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Lost, 54 Miles of Candy a Day

January 27, 2002

First off, Canadians are swell neighbors. They keep to their own yard and don't blare the radio. Canadians make good wood, beer and glaciers. They've had good inventions too: basketball, hockey, Pablum, Canada Dry, insulin and the banana split, any of which could be an answer when using another Canadian invention, Trivial Pursuit. But they've gone a bit too far now: Canada is kidnapping the manufacture of LifeSavers, that hallowed hard-candy American institution that's fueled family outings for generations. Kraft Foods Inc. announced it will soon stop making LifeSavers in the United States of America and move that operation to Quebec. Make all the engine blocks and jeans you want in Mexico, but LifeSavers offshored to Canada? C'mon, that leaves a sour taste.

LifeSavers have been an American-made tradition since Clarence Crane, a Cleveland confectioner, wanted to boost candy sales in the summer, a bad time for chocolate in the pre-refrigeration days of 1912. If you're over 90, you may recall 1912's other big news: the Titanic. Disdaining the pillow-shaped globs of fancy European goodies, Crane hired a pill maker to design an original shape, settling on little disks with a hole in the middle, like the lifesavers then on everyone's mind.

Originally a health mint ("For that stormy breath!"), peppermint LifeSavers entered millions of pockets and purses. Over the years 24 more flavors were added (Wild Cherry, 1934; Five Flavors, 1935; Butterscotch, 1951). Others were abandoned (Anise, 1934; Molas-O-Mint, 1942, and Root Beer, 1968).

No one could count the sibling spats over who wins the red ones or gets stuck with the green ones, or the roulette games over which end of the roll starts with a favorite flavor. How do you properly close the cylinder (are you a ripper or a folder?). What else do you do with LifeSavers (hold up cake candles, flavor cups of tea)? And then comes the important debate over crunching versus sucking; one enhances consumption, the other appreciation.

Either way, 46 billion LifeSavers are consumed annually, 54 miles of little round lozenges per day, all now forged in Holland, Mich. Next year the secret formula will be made only near Montreal, in a nonunion plant with duty-free access to cheaper Cuban sugar; saving 10 cents a pound adds up when you're using 113 tons a day.

Selling satellite technology to China is one thing; entrusting LifeSavers' secret Wild Cherry formula to Canadians is another. Next thing you know, Canadians will be luring producers to make Hollywood movies up north because it's cheaper.

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