There’s a candy for almost every season, holiday, or occasion.

On Valentine’s Day, we break out the Sweethearts or boxes of chocolates. When Halloween rolls around, you can’t swing a black cat without running into a bowl of candy corn. And around Christmas, candy canes are everywhere you look.

And, of course, there are all of the Whitman’s Samplers that are given as gifts, the Dum Dums lollipops present on thousands of reception desks, and the Snickers, Starburst, and Skittles picked up at the last minute by sugar-hungry shoppers at stores all across the country.

All told, it adds up to a pretty sweet deal for those who like sweets—candy is seemingly everywhere, all the time. In fact, the average U.S. consumer eats 22 pounds of candy every year. That’s equivalent to eating a portly Boston Terrier, composed of pure sugar, on an annual basis.

And the companies producing all of that candy are turning America’s love of sweet treats into cash.

Willy Wonka was on to something: An overview of the U.S. candy industry

Candy, sweets, lollies—whatever you want to call it—is all a subset of the confectionery industry. Confections are foods that contain high levels of sugar and carbohydrates, and typically come in two types: bakers’ confections (baked goods, typically), and sugar confections.

Sweets, as we know them, are sugar confections, and they include candy bars, chewing gum, chocolate, caramels, and the wide assortment of treats that we call “candy”.

And in the U.S., consumers buy a lot of it. In 2016, Americans spent $21.5 billion on candy, according to industry data. Worldwide, the confectionery industry is magnitudes larger. Total retail sales were more than $186 billion in 2017.

Source: Nielsen, 2016

Candy sales are expected to scale well into the future, according to industry analysts, with revenue in almost every subset of the industry—including caramels, gummies, gum, and more—forecast to grow as well.

The candy industry employs more than 56,000 U.S. workers, manufacturing our favorite sweets and treats, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. For comparison, that’s roughly the same amount employed by the domestic beer industry (~60,000).

And even that isn’t enough to satisfy America’s sweet tooth. An additional 7 million metric tons of sugar, sweeteners, and candy are imported every year from around the world, too, according to government data.

The industry’s sweetest

The candy industry, like most others in the U.S., has its champions. The big industry names are so intricately and delicately swirled into the daily shopping mix that it can be hard to imagine a check-out aisle without them—think of the ubiquitous Hershey’s or Mars.

Here are the biggest candy companies in North America, according to industry data:

Others big names with smaller footholds in the candy market include Kellogg’s, PepsiCo, Tootsie Roll, See’s, Bazooka, and Jelly Belly.

As far as individual products go, these are the most popular candies in the U.S.:

Coming down from the sugar high

There’s a lot to like about candy. It’s delicious, comes in a variety of wacky flavors and colors, and you can use it to bribe children to do just about anything. Plus, it has a fairly large economic footprint, driving billions of dollars in sales every year, and employing tens of thousands of U.S. workers.

But there can be too much of a good thing. And with candy, that’s especially true—there’s a reason your parents didn’t let you eat only sugary treats when you were a child, after all.

The biggest issue with candy is that it can be unhealthy. Most candies contain large amounts of sugar, calories, and carbohydrates, all of which are best consumed in moderation.

But more than 93 million Americans are obese, accounting for nearly 40% of the population, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The consumption of candy and other sweets is not the sole origin of the obesity epidemic, nor is it alone in propagating it—fast food is another problem area. But sugar-rich foods, like candy, do feed into it. Excess sugar consumption is getting more attention, and the amount of sugar that many people are eating is far more than recommended.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults consume no more than 6-9 teaspoons of added sugar per day. But the average American is consuming nearly 20 teaspoons per day, and some of that is likely delivered through various candies and treats.

Sweeten your portfolio

Craving something sweet for your investment portfolio? You can invest in companies that support the candy and confectionery industry on Stash.