Posts filed under ‘Current Candy News’

The End of Candy

2009 was the final year for the “All Candy Expo,” the National Confectioner’s Association’s major trade show. For 2010, the event has been renamed: “Sweets and Snacks Expo.” It’s happening this week in Chicago. I wish I were there. Katharine Weber has a great scene in her novel True Confections based on the Expo, and she makes it seem like a lot of fun (and if you’re there this week, look for Katharine, she’s at the Expo signing copies of her book).

But I’m a little sad about the renaming of the event. Candy doesn’t even merit mention in the event name. The event will feature:

“Confectionery. Chocolate. Candy. Gum. Salty Snacks. Cookies. Popcorn. Biscuits. Breakfast Snacks. Nutrition Bars. Meat Snacks. Fruit Snacks. Granola Bars. Nuts.”

Candy is still up front, but the line of alternatives seems long and decidedly un-candy-like.

A lot of what used to be called candy is now re-imagined as “snacks” (which I guess sounds more like food and therefore more respectable). Meanwhile, candy like everything else these days is trending “healthy.” Which may be about things that are better for you, or it may just be about things that seem better for you. We’re seeing a lot of pseudo-candy on the grocery store shelves: foods that are candy-like, but that promise some other virtue. Fruit juice, all natural, organic, vitamin fortified, and the like. Candy can’t just be candy.

And clearly, there is a lot of candy that doesn’t want to be seen as candy. If you wander over to the snack aisle, you might find items like “Welch’s Fruit Snacks,” or Betty Crocker’s “Fruit by the Foot.” Fruit, right? Um, not exactly. Because whether the sugar comes from apple juice or pear puree or sugar cane crystals, it’s still sugar. But since these products look like something from fruit, they are somehow exempt from the stigma associated with candy. Just ask the Washington State Tax authorities who didn’t even consider those “fruit snacks” when they put together the list for the new candy tax.

The rise of candy taxes in Washington, Colorado, Illinois, and the murmurings heard elsewhere, tell us which way the wind is blowing on candy. American’s will still want it, and still eat it. But it won’t be called candy. And it will likely be manufactured and packaged in some way to evade legal definitions on candy. Even today, products like Milky Way candy bars and Look candy bars are exempt from the Washington tax because they contain flour. So just add a pinch of flour to your recipe, and presto, your candy is tranformed into tax-free food.

As far as the tax goes, I really don’t care. But I do think there is something important about honesty and transparency and clarity in what we eat and how we choose.

Candy is a lovely thing. How sad it would be to hide it, to distort it, to smother it because we can’t call a thing by its name.

May 24, 2010 at 11:38 am 7 comments

Countdown to Candy Tax

Washington State begins taxing candy on June 1. But the definition of candy, and the difference between candy and food, has some heads scratching. Candy Professor is here to help. Click Here for Tax List, Definitions, More

May 24, 2010 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

News Brief: Eat Wilbur Buds, Live Forever

WGAL of Pennsylvania brings us this story:

On May 9, Mrs. Edna Hoover, of Litizt, Pennsylvania, celebrated her centenary: that’s one hundred years of life, a reasonable stretch by any measure. And still, by local accounts, going strong.

And what is her secret?

Wilbur Buds. Those chocolate pieces, so smooth and delicious. Yes, the one’s that came BEFORE Hershey’s Kisses. Mrs. Edna likes them. To the tune of two pounds a week.

So if your wish is to live long and prosper, perhaps Wilbur Buds are the secret path…

If you don’t know about Wilbur Buds, check out my post: Kissing Cousins: the Hershey’s Kiss and the Wilbur Bud.

May 18, 2010 at 8:34 am Leave a comment

Candy? Or Not? Check the list.

Washington State Candy Tax Update:

The candy sales tax goes into effect June 1, and officials at the Washington State Department of Revenue have been working to compile a list. All the candy, and all the candy like substances that are not candy.

Here’s the definition Washington State is using, with that funny flour exemption:

What is candy?
Candy is a preparation of sugar, honey, or other natural or artificial sweeteners combined with chocolate, fruits, nuts, or other ingredients or flavorings and formed into bars, drops, or pieces. Candy does not require refrigeration. Candy does not include any preparation containing flour.

