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Ah, How Sweet--and Addicting--It Is

November 08, 1995|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Average Person ate 22.3 pounds of it last year.

The Average Person typically spends $64 a year on it.

And hey, you manufacturers, don't think you can just up and make changes without hearing about it--The Average Person doesn't take kindly to change.

We want our candy and we want it now. Never mind the lectures by our doctors and dentists. Last year, Americans ate the highest per capita amount ever reported, according to the National Confectioners Assn. of the United States. And that doesn't even include gum, which tacks on another two pounds per person per year, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, which collects the data.

We're hooked and we know it.

"It's awful; it's sinful," says Spanky Taylor, 42, of Burbank in a stage whisper right after buying a little of the sweet stuff at the Glendale Galleria. But on the heels of her guilt comes the familiar rationalization: "A lot of candy doesn't contain a lot of fat. And I try to eat as little as I can," says the self-appointed guardian of Gummi Bears.

That's easier said than done because candy doesn't just seem to be nearly everywhere. It is.

"Candy is one of the most widely distributed [food] products," says Tricia Bowles, spokeswoman for Nestle Chocolate & Confections in Glendale. "Club stores, convenience stores, gas stations, theaters, groceries, drug stores. . . ."

And, of course, that doesn't even count specialty shops such as Godiva or your grandmother's candy dish with the glued-together hard mints or stealing from your child's Halloween stash where all three of the Musketeers seemed to be calling your name.

Just how much is spent a year on candy? In the last year, Americans have spent a whopping $6.2 billion on candy just from drugstores, groceries and mass merchandise outlets, says Ray Wisbrock of Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm. That's up 7.8% from the previous year.

It's not just availability that makes candy irresistible. Manufacturers of confectioneries-- which describes anything from granola bars to gum, hard candy, candy bars and upscale chocolates--pay their research and development folks to devise new and better ways to tempt us, year after year, season after season.

This year, one trend in kids' candy is a product that combines sweet treats with toys and novelties--especially portable ones they can show off. Checkbook Bubble Gum, new from Amurol Confections Co., has pieces of gum the size of a check and printed with edible ink, says Amurol's Gary Schuetz.

Bubble Lock looks like a real combination lock but actually contains gum balls. "We weren't going to have the loop open," says Schuetz, but members of the Candy Taster Club, a group of advisers 3,500 strong, convinced them otherwise. Kids said they wanted to hook the novelty lock onto their blue jean loops or their bikes.

While kids' candy taste can best be described as adventurous, adults are less willing to try new products.

"Adults stick with more standard things," says Susan Smith, spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Assn., a trade group based in McLean, Va.

Adults are likely, she says, to pick candy they liked from their childhood. So it's not surprising that adults take it personally when an old favorite disappears. The recent debut of the blue M & M, for instance, and the simultaneous retirement of the tan M & M was not greeted with delight by everyone. One consumer, a longtime M & M fan, is still feeling the sting from the temporary retirement, years ago, of the red M & M, complaining that it upset her color-coded eating ritual.

"This is not uncommon," says a representative for M & M-Mars. Consumers often talk of eating the candies in a certain way. "They often save their favorite color for last."

Bowing to what they perceive as customer demand, some manufacturers have tried to appease the calorie-conscious, offering such bars as the Milky Way Lite, with about half the fat grams of other bars. But there's something to be said for bucking a trend, as Nestle just discovered.

In September, it launched The Beast--much bigger versions of Baby Ruth and Butterfinger bars. At five ounces, they're more than twice the size of traditional bars, Bowles says. In an era of moderation, who would eat this? Not surprisingly, teen-age boys are the prime customers. They don't worry about the calories (680 each) and fat grams (28 to 32). Sales have been so brisk, Bowles says, that The Beast, intended as a onetime promotion, will be relaunched next year for a few months.

But not even The Beast could singularly satisfy anyone's sweet tooth for long. "We figure everyone has about six favorite candies," says Lisbeth Echeandia, publisher of Confectioner magazine, a trade publication in Dallas. That's because different candies, she says, hit the spot at various times of day and for specific situations.

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