Americans can’t get enough of Halloween candy. Halloween candy sales grew 14% between 2021 and 2022 and this year is on track to be the same. In 2022, US consumers dropped more than $3.7 billion on candy during the six-week period before the holiday.
Consumers favorite candy? Chocolate, which Americans bought at almost a 2:1 ratio. And in the world of chocolate, milk chocolate is king: more people bought milk chocolate last Halloween season than all other non-chocolate candy combined.
But while per unit sales of chocolate candy have remained largely stable compared with five years ago, non-chocolate candy is the growth market. Americans bought roughly 7.8% more packages of non-chocolate candy last Halloween season compared to 2018, while package sales of chocolate shrank by 2.5%.
But there’s one notable exception to non-chocolate candy’s dolce vita: Halloween’s iconic candy corn.
Americans are buying less and less candy corn, NIQ data shows, and more gummies and marshmallows.
The number of candy corn packages sold during the Halloween season – or the six weeks leading up to the first week of November – have been falling every year since at least 2018, reaching a low of 12.7 million in 2022. As of October 14, Americans have bought 5.3 million packages of the candy this season.
“It’s not like, ‘Yeah, it’s OK,’” Beth Kimmerle, the author of “Candy: The Sweet History” and founder of the food industry data company Attribute Analytics, said of Americans’ taste for candy corn. “Either people love it or hate it.”
By comparison, package sales of gummies and marshmallow candy, which includes Peeps, have each gone up more than 30% since 2018.
“So think about a Peep,” Kimmerle said. “You can coat it with sugar, you can colorize that sugar, you can color the inside of it. You can make it into different shapes. There is a lot of flexibility that you can have with marshmallows.”
Nostalgia, not taste
“The flavor is very, very sweet,” said Susan Benjamin, a candy historian and president of the True Treats candy store in West Virginia. “But it’s not really describable sweetness. And often it sort of defies what it should look like.”
In a flavor profile conducted by Attribute Analytics on Oct. 8, the taste panel found candy corn is high on the “sweet” flavor while its other flavors are less noticeable and dissipate quickly, according to Kimmerle. The panel described a bag of Nice! Brand candy corn’s flavors as “sweet,” followed by artificial vanilla, caramelized sugar and “chemical.”
By contrast, the flavor profile of a variety pack of Albanese Gummi Bear Cubs conducted that same day shows a range of various flavors that linger longer in your mouth and build on one another, Kimmerle said: sweet, artificial cherry, artificial fruit and sour.
Candy corn is offered in other flavors as well, but Kimmerle also emphasizes the importance of a candy’s texture.
“Gummies bounce around playfully in your mouth while you’re chewing and then they dissolve,” Kimmerle said. Candy corn, by contrast, feels grainy and crystallized, she said.
“It’s not a marshmallow, it’s not a hard candy. It’s somewhere in between,” Kimmerle said.
Without an appealing texture or flavor, what reasons are left to buy candy corn?
“I would put it into the category of something that people feel compelled to buy because of the nostalgia factor,” Kimmerle said.
Benjamin also sees the sentimental appeal of candy corn.
“I remember it from my childhood, and the younger people don’t,” she said. “And candy is as much about memory as it is about the actual taste.”