The KitKat – the chocolate wafer bar as rich in nostalgia as it is in cocoa butter – is undergoing a serious makeover. No longer just a commonplace lunchbox snack, it is becoming a gourmet treat – at least that's the intention of its maker, Nestlé, which has announced the launch of a KitKat Chocolatory in the UK.
This new range of bars, landing in November, will have its own website as well as physical outlets in John Lewis stores. The terms "luxury", "handcrafted" and "premium" are peppered about Nestlé's marketing blurb; customers will be able to create their own personalised eight-fingered bar from nearly 1,500 possible flavour combinations; and there's the promise of speciality ingredients such as salted caramel chunks, pistachio pieces and even popping candy.
So, how did this simple, snappable confectionery become a coveted snack with a hashtag that has been used over two and a half million times on Instagram, a fanatic global following, and a recommended retail price of up to £14?
For that is the potential cost of these bespoke 150g bars, made to order in the Nestlé factory in York, where the KitKat was invented in 1935. Special-edition versions (starting at £7.50) will include cherry Bakewell and Eton Mess as part of a Best of British collection, while "Zingtastic gin and tonic" and "Springtime in Japan" are also on the menu.
It is certainly in Japan, above all other countries, that the KitKat has become a phenomenon. It first launched there in 1973 and is now one of the country's top-selling chocolate brands, achieving cult status thanks to its weird and often wild flavours, from nose-tingling wasabi to soy sauce.
KitKat Minis tapped into the concept of kawaii, the Japanese culture of cuteness (an estimated four million miniature bars are sold every day, thanks in part to an ever-changing cast of characters and mascots for calendar events), while the brand's popularity skyrocketed after an award-winning ‘lucky charm’ campaign to promote its coincidental cognate, kitto katsu, which roughly translates to ‘you can do it!’ The bar is now a talisman for good fortune.
It's no surprise, then, that KitKat Chocolatory is already a successful chain of boutiques in Japan, the first of which opened in Tokyo in 2014.
The eight stores across the country have attracted over one million customers, who have spent close to Y2 billion (£14.9 million, according to the current exchange rate) on luxury KitKat confectionery.
But will the boutiques, and their bespoke, high-priced bars, prosper in this country? In the land of kawaii, anything small, brightly coloured or sweetly packaged is social-media gold: beaming influencers pose with brightly coloured packets in hand. Here, #dairymilk and #qualitystreet generate decidedly more muted reactions.
It has been a while, in fact, since an iconic product shook up the British confectionery scene. Even if you don't remember the glee caused by Kinder Bueno's white chocolate iteration in 2008, many do (users of Bebo and MySpace nationwide were in raptures).
In Japan, there are local flavour collections: buy a KitKat in Yamanashi and you might chance upon a shingen mochi bar, tasting like the popular rice cake dessert. In Yokohoma they have been chestnut flavoured, and Hiroshima had ones inspired by a leaf-shaped manju cake.
Google Trends has noted a 250 per cent rise in searches for green tea flavoured KitKats in the UK over the last few months, so it seems we've an appetite for variations on the milk-chocolate coating. But might Eton Mess or Melton Mowbray pork pie flavoured bars really be the future of the mid-afternoon snack?
Our adventurousness when it comes to confectionery will be the key to the KitKat's success, according to Rabia Khan, who heads up KitKat Chocolatory for Nestlé UK & Ireland.
“This is the biggest news for KitKat since the introduction of the Chunky exactly 20 years ago,” she says. “We know how much people enjoy experimenting with new and exciting flavours and the KitKat Chocolatory offers a whole new, premium experience as well as the chance to create your very own personalised break and have it delivered right to your door.”
Other bars, including a salted caramel edition of the Milky Way (due out this autumn), a limited edition chocolate orange Twirl (released this week) and a white-chocolate Snickers, may well follow suit.
The Japanese KitKat is considered trendy and cool – cool enough for Instagram – but for most Brits it's hard to shake the image this iconic chocolate bar has had for over 80 years: little more than a decent dunking biscuit for tea.
If KitKat is aiming to become an indulgent treat for relaxing nights on the sofa then, surely, Galaxy is the perfect brand to mimic. We might go along with associating luxury with the classiness of Audrey Hepburn in sunny southern France plumping for a square of smooth, creamy chocolate over a handsome suitor.
Somehow, despite its imminent reboot, KitKat feels more in line with an all-inclusive package holiday rather than fabulous, five-star Cannes.