Rudolph Foods' charitable initiative has nothing on candy maker Ritter Sport. Every time someone purchases one of Ritter's new milk-chocolate strawberry crème bars, the German company will make a donation to the Leslie Simon Breast Care and Cytodiagnosis Center at Englewood Hospital in New Jersey. The goal is $100,000. (Strawberry crème is pink, like breast-cancer ribbons.)

The folks behind Project 7 probably aren't impressed with the largess of Rudolph or Ritter Sport. The tiny company, which boasts a staff of eight, trades in coffee, T-shirts, gum, mints and water and has pledged a portion of everything it sells to one of thirteen different nonprofits that support Project 7's seven pet causes. (Customers can learn which worthy cause they're supporting by reading the label: Feed the Hungry Peppermint Vanilla Gum, Heal the Sick French Roast, etc.) The percentages vary, but during the first quarter of 2011, Project 7 planted more than 120,000 fruit trees, distributed 131,000 meals, donated malaria treatments for 1,800 people and provided 1,900 people with a year's worth of clean water.

"It's a trend," says Project 7 spokesman Darren Dunham. "More and more people require their favorite snack company to do more in the world than stack money to the moon."

Professor Sauernoggin works the Toxic Waste Candy booth at the recent Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago.
William Rice
Professor Sauernoggin works the Toxic Waste Candy booth at the recent Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Jill Robbins developed HomeFree cookies so that her son, who has multiple food allergies, would be able to enjoy snacks with his friends.
William Rice
Jill Robbins developed HomeFree cookies so that her son, who has multiple food allergies, would be able to enjoy snacks with his friends.

Even the expo itself is getting in on the action. At the end of the convention, every participating company has agreed to donate any leftover sweets and/or snack samples to soldiers serving overseas. To further buck up our candy-deprived troops, attendees are encouraged to write uplifting messages on their badges.


Salvation

Some poor souls were convinced this year's Sweets & Snacks Expo was destined not to take place at all.

May 21, the previous Saturday, was to have been the date of the Rapture, according to the virally disseminated prognostication of Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping. (When the day passed without incident, Camping recalculated and announced that the Almighty had rescheduled for October 21.)

Brian Adkins, owner of Scripture Candy, and his partner Mac McCarron aren't so sure. "I don't think God would tell somebody about the Rapture," McCarron muses. "It would make His Word invalid."

Scripture Candy doesn't concern itself with matters as esoteric as the Rapture. Its mission is to spread the Gospel through candy. The enterprise began in 1991, when Adkins was driving around his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, listening to a Focus on the Family broadcast on the car radio.

"There was a story about the occult and all the negativity attached to Halloween," he remembers. "I thought: 'Why not take candy and turn it into Scripture — use a pagan holiday to glorify God?' It's the only time of the year our lost neighbors come to our door and allow us to witness to them. We should take advantage of the opportunity to plant the seed of God's Word in their lives."

Adkins kicked off with mints that came in a tin imprinted with quotes from the King James Version of the Bible. The company has since branched into lollipops, candy corn ("Promise Seeds") and jelly beans that represent different aspects of Christianity.

The jelly beans have caused some confusion at the expo.

"People come by and say, 'We'd like to taste Sin and Jesus' Blood,'" Adkins relates. "We have to tell them that those aren't the actual flavors."

Although Scripture Candy is now available all across the United States and ships to nineteen other nations, the product has yet to become a household name. That said, the company has been, in Adkins' words, "very blessed" — and likely never more so than on the morning of Day Two of this year's Expo, when two nuns stop by the Scripture booth to discuss purchasing some candy for their school. Deferring to his partner's Catholicism, Adkins lets McCarron close the sale. Leaning back against the company's display and taking it all in, he can't contain his elation.

"Man!" he hoots. "It don't get no better than this!"


Sloth

By Day Three the smallest scintilla of desperation has crept into the heart of even the most seasoned Expo-goer. Isn't anyone on the convention floor willing to admit to not giving a good goddamn about the public's health, emotional well-being or mortal soul?

"I don't know why people insist that candy should be healthy," says Zel Peterson, marketing manager of the venerable Ferrara Pan Candy Company, manufacturer of Lemonheads, Boston Baked Beans and Atomic Fireballs. "We believe candy should be eaten in moderation — a treat or a reward. You can't eat an entire case and expect to feel healthy."

Peterson's company, of course, possesses a built-in control: Who could possibly eat an entire case of Lemonheads?

Over at Kraft — which, with its gauzy white curtains, pink lighting scheme and nary a snack or sweet to be seen, bears a disconcerting resemblance to a bordello — company mouthpiece Gary Washburn says he can't address his products' happiness factor or lack thereof "for legal reasons." Told his line of argument was not unanticipated, he says, "Good, we don't wanna talk to you," then disappears into a tiny room at the back of the display and slams the door.

But then there is Gamer Grub, a product designed exclusively for the video-game devotee. "You just tear and tilt," instructs founder Keith Mullin. "There's no grease or crumbs on the keyboard," he elaborates. "It's a pain to hit Pause, and I got tired of wiping my hands on my shirt."

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