Weak Peppermint Harvest, Supply Chain Issues Lead To Candy Cane Shortage

by Jennifer Shea

As if you needed more pandemic-related bad news, here comes a candy cane shortage, just in time for Christmas.

The shortage is thanks to supply chain problems from the pandemic and a decade-long decline in peppermint production that got worse last year. Between those two contributing factors, candy canes are hard to come by in some areas of the country this holiday season.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, peppermint production has been steadily falling nearly every year except 2019 for the past decade, and it experienced a particularly steep drop in 2020.  

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence from some retailers suggests that candy canes are in short supply this year and are flying off the shelves quickly when they are in stock.

Iconic New York Candy Store Sells Out of Candy Canes

At a New York City candy store that’s been in business since 1937, candy canes are just plain out of stock. The store’s owner told the New York Post that this is the first time they’ve run out of the striped, sugary Christmas classic.

“We only received half of our candy cane order for the holiday season and sold out almost immediately,” Mitchell Cohen, the owner of Economy Candy on the Lower East Side, told The Post. “We currently have zero in stock. Raw material and ingredient shortages globally have had quite an impact.”

“Since candy canes were invented, we’ve had candy canes,” Cohen added.

Peppermint production in the U.S. has declined from 6.57 million pounds in 2011 to 4.98 million pounds last year, a 1.59 million-pound drop that is apparently being felt now in tandem with the supply chain issues cited by Cohen.

The Post surveyed New York retailers and found that while some said they had enough candy canes, others were running out of stock quickly.

The Candy Cane Dates Back Centuries

But where do candy canes come from, and how did they become such an integral part of the Christmas season?

Candy canes date back about 350 years. The original candy cane was just white, straight, and flavored with sugar, according to CandyHistory.net.

Then, in 1670, a German choirmaster bent the white sticks into the shape of shepherd’s hooks. He handed them out to children who attended holiday services. The practice soon spread across church services in Europe and into ones in America.

By the early 1900s, the hook-shaped canes began appearing on Christmas cards. But the canes didn’t acquire their trademark red stripes until the turn of the 19th century. The addition of red stripes coincided with the addition of peppermint flavoring to the canes.

Up until the 1950s, people continued to produce candy canes by hand, and it was a slow, difficult process. Then Gregory Keller invented a machine to automate candy cane production. His company, Bob’s Candies (named for his brother-in-law, who gave out candy canes as Christmas treats), has been in business for more than eight decades, and it became the first company to mass-produce candy canes and sell them across the globe.

Keller could scarcely have imagined all those years ago that candy canes would become such a popular Christmas treat. But with luck, the candy cane shortage, like the supply chain crisis, will be short-lived.