This Candy is for the Birds
Oral histories credit George Renninger, an employee at Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia, as the creator of candy corn. But it became popularized by Goelitz Candy Company — now Jelly Belly Candy Company — when they picked up the recipe in 1898 and began marketing it as a candy called “Chicken Feed.”
So, what was the significance of the new branding strategy? At the time, farmers made up about half of America’s workforce, and it was common for companies to market agriculture-themed candy to appeal to children in the largely agrarian society.
What’s in a Name?
Wondering why it wasn’t called “People Feed” instead? Prior to World War I, corn was commonly thought of as food for pigs and chickens more so than food for human consumption. But when war-time wheat shortages struck in 1917, items like corn flour, corn meal, and cornbread became more widely popularized.
Despite this shift in dining habits, corn still maintained its association with chickens even after World War I. Goelitz’s candy corn packaging during the 1920s displayed a picture of a rooster with the tagline “King of the Candy Corn Fields.”
How Did Candy Corn Become Synonymous with Halloween?
In the first half of the 20th century, candy corn became a common “penny candy.” During this time, candy corn was thought of as a treat to be enjoyed year-round, as Halloween wasn’t yet linked to sweets.
But during the 1950s, Halloween became increasingly dominated by candy. Candy corn advertising spiked dramatically during the month of October throughout the decade as manufacturers attempted to capitalize on the association with the holiday. And it looks like the strategy worked — despite the multitude of detractors, the National Confectioners Association reports that over 35 million pounds (approximately 9 billion kernels) of candy corn are produced each year.