What's our fascination with gross candy?

Written by Maggi Newhouse
Published by Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 3, 2005

It's the end of the road for road-kill candy.

Kraft foods announced last week that it would halt production of Trolli Road Kill Gummi candy -- gummy pieces shaped liked flattened squirrels, chickens and snakes -- because of protests from animal rights groups.

Wurmz & Dirt
Wurmz & Dirt

But fear not, lovers of all things gross and disgusting. While road kill gummies won't be reappearing on store shelves any time soon, there's a plethora of other gross treats available in the region that make squashed squirrels, snakes and chickens seem cuddly by comparison.

Take Oogles, for instance. The squishy globes look eerily like human eyeballs -- complete with a gummy pupil and iris.

Then there's Sour Flush, a pair of two toilet plunger lollipops that come with a plastic commode filled with sour powder.

And don't forget Porky Pooper. Little Porky dispenses brown cola- and butterscotch-flavored jelly beans from ... well, the name should offer some indication of just where those beans are coming from.

"The grosser it is, the better it sells. Period," said John Prince, owner of the McKeesport Candy Co. and www.CandyFavorites.com, "Gross is good."

Some of the newest products Prince's wholesale candy business is selling include "Juicy Bugs," referred to on the packaging as "gummy bugs with gooey guts," and Tooth Ache Candy, which comes with mini tooth-shaped candies you dip in raspberry-flavored gel -- meant to look like blood.

"The more people push the envelope, the more it sells," Prince said.

John Sedgeley should know. As vice president of marketing and sales for candy makers Kidsmania Inc., Sedgeley has seen the sales of novelty candies like Kidsmania's Sour Flush take off.

The toilet candy is consistently one of the company's top sellers, he said.

"It has received some adverse responses, but the kids think its cool," he said. "You put these things in front of parents and they forget they were kids too."

California-based Kidsmania also created "Oh Ratz," a set of gummy rats with a mini plastic trash can filled with sour powder.

"We don't mean anything dirty by it or anything," Sedgeley said. "It's just kind of a fun thing to do."

Candy-Rama manager Marian Pearson has seen her share of gross-out candy at her store on Liberty Avenue Downtown. The current selection includes Oogles, Tooth Ache Candy, along with "Wurmz & Dirt," gummy bandages and gummy brains, among others.

"We're getting more and more of this gross stuff every day," Pearson said.

And kids love it, she said.

"The grosser the better with the kids."

Even some adults find themselves tempted by the tasteless confections.

"I gotta tell you, the pig poop is pretty tasty," said Steve Maslek, 38, of Cranberry after eating one of the cola-flavored jelly beans from Porky Pooper.

After trying Kooky Chew -- cookies and candy made to look like dog food, Chris Shelby wasn't all that impressed.

"When it comes right down to it, other than novelty, taste is a factor. I'd rather have a Twix," said Shelby, 54, of Hampton.

While she thought Porky Pooper was cute, Diana Grubs couldn't imagine eating one of the beans. The North Huntingdon woman felt similarly about the yellow-eyed Oogle staring up at her from her table.

"I don't think I could down that one," said Grubs, 46. "That's pretty disgusting."

Grubs' friend Diane Stanesic, of West Mifflin, said she didn't have a problem with any of the candy -- no matter how initially off-putting it looked.

"If it's candy, I'll eat it," the "50-something" woman said with a laugh. "I think it's pretty cool."