Flour is made from grain such as wheat, rice, corn, rye, oats, and barley.  Flour does not include flour substitutes, such as starch. Any product that lists flour as an ingredient on the nutritional facts label is not taxable as candy.

You can read more about the definition and its irrational craziness in my post Defining Candy: The Candy Tax.

But if you’d like to check to see whether your favorite candy is actually candy, or some  tax-free candy like substance, check out the spreadsheet at: http://www.dor.wa.gov/Content/FindALawOrRule/NewLegislation/Important.aspx click on “June 1 Candy and gum sales tax exemption repealed” then go to “List of candy products and products similar to candy.” In a particularly helpful gesture, the News Tribune (Tacoma) has created a nifty little search box so you can input your favorite treats and find out where they fall along the candy/no candy line.

So far, the list includes something like 3,500 different candies in the state, and they had to check the ingredients of each and every one. More to come, though: the Revenue office just received a new distributor’s list of Asian candies sold in the state. 11,000 kinds.

We knew about a few of the clinkers: Kit Kats, Twix, M&M Pretzel, and licorice will not henceforth be known as candy in Washington State. But Milky Way bars? Never saw it coming.

The flour exemption was meant to carve out an exception for cookies. So now when you buy a 100  Grand Bar or a Look Bars, hey, it’ s not a candy bar at all!

For a great story about the man behind the candy list, Patrick Gillespie, see Nicole Brodeur, Candy Man’s job can be taxing” in the Seattle Times.

May 17, 2010 at 8:30 am 4 comments

Smoking Smarties

You may recall a recent post here at Candy Professor about an old time, long gone candy idea called the “Candy Feeding Bag” that involved sucking flavored powder through a licorice straw. Candy diva Cybele May commented that such an apparatus seemed more about choking hazards and coughing fits than about candy taste. This seemed funny to me, and even funnier when Cybele informed me that kids are doing just that: inhaling, and puffing, and even snorting candy powder, made from smashed up Smarties.

Whaaaa? Yes, it may not be news to you, but it came as news to me: last spring (that’s 2009), teens were doin’ it: “smoking” pulverized Smarties.

No fire is involved. The smoking is more of a special effect. The point, it seems, is to create the effect of blowing smoke with candy powder. Some talented kids can even blow out their noses and make smoke rings (an impressive talent, but one, I fear, that will not likely get them into Harvard).  Since we at Candy Professor are committed to documenting and preserving the cultural candy record, we take up smoking Smarties now, albeit belatedly.

Why, why, why, would kids want to inhale or snort sour candy powder? What is wrong with these kids today?

OK, I know one good reason: it drives certain adults crazy. And another reason, unique to our age: you can get 60,000 hits on YouTube and find yourself featured on FoxNews if you perfect your technique. (Did I mention about how this probably won’t look so great on your college applications? Listen to the Professor, kids.)

Because even if it’s just “pretend smoking,” it looks like a gateway to the real thing, which is definitely not good. OK, I’ll say it: Kids, don’t smoke. But let’s face it. As long as adults have been smoking, kids have been smoking. From that perspective, we should be thankful for those candy cigarettes and chocolate cigars that started showing up at the local candy shop in the 1890s. At least those didn’t foul up the air or blacken your lungs.

Eventually adults started realizing that kids’ smoking was kind of a bad idea. And those candy cigarettes? Obviously sending the wrong message. They were not quite outlawed, but serious pressure from the FTC around 1966-67 helped the tobacco companies and their candy allies to see that maybe a lower candy cigarette profile would be a good idea. Candy cigarettes with packaging imitating popular brands like Camel and Marlboro continued to be sold at kiddie candy counters well into the 1970s. You have to look harder these days, but candy cigarettes have never been made illegal, and in fact there is a wide array of candy versions of cigarettes and cigars to be had, if you know where to look (for example, CandyFavorites.com sells them).

In the 2000s, though, everybody knows to teach the kiddies that smoking is bad, and there are no candy or bubble gum cigarettes at your local CVS. We’ve got the education, the anti-smoking ads, the negative reputation of smoking, and we took away the candy cigs. And still: those blasted kids are pretending to smoke! This time around, instead of the pressed sugar to look like the actual cigarette, it’s pulverized candy to look like the smoke.

