In praise of Manner wafers
Manner has a way of making magic in places that are otherwise ordinary. Take, for example, the Austrian snack company’s auto-reply email. When I emailed them about this story, I received this message: “This is an automated message to inform you that we have received your request. While enjoying the sweet smell around our production here in Vienna, we will work hard on getting back to you within the next three workdays.” Of course this is how Manner responds to emails.
An ornate display of their products literally stopped me in my tracks at the Vienna airport. What was this tower of millennial pink sparkling in the corner of my eye? It was a shrine to the five-layer Neapolitan treat filled with hazelnut cocoa cream, and it was the most Wes Anderson display I’ve ever seen at an airport. On the train into the city, I regretted not buying a package, but thanks to the wafer gods my hotel mini bar was stocked with Manner. I unsheathed the wafer and sampled the goods. It tasted like a delicate, Nutella-esque dream, one that I never wanted to end. I needed to know more about this dessert immediately.
“Pink was the color chosen by the founder Josef Manner in 1898 and has been the company color since then,” one Mag. Karin Steinhart MAS told me via email. “The pink and the flowing Manner font are a distinctive trademark.” Steinhart told me that when the wafer was first created it was sold piece by piece for about 0.13 euros in today's currency. By 1907, Manner launched a ten pack, and the people could get what they wanted: more Manner.
Other than some alterations in packaging and design, the Manner wafer I chomped on in my hotel room is pretty similar to the one Josef made in 1898. “The recipe is basically unchanged since 1898,” Steinhart said. “We had to adopt some minor changes due to new nutritional physiological findings.” Manner produces the cocoa from bean-to-bar, using cocoa beans roasted on site in its downtown Vienna production site. It was dubbed a Neapolitan wafer, as its hazelnut ingredients came from the Naples region. They taste even sweeter knowing there are no artificial colorings, preservatives, or hydrogenated fat.
I am not the only one in love with Manner wafers. “Our former president Heinz Fischer was a super fan,” Steinhart said. “He had a package on the table when announcing he would run for president a second time.” Austrian chef Bernhard Mairinger of BierBeisl in Beverly Hills and BierBeisl Imbiss in Downtown Los Angeles vaguely remembers the first time he had a Manner wafer. “My aunt would serve them with coffee at our family festivities as snacks before dinner. I especially loved the ones covered in bitter chocolate,” he said. “I always pick up a pack when I see it on the shelf somewhere here in Los Angeles. They are the perfect coffee snack—light, crunchy, not too sweet. The original is my favorite, but I also started trying some of the new flavors.”
Like myself, college professor and author Jennifer A. Jordan first noticed the wafer on a trip abroad. She tried the snack when she was about 19 years old backpacking before a semester abroad in Budapest. After eventually living in Vienna on and off for six years, Jordan started collecting Manner memorabilia. "At the time it was fascinating to walk through and see what they had thought of to turn pink and put the Manner symbol on—beach towels, pencil cases, etc. I used my Manner messenger bag for quite a while, and still have the old tins kicking around full of binder clips and pens,” Jordan said. “It sometimes felt like something not so much Austrian as Viennese, because of the prominence of St. Stephens cathedral in the Manner symbol. That’s the cathedral in the heart of Vienna, and its spire is definitely a symbol of both the city and the snack. I feel like many people were also fond of the brand—whether or not they actually consumed it—because it had a reputation for being affordable and playful, rather than expensive or snobby.”
In 2011, the company poured 40 million euros into renovating its plant in Vienna, a job that’s due to be completed in 2018. The project will increase Manner’s production by nearly 30 percent, which is damn good news for me, as I plan on clearing out their inventory regularly thanks to Amazon dot com.