In April, Kellogg’s released a new waffle product: Eggo Grab & Go Liège-Style Waffles. That’s a lot of qualifiers before the word “waffle,” so let’s unpack each one. “Liège-style” refers to the type of Belgian waffle these puppies are trying to approximate. “Grab & go” refers to how you can eat these—that is, you don’t have to toast them. And depending on what you ate for breakfast growing up, you probably already know that “Eggo” means delicious.
Around the same time these new Eggo waffled appeared in my grocer’s freezer, so did a product called Snack’n Waffles, which led me to believe grab-and-go Liège waffles were suddenly all the rage. Though they are on the rise, Snack’n Waffles has actually been around for 25 years; after a 14-year stint of being owned by the J.M. Smucker Company, the brand is back in its original owners’ hands and is going through a significant expansion that just so happens to line up with Kellogg’s debut of its own similar product—so similar, in fact, that both brands feature the same flavors.
You’re probably familiar with the term “Belgian waffle.” In America, when we say that, we usually mean the giant, plate-sized, fluffy waffles offered on many breakfast menus. In actual Belgium, “waffle” is an umbrella term for two distinct foods: the Brussels waffle, similar to what we call a “Belgian waffle” but traditionally square, and the Liège waffle, which Kellogg’s and Snack’n Waffles are now stocking in your grocer’s freezer.
Liège waffles in particular are quite serious business in Belgium. One Liège waffle maker is designated to supply his waffles to Belgium’s royal family. They’re referred to as “snack waffles” or “street waffles” and are made with a yeast-raised brioche dough, which is—and this is important—laced with pearl sugar. As James Ubaghs explained in Taste,
“Pearl sugar is very dense, with a higher melting point than granulated sugar, but it will still melt in a sizzling-hot waffle iron. A Liège waffle is filled with unevenly distributed clusters of caramelized pearl sugar, which gives a slightly bitter contrast with the buttery waffle dough.”
The result is a waffle with little bits of crunch throughout, plus a caramelized, sweet exterior. I haven’t been to Belgium myself, but I frequent Waffle Cabin in the winter a lot, a place originally called Leo’s Gaufres de Liège.
Waffle Cabin says it imports “around 20 tons of Belgian Pearl sugar yearly.” The company was founded by Peter Creyf and Ingrid Heyrman, who moved from Belgium to the United States with the idea of opening the company and sharing Liège waffles with the masses.
You can order Waffle Cabin’s waffles to be shipped to you, and shelf-stable Liège-style waffles have been showing up in the American grocery landscape for a while, but freezer versions are still fairly limited.
If you’re on the streets of Belgium, or at a Waffle Cabin, chances are your waffle is going to be handed to you hot. That’s in contrast to the versions popping up in our freezers, which are advertised as a “grab and go” option. This means that while you can toast them, you don’t need to. You just throw them in your bag (they’re individually wrapped) and enjoy them at room temperature after they’ve defrosted, which takes about an hour.
Peter Jacobson, CEO of Arlington Valley Farms, maker of Snack’n Waffles, is a former breakfast chef and was the mastermind behind the Snack’n Waffles brand, which despite being around for 25 years is currently in the process of “expanding quickly.” This may be why the product is just showing up in your grocer’s freezer now.
Jacobson says Snack’n Waffles were indeed inspired by Liège waffles, but the goal was never to completely replicate them. While they do have a crunch laced throughout them, it’s not from pearl sugar. He won’t say what it is from—that’s proprietary—but confirms it is a “different type of sugar.” The waffles are also made with 51% whole grains, in the interest of being healthier than their street-food counterparts.
Jacobson, who speaks with a kind cadence that feels familiar and warm even in a phone interview, says he was surprised to learn about Kellogg’s version of the waffles he’s been slinging for a while now; he was even more surprised that the new product line shares a flavor name with his waffles. Both companies call their maple option “buttery maple.”
“The Eggo version was just launched, but we were using the flavor name ‘buttery maple’ all the way back since 2001,” he says. “It’s kind of outrageous. You’d think they could have come up with an original name. We take it as a compliment. But I wish they were a little bit more creative.”
Jacobson says a focus for the company overall is to put healthy convenience food in the hands of Americans. “Scratch cooking in your freezer” is one of the company’s taglines.
“It’s nobody’s fault, but people don’t have time to cook,” says Jacobson. Another of the company’s taglines: “Busy people deserve better.”
It seems Kellogg’s motivation (beyond profits, of course) is similar: putting food in the hands of busy Americans, especially parents, for whom the toaster is apparently too complicating a factor in the morning. In a press release about the Eggo Liège-style waffles, Joe Beauprez, Marketing Director for Eggo, was quoted as saying:
“Mornings are tough for families. We heard from parents that they often sacrifice their own needs, like skipping breakfast, in order to make sure their kids get a great start to the day. That’s why we created the new Eggo Grab & Go Liège-Style Waffles with busy parents in mind.”
Beauprez went on to say these waffles can be enjoyed by parents “during carpool drop offs, while commuting to work and especially when you have a jam-packed weekend filled with back-to-back sporting events for your kids.”
Given that, it seems Kellogg’s might be trying to differentiate itself with a pitch to the busiest type of parent, offering us a whisper of a trip to the streets of Belgium, which we could maybe achieve if only we didn’t have carpool drop-offs, commutes, and jam-packed weekend sporting events. Alas! Instead, I’ll throw a waffle in my bag and hope for the best.
For what it’s worth, I tried both the Snack’n Waffles and the Eggo Liège-style waffles, and I preferred the Snack’n Waffles. Whatever mystery sugar the brand is using to create its crunch, it was more prominent than it was in Eggo’s version, which claims to use real pearl sugar. And though the sweet exterior of a freshly-made Liège waffle isn’t fully prominent on either, its essence was more identifiable on the Snack’n Waffles version, and a worthwhile addition to my purse on a busy day.