Now, I remember hazily my high school days, and if I recall correctly, we tried smoking all kinds of things. I’m talking banana peels, oregeno, eraser rubbings. All perfectly legal, of course. And needless to say, I didn’t inhale. But kids trying to smoke stuff, or light stuff on fire, or create the effect of smoking, well, it’s not a new thing.

In fact, these Smarties smokers aren’t playing with matches. And no one thinks there is anything remotely drug-like in the Smarties that would make anybody “high.” Kind of a nerdy version of bad-a** behavior, when you think about it. The worst that happens is coughing and irritation. Although some doctors speculated you could end up with maggots in your nose, feeding on the sugar powder….

The real victim here is the beleaguered Ce De Candy company, makers of Smarties and… oh, just Smarties. But they come in lots of flavors. Smarties are one of those classic American candies, going back to 1949. And they have a cute web site.

Already, Smarties had a reputation as the kind of candy you give out at Halloween if you’re really cheap and you really don’t like kids. Now this. Eric Ostrow, Ce De vice president for sales and marketing, sounded a little mournful when the Wall Street Journal asked him about all the attention:

It could be done with anything made with sugar and compressed — Necco Wafers, Conversation Hearts, SweeTarts. Lik-M-Aid is already pulverized and so is Pixy Stix. I don’t want to be complimented that we’re the No. 1 choice.

But it’s pretty funny. You can blow Smarties smoke to look like you’re smoking when you’re not, or you can suck on one of those new Camel Orbs, so no one will know you’re smoking when actually you are. Crazy world.

Related Post: Tobacco Candy

Smarties Image: Uploaded by Wikipedia user CoolKid1993 under CC.  Sources: “Goddard Suggests Candy Cigarettes Be Discontinued,” New York Times June 15, 1966; Jocelyn Elders, Preventing Tobacco Abuse Among Young People, a Report of the Surgeon General, “Candy Cigarettes” (171-172); Dionne Searcy, “Just Say No….to Smarties? Faux Smoking Has Parents Fuming,” Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2009. Around the Blogs: Cybele reviews Giant Smarties at candyblog.net; Richard reviews candy cigarettes at The Bewildered Brit.

May 5, 2010 at 10:10 am 14 comments

News Brief: Cotton Candy, Robot Style

This is great news: coming soon to a strip mall or laundry mat near you, cotton candy. Yes, cotton candy! From a vending machine!

I love this idea. I can’t believe no one thought of it before. (more…)

May 4, 2010 at 8:37 am Leave a comment

Candy Bombs

WestPac 02-04, Operation Iraqi Freedom 2

As part of the unofficial side of the U.S. “hearts and minds” campaign in Iraq, helicopter pilots are flying a new kind of mission: candy bomb drops. Blackhawk helicopter pilots are launching the candy bombs as they fly over small Iraqi villages. The “explosions” distribute sweets as well as shoes and soccer balls to the local children. The shoes and soccer balls are donated by stateside charities for distribution to the kids. And the candy? It comes from the leftovers from all those candy care packages that arrive in U.S. military camps.

Chase Rutledge, a Blackhawk helicopter pilot stationed in Iraq, described his missions:

They used to be scared when we would drop them because there was a lot of fighting going on, and they don’t know about helicopters and what’s coming out of them. But now, it’s like a little treat. They’ll start cheering when they see us flying over, hoping something will come out.

Rutledge and his buddies are doing everything they can to make a positive difference in the lives of these kids. I’m happy to know that the military forces are seeing their mission as helping and boosting up the local people.

But I have to confess, even when the candy that falls from the sky is a welcome treat, there is something a little unsettling about the idea of “candy bombs.”

And then there is always the possibility that the candy will be harmful instead of pleasurable. This was the claim back in the first World War, when reports started surfacing that German aviators were dropping poison candy on French and English villages. A New York Times correspondent reported on notices posted in French villages by the Mayor and Prefect, detailing the dropping of poison candy and cautioning citizens to turn all found candies over to the authorities. The correspondent adds:

[This poison candy drop] strikes us as the last refinement of Prussian barbarism in its death throes. … Tell the readers of The Times, as best you can, what brand of enemies they have at last chosen to fight.

