Bugles are extinct in Canada. But fans of the discontinued corn snack, take heart: There’s a Substitute | cbc radio

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Cost of living8:54The last message for Bugles

The demise of Bugles, an ingredient used to make many holiday recipes, has some Canadians looking for alternatives to the deliciously crunchy corn puff.

The bugles are still sold in the US, but have been discontinued in Canada for several months, just one of the last products American food manufacturers no longer sell here.

General Mills, the US company that makes Bugles, did not respond to calls or emails from CBC, but has responded to hundreds of inquiries. clients on Twittersaying he hopes Canadians “can find a tasty substitute elsewhere.”

That substitute could exist in the snack aisle of your local Asian grocery store, according to Canadian Bugles fans on Reddit. Is named tongari corn – a crunchy, horn-shaped salty corn snack that has been made by House Foods in Japan since the 1970s.

Tongari Corn looks and tastes very similar to Bugles, which are no longer sold in Canada. The Japanese snack is sold in many Asian grocery stores across the country. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

In recent weeks, the Umami store in Lethbridge, Alta., has had customers every day asking for “Japanese bugles” to use in their homemade nuts-and-bolts recipes, says owner Patricia Luu.

“We only have one bag left,” he said.

With her supply running low, Luu has ordered more Japanese corn snacks from her supplier in Vancouver. She says that she received the “last six cases” from her.

The Umami store in Lethbridge, Alta.
The Umami Shop in Lethbridge, Alta., sells a variety of Japanese snacks, including Tongari Corn. (Supplied by Umami Shop)

Loch Willy went looking for Tongari Corn at four Asian supermarkets in Saskatoon, but they sold out.

cbc radio Cost of living found a bag in Calgary and sent it to him so he could sample the supposed Bugles substitute along with the original snacks. Willy had three bags of Bugles in his possession thanks to his snowbird parents bringing them in his luggage from Arizona.

Willy uses Bugles to make nuts and bolts every Christmas and says his family recipe can’t be done without them.

“They have that distinct cone shape, they’re the finger hat. Honestly, if we were growing up and they weren’t there, we would have noticed and said, ‘Why? Where are the Bugles?'”

Willy is an indigenous artist, consultant, and Bugles fan. (Presented by Loch Willy)

When Willy and his daughter, Kiara, opened the two different corn puffs, they were surprised at how similar the two products looked.

“I was skeptical, but wow!” Willy said. “I think most people wouldn’t know the difference.”

After several tastings, the Willys concluded that Tongari Corn was slightly “spicier” than Bugles but had the same texture. Overall, a “pretty good substitute” for any nuts and bolts recipe.

“Looks like the Japanese bugles are going to save Christmas,” said Willy.

Buglers not just US snack to get out of Canada

In the last five years, Canada has also lost other US products such as Sauteed Peanut ButterRagu pasta sauce and Grapefruit and walnut cereal.

Bagel Bites, a product of Kraft Heinz, disappeared last month, along with Cosmic Brownies, Oatmeal Cream Pies and Swiss Rolls, the entire line of Little Debbie boxed treats, made by McKee Foods Corporation. In an emailed statement, a company spokesperson told CBC that the decision to “stop selling” the Little Debbie candies was not made by the brand itself, but by its Canadian distributor.

When it comes to distribution, Canada is a “notoriously expensive” place to do business, says UBC Sauder Business School marketing professor Yann Cornil. As a large country with a low population density, Cornil said it is expensive for companies to ship products from coast to coast.

“And there are requirements for packaging to be translated into French and English. That adds to the cost for US brands, so sometimes the decision is just to discontinue those products.”

A close-up of Tongari Corn, left, shows how similar the Japanese snack looks to Bugles, something often used in Nuts and Bolts, a salty, crunchy snack recipe that many Canadians make around the holidays. (Danielle Nerman/Loch Willy)

Snack Aisle Competition

Another reason Bugles may have left the Canadian market is because the snack was facing too much competition from private labels like President’s Choice, Kirkland Signature, and Great Value.

according to their annual report 2022most General Mills products compete “with generic and private label products that are generally sold at lower prices” and notes that economic uncertainty may push some consumers to buy more private label brands.

“In those circumstances, we could experience a reduction in sales of higher-margin products or a shift in our product mix to lower-margin offerings,” the report says.

All of Canada’s major grocery stores carry at least one, if not several, of their own private brands. A Sobeys spokesperson said the company adds hundreds of new products each year under its Compliments brand. Western Canada grocery store Calgary Co-op launched its store brands, Founders & Farmers and Cal & Gary’s, three years ago and already has more than 1,000 products on the shelves.

The potato chip aisle at a Superstore in Calgary on December 14, 2022.
The snack aisle at a Superstore in Calgary has a large section dedicated to their private brand of “no name” fries. (Danielle Nerman/CBC)

“In the past, private labels were just cheap versions or imitations of a popular brand at a lower price and probably lower quality as well,” Cornil said. “But that’s not the case anymore. Now private label can compete with national brands even at the higher end, even when it comes to satisfying niche segments of consumers.”

The snack aisle, in particular, is where consumers will find a wide variety of store items, from low-salt chips and sea salt to gluten-free crackers and vegan cookies, and get prime shelf space.

Cornil says that’s deliberate and just a ploy Canadian grocery stores use to encourage shoppers to choose their labels over brands like Ruffles, Lays and Bugles.

Private labels are also often cheaper because supermarket chains have economies of scale: They bulk order all of their stores, allowing them to negotiate lower prices with the manufacturers that produce their products.

And with inflation still high, Canadians are increasingly looking to own brands.

“Almost everyone buys private label groceries at some point,” said Brian Ettkin of Numerator Canada. The latest numbers from the market research firm show that, compared to 2021, private label grocery sales in Canada are up four per cent this year.

Trend towards ‘healthier’ snacks

It could also be that Canadians are no longer as enthusiastic about America’s Number 1 Finger Hat. Bugles have been around since the 1960s, and Cornil says tastes have changed since then.

“With snack foods, it’s an interesting market because there’s been a shift in demand for healthier, natural, less processed foods. And you see a lot of these are brands that are sometimes 50 to 70 years old that clearly don’t meet the new consumer demands. So companies, manufacturers, have the option to completely reformulate their products or discontinue them in specific markets.”

Yann Cornil teaches marketing and behavioral sciences at UBC's Sauder School of Business.
Yann Cornil, who teaches marketing and behavioral sciences at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says consumer demand is shifting toward healthier, less-processed snacks. (Presented by UBC)

This is not the first time Bugles have been discontinued north of the border. It happened in 2010 and the snack returned to Canada a year later.

That gives Bugles fans like Willy hope, but in the meantime, he’s finding other ways to get his fix of salty corn snacks. Whether it’s buying bags of Tongari Corn or driving his parents’ car to Saskatchewan from Arizona.

“I already told them, ‘If you don’t want to drive home, I’m going to fly and bring your vehicle back. But I’m going to fill it up with Bugles for everyone.”

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