Favorite foods have always differed by region of the country, and love of candy is no different.
While there’s always the odd Necco Wafer nut, black licorice booster or cotton candy connoisseur, most people fall into one of two candy-loving categories: those craving rich chocolates and those who want fruitier, sweeter candies.
The National Confectioners Association (NCA) ranks the two most popular types of candy in the country as chocolate followed by gummies. Third on the list is the consistently controversial candy corn.
Although candy likes and dislikes are unique to individuals, there are clear geographical taste differences. Here are the preferred kinds of candy in the country’s four regions (as defined by the U.S. Census).
(Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania)
According to CandyStore.com, a bulk candy retailer and distributor, Sour Patch Kids are the biggest sellers in three of the nine Northeastern states, while in the others, people prefer a mix of chocolatey treats, like M&M’s, Twix and Hershey’s Mini Bars. New Yorkers love those mouth-puckering sour kids so much that they’ve made them the top seller in that state, purchasing 138,750 pounds a year on average, followed by 129,337 pounds of Hot Tamales. If you want a chocolate fix in the tristate area, head to New Jersey or Connecticut, where the favorites are M&M’s and Almond Joy, respectively.
New Yorker Ron Bailey, 76, a retired educator in Penfield, puts his money on chocolate. “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are the ones that get me now; Mars Bars were my favorite candy back when I was a kid growing up in Syracuse,” says Bailey, who admits to sneaking the Halloween candy he buys for trick-or-treaters a good month before the big day. “You say, ‘I’ll just eat a little bit of this and then set the rest aside for the kids,’ but then we end up going back to the store because it’s all gone by Halloween.”
(Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas)
Of the dozen states in the middle of the nation, only four run up a big tab for chocolate: Wisconsin (Butterfinger), Missouri (Milky Way), Iowa (M&M’s) and Kansas (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). The rest seems to prefer the sugary, fruity stuff, with North Dakotans spicing it up with Hot Tamales.
In fact, Hot Tamales, a soft, chewy candy with a cinnamon zing, ranks number five in sales in the U.S., according to CandyStore.com.
(Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C.)
With 16 states plus the District of Columbia, the South is the largest region, and its preferences are evenly distributed between chocolates and sweets. Reese’s Cups is number one in Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida. Turns out that marrying chocolate and peanut butter has been a great idea since 1928, when Harry Burnett Reese, a former Hershey’s employee, invented the peanut butter cup. Today it’s the biggest-selling Halloween candy in the U.S.
While the rest of the Southern states go for the hard, sweet and tart candies like Starbursts and Skittles, Georgia is an outlier, purchasing an average of 136,319 pounds a year of Swedish Fish. Eric Hyman, 60, a marketing executive living in suburban Atlanta, was surprised that’s the top seller. “We always hoarded our kids’ Milky Ways,” he says.
(Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii)
Jill Tomac, 52, president of the Leadership Resource Group and a resident of Newport Beach, California, says her two children, ages 13 and 16, still love trick-or-treating, particularly on nearby Balboa Island. “They take Halloween very seriously over there — inflatables, lights, haunted houses, moving figurines. — and the candy is outrageous, the giant $1 bars,” says Tomac, who like many parents pares down her kids’ haul, restricting them to 20 pieces each. She admits to saving a few pieces for herself — chocolate, of course. “Reese’s is my favorite,” she says, “with Snickers close behind.”
Tomac joins the rest of California, which, along with Wyoming, opens its wallet most eagerly for Reese’s Cups. Preferences in the region’s other 11 states are a mixed bag, split between candies like Starburst, Sour Patch Kids and Jolly Ranchers and chocolates like Hershey’s Kisses, M&M’s and Mini Bars. Montana is the big surprise, opening wide for Dubble Bubble gum. If you’re looking for full-sized candy bars, make a stop in Oregon, where those are the norm, according to Candy Store.com.
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The skinny on candy corn
People everywhere have strong feelings about candy corn, which has been around since the 1880s and even has its own day: October 30 is National Candy Corn Day.
Devotees like Howard Solomon, 56, a writing and creative consultant in Rochester, NewYork, make a ritual of how they consume the sweet tricolored treat. The NCA says that 52 percent of people eat the whole piece at once, while 31 percent start with the narrow white end and 17 percent start with the wider yellow end.
But Solomon says the best way to enjoy it is to “put a piece between your thumb and forefinger, smoosh it, and then eat it. There’s something really satisfying about that.”
Candy corn makes up just a small percentage of the estimated $3 billion that will be spent this year on Halloween candy, a 20 percent increase over last year and 10 percent more than the previous all-time high, according to CandyStore.com. While no state spends most of its Halloween candy dollars on candy corn, in Michigan it ranks second in sales, with Michiganders buying up 95,689 pounds of it a year on average. And although it ranks third in sales behind Tootsie Pops and Jolly Ranchers, Utahans gobble up 239,846 pounds of the colorful kernels annually.
Now and then
Mention Halloween, and people wax nostalgic, remembering the halcyon days of full-sized candy bars, of popcorn balls or caramels wrapped in wax paper tied with string, of loose M&M’s and licorice, of Lik-M-Aid and candy dots on paper. But things are different today, with sales of giant variety bags of “mini” or “fun-sized” candies found in every town and city.
Alan Oratz, 65, a craftsman and owner of Kula Concrete in suburban Denver, pulls no punches as he sums it up for many: “Now it’s all prepackaged, hermetically sealed candy. It’s dreck.”
Setting aside complaints about candy’s shrinking size, the rituals around the yearly sugar fest remain the same for lots of adults who want to extend the holiday spirit but not their waistlines. “I buy Hot Tamales because I don’t like them, and I wait until the last minute to buy candy,” says Sherry Frear, 59, of Arlington, Virginia. A landscape architect and historian and chief of the National Register of Historic Places, Frear, like many Americans, worked from home last year. “Stress eating isn’t kind to me, and this strategy works.”
Others admit to stealing candy from their children’s stash to recycle for the next trick-or-treaters who ring the doorbell.
But the ultimate Halloween ritual has always been horse trading. Everyone remembers dumping their candy on the floor, as business book ghost writer Marcia Layton Turner, 56, did growing up in Delaware in the ’60s and ’70s, seeking out the Snickers and the Nestle Crunch bars.
In California, Tomac’s kids do the same thing today. “They dump. They sort. They organize. They trade Skittles for Reese’s,” she says. “Luckily, one likes chocolate and the other likes candies, so it works out.”
After all, no one wants tears on Halloween. Too salty.
Stacey Freed is a contributing writer who covers remodeling, construction, lifestyle issues, education and pets. Her work has appeared in Beautiful Kitchens & Baths and This Old House on Forbes.com.