It is difficult to know what really happened. This report, and other similar stories about the German poison candy drops, tended to be second hand, based on what the reporter had heard others witness or describe. No actual candy was produced to buttress the stories. In part, the appeal of these alarming tales might have had something to do with holding an image of your enemy as one so vile as to poison children with candy. And there is also a long tradition, going back to the 1890s, of bringing up the specter of poison candy whenever something bad happens (more on poison candy stories here).

Candy poisoning stories in the U.S. tended, on closer scrutiny, to be more rumor and assumption than fact. So it’s also possible that the stories of war-time candy poisoning as part of the enemy’s attack might also have arisen out of popular ideas about candy. It is also possible, of course, that the Germans really were dropping poison candy out of airplanes.

It was Otto Schnering, the founder of Curtiss Candy Company, who transformed the idea of candy bombs into a public relations stunt. In 1923, he dropped his first load of Baby Ruth candy bars over the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Curiously, the candy bars pelting down from the sky did not lead to mayhem and destruction. In fact, the spectacle of candy rain was so successful that Schnering did it again, expanding his airplane candy drop program to 40 states.

But it wasn’t until World War II that candy bombing really took off. One WWII hero, Gail Halvorsen, became famous as the “candy bomber” for his role in the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift. As Halvorsen would guide his plane into the Templehof airfield in the American sector of Berlin, he would drop candy attached to parachutes to the children watching the planes land. Soon, other pilots got in on the candy action. By the end of the campaign, some 25 tons of candy has fallen from the skies and into the tummies of the grateful Berlin children.

Sources: Nanette Light, “Helicopters Drop Candy, Shoes for Iraqi Kids,” The Norman (OK) Transcipt 29 April 2010; “German Aviators Drop Poisoned Candy,” New York Times 27 May 1917; Ray Broekel, “Otto Schnering Is My Name, Advertising is My Game,” The  Great American Candy Bar Book (Houghton Mifflin, 1982), p. 22; Andrei Cherny, The Candy Bombers (Penguin 2008).

May 3, 2010 at 11:05 am 1 comment

Tobacco Candy

So now we have tobacco candy: Camel Orbs, a compressed tobacco tablet that tastes and looks like a breath mint. Orbs delivers nicotine. So does nicotine gum. But unlike nicotine gums, Orbs contains tobacco. More important, Orbs is meant to take the place of a cigarette, not to help you quit.

Orbs have been test marketed in select states for a few months, but now they have caught the attention of the FDA. In a Feb. 1 letter to R.J. Reynolds, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) expressed concern “that children and adolescents may find dissolvable tobacco products particularly appealing, given the brightly colored packaging, candy-like appearance and easily concealable size of many of these products.” (reported here)

The FDA’s worry has two parts: one, that tobacco packaged as candy encourages young people to take up smoking. And two, that the candy-like appearance of products like Orbs might appeal to children and endanger them if they think it is actually candy. It’s that second idea that has pitched Orbs into the newspapers this past week. Pediatrics, a medical journal, published a study on April 19, 2010 detailing the risks of nicotine poisoning to children who accidentally eat Orbs and similar candy-like tobacco products. Since then, the news media has been abuzz with news and debate about this latest salvo in the tobacco wars. (msnbc.com coverage here; New York Times article here; Q&A from The Week here).

Despite everything we know about the dangers of tobacco, smoking is legal, and other tobacco products are legal, but only if you’re over 18. We’ve decided as a society that nicotine use and addiction is tolerable for adults, but not for children. Like alcohol, nicotine is a recreational drug that our society tolerates within certain limits. But while adults are deemed competent to choose drug use, children generally are not. So the concern that children will confuse candy, which they can have, with nicotine, which they cannot have, is understandable.

The worries about Orbs, though, seem uniquely contradictory. On the one hand, there is the worry that children will accidentally ingest a dangerous drug disguised as candy.  On the other hand, there is the worry that children will conceal their drug abuse by hiding these little candy-like packages and discretely popping nicotine pills under the guise of enjoying a breath freshener.

So are children innocent victims, or pathological drug-abusers? Somehow, when it comes to candy, they are both.

