The food world can be strange at times. Mergers and acquisitions can create strange bedfellows, with junk food companies owning health food brands, and competing products in the same category somehow winding up under the same roof.
And so it has come to pass that one company – Nestlé – has, since the 1980s, owned both Aero and Mirage chocolate bars, which they sell in the same Canadian market. That wouldn’t be so odd expect for one simple fact: they are almost identical.
One is a chocolate bar made of milk chocolate pumped full of tiny air bubbles. The other is … also exactly that. It’s not one of those cases where someone finds a new way to combine chocolate, peanuts, nougat and caramel into a different final bar. Both are literally one ingredient – milk chocolate – filled with air bubbles.
In digging for some history, I learned that the Mirage bar is a Canadian phenomenon. It’s nowhere near as commonplace (nationally and internationally) as Aero, which is available at every grocery store and corner shop in Canada. Aero also has piles of brand extensions, from a mint chocolate version, white chocolate and dark chocolate versions, and even a new selection of “truffle” Aero bars.
Mirage, on the other hand, remains a one-bar Canadian wonder.
Both appear to have found their way to Nestlé through the company’s purchase of Rowntree, a rival British confectionary company that made both bars prior to the sale. Finding much more info on the bars’ curious history has proven difficult, and the larger question remains: how did Rowntree end up making two nearly identical chocolate bars, with separate promotion and advertising in the same market?
Given the similarities, the most obvious difference is the shape. Whereas an Aero bar is relatively wide and flat and has bulbous segments that make it easy to divide and share, the Mirage looks more like a chocolate gold bar, not unlike the form factor of a Kit Kat Chunky bar. The Mirage is harder to break apart for sharing, so you’ve got a handy excuse to keep it all for yourself.
In terms of taste, in a side-by-side, bite-for-bite comparison, they’re nearly identical. If anything, the Mirage is a tad more intense, with a richer, fuller milk chocolate flavor. However, it’s the format for the Mirage – with what feels like thicker sides and a more rigid bar form – that makes it the more enjoyable of the two to eat. There’s a satisfying feeling of substance when you bite into a Mirage, followed by the sweet, airy joy of the milk chocolate and bubbles that melt quickly into oblivion on your tongue. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s still a difference.
Price: $0.82 each at Dollarama in Edmonton.
Availability: Aero is everywhere, but you’ll have a much harder time tracking down a Mirage bar. The Wikipedia entries make me think that neither bar is available in the U.S. Sorry, southern neighbours.
Nutrition: They’re chocolate bars, so nothing nutritionally redeemable. 220 calories for the 42 g Aero bar, and 215 calories for the 41 g Mirage bar.
Verdict: There’s something special about Mirage – the wrapper hasn’t changed much in decades, there’s a slight snap along with the bubbly crumble when you bite into the thicker chocolate format, and they’re relatively rare in the wild, a true chocolate bar underdog. If you’re looking for a hit of mass-market milk chocolate, both are acceptable. But I’ll pick the Mirage when given the choice.