The Changing American Candy-Scape

September 7, 2009 at 6:59 am Leave a comment

What kind of candy do Americans eat? Candy, like much else in early 21st century America, is looking more and more the same everywhere. Hershey’s, Nestle, Mars, your occasional Ferrara Pan or Necco… The American candy-scape looks, from the point of view of my local Wal-Mart or corner drug store, pretty much the same every where, and more and more like the global candy-scape. In the U.S., we all eat the same few candies, the ones put out by big companies and nationally advertised brands.

It’s not all bad, of course. Some smaller scrappy candy makers are hanging on, seeking niche markets and innovative sales channels. Candy lovers seek out the unusual and the small-batch, swapping and shopping the obscure and the hard to find. Maybe the tide is turning. Candy too will benefit from our new interest in the local and the hand made.

But fifty years ago, before the consolidation of the candy industry into a few major players, ordinary American candy was a swirling and surprising crazy quilt. Depending on where you lived and where you shopped, you might have your choice, on an ordinary day, of several hundred sorts of candy. And when you visited the next state over, several hundred other sorts.

Ray Broekel (1923- 2006), the biggest fan of old and forgotten candies, claimed there were something like 100,000 different kinds of candy bars made between the 1920s-1960s. One hundred thousand! Can anyone even name one hundred anymore?

Meanwhile, on the global front, Kraft wants to buy Cadbury to access their amazing distribution channels, primarily in India and other former outposts of Mother Britain. The Indians are learning to leave behind their milky sweets in favor of global chocolate. An enormous market opportunity for whomever controls the channels. Seems neither Kraft nor Cadbury sees much profit potential in the taste for local, peculiar, particular sweets.

Back in the day, every corner had its candy shop, every coffee table its candy dish. Candy in America was, in the twentieth century, a very big deal. The twentieth century has been called the “American Century,” a time when American optimism promised that any thing was possible: world peace, the population of space, the cure for the common cold. Less is known about the American Candy Century. But it turns out, candy is everywhere in twentieth century American culture. Candy is so innocuous, so insignificant, that it barely ever gets noticed. But if you start paying attention, candy has many interesting stories to tell.

I’ve been spending some time in the archives, reading old candy trade journals, popular magazine and newspaper stories, looking for the missing candy stories. This blog is  about those stories: strange, surprising, funny, informative, weird… but all true.

More: Read about Ray Broekel in a chapter from Steve Almond’s book Candy Freak, a love letter to the lost world of American candy, at therumpus.net.

Related Posts:

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    Archival Note: This post combines two posts originally published separately:  September 7, 2009 as “The American Candy Century” and September 10, 2009 as “The Changing American Candy-Scape”

    Entry filed under: Candy Nostalgia. Tags: , , , , , , .

    Vacation Message Kraft Foods Bids for Cadbury

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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.

    (C) Samira Kawash

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