The combination of candy and children has always carried with it an intertwined idea of innocence and corruption. Candy and children seem to go together naturally: children find candy irresistible, and candy, especially simple sugar candy, is for the kids. But if children can’t resist candy, there is something disturbing about that desire. Candy is a lure, a trap, that draws children in. And hidden behind candy’s sweet surface is something potentially harmful, something perhaps deadly. In the 1890s, it was “adulterants” like glue and clay that would harm candy eating children. In the 1970s, it was razor blades hiding in the Halloween candy. In every decade, there have been stories of children “poisoned” by something in the candy they eat.

Candy, it seems, is always concealing something dangerous, let’s call it “factor X.”  Every era has its own “factor X,” but the historical continuity of candy danger tells us that alarms about candy poisonings, whether due to artificial colors or nicotine, are not entirely connected to the actual, measured danger. The image of poison candy is a powerful one: candy is innocence, and the hidden poison, whatever it is, is the seed of corruption.

The latest “factor X” is tobacco, or nicotine. As the tobacco industry defenders have insisted, the actual danger posed by Orbs in the household is pretty minor compared with all the other hazards to the unsupervised child, cleansers, medicines, and the like. The packaging for Orbs and related products is claimed to be child-proof, and the product is sold with warnings, just like aspirin or cold medicine. The latest report suggests something like 600 children a year experience “mild nicotine poisoning.” Hypothetically, if a very young child were to eat a lot of these candies, it could be lethal. But we could say that about a lot of ordinary substances, starting with aspirin. This too is part of the historical pattern: in every era, the intensity of coverage of alleged candy poisoning is far in excess of the actual incidence of real harm.

The other charge critics make is that R.J. Reynolds is involved in a deliberate attempt to appeal to children and hook them on tobacco at a young age. The implication seems to be, if it’ s candy, it must be for children. Although the form of this tobacco candy is  more like Tic Tacs, which kids don’t particularly go for, and not like, say, Sour Warhead Gummis.

R.J. Reynolds knows very well that tobacco is only allowed for adults. If they make a tobacco candy, it is not because they expect to profit from illegal or accidental sales to children. They expect to profit from legal and successful marketing and sales to adults. It is adults who are seen as wanting a “candy” drug, a drug made to seem innocuous because it takes the form of a candy. In today’s youth obsessed culture, the marketing of this product as hip and cool and fun seems aimed at 20 and 30-somethings (it reminds me of the new Wonka campaign). When we have generations of “kiddults” still acting and living like teens, I’m not sure that such marketing indicates a sinister plot to capture kids, as critics have charged, so much as it points out how confused we have become about the differences between adults and children.

I suspect that a lot of the clamor against the idea of tobacco candy has quite a lot to do with our deep Puritan moralism when it comes to drugs and pleasure. If people are going to be addicted to tobacco, they should suffer for it. The idea that there is a benign, pleasant, socially acceptable way to get your tobacco fix seems just wrong.

Transforming a cigarette into a breath mint seems a brilliant solution for a tobacco industry threatened by changing perceptions of their key product. Cigarette smoking has become almost intolerable in many places in our society, and cigarette smokers the new pariahs. Smoking causes premature aging, wrinkles, death. But candy? Candy is about fun, and innocence, and youth. If you could trade in the reviled cigarette for an innocent candy, wouldn’t you?

These days, a lot of smokers would rather not be “smokers.” Everybody, smokers especially, knows how cigarettes damage your body and your health, as well as, in many cases, your career and your social life.  Tobacco candy seems the ideal solution: pleasant tasting, no body is bothered, no embarrassing scene of sucking on a “cancer stick” outside the office building. And as candy, that most innocuous of substances, alternatives like Orbs seem perfectly safe. It’s easy to forget that it’s still tobacco, and still carries significant risks of gum cancer, mouth cancer, and heart disease.

Tobacco candy is just the latest entry in the race to turn everything into candy. When it’s calcium candy or fiber candy or xylitol candy, everybody seems pretty happy. But when it’s tobacco candy, we can begin to discern the problems of making candy something other than candy. Tobacco candy is potentially harmful in a way that calcium candy probably is not, to be sure. But tobacco candy is really just the dark cousin of those more benign drug-candies. Drugs and poisons get mixed in a confusing stew with pleasures and the appearance of innocence.

