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Grand Ole Goo Goo Sweetens Fans Old And New

Aug 4, 2012
Originally published on August 5, 2012 11:43 am

No one's entirely sure where the Southern treat called the Goo Goo Cluster got its name.

The iconic candy from Nashville, Tenn., celebrates its 100th birthday this year. The confection of marshmallow, peanuts and caramel wrapped in milk chocolate may owe its longevity in part to another Nashville icon: the Grand Ole Opry.

Goo Goo Cluster sponsored the venue's radio broadcasts from 1966 until 2006. In one popular advertisement, stage performers crooned, "Go get a Goo Goo ... it's gooooooood!"

The gooey sweet was advertised so heavily on air through those decades that many people believed "Goo" was an acronym for Grand Ole Opry.

While the true origins of the candy's name remain a mystery, one thing is certain: Goo Goo sales have tumbled in recent years while its manufacturer was focused on other products. Now, Standard Candy Co. is making a big effort to bring the gooey classic back.

These days, Standard Candy is on the road, passing out free samples of its signature candy at events across the South. At a recent convention in Nashville, Vance Sensing stopped to grab a Goo Goo and re-live the taste of his childhood.

"My grandfather had a country store, and I worked for him a lot of weekends," Sensing said. "For pay, he would always let me choose a candy and a Coke, and Goo Goo was one of 'em — one of my favorites."

Convention-goer Heather Cunningham, a 30-something mom with several kids in tow, also stopped for a taste of nostalgia. She hadn't eaten a Goo Goo in years, she said, but remembers how a family friend always had them handy.

"Whenever he would come around, he would always have Goo Goos," Cunningham said. "And me and my twin sister prayed my mom would marry him, 'cause he was the candy man. He always had them candy, and we was like, 'Momma, you really need to marry this man!"

In an effort to reach younger consumers, Standard's made a few changes in the kitchen. It has taken hydrogenated oils out of the recipe and greened the production process.

Brand manager Lance Paine has even created an iPhone app called the "Goo Goo Finder."

"You hit this button here, and up pops your location," Paine demonstrates. "Then you'll see these different flags that are on the map, showing you where your closest Goo Goo retailer is."

One thing Paine won't be changing is the candy bar's deep connection to the South.

"For whatever reason, there seems to be this sort of Southern food zeitgeist that's happening right now," Paine says. "Everyone wants to be from the South."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SUSAN STAMBERG, HOST:

A candy that claims to be the first combination bar - that means the first to mix several sweets into one - is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Marshmallow center surrounded by peanuts and caramel wrapped in a milk chocolate - where is the celery - the Goo Goo Cluster is made in Nashville, Tennessee, but it's a favorite throughout the South. Mike Osborne of member station WMOT reports that the confection owes its longevity in part to another southern icon - the Grand Ole Opry.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes. And I wish there was someway that I could tell the folks who haven't tried a Goo Goo just how good they are.

MIKE OSBORNE, BYLINE: For decades, the Goo Goo Cluster was advertised so heavily on air many people believed the goo in Goo Goo was an acronym for Grand Ole Opry. No one's sure where the odd name really came from. What is certain is that Goo Goo sales tumbled while Standard Candy Company was focused on other products. So Standard is traveling the South, passing out free samples of its signature candy at events like this Nashville convention. Vance Sensing stopped by to relive the taste of his childhood.

VANCE SENSING: Yeah, my grandfather had a country store, and I worked for him a lot of the weekends. For pay, he'd always let me choose a candy and a Coke, and a Goo Goo was one of them - one of my favorites.

OSBORNE: Heather Cunningham is a 30-something mom with several kids in tow. She hasn't eaten a Goo Goo in years, but remembers how a family friend always had one handy.

HEATHER CUNNINGHAM: And whenever he would come around, he would always have Goo Goos. And me and my twin sister prayed my mom would marry him because he was the candy man. He always had them candy, and we was like, Momma, you really need to marry this man.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is where the marshmallow nougat is coming out.

OSBORNE: To connect with younger customers, Standard's made a few changes here in the kitchen. They've taken out the hydrogenated oils and greened the production process. Brand manager Lance Paine has even created an iPhone app called the Goo Goo Finder.

LANCE PAINE: You hit this button here, and up pops your location, and then you'll see these different flags that are on the map showing you where your closest Goo Goo retailer is.

OSBORNE: One thing Paine won't be changing is the candy bar's deep connection to the South.

PAINE: For whatever reason, there seems to be this sort of Southern food zeitgeist that's happening right now. Everyone wants to be from the South.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Go get a Goo Goo. It's good.

OSBORNE: For NPR News, I'm Mike Osborne in Nashville.

STAMBERG: From the maple sugar moose heads of New England to the chili brittle of the Southwest, America loves its candy. You can get your own sugar rush from our Sweet Summer series on our site, npr.org/Americandy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing) Candy kisses...

STAMBERG: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.