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Candy corn is polarizing. Here’s how Brach’s is trying to keep it relevant

<i>The Washington Post/The Washington Post/The Washington Post via Getty Images</i><br/>Brach’s says it is the leader in the candy corn market by far.
The Washington Post/The Washington Post/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Brach’s says it is the leader in the candy corn market by far.

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN

New York (CNN) — Love it or hate it, candy corn season is upon us.

Everyone has an opinion on candy corn: Some love the treat, either as a sugary indulgence or a marker of the fall season. Others wonder why you would waste your time on candy corn, which they see as chalky or too-sweet, when there are so many other candy options. Either way, they’re here.

The polarizing kernels start shipping out to stores over the summer, and generally stay on shelves through Halloween or a bit after.

Brach’s, a candy brand which dates back to 1904, says it is the leader in the candy corn market by far. It makes 30 million pounds of candy corn each year, along with candy canes and other seasonal treats.

So it’s largely up to Brach’s to keep consumers interested. In some ways, its efforts appear to have been paying off.

Sales of Brach’s candy corn have been growing year-over-year from 2020 to 2022, said Katie Duffy, vice president and general manager of seasonal at the Ferrara Candy Company, which owns Brach’s along with Nerds, SweeTarts, Laffy Taffy and other candies. Ferrera is privately owned and doesn’t publicly share sales figures.

People spent about $60 million on candy corn overall in the year ending on September 30, up from about $57 million in that period in 2022 and $52 million the year before that, according to retail sales data from NIQ. Although dollar sales have been increasing, sales by unit have been falling — meaning that the revenue increases are coming from higher prices, rather than from more people buying the product. Other food and candy companies, like PepsiCo and Hershey, have been struggling with a similar dynamic.

To keep interest in the candy alive, Brach’s has explored a number of different marketing tactics. In 2020 and 2021, it sold Turkey Dinner packs which went viral, if for the wrong reasons. Last year, it collaborated with singer Michelle Williams on a candy-corn-themed song. And this year, it’s got new flavors and a candy corn club.

One constant that has helped candy corn stay relevant: The ongoing debate about whether candy corn is a great holiday treat or to be avoided.

The Turkey Dinner debacle

Even though candy corn season mostly runs through Halloween, it doesn’t really work for trick or treating — nobody wants to dip their hand into a basket of fun-size candy bars and come up with loose candy kernels. Instead, candy corn is more often used in baked goods and in candy dishes to decorate for fall, said Duffy. Fans “may also just eat it straight out of the bag, quite frankly,” she added.

In 2020, Brach’s launched the so-called Turkey Dinner candy corn — a bag filled with candy corn in different flavors, some more appetizing than others. One year there was apple pie and cranberry sauce, but also green beans and roasted turkey. Customers were skeptical and, in 2021, a negative review went viral.

The turkey candy was “disturbingly, hauntingly like candied turkey,” wrote reviewer Heather Martin in a lengthy Facebook post. “Wrong on every level.” The stuffing flavored candy corn, she wrote, “tastes like hate and sage.” Still, Martin ultimately recommended that “everyone should get a bag. Set them out in a nice, inviting bowl, and don’t say a word.”

Candy companies will sometimes create unappetizing flavors to challenge their customers and create buzz. Mars Wrigley launched Zombie Skittles in the US in 2019, with a “rotten” flavor, to surprise (and disgust) eaters. Velveeta’s cheese martini also got a lot of attention but was not particularly well received. Brach’s, however, ultimately decided to discontinue the product after 2021 and has no plans to bring it back.

“I don’t know how many consumers actually enjoy eating candy corn that tastes like turkey and stuffing and green beans,” said Duffy, who noted that she wasn’t involved in developing the product or putting it out into the world. “We never want to have consumers taste one of our products and want to spit it out.”

Flavors, celebrities and a fan club

Still, she said, Brach’s did like the idea of experimenting with flavors. “I think we really tapped into something that was fun for consumers. And so we’ve tried to keep them on the journey, but in a delicious way.”

This year, the brand launched a line of Fall Festival candy corn, with new flavors including kettle corn, caramel apple, cotton candy and others.

In addition to experimenting with new flavors, Brach’s has been looking at other ways to raise its product’s profile. Last year, singer Michelle Williams teamed up with the brand on a promotional song about the candy called “Candy Corn Love.” And this year, the brand announced a candy corn club, saying it would select 100 members to receive free boxes of candy corn throughout the year, with merchandise and new products.

And because candy corn is so controversial, it often comes up in conversation, even among celebrities.

Professional football players and brothers Travis and Jason Kelce recently debated the topic on their podcast, “New Heights With Jason and Travis Kelce,” Duffy noted. Taylor Swift’s reported beau Travis defended candy corn from his brother’s attacks.

Those types of mentions put “the product top of mind to consumers,” said Duffy. “It reminds them that it’s available now.”

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