So far, the test marketing of Orbs hasn’t been very successful. Anecdotal reports from test markets suggest slow sales, and there are no current plans for a national roll-out. It may just be the case that most tobacco users prefer to keep tobacco a little less pleasant, a little less candy like. It may not be as good as quitting, but at least it’ s honest.

April 23, 2010 at 10:35 am 7 comments

Defining Candy: the Candy Tax

What is candy, anyway?

You probably know it when you see it. Sweet, a treat, chocolate and sugar and nuts and crispy rice… well, lots of different ingredients. But sweet, definitely. Of course, everything sweet isn’t candy. So where do we draw the line?

Most of the time, it probably doesn’t matter much, since each of us makes our own personal determinations of what and when and how much to eat. But there is one arena where definitions matter a lot: the law. (more…)

April 21, 2010 at 8:08 am 10 comments

CandyFreak Steve Almond is Wrong

I love Steve Almond’s book Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America. For me as for countless other candy lovers, Almond perfectly captures the obsessive pleasures of candy. His introduction to the history of American candy making launched me on my candy research project. As Almond continues to write and speak about candy in America, he is bringing attention to all the wonderful small candy makers still eking out a business, and maybe bringing new customers as well. So I am an enormous fan of Steve Almond.

But something has been bothering me. Take for example the recent piece Almond published in the Wall Street Journal (Jan 10, 2010) titled: “Remembrance of Candy Bars Past.” Almond sings a very particular song about American candy: a sad and mournful song about the good old candy days that have been destroyed by the evil forces of capitalism. For Steve Almond, the best days of candy were in the past.

It’s true, the heyday of American candy manufacture is long gone. After an amazing flourishing of candy making and candy eating in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the American candy scene went into decline as local and regional candy makers were swallowed up by the “Big Three” and driven out by rising distribution and “slotting” costs.

So that happened. But does the transformation in the U.S. candy industry that Almond describes mean that the best days of candy in America behind us? That’s what Almond thinks. I think he’s wrong.

Change is not the same thing as “everything is getting worse.” When things change, usually it means that some things get better, some things get worse, and they might be better or worse depending on who you are or where you are. For example, we know of hundreds of candy bars made by local and regional manufacturers that have disappeared. But did your average American have the chance to try most of these? No.

In the glory days of American candy, many candies did have national distribution. But regional candies were just that, regional. That means that stock of a shop in Ohio would look dramatically different from the stock of a shop in California or New York or Mississippi. We’ve lost that local diversity, in this age of Mars and Wal Mart, to be sure. But if you didn’t travel around much, “local diversity” wasn’t diverse to you. Today, someone living in a city or town with a Wal Mart and a Target and a Cost Plus has enormous choice in the candies available, not just from around the country, but from around the world.

Some of the old American candies that persist struggle to make their way into the marketplace. It’s true, I can’t get a Twin Bing in my neighborhood store. That’s one of Almond’s favorite nostalgia picks. But I’ve had a Twin Bing. It’s a nasty candy bar, in my opinion: waxy “mockolate” coating and cough-syrup “cherry” nougat filling. It’s easy to think about the past in rosy tones. But the fact is, not everything old is good.

In an interview on Public Radio’s The Splendid Table (March 27, 2010) Almond laments the decline in the variety of flavors and forms of American candy and the homogenization of candies produced by big industries for national and international markets. It is true that many of the flavors that candy bar eaters of yore could enjoy are gone. Spice and floral flavors are almost extinct. We don’t see pineapple or even coconut much outside of specialty items, peach and banana almost never. But what would our 1940s friends have made of our flavor palette? We have goji berries and acai berries, dried cherries and dried cranberries, sesame seeds and hazelnut paste. None of these were flavors known to American candy in the 1940s. (For even more exotic flavor possibilities, see the latest flavor trend reports at candydishblog.com)

In fact, it’s worth remembering that pineapple and coconut in the 1930s were the “exotic” flavors, new fruits just appearing in U.S. markets, just like acai and pomegranate today. As for peach and banana, those popular “flavors” in the 1930s were made in the chemistry lab, not the orchard; the reason we don’t have them any more is because the FDA decided they were probably harmful.  and would hardly satisfy today’s more discerning taste-bud. Then as now, the basic components of candy bars were pretty much the same: chocolate, nuts, nougats, caramels, fondants, flavorings. Tastes change and markets change, some things go out and new things come in.

