Posts tagged ‘candy bars’

Candy Bar Fillers

What’s inside your favorite candy bar? Could be all kinds of yummy stuff: crispies, nuts, creme, something chewy, cookie wafers, raisins, coconut. I look at all those amazing combinations and I’m wowed by American candy ingenuity.

So when I found out why all that stuff is in our candy bars, I was surprised. Ingenuity, yes. But first, necessity.

Between 1916 and 1922, prices of everything were going up, and supplies were going down. It was that pesky war thing. One candy lover kept track of the size of his favorite penny roll of candy, getting smaller from 1916 to 1922:

If you were making wafers or chocolate drops, you could either raise the price or, as in the case of those penny rolls, lower the quantity. But if you were making candy bars, there was another option: filler. Something to bulk the candy up, but at a lower price than sugar or chocolate. And if it tasted good, so much the better.

Candy fillers start appearing in 1918. The ads that I’ve seen in the trade journals make a very explicit appeal to candy makers. The whole idea was to do more with less.

In July, 1918, the California Associated Raisin Company extolled the use of raisins in candy: “Nowadays when all fillers are high-priced, Sun Maid Raisins can help you. The more raisins you use, the bigger your profits.” That same year, the Cincinnati Extract Works advertised its cherry, raspberry, and strawberry pieces with the header: “Conserve Sugar by Using Fruit Centers for Candies.” Merrell-Soule of Syracuse,  N.Y. brought out a “New Filler” called Confectioners Mince. Candy-makers were instructed to “use it as you would use any other filler. It conserves sugar.” Coconut was popular, and as an added bonus it was a good filler too.

Grains and cereals were especially attractive as fillers. They were cheap and bulky, and perhaps interesting in flavor and texture as well. The Baltimore Pearl Hominy Company promoted “Fairy Flakes” as a good substitute for up to half the coconut in coconut bars.

Quaker Oats Company offered this proposition:

There is a way–a splendid way–whereby candy may be made with the greatest possible bulkiness–at the lowest possible cost–with the minimum amount of sugar… The problem of selling the consumer big satisfying dimes worth of high grade goods is solved. … This epoch-making candy ingredient is Puffed Wheat–or for that matter, Puffed Rice or Corn Puffs.

The candy-stretching powers of this new invention, puffed grain, would make it again possible to offer “the old-time size at the old-time price.”

Liberal use of nougat, creme, and caramel in candy combination was likewise the result of sugar conservation. New food processors had developed bases for these ingredients that used corn syrup or other sugars that were not rationed. The nougat and caramel bases were advertised as saving time and money, and thereby boosting the bottom line.

The direct ancestors of what we know today as the “candy bar,” innovative concoctions appearing in 1919 and 1920 like Planters’ Chocolate Cluster Bar (peanuts, fruit, coconut and chocolate), Continental Candy Corp.’s Feasto (chocolate, marshmallow, caramel, and peanuts) or Mason’s Cocoanut Peaks (“Purity and Plenty”) were no doubt delicious. But they were something more as well: the ingenious inventions of clever candy makers who took economic necessity and made something sweet.

April 26, 2010 at 8:30 am 3 comments

Candy Sales Up in Recession

San Francisco Chronicle reported this week that candy sales are strong in California, even as unemployment tops 12%. The Candy Store, on Vallejo Street, reports surging demand for nostalgia candies. Meanwhile, purveyors of high end chocolates are seeing a drop in demand.

We saw a similar story reported from New York last spring, as the economy showed signs of failure to recover in the wake of the bail-out and stimulus plan. Economy Candy, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, couldn’t keep the shelves stocked.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a connection between hard times and candy eating. American candy consumption grew faster during the Great Depression of the 1930s than at any other time in the twentieth century. For some, candy bars were more than just a treat. The Depression gave us such memorable but long-gone candy bars as: Chicken Dinner, Chicken Bone, Denver Sandwich, and Idaho Spud. A chicken dinner might be out of a hungry man’s reach, but a Chicken Dinner could take the edge off. Many of today’s favorite confections were launched during the Depression, including Snickers, Mars with Almonds, and Three Musketeers.

The turn to candy when things are rough isn’t so surprising. Candy is sweet, it tastes good, it’s simple, it connects to less complicated times. And sugar has pain-reducing properties, which might help too in these hard times.

Sources:Candy sales strong despite recession, Robert Selna. San Fransico Chronicle, 23 Sept. 2009;When Economy Sours, Tootsie Rolls Soothe Souls, Christine Haughney. New York Times, 23 March 23 200; Joel Glenn Brenner, The Emporers of Chocolate: Inside the Secret World of Hershey and Mars (1999)

September 24, 2009 at 9:16 pm 4 comments

The Changing American Candy-Scape

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

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  • Steve Almond is Wrong
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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”

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

    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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