Ask anyone you meet to name popular Japanese snacks or candy, and I’ll bet that the large majority will first mention the famous Pocky snack, confirming the chocolate covered biscuit stick’s international status as a Japanese snack food icon.
For most, the Glico produced munchy juggernaut may even be the only Japanese snacks they can name, perhaps defaulting to “that chocolate covered biscuit stick...thing,” if the name escapes them, which would most certainly be met by a chorus of “oh, I know those,” as the image of the red Pocky box enters the subconscious of everyone in the conversation.
Pocky’s well-known status is due in large part to superb marketing. Since its birth from the Glico factory floor in 1966, Pocky was successfully marketed into the collective Japanese consciousness with endless new flavor launches keeping consumers on their toes and with the creative “Pocky Day,” taking place on November 11th, the shorthand for which is written with a series of ones (11/11) that are co-opted to represent the slim Pocky sticks in all their sweet glory.
The Pocky design is a slim pretzel-like biscuit that has been dipped in chocolate with a small “handle” of biscuit exposed for good measure. Their taste is irresistible. The chocolate hits your tongue first, immediately followed by the crunch of the salty biscuit, all ending in an emulsified goodness. But it’s the stick-like shape of the snack that makes the eating experience truly enjoyable, forcing you to munch further and further down to the biscuit tip like a samurai slowly relieving a bamboo shaft of its height with each swing of his katana. The name “Pocky” (ポッキー) is based on the Japanese onomatopoeia for the snapping sound a stick makes, and when you eat Pocky, you realize the metaphor is spot on.
Pocky comes in many limited-edition flavor offerings, and Glico consistently manufactures the extremely popular and often revamped strawberry flavor as well as various green tea flavors made with real green tea powder. Yet unique flavors from blueberry, butter, almond crust, cookies and cream, mango, and many more can also be found in Japanese supermarkets and konbini.
But Glico is not the only player in Japanese candy, nor are they the only ones with a chocolate-flavored biscuit stick. It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the Meiji chocolate company has been taking that phrase to a new level since 1983 when they threw their hat in the ring with their first Pocky competitor named Lucky Stick. The Meiji Lucky Stick was thicker than Pocky and the biscuit dough was crunchier due to more of a cookie consistency. Although you can find many Japanese forums where someone laments not being able to find the Lucky Stick anymore, in reality, the would-be Pocky rival never really caught on. As Pocky continued to dominate, the Lucky stick gradually reduced in sales and now is only sold by overseas branches of Meiji.
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This did not stop Meiji from attempting to take on Glico’s Pocky again, and in 1999 Meiji came out with the Fran (フラン) biscuit stick. Having failed to win consumers hearts with a Pocky copy-cat, Fran was marketed as the “sophisticated” chocolate-covered biscuit stick, with the Meiji executives focusing on four key words during the product launch: adult (otona 大人), luxury (kōkyu 高級), fresh (shinsen 新鮮), and simple (シンプル).
The Fran release was a huge success, so much so that the company could not keep up with manufacturing demands. The chocolate of the Fran stick is indeed richer and creamier, with the circumference of the stick slightly bigger, requiring even more chocolate to cover. This difference alone can be instantly tasted with your first bite into a Fran biscuit stick, with the second thing you notice is that the biscuit itself is entirely chocolate-flavored all the way through, giving the experience a perfectly balanced chocolate explosion, rather than the familiar combo of chocolate and salty biscuit found with Pocky and other Japanese snacks.
Pocky would eventually strike back at the Fran offensive with its own line of adult-targeted “luxury” versions, such as “Mousse Pocky” and the newly released premium flavors “Adult Amber Pocky” and “Ruby Goddess Pocky” - marketed as “best eaten with sake.” But Fran had already secured itself the coveted title of luxury snack, something that is worth its weight in gold to the quality-obsessed Japanese consumer. Above all that, Fran also comes in a dizzying amount of flavors that allow it to keep up with the demands from the flavor hunters that make up so much of the ranks of Japanese snack lovers.
The great biscuit stick clash can still be felt on the Japanese snack scene today, with both brands regularly being debated over among sweets lovers as to which is truly the king of the sweet stick. However, it must be fairly stated that Pocky has an undeniable edge on market share over Fran, largely due to its long history and notoriety, but it seems Meiji prefers that Fran be the luxurious cousin, ensuring that it will forever have its own spot in the pantheon of Japanese snacks. In the end, though, the only way to decide which snack is your favorite is to grab a box of both and chow down for yourself.