The Denver Sandwich was a candy bar that was short-lived and made on the model of the candy bars as a meal model that was popular during the time that Snickers first came on the market. Candy bars in the place of a meal were an offshoot of the Great Depression-era when food sources were scarce and people were trying to figure out the right ways to get easy snacks or meals into the hands of workers and kids. The idea that a candy bar could be a meal seems laughable now, but once upon a time, this was a logical consideration that was thought to be the perfect solution to food scarcity.
The lack of portable food was also a struggle during the early years of candy bar popularity and the right of the sugar lobby made the creation of these kinds of candy bars inevitable and attractive. As recent years have seen the size of candy bars trending ever smaller in size, the original candy bars that were made for this need were made bigger and bigger for years.
If you have never tried this candy, you might not be able to now since it has been discontinued, but there are some equivalent concepts that are on the market today. The classic peanuts and chocolate bar still has its audience and you can find many bars that will suit this need.
History of the Denver Sandwich Candy Bar
The Sperry Candy Co. opened in 1921 with a one-room factory in Wisconsin. The candy bar company was wholeheartedly invested in the idea that candy bars could be a meal replacement and their earliest products were the “Chicken Dinner” and the “Denver Sandwich”. These candy bars were sold out of the candy company location itself at first, and then later out of truly bizarre chicken-shaped trucks that did draw attention at the same time as causing confusion.
The Denver Sandwich was made with wafers that were layered with nuts and chocolate and caramel. This was a hearty and fairly large candy bar that probably did at least make you feel really full when you had eaten one. The bar was perfectly square and was often displayed in ads like a turkey dinner or a meat item might be. The representation of the candy bar on a platter with a knife slicing it open was often a feature of most of the ads that were run to promote it and the connection between a candy bar and a meal was made clear.
Taglines and slogans for the Denver Sandwich proclaimed it to be “The Candy Lunch” and it was sold at a reasonable 5 cents per bar. The Chicken Dinner was made on the same model and was advertised in much the same way. While this might seem like an odd association to make for a candy bar now, you can see how successful Snickers has been with their campaign to connect their products with meal replacements.
The two bars that were created by this company were also connected heavily with milk products and their supposed nutritious value for a complete meal. Milk was being sold to the public as the answer to good health at this time, and given that there were few vitamin products on the market and the US was still reeling from the Great Depression, this might not have been the worst advice ever at this time. Whether or not candy bars were imparting a necessary daily ration of calcium like milk is up for debate, but the connection was made clear in the minds of the public.
Both the Chicken Dinner and the Denver Sandwich were discontinued in the 1960s as the rise of more innovative and newer candy ideas flooded the market. There was some increased consciousness about the amount of sugar that was found in these kinds of food as the 60s came to a close and the fitness interest of the 1970s started to make itself known. Candy bars as a meal replacement were still a concept that was heavily popularized through the 1980s, but Snickers and M&Ms took over much of this space in the wake of the more traditional bars that they had replaced.
Denver Sandwich Ingredients
From one of the original boxes:
- Sweet milk chocolate
- Sweet chocolate
- Condensed whole milk
- Skimmed milk
- Dried egg yolk
- Invert sugar
- Corn syrup
- Corn sugar
- Wheat flour
- Soya flavor
- Citric acid
- Artificial flavors
A couple of the ingredients are obscured from this box but this is most of what would have been in the bar. This is a surprisingly complex candy bar for its day as most of the competition had very few ingredients. The complexity of the flavors that were offered by both this and the Chicken Dinner bar was probably a large contributor to their popularity when they were first released.
Complicated candy bars with lots of unique flavor profiles are common now, but the mass production era was still new at this and it was likely not as cost-effective to make these bars as it would be now. It is interesting to contemplate the amount of handwork that might have gone into the production of these candy bars at this time.
How Was the Denver Sandwich Bar Named?
The Denver Sandwich candy bar was named after the actual sandwich bearing the same name. The original sandwich was made with eggs, ham, and peppers and was intended to be eaten for breakfast. The idea that this filling sandwich and the candy bar that bore its name could convey the same nutritional benefits was the reason behind the naming of the bar.
While we know more about nutrition now and are aware that peanuts and chocolate and caramel are no replacement for proteins and carbohydrates for fueling your day, with the depression era so fresh in people’s memories, the thought of being able to afford a full meal for just 5 cents was quite attractive. This line of thinking would not work anymore, but in the 1920s, the connection between any food source and health was crucial.
Whether or not you think that this candy bar can offer you the same nutritional value as a ham sandwich, the candy was very popular despite the odd name. There are many people who would love for it to come back onto the market and wish that it had never been discontinued.
Varieties of the Denver Sandwich Bar
There was only ever one recipe for this sandwich bar and the Chicken Dinner Bar was never changed in any material way either. The popularity of peanut and chocolate-based candies with caramel was well-established at this point and the flavor profile of the two bars was probably most of what made them popular in their later years.
By the time that it would have been necessary to reimagine and reinvent the two candy bars, the concept of meal replacement with candy bars was waning overall. It is unlikely that these two candy bars would have overwhelmed Snickers to secure the meal replacement space either since Snickers has always managed to be backed by the most innovative and clever marketing strategies in the candy space.
Despite the initial cleverness of the Denver Sandwich Bar and the Chicken Dinner Bar, the style of their design and marketing had largely become obsolete by the time that they were pulled from shelves in 1962. That does not mean that people who enjoyed them as kids do not still miss them, but the Sperry company would have had to completely reinvent the wheel to continue to make these bars with a new identity.
Is the Denver Sandwich Bar Just a Salted Nut Roll?
Many people say that the closest approximation to the Denver Sandwich Bar these days is the Salted Nut Roll. The main difference is that the Salted Nut Roll is not covered in a final layer of chocolate like the Denver Sandwich bar was. The same chewy and nutty design is present in both candy bars and you will find that people who love nougat and caramel will be quite happy with this taste experience even without the chocolate finish.
There are few equivalencies to the Denver Sandwich Bar these days as large and cumbersome bars that are hard to chew are not as popular as they once were. The ability to carry and eat a candy bar on the go matters now and modern candy bars are not as likely to damage your teeth or hurt your gums either. Older candy bars were notoriously hard to chew and modern candies are not made in this way.
Slogans and Advertisements for the Denver Sandwich Candy Bar
The main slogan for this candy bar was, “There’s no use searching any further-Denver Sandwich hits the spot every time”.
The Denver Sandwich and the Chicken Dinner Bars side by side:
Denver Sandwich ad from the early days: