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Investors Bring Back Pop Rocks, the Carbonated Candy

January 10, 1987

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Louder than Rice Krispies, more fun than Saturday morning cartoons, a mistake turned novelty is back on candy counters six years after unsubstantiated rumors chased it away.

Pop Rocks have arrived from a new manufacturer for sampling by fresh audiences. Put the tiny granules in your mouth, and the result is like gargling with cola and holding it against one cheek.

Pop Rocks were created in 1956 by a chemist for General Foods Corp. who was trying to invent an instant soda pop. Instead, he ended up with hard carbonated candy that popped, crackled and fizzed on the tongue and palate.

″That was one fun afternoon,″ recalled William A. Mitchell, the candy’s inventor who is now retired. ″We didn’t expect that.″

General Foods, the food product giant based in White Plains, N.Y., marketed Pop Rocks for less than three years. It canceled the candy in 1980 after baseless rumors of exploding stomachs, choking children and the false report of the death of a child television star sent sales into a tailspin.

General Foods has continued to make Pop Rocks abroad for sales overseas, but spokesman Peter Acly declines to reveal any figures on those sales.

Pop Rocks release carbon dioxide when saliva melts the candy and the harmless gas is released with a snap. One package contains 10 percent of the carbon dioxide found in a 12-ounce container of soda pop, according to the manufacturer.

″Pop Rocks cannot carbonate,″ Mitchell said. ″It does not have enough carbon dioxide.″

The candy lists its ingredients as sugar, lactose (a white sugar), artificial coloring and flavoring and carbon dioxide.

General Foods says it sold 500 million packets of Pop Rocks in the United States in the 18 months before the rumors cut the ground from under the candy. The company saw its profit plunge 24 percent in the final quarter of 1979 because of slumping sales of the candy.

Confections remain an enticing market, however. In 1985, Americans ate nearly 19 pounds of candy and chocolate per person and wholesalers shipped $7.12 billion worth of sweets to meet the demand, according to industry figures. Retail sales are expected to top $11 billion in 1986.

Enter two investors, one from Illinois, one from New York. In mid-1985 they bought a license from General Foods to make Pop Rocks, obtained U.S. Food and Drug Administration sanction for the product’s safety and formed Carbonated Candy Ventures in this city at the western end of New York state.

The investors, who prefer to remain unidentified, paid ″a substantial amount″ for the domestic manufacturing and marketing rights and will pay General Foods royalties from sales, said Mary O’Brien, the new company’s vice president and general manager.

″Pop Rocks is the only candy out there that is an action candy. It is entertaining,″ said O’Brien, a 13-year veteran of three leading candy and confectionary companies. ″It is the only candy you can give a child and get them to laugh.″

The company chose Buffalo because it could rent space to install its manufacturing facilities at a regional food products company.

With 35 employees, Carbonated Candy Ventures started test marketing Pop Rocks in New England and the Dakotas in November and scheduled a four-month test beginning in late January on shelves in fad-provoking California.

The new Pop Rocks sell for 40 cents for less than one-fifth an ounce of candy.

By early December, O’Brien said, the company had shipped 1 million packets to California and Arizona and was forced to allocate shipments to distributors so there would be sufficient candy for all.

″If it maintains current demand, I’ll have to expand manufacturing,″ O’Brien said. ″I could not have asked for a better response from the trade.″

Shelly Grossman, a spokeswoman for the industry’s National Candy Wholesalers Association, said demand for candy in general has increased steadily in recent years.

″It’s a very strong market and there’s still a lot more potential in the U.S. for increased confection sales,″ Grossman said. ″Any time you bring back, or you introduce new products - and re-introductions are like new products - that’s the lifeblood of the candy industry. You’ve got to keep having new products coming out.″

Test marketing of Pop Rocks has found that while the anticipated target audience of 9-to 14-year-olds like the candy, so do high school and college- age people, the maker says. The older group remembers the candy from when they were youngsters.

″They are probably going to pick it up for old time’s sake,″ O’Brien said. ″But eventually they’re going to take it home and little brother and sister are going to get it.″

″Being a mother and a grandmother I happen to like to see kids laugh,″ she said. ″When they take a pack of Pop Rocks to their peers, it’s going to cause a lot of giggling.″

So far, though only sold in limited markets, Pop Rocks are avoiding the rumors that doomed it six years ago.

″I’m finding that all of the rumors that involved Pop Rocks before aren’t happening again,″ O’Brien said. ″They were never able to pin down why they happened, it’s enough to know they did happen.″

End Adv Weekend Editions Jan. 10-11