STUARTS DRAFT, VA. -- Hershey Foods Corp.'s first new candy bar to hit store shelves nationwide in six years is being produced at the candy maker's plant in Augusta County.
The candy, called Bar None, was introduced nationally this fall as Hershey hoped to gain an edge over its top rival in the chocolate bar business, Mars.
Hershey officials offer little information about their work on Bar None.
"We're secretive, there's no doubt about it," plant manager Harold Cook said.
Hershey, based in Hershey, Pa., refuses to say how many Bar Nones come off the assembly line, how hot the chocolate coating is as it is applied or even the speed of the candy bar conveyor belt.
But Hershey did permit a Roanoke Times & World-News reporter to take a look inside its plant, unlike Mars, where candy executives will not even grant interviews.
The Bar None begins as layers of chocolate creme and chocolate wafers and then covered in milk chocolate.
Bar None then is sprinkled with peanuts before getting another coat of chocolate.
All the chocolate gave the candy its name, Cook said.
"Our marketing people say it's a chocolate extravaganza, bar none," he said.
Hershey and Mars are tight-lipped about their operations because of their jockeying for market share.
The American Consulting Corp., which charts the candy and snack industry, said the candy bar giants trade 38 percent and 37 percent market shares back and forth.
The Stuarts Draft plant, opened five years ago, also makes Reese's Pieces, chocolate-covered granola bars called New Trail, Reese's peanut butter chips and Whatchamacallits, a confection of puffed rice, peanuts, chocolate and caramel.
During the Christmas season, the plant produces round, sugar-coated Hershey-ets.
So far, Cook said, Bar None is "taking off like gangbusters," perhaps because of an advertising campaign in print, radio and television.
Lisbeth Echeandia, an executive vice president with American Consulting Corp., based in Orlando, Fla., said it is too early to tell how Bar None ranks in comparison with other popular candies.
But a spokeswoman with Kroger stores in Roanoke said Bar None is selling at a rate close to Hershey's plain and almond bars, both big national sellers.
"We think it's going to be a good seller," spokeswoman Joann Boone said.
Cook said that Bar None has so much chocolate that it probably will appeal only to serious chocolate lovers.
But, he said, "There are a lot of us crazy people who love chocolate and can't get enough of it.'