Halloween Taste-Testing: Pumpkin Pudding Kit Kats

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Last year, Kit Kat introduced special pumpkin cheesecake flavor for Halloween. Although I liked it quite a bit, I was a little confused as to why the package described pumpkin cheesecake as a “traditional Halloween food.” This year, Kit Kat opted for a new limited-time Halloween flavor, Pumpkin Pudding (パンプキンプリン).

Let’s compare:

2011:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Kit Kats
Pumpkin Cheesecake Kit Kats

 

2012:

 

The 2012 Kit Kats have a costume party theme. The front of the packaging reads, “White Kit Kats disguised with cocoa! Devil Pumpkin Pudding Flavor.” The back elaborates,

Let’s costume party! [Literally “Let’s 仮装パーティー!”]  The Devil Pumpkin Pudding flavor is disguised with cocoa.

These Kit Kats used to be white pumpkin pudding but have been disguised with dark cocoa paste! The outside is black and devilish, but they’re not bitter! The sweet and mellow pumpkin flavor melts in the mouth. Enjoy these disguised pumpkin pudding Kit Kats!

This flavor features pumpkin powder in the creme filling between the wafers and a coating of pumpkin-flavored chocolate and cocoa paste. The flavor is reminiscent of pumpkin spice but with more of a chocolate than a caramel or cinnamon overtone. Two thumbs up there.

The wrappers and bag have images of children in costume: a vampire, a mummy, a fairy, a witch, a werewolf, a ghost, and a devil. Visual anthropologists, please note that the children are all light-skinned and brown-haired (likely “Japanese by default”) and that the children are gendered: two girls appear in cute costumes with skirts (cute witch, fairy) and long hairstyles; the three short-haired-therefore-boys are all in pants, wear scary costumes of classic cinematic/literary monsters, including a vampire, werewolf, and devil. There are also two trick-or-treaters, a ghost and a mummy, who are gender neutral.

What I find particularly interesting is the gendered positioning of the girls’ vs. boys’ (+neutral) stances. While the boy monsters are active–laughing, pointing, jumping, popping out– the girls are posing, off-balance, demonstrating the body canting that Goffman argues “leave women in a position where they seem utterly defenseless and, in this way, can be read as both an expression and acceptance of subordination, of ingratiation, submissiveness, and appeasement.” (You can watch/read more about this in Codes of Gender, which you can [legally] watch for free here.)

I bet you thought I wouldn’t get into gender studies on this post. I didn’t either when I started. See just how pervasive it is?

Moving on to the rest of the packaging, the front of the bag probably has the best images: a ghost painting chocolate onto the wafer and a jack-o-lantern face in the chocolate being poured onto the pudding. I should note here that this is Japanese custard pudding, purin, not the JELLO pudding cup type.

Regarding the text and images, since Halloween is not a holiday native to Japan and is a relatively recent import, a lot of Halloween-themed items contain visual or verbal cues about how to celebrate the holiday. Here we see that Halloween is geared toward children through the inclusion of images of children; we also see that dressing in costumes (仮装) of Western monsters/creatures (and a fairy that frankly looks like my idea of the Tooth Fairy) is part of the celebration. The Kit Kat, we are reminded multiple times, is also in costume. Yet there is no text about the origins of the holiday in Europe or in the US/Canada, no details on the religious or cultural significance, and no actual explanation of Trick or Treating, though the side panels read “Trick or Treat” in English.

This lack of explanation may indicate that the consumer is meant to know what Halloween is already. As a few of you mentioned in the comments on the Starbucks post, Halloween is taught as part of Japanese ESL courses in primary and secondary school despite the fact that a sizable portion of Japan’s English teachers come from parts of the world that do not celebrate (American/Canadian-style) Halloween. Because of compulsory ESL education from 5th grade on, today’s children are more likely than their parents and grandparents to know what Halloween is. By choosing the images of costumes that children would recognize from Halloween lessons and from international club/festival activities, Nestle seems to be targeting them.* In contrast, the packaging of the pumpkin cheesecake Kit Kats from 2011 also assumed the consumer knows what Halloween is but only indicated that it had something to do with pumpkins and jack-o-lanterns. The current packaging seems a lot more culture-savvy and engaging, even if it leaves some adults baffled.

Stay tuned for more Halloween Taste-Testing here on I’ll Make It Myself! and Documenting Halloween in Japan on The Lobster Dance!

Notes

*Conversely, one could argue that Kit Kat’s regional flavors target teens and adults shopping for omiyage.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. But more importantly (!), were the candies good?

    1. Leah says:

      I swear this is the only food blog where I’d spend 3x as much time on the packaging as on the flavor. Yes, they are really good. I think it’s an improvement from last year’s, which were a little bland. These are more in line with how we serve pumpkin in dessert in the US. ^^

  2. illahee says:

    i think the eikaiwa thing is quite accurate. i started working in an eikaiwa almost 10 years ago and they had an established halloween party then. the juku i work at now has a halloween party each year as well (to encourage elementary students to sign up for eikaiwa classes) which drives me crazy because the japanese teachers keep asking me for halloween songs, and are not satisfied with the answer that there just aren’t any *traditional* halloween songs! christmas is much easier in that regard.

    i don’t usually try flavored kitkats, but i just might make an exception for this one. if i ignore the sexist packaging!!

    1. Leah says:

      When I was in elementary school, we sang “The Ghost of John” and “The Wobblin’ Goblin,” but the former might be deemed too scary for elementaries here, and the latter is long, fast, and very wordy–it’s even hard for young native speakers!

      The interesting thing about the packaging’s sexism is that not only is it subtle, it appears benign to customers and, probably, to the creative team. The meeting probably went something like, “Well, girls like cute costumes, so let’s make two of these kids girls AND in cute outfits!” While it’s true that some little girls do want to be a non-scary witch or a fairy, what I would have proposed for the package is to have a boy in a cute costume like a pumpkin and make one of the girls a classic movie monster like Godzilla or a robot. That would keep with the theme but provide some neutrality.

      And yes, try the Kit Kats! They are delicious!

  3. Rafal says:

    So I somehow never subscribed to your blog originally and then forgot about it. But now I have subscribed again. And will badger you relentlessly. Just FYI.

    Greetings from the desolate land of regular kit kats. >:|

  4. Jean says:

    I’m trying to imagine if pumpkin flavoured kit kat would be popular in North America. Somehow I don’t think so. People associate pumpkin more with cinnamon and other warm spices.

  5. angrygaijin says:

    Goffman said that well. It’s a little frightening how much it shows up in entertainment and media targeted at kids. I see the results in the middle school a lot, I feel… Most of the girls are so quiet and soft spoken, while the boys are having a ball.

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