It might be harder to find the familiar red and white

By Robert Morast
Published by Sioux Falls Argus Leader, SD - Dec 15, 2007

Romantics might agree it just wouldn't be Christmas without brightly decorated trees. Or "Jingle Bells." Or Santa Claus.

Or candy canes.

For some, the striped, peppermint candy hooks are Christmas necessities. But if you're a Sioux Falls shopper looking to stock up on the popular seasonal treats, you might be coming up dry - or with a fistful of fruity canes, instead.

While this isn't on par with the great Irish potato famine of the 1800s, some stores are running short on the traditional red and white striped peppermint candy canes.

Candy industry insiders say it's just the effects of demand during a busy holiday season. But there's word that the candy cane shortage of 2007 is real - a direct result of the continued scrutiny on all things imported from China.

"I've heard that there is a shortage, and, yes, it is because of Chinese candy canes," says Doug Schroeder, a buyer for Lewis Drug Stores. "A lot of your mass merchants, I won't name names, but they are running a little short."

He says Lewis doesn't buy its candy canes from China and that his stores aren't having trouble finding candy canes - Lewis buys American-made candy canes.

But stores that rely on Chinese imports to supply their candy are finding it difficult to stock the traditional peppermint candy canes. Thus, consumers are finding more and more of the rainbow-colored fruit-flavored candy canes that often are manufactured under familiar candy brand names such as Starburst or Spree.

Part of this is because many of these fruity canes are made in America. It's also because this type of candy cane has become more common in recent years.

"So one reason you might see less of the traditional red and white canes is because there are other options," says Jim Knight, vice president of marketing for Spangler, a candy company in Ohio.

A familiar name in the candy cane business, Knight says Spangler kicks out 2.5 million candy canes a day. Multiply that by - at least - 200 working days, and Spangler makes more than 500 million candy canes a year.

With those kinds of numbers, and the realization that Spangler isn't the only stateside company making candy canes - Farley's and Sathers is another prominent company - it's tough to say we're in the midst of a true candy cane shortage.

But walk around the candy aisles at some of Sioux Falls' big-name stores, and you'll have a hard time finding the traditional candy cane.

"It's a situation where, I would say, that the majority of the product is coming from China," Schroeder says of candy canes.

And why this is that?

"A lot of what we call 'sugar candy' production has gone off shore because the world price of sugar is cheaper," says Mary Ellen Kuhn, editor of Confectioner, a food and drink industry magazine.

Kuhn hasn't heard of a candy cane shortage this year. But she says the scenario sounds plausible simply because of the off-shore candy production.

Like the multitude of Chinese-made toys and children's products that recently have been pulled from store shelves, candy made in China is making U.S. consumers leery.

Because of safety scares, it can be difficult for retailers to sell anything with the "Made in China" logo this Christmas season.

Yet people still want their candy canes.

"I think every year, candy canes are pretty popular," says Scott Soucie, store manager of Sioux Falls' Target.

Soucie says his store hasn't had trouble acquiring candy canes.

"Every year you get the same old story that candy canes are in short supply. The reality is candy canes are always in short supply," says Jon Prince, owner of Candy Favorites, a candy wholesaler.

Prince says candy canes are always in high demand. His company has always been able to find enough to sell.

"This will not be a Christmas without candy canes," Prince says.

That's a good thing for Christmas romantics.