(“Desk,” really, because I’ve been working at my kitchen island since March.)
I learned about this new Walgreens-exclusive confection only moments before the rest of the internet. One Instagram reviewer got their hands on an early bag, which led to viral jaw-dropping, which led to people everywhere asking one simple question: Why?
Brian Rinker, divisional merchandise manager of candy and snacks, Walgreens
I needed answers, so I turned to Brian Rinker, Walgreens’ divisional merchandise manager of candy and snacks – our resident candy man. I also needed to work up courage for the, gulp, research phase.
Later I enlisted (tricked) some family members I normally spend Thanksgiving with to join me in trying this triangle-shaped, six-course meal made up of candy corn that tastes like green beans, roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, ginger-glazed carrot, sweet potato pie and stuffing.
Read on as Rinker explains why Turkey Dinner candy corn exists, and find out which flavor was too much for most of my family to swallow.
How did this idea even come about?
Rinker: “We first started talking about the idea with Ferrara – the maker of Brach’s – three years ago. We meet with them seasonally to spitball ideas about how we’re going to grow each season. We were thinking, ‘What can we do in candy corn?’ Walgreens is a big player in candy corn, and I wanted something that would set us apart – an item that would create buzz. It didn't need to taste delicious. It just needed to be fun and engaging. So I floated Thanksgiving candy corn out there as an idea, and everybody kind of chuckled at it. That happened three years in a row until I finally said, ‘I know this will be a hit.’ Turns out third time is a charm, and Brach’s agreed to make it. Eight months later and here we are. We wanted to make it a special rare find and test the market, so we bought it in a limited quantity – you can get it at a little more than 6,000 Walgreens stores. But now it’s setting the internet on fire. Maybe we should have bought more of it.”
Back up. This was your idea?
Rinker: “Yeah. I was inspired by Jones Soda, which came out with a Thanksgiving Dinner limited-edition holiday pack that I had seen a long time ago, maybe 15 years ago. I thought it was an utter joke and I never bought it, but I thought it was a cool idea. And then Pringles actually had a Thanksgiving Dinner pack that I never really saw, but I did hear about it, and I was also inspired by that. I was also kind of inspired by the Jelly Belly Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans – the ones that come in flavors like booger, dirt and rotten egg. But those are just nasty, and our intent with this candy corn was never to be gross, just fun and memorable. I truly just wanted something that was so out there that people would talk about and share a moment with their friends and family. And it couldn’t have hit in a better year. Like, why not? This year is ruined anyway [laughs]. But in all seriousness, what a fun way to gather around for a virtual Thanksgiving with family who can’t travel this year.”
Were you part of the taste-testing process?
Rinker: “Oh, yes. There were two rounds of taste testing. Samples came in, and the seasonal candy team tasted more than just those six flavors, but eventually narrowed it down. Mashed potato was never an option because we just couldn’t get the flavor right. What’s funny is that when I try the flavors now, I honestly don't remember some of them tasting that bad during taste testing … but I think we may have said ‘amp up the flavor’ at one point.”
What’s your favorite flavor? Least favorite?
Rinker: “With candy corn, you either love it or hate it. I, personally, like it – I’m a fan of all candy. But if you hate candy corn, you aren’t going to like this much, but you might be willing trying it because it’s so different. You’re probably thinking there is no way Thanksgiving Dinner candy corn can taste great, and I’ll be honest, when you try it, about half of the flavors are pretty out there. Cranberry is clearly my favorite. I’m normally a fan of cranberry, like the cranberry gelatin in the can at Thanksgiving. Cranberry can be polarizing, but I think it's the only one in this mix that I can see us making a whole bag of and it actually selling really well. By far my least favorite is the stuffing. It’s peculiar. Now, I love stuffing – like, I love it. But this is just odd. It's absolutely wrong for candy to taste this way. A candy with hints of onion and garlic just does not taste good. I had my neighbor try it and she immediately wanted to spit it out. But someone on my team said they disliked turkey the most. Between the turkey and the stuffing – they're both savory, and I guess savory items should never be candy.”
What have you thought about the customer reaction so far?
Rinker: “I'm actually flabbergasted. Again, our goal was to make sure it was organic, to have it be available and discoverable in store, and hopefully get people to post about it on social media. I’m floored that news stations and media have been picking it up so much – USA Today, the “Today” show, Food & Wine magazine and the list goes on. We’ve generated more than 3 billion impressions so far. Even Pee-wee Herman posted about it on Instagram. I’ve had friends reach out to me who I haven't talked to in forever because they went into Walgreens and couldn’t find it, and now I'm trying to help them find a store where they can buy the bags.”
Halloween will be different this year because of COVID-19. How has this affected our candy offering?
Rinker: “This year, we expect people to be having smaller parties at home, in their neighborhood or with their family, so we put in an activities-at-home area where we have items such as a haunted house gingerbread kit and a party set with beer, wine and snacks. We’re normally more of a last-minute destination for trick-or-treating candy – when you’ve just run out and there are kids at your door, you head to Walgreens for more. We also anticipate there will be fewer kids going trick-or-treating, so we've pulled back on the amount of candy we're offering. We went through four iterations of Halloween aisle planning this summer and decided to go after more mainstream candies – except for the Turkey Dinner candy corn.”
REVIEW: My family tries Turkey Dinner candy corn
My crew of taste-testers agreed with Rinker’s expert opinion: Cranberry is by far the best, and stuffing and turkey are the worst. My sister-in-law described the stuffing flavor as tasting “like a sock,” and it had many of us running to the garbage can to spit it out. My aunt surprised us all and said she liked green beans the best, and a few others said they liked the pumpkin pie flavor. Note: There is no pumpkin pie flavor, so I’m presuming they meant sweet potato pie, which does have similar hints of cinnamon and spice. In the end, many vowed to buy bags of Turkey Dinner candy corn to give to friends as a gag gift … with a reasonable chance they might actually gag.