Chocolate and Candy, America Eats, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Chocolate and Candy
If Americans have a sweet tooth, it is not evenly distributed. Chicago, long a candy-making center, is known for its high consumption level; the Midwest and Northeast consume more than other regions. Candies in the United States can be branded and mass-produced on a national level, supported and beloved on a regional level, offered freshly made at gourmet confectionaries, or even made at home. New varieties of candy hit the stands every year, but nevertheless 65 percent of all American branded candy bars have been on the market more than 60 years. Americans eat approximately 22 pounds of candy each a year (2.8 billion pounds total), about half of which is chocolate.

One of the oldest American candy mainstays is the Tootsie Roll, an individually wrapped bite-sized chewy chocolate treat that differs little today from the first Tootsie Rolls of 1896. Over 60 million Tootise Rolls are produced every year. Tootsie Rolls were a prime constituent of “penny candy;” the traditional American country store or urban candy store offered bite sized candy varieties for a penny each; children and adults alike could pick and choose among their favorites. Candy shops still offer small candies (like hard candies, peppermint sticks and jellybeans) on a per-unit or per-weight basis.

Fancy candy and chocolate assortments have been available since the first box of Whitman’s chocolates in 1854; the Whitman’s “Sampler,” introduced in 1912, provides an index to the filled candies so tasters can choose their favorites without having to break the opaque chocolate coatings. The fancy candy trend continues today with independent fancy confectionaries and chocolate shops in major cities and tourist areas, as well as franchise and chain operations in shopping malls. Celebrity chocolate artist Jacques Torres, for example, draws devotees from all over the world to his European-style chocolate shops in New York City. Hand crafted confectionary and chocolate making is alive and well in many a small town and village across the country.

The true story of American candy culture, however, involves mass production, mass marketing, and the candy bar. Milton Hershey produced the first milk chocolate bar in 1900; the product is still a winner. Hershey competitor M&M Mars introduced both Mounds and Milky Way bars in 1923; their Snickers bar, introduced in 1930, is the best selling candy bar of all time. Many major candy bar and specialty candy brands, all still on the national market, came into prominence in the first third of the twentieth century:

  • 1906 – Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kisses
  • 1912 – Life Savers
  • 1920 – Baby Ruth
  • 1921 – Chuckles
  • 1925 – Bit ‘O Honey
  • 1926 – Milk Duds
  • 1928 – Heath Bars
  • 1928 – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • 1932 – Mars Bars
  • 1932 – Three Musketeers
  • 1932 – Red Hots
  • 1936 – Fifth Avenue Candy Bar

In 1941, the first M&Ms came off the production line under the tag line “Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” These perennial treats became instantly popular among American soldiers during World War Two because they were so easy to eat; they remain one of the most popular candies today, among all age groups. The animated M&M characters are among the most recognized of all American food advertising icons. M&Ms just nosed out Hershey bars as tops in 2006 sales volume among chocolate choices. It is not uncommon in the United States to visit offices or banks and see dishes of M&Ms left out as a thoughtful snack for visitors and workers alike.

American candy introductions of later years have been successful, but have never reached the level of cultural penetration as the great candies of the golden era. Starburst Fruit Chews added a citrus flavor element in 1960 and was later to be fortified with Vitamin C to reach the health conscious market. Hershey added Reese Pieces as a line extension to its popular mix in 1978. The popular Twix bar was introduced in 1979 by Mars, which also added Skittles in 1981. In 1980, the Herman Goelitz company imported the first European gummi bears and gummi worms into the United States. Children came to adore these novelties, shapes proliferated, and the adorable gummi bears even had their own animated television series.

A distinct variety of confection is known as “movie candy.” Though available in small sizes in stores, certain brands—Junior Mints, Milk Duds, Lemonheads, Mike & Ike, Charleston Chews, Dots, Whoppers, Raisinets, Red Hots, Sno Caps—have long been traditionally sold in oversize boxes designed for several movie-viewers to enjoy during the course of a film (though of course in America even the largest size may well end up suiting just a single consumer). Oversized Hershey and other chocolate bars are also part of this tradition. Movie-goers will juggle these with immense cups of soda and army-sized tubs of buttered popcorn.

A number of regional candy brands generate intense loyalties (and nostalgia if the devotee is geographically separated from the delicacy). Goo Goo Clusters, enjoyed in the south since 1913, combine chocolate, marshmallows, peanuts, and caramel. Idaho Candy Company’s Idaho Spud Bar is potato-shaped and sprinkled with coconut; the company, in existence since 1901, also makes several varieties of its distinctive Owyhee Butter Toffee. Philadelphia’s Peanut Chews are sweet sticks of peanuts in molasses wrapped in a chocolate coating; they have been made since 1917. California’s Big Hunk bar combines honey-sweetened nougat with peanuts. The Texas Chick-O-Stick is a crunchy peanut coconut combination. The popular Valomilk from Kansas is a chocolate and marshmallow candy cup.

While all branches of the chocolate and candy industry continue to appeal to Americans, if there is a trend, it is toward more sophisticated products. Nine out of ten Americans still prefer milk chocolate, but dark chocolate has been steadily penetrating the market. European chocolate brands like Godiva, Lindt, Toblerone, and Ferro Rocher are widely distributed in the United States, as are domestic high-end brands like Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger. Total gourmet chocolate sales were $1.3 billion in 2005, about 10 percent of the chocolate market. A small but growing portion of this market consists of “single origin” chocolates (most chocolates are blends), “fair trade” products (that strive to support sustainable growth and equitable income distribution growth in Third World chocolate producing regions), and organic chocolates. Consumption of dark chocolate has been greatly helped by consistent medical reports that dark chocolate is high in anti-oxidants and tends to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.

Candies and confections have associations with several prominent American holidays. Valentine’s Day (February 14) is the day for lovers to give each other luxury chocolates in fancy boxes. Easter candies include chocolate Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, and Marshmallow “Peeps,” a gooey confection produced in the shape of a chick. On Halloween, American children dress in costumes and go door to door shouting “Trick or Treat;” they are given candies of all kinds (generally mass produced varieties) and the special orange and black Halloween candies shaped like corn kernels called “candy corn.” The most popular Christmas delight is the chocolate Santa Claus; Jewish celebrants of Chanukah enjoy chocolate coins wrapped in gold-colored foil.