Nerds are candy sold by Nestlé under The Willy Wonka Candy Company. Their unusual shape and thin candy-coating is comparable to rock candy. With their anthropomorphic covers, Nerds usually contain two flavors per box, and each flavor has a separate compartment and opening. Larger packages may contain various colors—sometimes referred to as "Rainbow Nerds."
Angelo Fraggos launched the production of Nerds in 1983. By 1985, Nerds were recognized as "Candy of the Year" by the National Candy Wholesalers Association (NCWA). The United Kingdom sold a three-box chambered package of Nerds, with strawberry cola as one of the flavors (the United States never sold this type of box or flavor). Throughout the years, the product has been sold in a box with two separate compartments, each compartment containing a different flavor .
The show called Unwrapped explains how Nerds are made separately from a Nerd Rope. A factory worker states, "Basically we start off with a sugar crystal and we just keep coating it with more sugar." The factory spins huge barrel-like containers of sugar crystals, which receive coats of sugar until the Nerds are formed. Their original color is pure white; they receive their colors in separate barrels. Each barrel is then transferred into the different nerd boxes. For instance, strawberry and grape go together—the most famous flavor combination among Nerds.
The article "Nerds Candy Nutrition" states, "Nerds primarily consist of sugar. The top three ingredients are dextrose, sugar and malic acid. The rest of the candy contains less than 2 percent of corn syrup, artificial flavors, carnauba wax and artificial coloring. The artificial coloring varies by flavor." The allergy warnings of this candy state that Nerds are created "in a facility that also produces wheat and egg." The normal serving size is one tablespoon—about 15 grams. (One serving of Nerds is equivalent to 60 calories.) The Halloween hand-out size is typically 15 grams, and the larger boxes contain 170 grams. Nerds consist of neither fat nor protein; the main calories come from carbohydrates.
Nerds were a popular candy in the 1980s, but they had big competitors including Pop Rocks, Candy Buttons, and Mike and Ike’s. Nerds also had a close cousin in the '80s—Dweebs. Dweebs were very similar to Nerds; they were less sour and bigger in size. One of the most popular differences is that Dweebs contained three flavors instead of two, though the United Kingdom had a box of nerds with three flavors for a limited time. According to Rob Bricken, "A squishier Nerd with more leg space and a surprise in the middle, Dweebs were more substantial, less sour, and displayed a greater depth and complexity than Nerds." Dweebs only lasted a short time on the market, however.
Nerds consist of various flavors and colors, ranging from extremely sweet to extremely sour; often, the two flavours in one box will contrast, and a single flavor may even exhibit both extremes. They are thickly glazed with carnauba wax, which gives them a hard bite and a gloss. The nucleus of each candy is composed of one or more complete sucrose crystals. These optically clear monoclinic crystals are about 0.2–1 mm in length and help define the irregular shape. A Nerds breakfast cereal based on this concept appeared in the 1980s, but it had a short life.
Although many other flavors are available, some of the current regular flavors of Nerds include the following:
- Strawberry and Grape (pink and purple)
- Wild Cherry and Watermelon (orange or red and green)
- Double Dipped Lemonade-Wild Cherry and Apple-Watermelon (red and yellow)
- Sour-Lightning Lemon and Amped Apple (yellow and light green)
- Surf 'n Turf- Totally Tropical Punch and Road Rash Raspberry (red and blue)
- Wildberry and Peach (blue and orange)
- Watermelon and punch and Wildberry (Green and blue)
Willy Wonka has also come up with several spin-off products of Nerds:
- Sour Nerds are big and they usually come in Lightning Lemon and Amped Apple. They are packaged in a regular box. A second flavor—Shocking Strawberry and Electric Blue—was released.
- Also known as "Future Nerds," Giant Chewy Nerds have a chewy jelly bean center with a bumpy, crunchy nerd shell. They are the same product as the jellybeans, but they are available year-round.
- Nerds Rope consists of gummy string with a variety of Nerds attached to the outside. It comes in original, berry and tropical flavors.
- Rainbow Nerds is a box of regular Nerds with multiple flavors, with no partition or organization.
- Jumbo Nerds is a box of Nerds with multiple flavors—much larger than regular Nerds. The box depicts one jumbo nerd on a teeter-totter with several regular-sized nerds trying to counter its weight.
- Nerds Gum Balls are bubble gum balls filled with multiple flavors of Nerds on the inside.
- Theme Nerds are sometimes manufactured seasonally for holidays such as Halloween or Valentine's Day with names such as "Spooky Nerds." Flavors may include fruit punch, strawberry, and orange.
- Nerds Cereal, a now-discontinued breakfast cereal that, like the candy, featured two separate flavors in a box. The cereal came with a mail-in offer for a Nerds cereal bowl, which also could be divided in two, like a standard Nerds box.
- Techno-Nerds, a lesser-known variety, comprised three compartments: green, blue, yellow, and multicolored.
- Nerds Gum consisted of pieces that looked like regular Nerds, but were actually bubble gum. The box featured a Nerd floating away with a bubble gum bubble.
- Dweebs, now discontinued, were a soft, chewy version of Nerds. Released in the 1980s, Dweebs contained three separate flavors rather than two. Dweebs were available only for a short time, however.
- Neon Nerds were introduced in 1996 and came in Pinktricity and Electro Orange flavours. They are still sold in Australia and New Zealand.
- Nerd Jelly Beans, produced for Easter, are jelly beans with a coating of carnauba wax, which makes them taste like Nerds.
- Wonkalate, A UK-only chocolate bar, which, aside from its purple color, contained snozzberry-flavored Nerds.
Throughout the 1980s, several new flavors of Nerds were introduced from time to time; for example, "Hot and Cool" Nerds (cinnamon & wintergreen flavored), Blueberry and Raspberry, and Lemon and Lime.
According to Laurnie Wilson, "Some say that [Nerds were] named after a reference in the Dr. Seuss Book, If I Ran the Zoo, where a 'nerd' is mentioned as one of the creatures the narrator would collect for his zoo." Wilson also mentions the invention of the now-discontinued Nerds cereal. He points out, however, that "you can eat Nerds pretty much any other time of the day."
A variety of Nerds products have been sold exclusively in the United Kingdom. Jason Liebig claims that "back in 2005, Wonka’s UK arm released a product called Nerdalicious, which was sort of like Nerd-filled licorice."
- Lee, Mary R. "Nerds Candy Nutrition." LIVESTRONG.COM, 07 Feb. 2014. Web.
- Tuckner, Jake T. "Nerds Ropes-Food Network." YouTube. Unwrapped, 2 Apr. 2013. Web.
- Yastremsky, Michelle B. "20 Candies from the '80s for a Sweet 30th Birthday Party." Celebrations, 7 Aug. 2013. Web.
- Bricken, Rob. "The 10 Most Delicious Extinct Candies from the '80s." Topless Robot. Daily Lists, 13 Aug. 2008. Web.
- Wilson, Laurnie. "Candy Favorites – Wholesale Candy & Bulk Candy Suppliers Since 1927." A Nerd-tastic History. Candy Favorites, 7 Dec. 2013.
- Liebig, Jason. "Wonka Nerds from Around the World!"