Candyfreak -- Steve Almond

CandyfreakFor those who remember Candy and Me.

I read the other candy book, Candyfreak. This one wasn't nearly as lighthearted as Hilary Liftin's book, but still really funny and (gasp!) informative. The author (Steve Almond--who's been tormented for years by people serenading him with the Almond Joy song, even though he HATES coconut) is insane. He certainly loves candy more than anyone I've ever met. This includes my dad, who, even though no-one ever goes to his house on Halloween, buys 10 pounds of candy. Then he puts a black light up on the porch, (which makes the house looks deserted), and eats all of the candy himself.

Steve Almond brings the reader on a tour of the few independent candy companies that are still managing to eke out an existence in the days of the Big Three (Nestle, Hershey's and Mars). At least, he tours the companies that will let him visit:

Ms. Gordon laughed politely and explained that no such visit would be possible. For competitive reasons, she said, not impolitely. She assured me that the manufacturing process for the products in question was proprietary and that the company's equipment was beyond state of the art. "Beyond state of the art," I said. "Surely you jest. Junior Mints enrobed with lasers? Genetically engineered Sugar Babies?" "Sorry," Gordon said. As it turns out, the larger candy manufacturers are notoriously secretive operations. I had always assumed that the industrial espionage in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was trumped-up fiction. Not so. Roald Dahl based his book on the legendary exploits of the Cadburys and the Rowntrees, who routinely sent moles to spy on one another's operations.

Insane. The candy industry is insane. The people who make candy, sell it, everything: they're obsessed. The guy who runs was really, really upset when Wacky Wafers were discontinued. Remember, this is a guy who makes his living on selling hard-to-find candy:

"I talked to one of their product managers and he told me something about Wacky Wafers being too similar to Bottle Caps and how one line is cannibalizing the other line, something like that. This guy didn't even understand the difference between the products. Wacky Wafers are fruit-flavored. They're about the size of quarters. Bottle Caps are much smaller and they're flavored like sodas, which, I'm sorry, are not fruits. But you know what happens with these companies? They get a bunch of MBAs in there who've been working with computers and they don't care about candy. They're just in it to make a buck."

Even though I loved this book, and I think that it's totally worth reading, both for the entertainment value and for the really cool descriptions of the candy factories, I will warn that it's depressing. It goes right along with the WordsWorth thing: little indie companies being squashed by the big guys, and consumers losing out because the products that are left are all homogenized and whitebread. Big stores like Wal-Mart and Shaw's charge the candy companies for the prime shelf space by the registers--the going rate for space is $20,000 a spot. Obviously, the little companies can't afford that. It's cut-throat and scary, not happy little Candyland.

On a more cheerful note, Almond included the websites of a lot of the places he visited, so as soon as I have a little extra money, I'm going on a candy-ordering spree. Valomilk, here I come!