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Love It or Hate It, Candy Corn Rules the Trick-or-Treat Bag

The story behind the century-old waxy treat that frightens half of America

According to the National Confectioners Association, some 35 million pounds (about 9 billion kernels) of candy corn will be manufactured this year. Americans are expected to buy 20 million pounds of that batch—15 million for this week alone. In fact, in case you haven't marked your calendar, Oct. 30 is National Candy Corn Day.

Americans will buy about 15 million pounds of candy corn Halloween week. Photo: Nick Ferrari

Great stuff, right? But not for everyone. There's probably no other confection in existence that is so polarizing—that coaxes such intense expressions of loving and loathing—as candy corn. This year alone, product-review site Influenster ranked candy corn the No. 1 Halloween candy in five states—even as Kidzworld left it out of its Top 10 list entirely. In 2012, Time magazine declared candy corn to be "this year's 'it flavor,'" only to have The Huffington Post proclaim it the "most hated" candy in America the following year.

Samira Kawash, the writer better known to her fans as the Candy Professor, laid the issue out: "The reason candy corn is polarizing," she said, "is because some people really like it and some people really don't like it."
 

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For Jana Sanders Perry, this is familiar territory. Perry is communications manager for the Jelly Belly Candy Company, which has cranked out the treat for 115 years now. "We do see people who voice their opinions about loving or not loving candy corn," Perry allowed. "It depends on your palate."

Indeed it does. Candy corn's waxy sweetness is as compulsively tasty to some as it is instantly repugnant to others—but how to account for the difference? Phil Lempert, aka The Supermarket Guru, believes that candy corn is the confectionary expression of a generational divide. "There's no question that candy corn is iconic for the baby boomer who grew up looking forward to the once-a-year Halloween treat," he said. "The question is whether it is still as relevant today for millennials and Gen Z."

In other words, if you grew up during candy corn's heyday in the 1950s and '60s, you're probably more inclined to like it than today's kids, raised on a Halloween diet heavy on Skittles and Starburst.

So, if candy corn's core fans are aging out, does Jelly Belly see a day when the production lines will stop? "No, we don't," Perry said firmly. "We're big candy corn fans, and we know there are a lot of customers out there who are, too." In fact, even candy corn's foes still have an interest in its survival. A recent NCA survey revealed that well over half of Americans believe that "it's just not Halloween" without the stuff.

 

This story first appeared in the Oct. 26 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

 

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