History: From Sugar and Honey to Billion-Dollar Industry

History: From Sugar and Honey to Billion-Dollar Industry

What first started with sugar, honey, and water, the making and market of candies today are worth billions of US dollars. With its simple concoction, everyone may have tried making them. But with its wide range of flavours, types, and prices, everyone has certainly tasted them. 

After all, why not? Their small bite sizes are incredibly worthwhile. Every second is enjoyed. Now, to add more fun to candies and sweets, you will appreciate more of what we have for you here on this page. Let’s take a break from Sweet Factory menus and upcoming events, today, let’s visit the history of candies/sweets. See and understand the factors that led to the phenomenon of these delicacies in the world.

Candy is not a dessert?

Prior to knowing its origin, it is crucial to understand the various terms used to describe candies. For some, it’s shortened for sweets; others would categorize them as a dessert variety. While often interchanged, it is believed that they are not entirely the same thing. Quite surprising, right? Here is how they are different from each other, and why people should stop mistaking them with the same extent.

How are they similar?

If there is one thing that concurs with each other, both candies and desserts are 2 foods that satisfy one’s cravings. In general, they are made with ingredients that have high contents of sugar — a reason why the 2 are also tantamount to the term ‘sweets’.

How are they different?

Desserts have tons of varieties and elements, where they range from dishes to drinks. Among the list includes confection, which is also called candy, sweets, or lollies. Basically, it is any food item that has high contents on sugar and carbs. While others deem confections/candies as a dessert variety, the 2 are actually entirely different. Instead, they vary in the way they are served and eaten.

By definition, a dessert is a course that completes a meal. Simply put, any dessert dish served after a meal has to be savoured in one seating. Candies, on the other hand, can be eaten anywhere and anytime.

Another factor to consider is the preparation used in the creation and production of candies and desserts. The former are often bite-sizes, where they are packaged in plastic or paper wrapping — simple but convenient and purposeful. The latter, however, sometimes take rigorous concoction to meet gourmet standards.


See and marvel at the transition of how people utilised sugars and kinds of honeys. With only 2 ingredients, markets were created, jobs were formed, and opportunities became everywhere. 

From sugar and honey…

To restate, candies (‘sweets’ by British English and ‘lollies’ by Australian and New Zealand English) highly contain sugar contents. To understand its origin is to assess and trace back to ancient cultures where sugars and sweet honey were chiefly used, circulated, and distributed to other regional areas.

Coming from the series of agribusiness manuals of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, sugar cane was refined first in New Guinea and its neighbouring islands prior to 1,000 B.C. Owing to the phenomenon of migration, the practice came all the way to India and then China.

In India, locals devised techniques in extracting sugar from sugarcanes. They called it ‘sarkara’. It was this Sanskrit term that became the basis of other European languages, such as sucre in French, zucker in German, zuccheto in Italian, and azúcar in Spanish. Around the 6th and 4th centuries, B.C. Persians and Greeks adopted Indian’s sugarcane agriculture. From there, they spread the practice in the West.

Back to India, the locals produced pieces of sugar by boiling sugarcane juice. The product was consumed, called khanda, which became the origin of the anglicized term candy. It was not until in the late 13th century when candy became prevalent. 

Yet prior to sugar, another sweetener in other regions was honey — a sweet, viscous substance produced by honey bees. It was utilized in Ancient China, Middle East, Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. They preserve fruits and flowers through coating them with honey. During this period, candies, along with spices, served as medicine in calming the digestive systems and cooling sore throats.

Through social changes, the use of candies was no longer for medicinal purposes. The advent of the Industrial Revolution — where capitalism and tech advancements thrived the most — paved the way for a drastic change in candy production. In the 1800s, candies opened up the market. 

With this chance, it resulted in the growth of businesses, thereby giving prospects to both rich and working-class sectors. In both America and Europe, candy stores were business staples to children, more so when these small bite delicacies became worth a penny. Penny candies or bulk candies were just the beginning leading to the global fortune of candies today. 

To a billion-dollar market

There were already more than 400 factories in the U.S. by the mid-1800s. In the simplest yet laborious process, candies were obtained from the very slow crystallization of highly purified sugar syrup. But due to the demand of consumers, sweets makers had to innovate to remove long labour work. Not only did they use revolving steam pan, but they also optimised the addition of additives for the sake of marketing novelty and lengthened their shelf life.

Adulterants range from cheap cornstarch and corn syrup to harmful ones. To attract more consumers, other producers had used hazardous substances to brighten the colours of candies. Since there were no legal restrictions, such contents were chromium oxide, copper acetate, lead oxide, and mercury sulfide.

Joseph Keppler, American cartoonist and caricature artist, ridiculed the horrid acts on the use of unsafe additives. Then in 1906, the fear-mongering pressured the national government of the U.S. in forming a passage to regulate food and drugs through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This law is called the Pure Food and Drug Act.

With a recipe including legal regulation, marketing schemes, assistive tech and machinery, and of course, continuously growing demand, the concoction is ready for the global competition and market of candies. Now, hundreds of candy types have been formulated around the world. Even home kitchens can create these bite-size sweets. But, only a few names/brands can make it to the top, becoming household names everywhere.

As reported by WFMJ-TV, the 2018 global candy market was valued at 79.35 billion. With regional varieties and growing trends per year, it is further expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 3.5% until 2023. Below, meet the names that contribute to this ever-growing market — the world’s 3 leading candy and sweets companies.

  1. Mars Inc.
  • Worldwide candy sales: US$18.0 billion 

Founded in 1911 in Tacoma, Washington, Franklin Mars is the name behind famous candy brands, namely, Mars, M&M’s, Snickers, Bounty, Milky Way, Twix, and so on. It becoming the number 1 candy company in the world isn’t solely due to the above-mentioned names. Its annual billion-dollar revenue now comes from pet products, such as the well-known ‘Pedigree’ brand.

  1. Ferrero
  • Worldwide candy sales: US12.4 billion

Famously known for the heavenly spread of Nutella and crunchy balls Ferrero, the company was founded in 1946 by Italian Pietro Ferrero. Other famous brands also include children’s favourites, Kinder Surprise and Kinder Joy, and everyone’s refreshments, the TIC TAC.

  1. Mondelez International
  • Worldwide candy sales: US$11.8 billion

A very recent company established in 2012, Mondelez has taken the 3rd spot in the list. Its start was actually at a great base, after splitting from another American food conglomerate Kraft Foods. The latter focused on selling grocery products, whereas Mondelez took over all Kraft’s former candy brands. 

Its annual revenue isn’t caused by its flagship products. Instead, they buy popular candy brands from different countries and integrate them into the company property. Now, it owns Cadbury, Milka, Prince Polo, Oreo, and so on.


As a diet staple and main ingredient in sweets companies, the source and supply of sugar are everywhere! But with the impact of climate, only 20% come from industrialized countries where they derive from sugar beet. The remaining 80% is taken from sugar cane, an indigenous food item to tropical climates in developing countries.

Read more

Candy is a blank canvas. The realm of sweets has too much to offer. It’s no wonder why Hansel and Gretel were easily convinced to attend a lone woman’s house in the middle of a forest. For every invented candy variety, it adds to its billion-dollar market. But aside from its shares to the sector, each comes with a story to tell. Find about the pretty cool origin of floral gums here on this page: Floral Gums, Calgary Loves this Candy.