And what about the decline in the diversity of candy overall? Granted, when I just look at the candy bar racks at my local CVS, it looks like everything is Hershey’s and Mars. But if you look more carefully, the question of diversity is more complex. Even the big players are moving fast to bring new products to market, many simply variations on basic themes, but also looking for the next big thing. And new start ups and small candy makers can be big players in the era of the internet. Not to mention the dramatic increase in imports of foreign candies. Industry watcher Cybele May estimates there are some 10,000 candy products available on the planet at any given time. How many of those will make it to your local shop is another story, but the candy variety is indisputable.

Almond tells the story of American candy as a simple story of flourish and decline. But there are other stories to tell of the changing candy marketplace. Consolidation in manufacturing and the domination of big stores pushed many smaller American companies out in the late 20th century. But in the 21st century we see incredible variety and amazing ingenuity in the candy that is available to someone willing to poke around a bit beyond the front racks at Wal Mart and CVS. The big national trade show organized by the National Confectioners Association every May, “Sweets & Snacks Expo” (formerly CandyExpo), expects over 400 exhibitors. That’s a lot of sweets.

My favorite candy bar right now is the Lion bar, a mysteriously creamy-caramely-crunchy-chocolaty confection. That’s a British import. I never knew it when I was a kid. Where in my California suburb in the 1970s could I have found British candy? Now I can get a Lion bar right across the street from my apartment building. Not to mention dozens others I’ve never seen before.

Sure, I miss the Marathon bar. But I’m happy to try a Yorkie, or an Aero. And even though the basic $1 candy bars might be limited to Reese’s, Snickers, M&M’s, and their variations, if we expand “candy bar” to include chocolate tablets selling for $2 to $4, we’re in a whole other universe of new possibilities. We might just as well turn nostalgia on its head, and ask how we could have survived in a world without the blissful creaminess of  a Green & Black White Chocolate Bar, or the breathy bite of a Lindt “Intense Mint” Bar.

For a candy lover with a postal address and an internet connection, well, there is no stomach big enough to handle the possibilities. Check out Cybele May’s list of  “110 Essential Candies for Candyvores” at candyblog.net. Most of us will never come close to sampling the variety of flavors, textures, ingredients and styles that she lists. And that is just scratching the surface.

There’s definitely more good candy on the horizon. Nostalgia is inspiring new candies and new businesses. I’m looking forward to the release of Shelf Life, a documentary film about a Chicago candy entrepreneur who attempts to recreate a beloved candy from the past called the “Cashew Nut Crunch.” And the attention to flavor and quality that has become a part of American food expectations is creating new opportunities for candy makers. Here in Brooklyn we have some amazing candy artisans. The two women behind Liddabit Sweets sell their candy almost as fast as they can make it; they specialize in innovative caramels and re-mashes of old-style candy bars, all made with the finest and freshest local ingredients. Mast Brothers Chocolate (more photos here) is made in tiny batches by the two Mast brothers, from bean to bar. They are taking the “farm to table” philosophy and making candy out of it.

This is an exciting time for candy. These new candy makers and candy entrepreneurs are steeped in the candy past, but they are looking forward to new markets, new flavors, new technologies, new ideas, new possibilities.

Steve Almond seems so sad when he talks about the good old candy days. For him, it is all gone wrong. But if it was always better in the good old days, what’s the point in moving forward? Nostalgic pessimism can paralyze us.

I say, let’s be nostalgic optimists. Nostalgia can inspire ways of bringing the past into the present, as for many new candy makers. Nostalgia can encourage us to value and learn about the past. Nostalgia can motivate us to better understand what really was, and not fixate on what we wish. There’s nothing wrong with a little nostalgia. There’s nothing wrong with American candy either.

Related post: Langston Hughes Sings the Blues for Penny Candy.

April 5, 2010 at 8:30 am 7 comments

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

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