It's not just the English who love the buttery, textural crunch of toffee. New American and international takes on the traditional treat are conversation starters for toffee fans and retailers alike.

The topic: Toffee. Now, as famed “Saturday Night Live” “Coffee Talk” hostess Linda Richman (Mike Myers) might say: “Discuss.” There’s no reason to get “faklempt” over the latest reincarnations of classic toffee. Although fans of traditional varieties may be faithful to the brittle creation, they’ll no doubt enjoy new variations on old recipes that are, to quote Richman, “like buttah.”

After all, butter is one of the lead ingredients when it comes to toffee, a category that “continues to grow, despite the recession,” says Mark Greenhall, chief sales & marketing officer for Tacoma, Wash.-based Brown & Haley. “The category was up 4% in dollars for the latest 52 weeks ending Sept. 6 and up 4.3% for the last 12 weeks.

“People still want their comfort food, especially when they are feeling stressed or unsettled,” he continues. “These trends outpace both total confections and premium chocolate. We would not expect to see this change going into 2010.”

Take Brown & Haley’s newMacadamia Roca, a sister to the originalAlmond Roca brand, which dates back to1923.

“We created this product by roasting fresh Macadamia nuts with a pinch of sea salt in our all-natural Roca buttercrunch toffee and enrobing it in chocolate,” Greenhall says. It’s also made with real butter and vanilla, and manufactured one kettle at a time to ensure perfect cooking.

The resulting individually wrapped confections come in a tray set with “Macadamia Roca” printed on the outside and “Aloha” printed on the inside of each silver foil wrapper. The product launched in August in the Hawaiian Islands, where Macadamia trees have flourished since 1881, making it a popular flavor in the region. It will be available in the continental United States in 2010, Greenhall adds.

Then there’s Jer’s Gourmet Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars, available in a Toffee Break variety. The “buttery rich handmade toffee mixed with all natural peanut butter” is one of 11 preservative-free varieties from Jer’s Handmade Chocolates, Solana Beach, Calif. Jer’s recently expanded its bar line to include Peanut Brittle Bites, also available in Toffee Break.

Sconza Candy, Oakdale, Calif., offers another series of unique takes on premium-grade toffee: Dark Chocolate Toffee Almonds, made with 70% cacao; Chocolate Toffee Pistachios, made with milk chocolate; and Carmelized Premium Nuts, featuring almonds, cashews and pecans roasted in sea salt and toffee. TheSconza brand items retail for $4.99-$5.99 per 5-oz. bag. Sconza also has introduced a new “Transformer” turnkey merchandiser that can function as a floor display, counter display or power wing, and comes pre-packed with 24 bags of Sconza’s Chocolate Cherries, Dark Chocolate Cranberries and Almonds, Carmelized Premium Nuts and Chocolate Toffee Pistachios for fast sell-through.

The company is in the process of developing Allspice toffee sunflower seeds, too, adds Greg Cater, v.p. of sales and marketing. “The flavor combinations and texture make them very unique.”

At Sconza, toffee textures and flavors are used “as part of the confectionery recipe rather than a dedicated toffee candy” and are distributed largely in the specialty channel, Cater notes. “We see toffee as a luxurious complement and enhancer to the overall confectionery experience. It’s a classic.”

Speaking of classic toffee,Cary’s Milk Chocolate Almond English Toffee Pieces are made from an old family recipe, offering just slight variations on the original. For starters, the product is bite-size. For another, it comes in 8-oz. packs that are made from 100% recyclable materials.

Another unique aspect of toffee is origin. Toffee manufacturing has gone beyond borders, from England to America and every place in between, for decades.

For example, Brazil-based Embaré has been making toffee more than 40 years, says export manager Solange Duarte Isidoro. What makes Embaré’s product unique is the fact that it contains fresh milk from the company’s dairy plant, she notes. Recent introductions that debuted at the Sweet Brazil International show includeEmbaré brand assorted toffees in rum, vanilla, coconut and chocolate flavors.

Meanwhile, fellow Brazil-based Peccin offers itsTrufy brand toffee in the following varieties: Chocolate, duo Menta, Duo Morango, Duo Trufa and Leite.

On the other side of the ocean, Belgian confectioner Confiserie Kathy produces a line of Exotic Chocolate Toffees in various flavors, as well.

Is this new wave of toffee interpretations going on hiatus anytime soon? Not likely. But as SNL’s fictional talk show host suggests, feel free to “talk amongst yourselves.”

Caramel Memories

Chewy sugar caramel, a sister confection to the toffee category, are no less popular Stateside than their English-inspired brethren. Renewed interest in nostalgic candies and new variations make this sticky segment a memorable one.

“Caramel” conjures up images of colorful caramel corn candies and sticky caramel-covered apples, especially come fall. Smartly, Harry & David thought to combine caramel with another autumn favorite for a recent introduction: Pumpkin Spice Caramel Balls. Meanwhile, its Vanilla Twist Caramels play on another popular flavor profile.

Year-round, caramel suggests a variety of candy bars and premium filled chocolates and truffles with chewy, nougat centers. Old-time favorites also come to mind, like those sold on Web sites such

TakeSlo Poke, which recently returned to its original formula for a firmer, darker caramel.

“We are selling the caramel to all classes of trade,” notes Rich Warrell, director of sales and marketing for The Warrell Classic Co., Camp Hill, Pa., maker of the long-lasting confection. “The product works well merchandised with other nostalgic branded goods.”

Among them,Goetze Caramel Creams. Baltimore-based Goetze’s Candy Co. recently extended the historic line, which dates back to 1918, to include two varieties:Gourmet Caramel Creams Double Chocolate, featuring rich chocolate caramel wrapped around a rich chocolate center, andGourmet Caramel Creams Licorice, made with licorice caramel. Both are naturally flavored and fortified with calcium, delivering 30% of the recommended daily allowance, while the latter also offers 11% of the recommended daily allowance of fiber. They’re available in 9-oz. gusseted bags and are packed 12 a master case. The suggested retail price per bag is $2.99.

New, no less clever caramel introductions that might be destined to become classics includeEmbaré Brazilian Coffee Caramels.

Then there’s Jer’s Gourmet Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars from Jer’s Handmade Chocolates, which comes in a Cara Mella variety, blending creamy caramel with fresh, all natural peanut butter.

Speaking of sweet-meets-salty combinations, 2009 ALL CANDY EXPO attendees may rememberDas Lolliin Caramel Me Happy, a salty caramel lollipop from Chicago-based Das Foods that blends caramelized cane sugar, real lavender extract and tiny crystals of Fleur De Sel sea salt and lavender. The company also produces a line of bite-size, all-natural French Salted Caramels calledDas Caramelini in varieties such as Café Cortado, Chocolate Walnut, Orange & Honey, Ginger & Pistachio and Chili Pecan. This last fiery flavor is of sure to be memorable to both mind and mouth.