The Oreo invades Britain
What fresh vulgarity have the Yanks brought now? Milk dunking!
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Others disagree. One tabloid newspaper has attacked those "Yanks" who are trying to "snatch the biscuit from our mouths and replace [it] with a tackier piece of inferior confectionary." Another described the Oreo as "an imperial juggernaut of a biscuit backed by one of the world's biggest food companies."Skip to next paragraph
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Blimey. Will we Brits soon be twisting, licking, and dunking like there's no tomorrow or erecting biscuit embargoes against the colonial cookie?
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Britain is more than just a "biscuit market," warns Stuart Payne, author of "A Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down." "There is a long history and culture in the way we consume our biscuits, and Oreo will have an uphill struggle convincing us to change our ways," he says.
We Brits are biscuit-mad. The British Department of Trade and Industry estimates that $3.1 billion is spent on biscuits here annually, and one newspaper estimated that the average Briton eats 1.5 tons of biscuits and cakes in his lifetime. There's the aforementioned chocolatey Bourbon; the Custard Cream, a vanilla-flavored biscuit with a baroque design stamped on it; the Rich Tea, a plain biscuit perfect for dunking in hot tea or coffee; the Jammie Dodger, a round shortbread sandwich of sticky raspberry jam. (My mouth watered as I typed that sentence.)
"Some of these biscuits have a history of 150 years," says Mr. Payne. He describes British biscuits as "thoroughbreds" specially designed – in a Darwinian process of the survival of the dippiest – over generations to suit British tastes. For example, he notes, "Our love of tea-dipping has influenced the selection of flour and the temperature at which biscuits are baked. Our biscuits are built for dunking."
Yet the Oreo, because of its high-sugar content, is "woeful" when it comes to being dunked in tea, he says. "In my experience, it dissolves. It's not a survivor in tea terms like the British biscuit is."
Eating biscuits in a certain way is part of British culture, says Payne. It goes back to the days when lots of people worked in factories, and the only thing they could squeeze into their 10-minute breaks was "a cup of tea and two Rich Tea biscuits." Biscuits had to be sturdy and satisfy hunger.
Payne's not convinced that Oreo can take on such a deep-rooted culture in which only the toughest, tea-complementing biscuits survive, in a society where offering someone a plate of Rich Tea, Custard Creams, or Jammie Dodgers is a way of expressing friendship, love, and concern.
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Yet in a taste test in Borehamwood, north London, I found plenty of Oreo fans.
It seems that younger kids not so attached to the old Rich Tea culture, are especially keen on the new black-and-white invader. "My kid loves them he could eat them all day," observes Shak Shakir, a sales consultant.
Still, Faizaan Sackett, a recruitment consultant, has found himself "raging" at Oreo ads on buses, seeing them as part of "the American invasion of snacks.
"Before we know it, the next generation of kids will not know the word biscuit at all," he grumbles. "Whether it's fast food, TV chat-shows, or cookies, we must resist all that is American for the sake of our own souls."
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Back near Leicester Square in a small supermarket, a woman takes a tube of Oreos off the shelf, briefly reads the label, and plops it in her shopping basket. I wonder if she knows that she has just unwittingly fired a shot in the cookie war. Probably not. She may just like to try a different sort of snack every now and then.