Candy corn’s agricultural past
Today, we celebrate what seems to be the most polarizing candy of our time — it’s National Candy Corn Day. The triangular, tri-colored candy corn has generated quite a bit of buzz this spooky season — people are even changing social media handles to show their support or opposition, while others ashamedly confess their love.
Love it or hate it, “there’s very few candies that symbolize a holiday like candy corn does,” said candy historian Beth Kimmerle. But how did it become so intertwined with Halloween?
There’s no written record of how candy corn was created, but oral histories indicate that a man named George Renninger invented the treat while an employee of the Wunderlee Candy Company circa the 1880s.
At the time, Halloween wasn’t celebrated in the way it is today. It was more a celebration of the harvest; trick-or-treating didn’t really blow up until the 1950s. Agricultural-themed candy was popular — including candy in the shape of pumpkins, chestnuts and turnips — which made sense as half the U.S. population were farmers.
Goelitz Candy Co. — now Jelly Belly Candy Co. — picked up the recipe and popularized it as “Chicken Feed.” It was a year-round candy, but slowly became associated with the holiday.
“The coloring sort of reminds you of corn colors, but it’s not really very literal,” Kimmerle said. “They were being celebratory of fall.”
Today, candy corn is mostly brought to you by Brach’s, which started making it around the 1950s. Brach’s produces 95% of all candy corn sold annually in the U.S., according to Peter Goldman, vice president of marketing for Brach’s.
Brach’s produces around 7 billion pieces of candy corn each year, Goldman told Marketplace in an email.
“Last Halloween, candy corn sales exceeded $73 million for the category and we expect to have similar numbers this year,” he said.
While the classic candy corn — which is a vanilla-flavored mellowcreme — sells best, that’s not stopping Brach’s from innovating. This year alone, they released five new flavors of candy corn, including “Mermaid” and “Pumpkin Pie.”
As for its polarizing nature, Kimmerle said people have strong feelings about candy in general.
“It’s one of those food groups that people just don’t not have an opinion on,” Kimmerle said. “Even if people are on the keto diet, they’re still going to chime in because guess what? They, too, collected several pounds of Halloween candy in their pillowcase.”
Correction (Oct. 25, 2019): A previous version of this story incorrectly named Brach’s.
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