In her third Elleswhere column about life as an expat New Zealander in London, Elle Hunt begs folks back home to spare a thought for a Whittaker’s fanatic stuck with no supply.
I am stomping across the office when I hear someone call “EEL.” I carry on stomping across the office. Then I realise it’s Richard and he is calling not “EEL” but “ELLE”. My New Zealand is getting rusty.
I fling myself into the empty wheelie chair next to his desk.
“Do you like Jellytip?” Richard asks.
“Not really,” I say.
Richard is a New Zealander I work with. While waiting to board the first of my flights to London from Auckland last year, I had messaged him on Twitter to ask if there was anything he wanted brought over. At least there would be one friendly face on my first day in the office, I figured.
Richard politely requested Whittaker’s chocolate. I picked out a couple of artisan blocks and added them to the selection I’d bought from the supermarket that afternoon for a third of the price, along with a bag of Good Fortune Co. coffee beans, a half-kilo jar of Vegemite, and those Trident dental floss head things that you can only find at select Countdowns.
This was not my overseas move, after all.
And yet I’d still been caught out at check-in, having to very publicly repack my suitcase and pay an unexpected $140 for being over my luggage allowance. This alone I had taken as evidence of the grotesque, Wonka-level excesses of Whittaker’s I had brought with me to London. But my stash rapidly depleted. The family that put me up for the first month got the two other artisan slabs; my immediate new colleagues, the bags of orange and peppermint minis. The limited-edition Easter egg ones, I had already stress-eaten myself on the flight over.
It was just as well Richard had called dibs. My access to Whittaker’s chocolate, it transpired, was my most likeable trait. When I tried an English Kit-Kat for the first time, I found out why. (Though it is rumoured that all the Kit-Kats, and only the Kit-Kats, in the work vending machine are past their use-by date, not one journalist has succeeded in substantiating it.)
For my first eight or nine months in London, between us Richard and I were able to keep at least our personal stores replenished. But in March we foresaw a coming dry spell, with no upcoming visits to or visitors from New Zealand.
I sent a semi-hysterical email through the Contact Us form on Whittaker’s website, name-dropping my employer but covering my bases with the clarification that, even if my email did result in my being sent chocolate, I could not guarantee coverage “because that would compromise my journalistic integrity, which I refuse to do”.
A receptionist sent a polite reply saying though she was delighted I was a fan of Whittaker’s products they were “not yet available in England”. She concluded with links to KiwiCornerDairy.com and ProductsFromNZ.com.
I forwarded it to Richard: “Almost worse than no reply.”
“It’s because you dissed the K-Bars,” he wrote back. “That’s my guess.”
He tells me now that a Jellytip block has unexpectedly come into his possession. “I thought, if you really liked Jellytip, you could have it,” he says. “I’m not fussed on it. It’s better than the L&P one.”
“It’s better than the K-Bar one,” I say, feeling slightly guilty. My friend had willed the K-Bar block into being with a charming post to the Whittaker’s Facebook page that had gone New Zealand-viral. When I’d left, New World had been selling all three flavours for 50c a block. They couldn’t give it away.
“I quite like K-Bars,” says Richard. “As kids we used to put them in kettles and melt them.”
Better that than eat them, I think, or maybe say aloud.
I definitely say aloud, shrilly incredulous: “Could you believe that email they sent?”
That week I had woken up one morning to the Whittaker’s email newsletter, which had begun: “For years now we’ve been asked if we can make it easier for friends and family around the world to get their hands on our chocolate. So we are delighted to say that as of yesterday, the answer is very much ‘yes’.”
Even in my bleary semi-conscious state, I had thought: This is it. Then I read on.
“Now anyone heading overseas from Auckland Airport can stock up for their friends, family or business acquaintances at our first-ever dedicated shop.”
Months earlier, Whittaker’s had sent an email with the promising subject line “We simply want to thank you” that transpired to be about their being named New Zealand’s “most iconic brand” again. This had made me unreasonably angry. I’ll tell you how you can thank me, Whittaker’s, I’d thought.
My trust in New Zealand’s most trusted brand felt misplaced. My faith in supply and demand, too, had been rattled.
I stand up to go back to my desk. “I have a friend coming over soon,” I say, by way of farewell to my business acquaintance. “I’ll let you know.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed, free daily curated digest of all the most important stories from around New Zealand delivered directly to your inbox each morning.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.