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From Pixy Stix to Jelly Belly, what famous candies got their start in the St. Louis area?

Did you know Pixy Stix got their start in St. Louis?
bryan t | Flickr
Did you know Pixy Stix got their start in St. Louis?

Attention trick-or-treaters: The candy haul you’re preparing to collect tonight might just have some candy in it with St. Louis origins. Pixy Stix, in all their sugary goodness, for example, got their start here when they were invented by Sunmark Corporation (formerly Sunline Inc.) in 1942. 

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, in honor of Halloween, we heard from a local food historian about candies that got their start in St. Louis — and what candies are still manufactured in St. Louis today.

Suzanne Corbett, an award-winning writer, culinary teacher and food historian, has written the books “The Gilded Table – Recipes and Table Traditions from the Campbell House” and “Pushcarts & Stalls: The Soulard Market History Cookbook.” She also produced the Telly Award-winning documentary “Vintage Missouri: 200 Years of Missouri Wine.”

Suzanne Corbett, a local food historian, shared the history of St. Louis candy and candymakers on "St. Louis on the Air."
Credit Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Suzanne Corbett, a local food historian, shared the history of St. Louis candy and candymakers on "St. Louis on the Air."

In the 1900s, St. Louis was right up there with Chicago in terms of candy production.

“St. Louis has been for centuries a distribution center,” Corbett said. “You could get a lot of materials here. When sugar became very affordable, during the Industrial Revolution, that’s when sugar makers could connect with candy makers and businesses just blossomed.”

Between 1898 and 1914, candy producers doubled in number within St. Louis city limits.

Here are some candies with a St. Louis area origin story:

Pixy Stix, Sprees, SweeTarts got their start in St. Louis with the Sunmark Corporation.

SweeTarts were invented by a St. Louis company.
Credit Jamie | Flickr
SweeTarts were invented by a St. Louis company.

The tale of Sunline Inc.’s candies are as classic a tale of merger and acquisition as we can muster. Sunline Inc., the candy confectionery company, was based in St. Louis and invented some favorites you’ll still find in gas stations, candy stores and in your Halloween bag tonight: Pixy Stix, Sprees and SweeTarts. The company changed its name to Sunmark Corporation, with offices in Affton, but later merged with Breaker Connections, who made the original Wonka Bar in the 1970s. That company was later bought by Nestle and in 2006, Nestle shut down the original Sunline/Sunmark offices still located in St. Louis.

Belleville’s Gustav Goelitz started the company that would later invent Jelly Bellys and give popular rise to candy corn.

In the 1800s, Gustav Goelitz started a candy company in Belleville, Illinois that would later produce world-renowned Jelly Belly candy.
Credit Chris Martino | Flickr
In the 1800s, Gustav Goelitz started a candy company in Belleville, Illinois that would later produce world-renowned Jelly Belly candy.

Gustav Goelitz came to the United States and settled in Belleville, Illinois, in 1866. In 1869, Goelitz started a confectionery business in town known as Gustav Goelitz Candy. The candy company was originally known for their production of various forms of “mallow melts,” a soft candy. Although the company did not itself invent the contentious Halloween candy (some people love it, some people hate it. Like, really hate it) known as candy corn, they did give popular rise and distribution to the candy, which they called “chicken feed.” The company still produces the candy today and is the longest running candy maker to do so.

What Goelitz is really known for is as the maker of Jelly Belly candy, the small jelly bean with a burst of flavor inside. Goelitz moved his company to Chicago in 1904 and, from there, his sons took parts of the company across the country, including California. It was there that the Jelly Belly was invented in the 1970s. Today there are over 50 flavors of Jelly Belly, including “Tabasco,” “Buttered Popcorn” and even “Draft Beer.” Today, the Gustav Goelitz Candy company goes by the name of Jelly Belly Candy Company.

Fans of Harry Potter may also know Jelly Belly as the company that produces the real-life version of the “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans,” which include flavors like vomit, rotten egg and booger.

Switzer’s got its start in St. Louis by selling candies along the riverfront in a pushcart — the company has never left.

Credit Hans Gerwitz | Flickr
Switzer's candy, known for their licorice, got its start in St. Louis.

Frederick Michael Switzer first started selling candy in the 1880s in a pushcart along the Mississippi River near Laclede’s Landing. The son of Irish immigrants who left the country due to the potato famine, Switzer began making licorice in 1888. That’s what the company is known for today, up there in the licorice ranks of Red Vines and Twizzler’s, but many don’t know the company also became famous for producing “buttermels,” a chewy caramel candy. The company still makes its home in St. Louis at 27 North Gore Avenue.

St. Louis Peco Flake became famous nationwide as a fundraising vehicle for the Cub Scouts

Here's what peco flake candy looks like: a mixture of peanut brittle and coconut.

Corbett said that if she were to pick one candy that really did make a mark on St. Louis as an established brand across the country, she would pick the St. Louis Peco Flake. While peco flake, a copper kettle-cooked peanut brittle candy mixed with coconut, was not invented in St. Louis it was popularized here as an operation of the General Candy Company, located on Oleatha Avenue. The company’s founder started selling peco flake candy to the Cub Scouts in 1959 and it rose to fame across the country because of its association with the nationwide organization.

The company is still around today and still supplies candy fundraiser materials, although they’ve expanded their selections to include popular candies like Hershey’s and Mars.

St. Louis was also home to several confectioners that are still around in some iteration today: Bissinger’s, Mavrakos Candy Company (now Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Co.), Busy Bee, Merb’s Candies, Crown Candy Kitchen and more. Listen for more history about each of these companies:

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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