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Chocolate Aplenty, but Nary a Wonka Bar to Be Found

“It’s a real tragedy,” said Jason Liebig, who collects candy memorabilia and calls himself a confectionary historian. “I want Willy Wonka-branded candy — it’s such a fun fount of material to draw from, and certainly it’s ingrained in our popular culture. How many candy brands get to be built on such a rich world?”

The Wonka bar was born in Dahl’s imagination, inspired by a chapter in his childhood when, while studying at a British boarding school, he was invited to test Cadbury chocolates. His fantasies about chocolate factories later led him to write the book, which tells the story of an ingenious but eccentric candymaker, Willy Wonka, whose treats were treasured by an imaginative and impoverished boy, Charlie Bucket.


Souvenirs of the days of Willy Wonka candies, from Mr. Liebig’s collection.

Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

The novel, released in the United States in 1964, was adapted into “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” a 1971 film starring Gene Wilder, and that’s when the imaginary Wonka Bar became a reality. The film was financed by Quaker Oats, which put up $3 million for the project, persuaded by an entrepreneurial producer, David L. Wolper, who suggested the food company could use the film to promote a candy line it was planning.

The effort was not especially successful. The film’s initial reception was tepid. And Quaker Oats struggled with developing a chocolate bar.

As the first Wonka Bars were shipped across the country, many of them turned to mush; their melting point was too low.


Zac Halsey at “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” on Broadway.

Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

“The candy bar collapsed, but the movie ultimately succeeded,” said Mark Wolper, the son of Mr. Wolper and president of the Wolper Organization, which continues to produce shows and movies.

The Wonka brand passed from company to company in a wave of late-20th-century corporate mergers and acquisitions, and along the way came a real-world Wonka Bar, Peanut Butter Oompas, Everlasting Gobstoppers and other candies. In 1993 Nestlé, a Swiss conglomerate, acquired the Wonka name from a British candymaker, Rowntree Mackintosh Confectionery, and, for a time, nurtured the Wonka brand, which eventually encompassed candies including SweeTarts, Nerds and Laffy Taffy, followed by Wonka Exceptionals. But the entire Wonka line has since been discontinued.

Nestlé has been hoping “to refocus the magic of Wonka toward future product offerings around the world,” according to Roz O’Hearn, a company spokeswoman. “We’re considering a variety of options, but for now, our innovation plans remain confidential, so I cannot share more info.”


Offerings from Dylan’s Candy Bar at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.

Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

But, complicating matters for the Wonka brand, Nestlé is under pressure to restructure. In June, the company said it would try to sell its United States candy business, a reaction to Americans’ eating less candy. Just days later, an activist hedge fund manager revealed a major stake in Nestlé and called on the company to shake itself up.

The disappearance of the Wonka Bar is a frustration for producers of the musical, an early version of which ran for nearly four years in London. On Broadway, where it opened in April, it has been playing to packed houses — it grossed an impressive $1.3 million during the week that ended June 25 — despite negative reviews.

Fully aware that patrons would be curious to taste Wonka’s wares, the producers managed to sell Wonka bars from the concession stands when the show first opened in London in 2013, because Nestlé was again making Wonka candy at a European plant. But there wasn’t much appetite for the candy outside the theater.


Aubrey Woods, left, and Peter Ostrum in the 1971 film “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

”It landed with a thud,” said Kevin McCormick, an executive vice president of Warner Bros. Pictures and a lead producer of the Broadway musical. “There were adult flavors like crème brûlée, which were nice, but no Wonka bar — it wasn’t the way people remembered it.”

Nestlé soon stopped the manufacturing. “They didn’t want to be in the candy business — they wanted to be in water and baby formula,” Mr. McCormick said. When the musical sold out its stash, that was it.

“At the last performance in London, I sat there as kids kept going up to people selling ice cream and saying, ‘Can I get a Wonka bar?’” Mr. McCormick recalled. “I said, ‘We can’t let this happen again.’”


The concession stand at “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.

Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

When a revamped version of the show came to Broadway (opening song: “The Candy Man”), there was no Wonka product to be found. As an alternative, the show’s publicists at one point sent journalists Hershey bars camouflaged as Wonka bars — sheathed in gold foil with a purple outer wrapper.

Ms. Lauren, who happens to be a longtime fan of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and created some candy to celebrate the centennial of Dahl’s birth, was hired by the theater to capture the spirit, if not the exact substance, of Wonka’s factory.

Tushar Adya, chief operating officer at Dylan’s, said, “Back in the day, when the Wonka Bar was made by Nestlé, it was one of the No. 1 sellers in our stores.” Even today, Mr. Adya said, customers routinely ask for Wonka Bars at Dylan’s shops around the country.

So, inside the Lunt-Fontanne on West 46th Street, a pop-up Dylan’s store dominates the lobby. There is a lot of winking to Willy — the Dylan’s chocolate bars have golden wrappers; there are golden ticket souvenirs on offer, and the shop’s bags are purple (the color of Wonka’s topcoat) with a big golden W.

Candy fans are still hoping for a comeback. “The flavor was unique and delightful and the wrapping was appealing,” said Elly Marie, a student in Adelaide, Australia, who talks about her passions on an internet forum for candy aficionados. “I certainly miss them!”

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