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What Is the Confectionery Industry?

M. Kayo
M. Kayo

The confectionery industry is a group of large companies around the world that produce various types of chocolate, chewing gum, and candy as well as other products made from cocoa. In 2011, The top five confectionery companies Kraft Foods/Cadbury, Mars Incorporated, Nestle SA, the Ferrero Group, and Hershey, comprise most of this multi-billion dollar industry. This industry continues to grow each year despite economic conditions, employs over 500,000 workers in thousands of factories around the world, and produces about 7 billion pounds (about 3.2 billion kg) of these products each year.

Chocolate, non-chocolate, and chewing gum are the industry's three main categories. Almost 60% of all confectionery is chocolate. In 2008, the global confectionery industry was valued at almost $150 billion United States dollars (USD). In 2009, all of these companies combined reported just over $54 billion USD in confectionery product sales around the world, employed more than half a million people and operated more than 7,600 factories around the globe.

Chocolates covered in coconut flakes.
Chocolates covered in coconut flakes.

From 2007 to 2008, the confectionery industry grew about 4%. Among all food categories, candy and gum were number four on the list in 2009, right behind salty snacks. The consumption of confectionery products is highest in northern Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. The average Swiss person consumes about 25 pounds of chocolate each year.

A mix of hard candies.
A mix of hard candies.

The confectionery industry has a long and storied history. John Cadbury opened a shop in 1824, selling coffee, tea, cocoa, and drinking chocolate as an alternative to alcoholic drinks. The company continued to grow into one of the world's largest confectionery manufacturing companies. Cadbury was acquired by Kraft Foods in 2010 making Kraft/Cadbury the world's largest producer of chocolate and candy in the confectionery industry.

Chocolates with very detailed shells.
Chocolates with very detailed shells.

Heinrich Nestle, a German pharmacist working in Vevey, Switzerland, founded the Nestle Company in 1866. In 1875, Nestle and a friend, Daniel Peter, discovered how to mix milk and cocoa powder to create milk chocolate. Nestle and Peter started the world famous Nestle company, which soon became the world's leading manufacturer of chocolate in the early 20th century.

Hard candies are a type of confection, although they aren't always thought of as such.
Hard candies are a type of confection, although they aren't always thought of as such.

In an attempt to keep him occupied as a young boy, Frank Mars' mother would have him hand-dip her homemade chocolates. Mars, Incorporated was officially founded in 1920 and began to manufacture chocolate candy bars. The company developed and produced the world famous Milky Way® candy bar, Snickers® candy bar, and M&M® Candies. In 1929, Mars moved their operations to Chicago, Illinois.

Switzerland is home to some of the world.
Switzerland is home to some of the world.

Ferrero SpA is a family-owned company that is based in Italy and was founded in 1946 by Pietro Ferrero. A survey conducted by the Reputation Institute in 2009 found Ferrero to be the most reputable company in the world. Ferrero SpA has also been described as one of the world's most secretive firms due to the threat of industrial espionage. Ferrero makes the popular Ferrero Rocher® candy and Nutella&reg.

In 1894, Milton Hershey decided to manufacture chocolate to coat caramel candies. Hershey began to produce chocolate in bars, wafers, and other shapes. At that time in history, chocolate was considered a luxury item available only to the wealthiest people of society. Milton Hershey introduced mass-production in his factory and was able to make his chocolate affordable to all people.

Discussion Comments


@pastanaga-- I'm not so pessimistic about this topic. I agree that this industry may take advantage of workers and farmers in developing countries. But there are also other options out there. There is fair trade cocoa and sugar.

And confectionery, even if it is unhealthy, makes people happy. Imagine having Halloween or Christmas without candy. And in moderation, it won't harm anyone's health. We should opt for all natural, organic versions made from real sugar when we can.


@donasmrs-- Oh no, confectionery is a big thing in Europe. Europeans produce and eat far more candy and chocolate than we do. And there are more varieties there. My European friends cannot get enough of chocolate and licorice. My roommate eats licorice candy every day.


I thought that the confectionery industry was the biggest in the US. Americans have always been fond of their chocolates and candy. I know people who special order candy and chocolates online because they can't get those flavors at nearby stores. I think that kind of dedication to candy is not seen in many countries.

I spent my childhood in Eastern Europe and chocolate candies were almost only enjoyed by children. Adults had candies only on holidays! After arriving in the US, I was surprised to see that even adults enjoy confectionery and throughout the year.


@croydon - Unfortunately, the industry itself is extremely corrupt and most of the products they put out don't seem like works of art in any sense to me.

I don't know why, but the confectionery business seems to attract corruption and bad practices. If you research the history of any of the major companies you'll find bad business, and in a couple of cases they are almost evil.

Both sugar and cacao are difficult to grow ethically and in sustainable ways though, so maybe that's part of the problem.


@clintflint - It's perfectly natural for humans to want to eat sweet things. Sugars are high in energy, and, in nature, are generally wrapped in some kind of vitamins and fiber as well (like fruit).

They are even supposed to be mildly addictive and I'm sure the confectionery industry does everything it can to make people buy more and spend more on candy.

It is probably pretty bad for us in general, because we overindulge and certainly the fact that high fructose corn syrup gets added to everything doesn't help. But I don't think it's an inherently bad thing to make and enjoy sweet things. People often think of food as being art only when it is pleasing to the eye, but there's no reason tastebuds shouldn't experience pleasure as well, and there are some forms of confectionery that truly are works of art in that sense.


Wow, it's kind of amazing that there is so much money devoted to something that isn't really life sustaining or necessary. I mean, confectionery could completely disappear from the world and it wouldn't really effect the average person at all. If anything, it would probably make the average person a bit healthier.

But we still care enough about it to spend billions on it every year.

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    • Chocolates covered in coconut flakes.
      Chocolates covered in coconut flakes.
    • A mix of hard candies.
      By: knostpix
      A mix of hard candies.
    • Chocolates with very detailed shells.
      By: Fotoschuh
      Chocolates with very detailed shells.
    • Hard candies are a type of confection, although they aren't always thought of as such.
      By: Bert Folsom
      Hard candies are a type of confection, although they aren't always thought of as such.
    • Switzerland is home to some of the world.
      By: vencav
      Switzerland is home to some of the world.