Oreo Is Being Accused of Sabotaging a Rival Cookie Brand

The inter-cookie drama—which spans more than a century—includes messing with store displays and even tattling to Donald Trump.

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Aug 14 2018, 4:32pm

Photo via Flickr users Paul Swansen and Mike Mozart

In 1908, a company called Sunshine Biscuits released its newest product, a cookie that it described as “creamy vanilla filling between two chocolate wafers that taste like chocolate.” No, it wasn’t an Oreo—those didn’t appear until four years later. That original cookie was called Hydrox, a largely unappealing name that was a combination of “hydrogen” and “oxygen.”

When Nabisco’s near-identical Oreo debuted in 1912, its “beautifully embossed chocolate-flavored wafers with a rich cream filling” became America’s preferred sandwich cookie, and Hydrox was relegated to second place; according to Atlas Obscura, many consumers thought that Hydrox was nothing but an Oreo copycat. After Keebler’s failed attempt to rebrand them as “Droxies”—which sounds like a pill you’d give your dog—the cookies disappeared from grocery store shelves for a decade-ish, until being re-released in 2015 by California-based Leaf Brands.

If you didn’t know that those cookies were back (or even that they existed) it could be Oreo’s fault, at least according to Hydrox. According to a post on the Hydrox Cookies Facebook page, Hydrox has filed an official complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) accusing Oreo and its parent company, Mondelez, of intentionally making it difficult for consumers to find Hydrox in grocery stores “in hopes of lowering sales volume and having us discontinued.”

“We believe in competition and choice but we firmly believe the folks at Mondelez (the owners of Oreo) have been undertaking a national program to damage our brand and stop us from competing,” Hydrox wrote. “Many of you over the last few years have been great at taking pictures when you see #hydroxcookies being moved or blocked from store shelves and we really appreciate your help [...] We attached some of the pictures you/we took at stores across the US. In two of the pictures, Hydrox was moved to the very top shelf and replaced with either another flavor of Oreo or Nutter Butters. In others pictures, they were blocked by hanging tags or other products.”

Hydrox says that Oreo can block, hide, or rearrange its own displays because Mondelez uses direct store distribution (DSD) to deliver its products. That means that its own employees can put Oreos and other Mondelez cookie brands on the shelves themselves—and, if you believe in cookie conspiracies, that means they can also shove their competitors out of sight. Meanwhile, Hydrox’ own products are stocked by grocery store employees, who don’t have any loyalty to Big Cookie, or any reason to sabotage Hydrox.

“We had no idea a competitor hiding our cookies was going to be a problem until a buyer for one of the largest store chains in the US sat us down and said, ‘We're going to bring Hydrox into our stores, but you're going to have a major issue to deal with,’” Hydrox wrote. “We then asked, ‘What's the issue?’ The buyer responded, ‘Mondelez is going to hide your cookies all over our stores to make sure you don't get any sales, in hopes of being discontinued. They will see you as a major threat to their market and will do anything to ensure you're not successful. You're going to have to hire people to go into each of our stores and make sure Hydrox is not being hidden.’”

Hydrox has asked its fans to “[call] your local supermarket's cookie buyer” and ask for Hydrox by name and to send them pictures of its terrible cookie placement. It’s also hoping that the FTC will step in with the quickness.

Meanwhile, Mondelez is like Hyd-who? “We have not been contacted about this, but we are confident that this accusation has no merit,” Mondelez spokesperson Kimberly Fontes told MUNCHIES in a statement. “The OREO brand is an iconic one, with a proud and rich history of delivering great tasting products and exciting innovations to our consumers for more than a century. This focus, and our commitment to operating with integrity, has made OREO America’s favorite cookie.

Because everything is still terrible, it’s hard to think of Hydrox as an adorable underdog. In 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump threatened a boycott of Oreo after Mondelez International moved some of its Oreo-production facilities from Chicago to Mexico. And according to ABC News, Trump might’ve been tipped off to the move by… Ellia Kassoff, the CEO of Leaf Brands.

In July of that year, the Hydrox account tweeted “@realDonaldTrump We’re making our @hydroxcookie in US, not like @Oreo moving to Mexico.” The company stayed thirsty for Trump, sending him free cookies and inviting him to visit Hydrox’ own production facility outside Los Angeles. It also tweeted that it would “love to make a wall of #hydroxcookies between Mexico and the US for @realdonaldtrump.” (HYDROX, NO).

Almost a year later, Kassoff acknowledged to ABC that Trump “still hasn’t publicly acknowledged Hydrox.”

Yeah, maybe we’ll just stick with Trader Joe’s Joe-Joe’s for now.