We Southerners certainly have a sweet tooth. We’ll take any excuse to cover something in sugar and call it dessert—or, sometimes, dinner. Our zeal for candies means that we have quite the collection of uniquely Southern sweets, but only one of these treats is just as fun to say as it is to eat: Nashville’s own Goo Goo Clusters. With a memorable name and four decadent ingredients, it’s no wonder that this purely Southern confection has spent the last century wriggling its way into the hearts—and mouths—of candy enthusiasts around the country.
In 1912 Standard Candy Company, located on Clark and First Avenue in Nashville, began experimenting with recipes for the first combination candy bar. Up to that point, candy was simple: one ingredient, like chocolate, caramel, or taffy. The American palate had not yet been introduced to the flavorful joys of combining two of these ingredients. But as Standard Candy Company began twisting up their classic candies in order to differentiate themselves from competitors, the idea of fusions began to form.
Standard Candy Company’s founder, Howell Campbell, Sr., and his plant operator, Porter Moore, began brainstorming about possible combinations. The candy company already whipped up marshmallows, suckers, hard candy, and fine chocolate, all adored by the public. Campbell himself was a verified chocolate connoisseur, taste-testing each batch of the creamy cocoa for quality. They knew, however, that in order to distinguish themselves in a burdened market they had to provide more than just quality—they had to offer something unique. And so they combined some of their most popular confections into one: caramel, peanuts, and marshmallow nougat, all blanketed in their signature chocolate. The new candy was, in a word, delicious.
But a combination candy bar came with a host of complications. First, how to sell it? The confection’s odd shape, roundish and lumpy, couldn’t be wrapped in a simple sheaf of paper or wax like most candies. Initially, Standard Candy Company sent their sweets out naked. The oddly shaped treats were displayed in the glass cases of drugstores and sold to customers as-is. Eventually, the candy company began hand-wrapping the sugary morsels in tinfoil. With time and evolutions in technology, they incorporated machine-wrapping: the modern production of the candy can exceed 20,000 an hour.
The other problem faced by the candy’s developers back in 1912 was what they should name such an odd bonbon. Campbell and Moore both puzzled over the question for weeks. They had succeeded in creating a delicious and unique treat, but they couldn’t market it without an equally unique name. Campbell took to proposing the question to his fellow passengers on his daily commute to work; he’d stop his friends on the streetcar and ask their opinion regarding the name—but still, nothing came to light. One day, abandoning the question for other topics, Campbell engaged in conversation with a schoolteacher about his newborn son. The schoolteacher, inspired by their “baby talk,” was struck by genius: name the candy “Goo Goo Clusters”—they were so good, he quipped, people began asking for them at birth.
Campbell applied the name to the treat and pushed it, wrapperless, into an eager market. Goo Goo Clusters changed the candy market forever with their layers of flavor. For seventy years the candy was enough to sustain its fans, but in the ’80’s they wanted more. In response, the candy company unveiled “The Supreme,” a Goo Goo Cluster with pecans, rather than peanuts. And in 1991, Peanut Butter Goo Goo Clusters stole the hearts of nut butter lovers across the country. Today you can also find the Howie Premium, a Goo Goo Cluster with quality dark chocolate instead of milk, an ode to Howell Campbell and his eye (or, should we say, “tongue”) for chocolate.
Goo Goo Clusters may have revolutionized the chocolate industry a century ago, but today they are a genuine Southern tradition. Bite into the five fine layers and taste a treat as Southern as they come—and with one of the best names by far.
SEE MORE GOO GOO CLUSTERS PHOTOS HERE