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Definition: candy 1 from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(15c) 1 : crystallized sugar formed by boiling down sugar syrup 2 a : a confection made with sugar and often flavoring and filling b : a piece of such confection 3 : something that is pleasant or appealing in a light or frivolous way 〈visual ⁓〉

candy adj

Summary Article: Candy
From Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste

The package that candy comes in is a large part of its pleasure. From the tale of the five golden tickets in the Wonka chocolate bars in Roald Dahl's iconic novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the heart-shaped gold and velvet embossed Valentine's Day candy boxes to Cracker Jack toys and comics or baseball cards bundled in with bubble gum, people love candy and the package it comes in.


Even everyday candy sells itself through its packaging; a cursory look at the candy section of even the smallest convenience store will reveal an amazing display of marketing strategies in the form of package design, materials, color, and font. Novelty candy, like some breakfast cereals, have actually become part of the broader marketing strategy of other products. There are candies that are tied to the release of new movies, sporting events, and even concert tours as exemplified by the guitar- and microphone-shaped gummy candy sold to promote the 2010 concert tour of 15-year-old Hannah Montana.


Candy is celebratory. Almost every culture celebrates with sweets, but in the United States, candy and its holiday packaging is central in the celebration of holidays such as Easter, Halloween, Valentine's Day, Christmas, and New Year's; a box of chocolates is often considered the perfect gift for the person who is “hard to buy for.” Candy is also big business. Much of the candy industry's total sales of around $28 billion per year are sold around the holidays. According to the National Confectioners Association, of the $92.91 spent on candy per person in the United States, $20.39 is spent on Halloween candy alone.

Most candy packaging ends up in landfills and can also be found anywhere people litter, such as on streets or in waterways. The mixed polymers used in plastic-film candy packing do not recycle well; most of this waste eventually winds up in a landfill.

Consumer-Driven Packaging and Waste

All of this celebrating results in a punishing amount of material being sent into the waste stream. Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP), the United Kingdom's waste management program, estimates that 3,000 tons of waste are generated by the packaging of Easter candy bought in the United Kingdom. In 2009, WRAP worked with confectionary manufacturers, who then significantly reduced the environmental impact of their Easter products.

Not all of candy's packaging is based on marketing strategy; much of it is driven by science. A candy dish is still seen as a form of hospitality, whether it is sitting on a grandmother's coffee table or on a hostess counter at a restaurant. Historically, people would simply reach in with fingers to grab a few unwrapped candies, but people now want after-dinner mints to be individually wrapped so that they are germ free. Keeping germs out of foodstuffs requires packaging.

Some design is concerned with keeping candy from breaking; people want to open candy and find it intact to have the pleasure of breaking it, dividing it up, unraveling or stretching it into bite-size pieces. Keeping candy intact during shipping and storing requires packaging.

People want candy to have beautiful colors, to be glossy, and to have a delightful aroma on its way to salivating mouths. In order to keep good odors in (and other odors out) and in order to minimize the exposure that will dull color and sheen, packaging is required. And all this cardboard, paper, aluminum foil, and plastic packaging that preserves the purity, appearance, and shape of the candy has to go somewhere.


According to an Environmental Protection Agency 2008 report, containers and packaging generate 30.8 percent of municipal solid waste, representing the largest portion of the total amount. Food scraps made up 12.7 percent of the total municipal solid waste that year, but candy is really not a major offender in this category. Candy is not highly perishable, and for most people, candy is a prized food, meaning the candy is likely to be consumed. However, most candy packaging ends up in landfills. It is also present as litter: on the street, in waterways, and along roads. The packaging consists of some paper, aluminum foil, and plastic. The mixed polymers that compose the plastic film used in candy packing do not lend it to recycling; it can be incinerated, but most of this waste eventually finds its way into a landfill.

Bulk candy, some of which is not individually wrapped, is sold in some venues, and is the best choice for anyone concerned about unnecessary packaging entering the waste stream. As in other product categories, there has been some effort to use biodegradable packaging, and there is a small industry that uses recycled juice bags and some brands of candy wrappers to create tote bags, jewelry, and other accessories. But these efforts are small in proportion to the problem.

Maybe the worst offenders are products that are both candy and toys, such as lollipops that have flashing lights, lollipops attached to a battery-powered motor that makes it spin, and plastic covers that make them look like microphones.

Although it seems a large part of candy marketing is aimed at children, it may be more correct to say it is directed at childhood. Adults buy candy for children as a means of vicarious pleasure, remembering how much candy meant to them as children. Part of the pleasure of candy is nostalgia, not just of the candy itself, but also of the packaging. One development in the candy industry is marketing of nostalgia candy; consumers want the candy of their childhood, and this demand is being met primarily through Internet sales. The home delivery of products has some increased impact on the waste stream if consumers do not make the effort to recycle the cardboard boxes, plastic bags, and the other packaging required to get the product to them intact.

Production and Globalization

Candy consumers have been affected by both globalization and the difference in government standards for food quality. These factors have impacted the safety of the commodities used to make candy products. Lead is a toxin that disproportionately affects children, and starting in the 1990s, the California Department of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that some Mexican candies had large amounts of lead in them because of the candies being stored in lead-glazed clay pots and candy wrappers printed with lead-based ink. Additionally, some Mexican chili powder (an ingredient in many kinds of Mexican candy) contains high lead levels. In 2007, the world learned about Chinese products that were laced with the toxin melamine; as the scandal unfolded, melamine was found in milk and milk products, which resulted in melamine being found in candy and other food products that were distributed inside China and exported to countries around the world, including the United States.

There are also some social justice issues tied to the consumption of chocolate, as the average person in the United States consumes 11 pounds of chocolate a year, but essentially all cacao beans, chocolate's primary ingredient, are grown outside the United States. The poor countries in west Africa produce 70 percent of the world's cocoa. In 2000, in response to reports of child labor exploitation, the Harkin-Engel Protocol was developed by two members of the U.S. Congress, nongovernmental organizations, labor experts, and the World Cocoa Foundation. There have also been some efforts to establish Fair Trade sources of cocoa, to improve the economic conditions of the farmers who grow this commodity in poor countries. Candy, as a processed food containing sweeteners such as cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, is also a conspicuous symbol of caloric overconsumption in the industrialized world.

See Also

Children, Consumerism, Fast Food Packaging, Food Consumption, Food Waste Behavior, Gluttony, Packaging and Product Containers

  • Jacobs, Andrew and Mcdonald, Mark “F.D.A. Opens Office in Beijing to Screen Food and Drug Exports: [Foreign Desk].” New York Times(November 20, 2008).
  • Lidsky, D.; Rockwood, K. “Numerology: The Business of Candy.” Fast Company v.139.
  • Medlin, J. “Sweet Candy, Bitter Poison.” Environmental Health Perspectives v.112/14.
  • National Confectioners Association. “Annual Confectionery Industry Review-2009 Industry Review.” (Accessed December 2010).
  • Parmar, Neil “Idled Toy Inventors Find a Sweet Niche: ‘Novelty’ Candy.” Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition) (July 21, 2005).
  • “U.K. Confectioners Reduce Easter Egg Packaging.” Candy Industry v.174/3.
  • U.S. Department of Commerce. “U.S. Department of Commerce Industry Report Food Manufacturing NAICS 311.” 2008. (Accessed December 2010).
  • World Cocoa Foundation. “Encouraging Sustainable, Responsible Cocoa Growing.” (Accessed December 2010).
  • Mentch, Fran
    Cleveland State University Cleveland State University
    Copyright © 2012 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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