Pocky is made by Glico and is named so because of the sound each chocolate covered cookie stick makes when it is snapped: Pokkin!
Pocky has been around for 45 years and since then it has come in a variety of flavors and formats. There are usually a dozen different flavors available at one time (see what is available NOW). Chocolate covers 80% of the white cookie stick. Sometimes fruit or nut bits are embedded into the chocolate giving them more texture and a more beautiful appearance. You can find sticks from 8 cm all the way up to 30 cm! Different regions of Japan offer unique flavors too. Pocky is the most recognized 'stick-type' snack throughout the world, however it may not be the best...
Fran differs from Pocky in a couple ways. First, the stick is a chocolate cookie which has a lot more flavor and is slightly thicker, though more airy. Secondly, Fran has two layers of chocolate: a white chocolate base with the main flavor generously covering it. Meiji is the manufacturer of Fran and in my opinion, they make the best mainstream chocolate in the land of the rising sun. I always look forward to their new releases. Check out the current Fran line HERE.
Toppo is an inside-out Pocky which is available in 8-10 different flavors each year. With the slightly salty cookie surrounding the chocolate filled centers, you need not worry about getting your hands messy, even on a hot day. Another benefit is that a Toppo box contains more product than its competitors (usually 10-20% more volume!) Personally, I find that the flavors are not as accurate as the competitors but they are very tasty and addictive. This product is made by Lotte, a huge South Korean confectionery company, that operates in Japan and has a wide range of products including chewing gum and chocolate bars.
Pretz is another Glico product that is similar in shape to the others but has a completely different flavor profile. These cracker-like sticks are about the same size as the others however there is NO chocolate to be found on them. They come in about 10 flavors per year and most of them are usually non-sweet, though the cracker stick does have sugar in it. The seasonings are usually vegetable, meat, fish, or herb based. Pretz is best enjoyed with a beverage such as beer, wine, or soda. Take a look at the cool Pretz varieties available today!
Ta Pasta is the newest release that joins the fold! Glico is the "stick snack" pioneer and there is no slowing them down. The first two releases of 2010 were Squid Ink and Peperoncino. Please do not be turned off by the flavors. They are both very flavorful, VERY thin dry pasta-like sticks with heavy seasonings including garlic! Much more crunchier than Pretz and definitely a more adult taste. The squid ink is salty with seafood flavor overtones while the peperoncino has more garlic, spice and tomato based flavor.
I also need to mention Kari Poli which is a hard candy based fizzy stick. These are much shorter than the above products but they are quite unique. The short sticks are hard, but brittle, and easy to chew. There are two fruity flavors in each box and sometimes a mystery flavor is even included. Kabaya is the manufacturer and although they do not advertise so much in Japan they always seem to carry a few eye-opening products each year.
On your next visit to napajapan please try out some of these wonderful "stick snack" products!