Sweet Success: The Supply Chain
Journey of Candy Canes

Photo by George Dolgikh

Candy canes are one of the most iconic holiday treats. Billions of candy canes are made and consumed each year. In fact, the candy cane makes up a significant amount of the $1.4 billion Christmas candy market.

Whether they’re being sung about in a Christmas carol or purchased in bulk for a special holiday event, these delightful twisted canes of sugary goodness are the perfect addition to any festive experience. Although the most common flavor is peppermint, nowadays, candy canes come in all flavors and colors from cinnamon and cherry all the way to funfetti birthday cake and even pickle! But, how are these sweet treats even made in factories around the world, and how do they wind up in stores across America just in time for the holiday season without fail?

As part of the new supply chain journey series by Stimulus, we’ve chosen to break down the entire journey of a candy cane from granular goodness to pulled perfection in order to show exactly what goes into these stocking stuffers and eggnog stirrers. Without further ado, let’s analyze this delightful holiday snack and see what makes them so incredible below.

Ingredients and Blending

First introduced in the seventeenth century, candy canes have been a favorite holiday candy for hundreds of years. Surprisingly, the process of making these sweet treats and the ingredients used hasn’t changed much during this time period other than the fact that now, most of the process is done by tech on a factory line.

The first step in the candy cane supply chain journey involves blending the ingredients together in a large vessel. The ingredients to make candy canes include refined sugar derived from beet and cane sugar, water, cream of tartar, and various flavoring additives. Cream of tartar helps give the candy canes their more white color and softer texture so this ingredient isn’t always used but is definitely preferred.

While the standard candy cane flavoring is peppermint extract, you can also find fruit-flavored candy canes, molasses, honey, cinnamon, and even weirder options like bacon, pickles, and pumpkin spice.

Chef preparing hard candy

Stretching, Cooling, and Coloring

Next, While it is still hot, the sugar mixture is poured on water-cooled tables then sent into working machines that stretch the candy until it appears white. In the past, this process was done by hand on pulling hooks and large metal tables. The process can still be seen in action in many stores across the nation for entertainment purposes but the mass-produced candy canes rely on faster technology to do the job instead.

The candy is then divided so part of it can be dyed red and reintroduced in a spiral motion to form the candy cane stripes.

Quality Control Testing

With the candy canes produced, it’s time for quality control. Sensory evaluations are done on characteristics such as appearance, color, odor, and flavor. Other physical and chemical characteristics may also be tested such as liquid viscosity, solid particle size, and moisture content.

All of this is to ensure that the candy canes are of the highest quality and can last for the entire holiday season on shelves. A mixture misstep or flavor incident could lead to a batch that tastes off, melts on shelves, or falls apart and gives the wrong impression of the manufacturer as a result.

Supplying the Season

Once the candy canes are tested and approved, suppliers can buy them and ship them out to grocery stores, candy shops, schools, businesses, and the millions of other places where these festive treats can be found during the holiday season.

Candy canes tend to come in specially made boxes and are wrapped in tight plastic to preserve their iconic cane shape. During the shipping process, it is crucial that the canes don’t break. If this occurs, they end up on discount shelves during the holiday season instead leading to losses for both retailers and manufacturers alike.

Candy Cane Chain Dilemma

With the candy canes sitting colorful and shiny on shelves around the nation, all that’s left is to stock up for baking, stocking stuffers, holiday parties, and fun Christmas crafts!

However, this year, a candy cane shortage is in full effect. Last year, the same issue was apparent as well. This problem is due to the supply chain being disrupted from overseas holiday suppliers and manufacturers. Peppermint production in the United States has declined nearly 25% over the past decade, according to the US Department of Agriculture. If we don’t transition back to American suppliers soon, there may come a day when candy canes are no longer the staple holiday treat they currently are. With that said, the question must be asked: What can we do to resolve this and restore the holiday spirit? Let us know your thoughts on this holiday mishap in the comments section and via social media as well!

Stay tuned for more supply chain journeys to come, and feel free to watch the ‘How It’s Made: Candy Canes’ episode below to see some more of this journey in action:

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Stimulus, Inc.

Stimulus, a relationship intelligence software that helps companies build more valuable vendor and supplier relationships.