The Problem with Candy

candy bar I’ve been reading “CandyFreak” (By Steve Almond) of late, and aside from finding it both a nostalgic look at candy…I too, remember the long hauls carried around Halloween, and then separating the goods into piles based on quality. Anything deemed less than an A could be traded to anyone else. Raisins were feed to my sister’s pet gerbil…aside from that, it has an undercurrent on the sorry state of the candy industry.

It boils down to this: There are three major candy companies in the world.

  • Hersheys: Maker of Hershey bars, but also of Reese’s Peanut butter cups, York Peppermint Patties as well as others. They have no problem in purchasing smaller candy companies in order to corner an aspect of the candy market. This is best evidenced by their pursuit of the chocolate covered toffee bar. First they created their own version of the Toffee bar, then when that didn’t overtake the Heath Bar, they bought the company who made the Heath Bar.
  • Mars: Maker of Snickers, M&M’s, Milky Way and Three Muskateers. Not above petty marketing to increase their bottom line. As evidence: Retired the Mars bar, and then soon afterwards, introduced the Almond Snickers bar, which bears a striking resemblence to, you guessed it, the Mars bar.
  • Nestle: Used to make the Nestle Crunch bar, but later bought out the maker of Butterfingers, Baby Ruth and others.

These three make up the bulk of candy sellers found on the shelfs of most supermarkets, Wal-Marts and convenience stores. Is it because they are of better quality? Well, you’d have a hard time convincing me that a butterfinger is better than a Clark Bar (not made by one of the top three by the way), so it’s not likely that. In reality, it’s most likely because the big three can afford slotting fees charged by the supermarkets, Wal-Marts and convenience stores.

What’s a slotting fee? It’s a fee that the supermarkets, Wal-Marts and convenience stores charge companies in order to stock their shelves. The more money a compnay spends, the more pull they have over where they are placed on the shelves (eye level, or more specifically childs eye level being the most coveted) or even which competitors can be put on the shelves next to their product (“I’ve spent $45,000 on your slotting fees, so you can damn well remove the local chocolate bar below me who paid little or no fee at all”).

It was very disheartening to learn this activity was going on, and I found myself torn. The free market capitalist i me hates this arrangement as it pushes out the little guy and prevents innovation and choices based on quality. But then again, I just discovered teh joys of a double chocolate Almond Joy and have aquired a taste for Violet Crumbles. I am quite torn.

I’ll probably end up shopping at locations that allow room for the little company on their candy shelves. Bartell Drug Stores here in the PacNW do a good job in their candy selections. And if I find myself buying something from teh big three, I’ll make it a point to buy soemthing from the smaller companies as well. It’s nto a perfect solution, but it’s a good start.

Plus, it means that I’ll get to eat more candy. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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