Candy cane crisis: U.S. takeover leaves Canadian retailers short
The popular striped confection is in short supply on many store shelves
Vancouver area Santa Dick Woldring knew he might be facing a sticky situation more than a month ago.
In early November, Woldring — who for 18 years has portrayed Santa at paid and unpaid events — tried to buy his usual supply of 7,000 peppermint candy canes and came up short.
He couldn't find any.
"This year they didn't have any and I got into a panic," said Woldring, who tried various retailers with no luck.
He isn't alone. This year, many Canadian retailers are running short of the iconic striped treat.
Woldring, for example, could only find fruit-flavoured or expensive canes embossed with animated figures like Batman or Elsa from Frozen.
"There was cherry, raspberry, and watermelon, if you can believe it. The peach ones were awful," said Woldring. "But kids like candy canes one way or another."
This year they didn't have any and I got into a panic.- Dick Woldring, semi-professional Santa Claus.
He noted the quality was poorer with some canes melting into a "gob of goo" if left in his sack.
And none were from Allan Candy, the brand he preferred.
Takeover effects felt later
It turns out that Allan Candy was taken over last year by the U.S. based Hershey Company. But the effect on candy cane production in Canada was only felt this season, according to retailers.
Many are running short, such as Shopper's Drug Mart, which has peppermint in stock in only half of its Vancouver outlets.
Mitchell Eng, who orders for London Drugs Canada, saw the candy cane crunch coming.
"They told all the retailers that they were not going to produce candy canes for this year's Christmas for 2015. At that time I think a lot of retailers were scrambling," said Eng, who placed his order early in spring.
"I've heard a lot of retailers were not proactive and thus are out of stock," Eng added.
Only a few companies produce candy canes in North America, most are made in China, he said.
He researched manufacturers and found the company that took over the Oakville manufacturing plant, when Allan Candy moved south.
He ordered early and stocked up. Others ordered too late.
Candy canes make millions of dollars
"Hershey's did buy out Allan Candies...which does leave an opportunity for us," said Craig Bliss of Karma Candy in Hamilton where the majority of Canadian-made candy canes are produced.
"Last minute we weren't able to get everything out to all existing Allan Candy customers. So for 2016 we are already working on it," he said.
Millions of dollars. It's a huge business.- Craig Bliss, candy cane manufacturer.
"Our sales of candy canes have exploded - up, in essence, 30 per cent year over year with the same customers," said Bliss.
He urges candy cane lovers to look for the "made in Canada" label if they want quality.
As for just how big the business is, nobody will get specific, but all agree it is growing.
"Millions. Millions of dollars. It's a huge business."