The Heath bar is an American candy bar made of English-style toffee. A thin hard slab with a milk chocolate coating, the toffee originally contained sugar, butter, and almonds, and was a small squarish bar weighing 1 ounce. The original Heath wrapper design had the name "Heath" printed in a distinctive fashion: two very large "H"'s bookending "eat." From its inception in the 1920s, the Heath bar was always somewhat unusual, both because of its simplicity and size. It is similar in style to a Daim bar and a Skor bar.
With the success of the business, the elder Heath became interested in ice cream, and opened a small dairy factory in 1915. His sons worked on expanding their confectionery business. At some point they reportedly acquired a toffee recipe, via a traveling salesman, from a Greek confectioner in another part of the state. In 1928, they began marketing it locally as "Heath English Toffee", proclaiming it "America’s Finest".
In 1931, when Bayard and Everett were persuaded by their father to sell the confectionery and work at his dairy, they brought their candy-making equipment with them, and established a retail business there. The Heaths came up with the interesting marketing idea of including their toffee on the order form taken around by the Heath dairy trucks, so that one could order Heath bars to be delivered along with one’s milk and cottage cheese. Early salesmen, confronted with the small bar, occasionally wondered if it were something like Ex-Lax rather than real candy. The oil boom in southern Illinois provided more customers from further afield.
Early ads promoted Heath as a virtual health bar – only the best milk chocolate and almonds, creamery butter, and “pure sugar cane.” The motto at the bottom of one ad read “Heath for better health!” It was surrounded by illustrations of milk, cream, butter, cheese, and ice cream, and off in a special corner – a Heath bar and a bottle of soda. The latter was probably Pepsi, as the Heath Co. bottled the drink for a number of years.
The Heath bar started to grow in popularity nationally during the Depression, despite its one-ounce size and the five-cent price, equal to larger bars. Made by hand until 1942, the candy was produced on a major commercial scale for good after the U.S. Army placed its first order of $175,000 worth of the bars. The Heath bar had been found to have a very long shelf life, and the Army included it in soldiers’ rations throughout World War II.
Popularity of the Heath bar grew after the war, although the manufacturing process remained largely a hands-on, family-run operation. All four of L.S. Heath’s sons, his two daughters, and several grandchildren were involved in the business. In the 1950s, the Heath Toffee Ice Cream Bar was developed, and eventually franchised to other dairies.
In the 1960s, the huge national success of the Heath bar led to family in-fighting of some heat, with at least one grandchild of L.S. Heath thrown out of the business. In the 1970s, the company bought the South Dakota company "Fenn Brothers", which had produced a clone of Heath toffee – Butter Brickle.
Elsewhere, the Heath bar was making its way into other products. Already in use crushed up as a “mix-in” in Boston ice cream shops, the bar became the base for one of Ben & Jerry's most popular flavors when they opened their first shop in 1978. According to the ice cream's container, in the early years of Ben & Jerry's, Jerry would climb a ladder to hurl Heath bars to the floor and break them into pieces. The original Heath Bar Crunch has gone to the Flavor Graveyard, but Coffee Heath Bar Crunch and Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch are still manufactured. A Dairy Queen dish was developed using the candy. Heath bar cakes date from at least the 1960s on.
In the 1980s, a Heath Toffee Ice Cream Sandwich appeared, along with Heath Soft ‘n Crunchy – a Heath bar for those who didn’t enjoy the hardness of the original bar. The Heath Bar has also been used for a variation of the Klondike bar involving a toffee flavored ice cream square and a chocolate coating with bits of toffee. Today, in addition to recipes for Heath bar cake and various Heath Bar ice cream desserts, there are Heath bar coffeecakes, pies, cookies, brownies, frosting, cheesecake, milkshakes, tortes, and, in a strange twist, Toffee Crusted Chicken Breast (sic), requiring half a cup of crushed Heath toffee combined with bread crumbs to coat six chicken breasts.
In 1989, with the diminishing and splintering of the Heath family, the business was sold to a Finnish company, Leaf, Inc., which in turn was acquired by Hershey in 1996. The Heath bar, however, as manufactured by Hershey, remains much the same as it was in 1928. Hershey had initially created the Skor bar to compete with the Heath bar, before it bought out Leaf, Inc.
Since Hershey acquired its production, the bar has been elongated to be more visually competitive with its candy bar shelf-mates, and now weighs 1.4 ounces. Current ingredients are milk chocolate, sugar, palm oil, dairy butter (milk), almonds, salt, artificial flavor, and soy lecithin. The wrapper's vintage brown color scheme has been kept in the redesign, and a small seal proclaims the Heath as "Finest Quality English Toffee." The font used for Heath is quite like that used on the earlier double bar.
Richard J. Heath, thrown out of the business in 1969, wrote a tell-all book published in 1995. Bittersweet: The Story of the Heath Candy Co. was a biased account of the company history, although some sections went into great detail.
Ray Broekel, in his book The Great American Candy Bar Book, reveals that there was more than just the “Soft ‘n Crunchy” competing for the true Heath bar’s market. Mr. Broekel lists such bars as Heath Milk Chocolate with Peanuts, Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch, and Heath Milk Chocolate with Natural Cereal and Raisins. The regular Heath bar was also packaged as a double bar.