I Paid: $4.49 for an 8-ounce bag (prices may vary by region)
When you first open a package of the red variety of Natural Vines licorice, a smell comes flooding out of the package, and it takes you a moment to place it. It's a bit floral, a bit fruity—what precisely is that? Ah yes: strawberry.
Strawberry licorice that actually smells and tastes of real strawberries is a novelty, and it's a pleasant one. The licorice has a texture that's softer and more yielding than the plastic ropes that generally pass for licorice in this country (granted, there's a world of difference between the nearly inedible Twizzlers and the passably tasty Red Vines, the latter of which are made by the same parent company as Natural Vines).
Billed as "all natural" (low fat, no preservatives, low sodium, comprehensible ingredients such as cane syrup, beet juice, natural strawberry flavor or licorice extract), Natural Vines are the latest in a seemingly unending treadmill of new products that take profoundly artificial treats (cola, potato chips, movie theater candy) back to a simpler time.
And like the best of their cousins, they provide not just a (sometimes overstated) peace of mind to the consumer, but also a better flavor than their conventional competitors. The Strawberry variety has a pleasing depth and natural berry flavor; the Black Licorice has such a well-balanced and nuanced natural licorice depth to it that even haters of conventional black licorice (like myself) will find it admirable, if not quite outright delicious.
As for value: If, in your eyes, getting a made-in-the-USA, natural product with beautifully balanced flavor is worth double the cost of your typical mass-market licorice product, then you're in luck. If not, enjoy the rubber bands.