving rise to a furious Battle of the Biscuits.

The classic sandwich cookie may be as familiar and nostalgia-inducing as, well, Mom's apple pie for Americans, but the majority of us here have never seen or tasted one. Until now.

Now, Kraft, the makers of what some Brits refer to as "the black-and-white biscuit" is launching it across the United Kingdom in an advertising campaign that makes it hard for anyone who lives and breathes to avoid the Oreo message. Big blue-and-white posters on the sides of our iconic red buses implore us to "Twist Lick Dunk." A new TV commercial shows a young boy teaching his scruffy dog how to eat an Oreo: "First you twist it. Then you lick it. Mmm. Then you dunk it," he says, sploshing his Oreo into a glass of milk. This will be the first time that many Brits have seen a biscuit dipped in milk.

Supermarkets nationwide are promoting Oreos right at the checkout stands where the wait gives shoppers time to contemplate the curiosity.

Kraft hopes the Oreo will capture Britain as it has America (with 419 billion Oreos sold since they first appeared in 1912).

Since its 1996 launch in China, the Oreo has become the No. 1 biscuit in that vast country. But the Chinese Oreo is very different from the American one – it has less sugar and it is a crispy cream-filled wafer. The version being launched in Britain is the exact same as the American one. Only the packaging has changed. At 74 pence ($1.44) a go, we Brits will get our Oreos in a long, thin tube.

No biscuit in Britain is as dark as an Oreo – even the classic Bourbon, two thin chocolate biscuits with a chocolate filling, is light brown. So admits Jocelyn McNulty, director of UK biscuits at Kraft Foods.

Some Britons might think the Oreo is strange-looking at first. But she's confident that they will fall for the Oreo and what she calls the "child-like, delightful ritual" of licking the cream and dipping it in milk.

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