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Oreo cookie gets a Chinese makeover

In the United States, the Oreo cookie is a classic. Millions of American children have enjoyed dunking the sweet treat -- white cream sandwiched between two round, crisp, chocolate cookies -- in milk as an afternoon snack.

Kraft Foods, makers of the Oreo, introduced the cookie to China in 1996. But the Chinese didn't exactly take to them. So starting in 2005, the Wall Street Journal reports, Kraft engaged in a classic case of adapting a product to suit local tastes. The Chinese found the cookies too sweet, so Kraft reduced the sugar in them. China was developing a thirst for milk -- a product that traditionally hasn't been a Chinese dietary staple -- so Kraft launched a campaign, complete with Oreo ambassadors, to "educate" the Chinese on how to dunk the cookies in milk.

The most radical change was in the shape. Noticing that sales of wafer cookies were increasing faster than those of traditional biscuit-like cookies, a new version of the Oreo was created: a long, narrow, layered stack of crispy wafers and vanilla and chocolate cream, all coated with chocolate. Whoever said Oreos have to be round?

Of course, amid rising food prices and increased demand for chocolate (whose consumption in China has nearly doubled in the past five years), the success of the Chinese Oreo brings to mind the broader question of "Can the World Afford a Middle Class?," a topic recently addressed in FP and one that fans the flames of Chinese frustrations with the West.

(Meanwhile, Oreos have been trying to colonize British biscuit tins, the BBC reports.)

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How Google thinks

Fortune has an interesting interview with Google cofounder Larry Page. Here he is pontificating about alternative energy, one of his company's eclectic new research areas:

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

You can be a bit of a detective and ask, What are the industries where things haven't changed much in 50 years? We've been looking a little at geothermal power. And you start thinking about it, and you say, Well, a couple of miles under this spot or almost any other place in the world, it's pretty darn hot. How hard should it be to dig a really deep hole? We've been drilling for a long time, mostly for oil - and oil's expensive. If you want to move heat around, you need bigger holes. The technology just hasn't been developed for extracting heat. I imagine there's pretty good odds that's possible.

Solar thermal's another area we've been working on; the numbers there are just astounding. In Southern California or Nevada, on a day with an average amount of sun, you can generate 800 megawatts on one square mile. And 800 megawatts is actually a lot. A nuclear plant is about 2,000 megawatts.

The amount of land that's required to power the entire U.S. with electricity is something like 100 miles by 100 miles. So you say, "What do I need to do to generate that power?" You could buy solar cells. The problem is, at today's solar prices you'd need trillions of dollars to generate all the electricity in the U.S. Then you say, "Well, how much do mirrors cost?" And it turns out you can buy pieces of glass and a mirror and you can cover those areas for not that much money. Somehow the world is not doing a good job of making this stuff available. As a society, on the larger questions we have, we're not making reasonable progress.

And yet, Page is optimistic that this progress can accelerate:

Look at the things we worry about - poverty, global warming, people dying in accidents. And look at the things that drive people's basic level of happiness - safety and opportunity for their kids, plus basic things like health and shelter. I think our ability to achieve these things on a large scale for many people in the world is improving.