ATLANTIC CITY — The floor of the Atlantic City Convention Center on Monday was a child’s imagination realized in full.
The Philadelphia National Candy Gift and Gourmet Show offered larger-than-life displays of lollipops, licorice whips and enough chocolate to pave the Boardwalk. Or so it seemed.
But there were no kids in this makeshift candy store — not one.
“If they let children in here, you wouldn’t have a trade show left,” said Joan Sweeting, vice president of Madelaine Chocolate Co., in Rockaway Beach, N.Y.
The trade show is billed as America’s largest dedicated to retail confectioners. The association represents 300 manufacturers and distributors in the United States and Canada.
“It’s not the largest candy convention, but it’s a big deal,” President Francis Cox Jr. said.
Candy is big business in South Jersey, contributing to the state’s $40 billion tourism economy one pound of fudge or taffy at a time. The convention offers companies a chance to market new products and reach new customers.
Sweeting — that’s her real name — said Madelaine’s novelty candies are found on every Boardwalk in New Jersey: chocolate poker chips and outsized coins, foil-wrapped holiday treats and long-stemmed chocolate roses.
“We’re helping people celebrate. What’s better than that?” she said.
Despite its sugar-coating, the industry is competitive, with companies constantly trying to carve out and defend their own niche.
Kencraft Confections, based in American Fork, Utah, makes hand-pulled candy canes and hand-decorated lollipops. It has collegiate lollipops with team logos and a new line called “lollipals” with characters made from royal icing, Vice President Jeff Tillery said.
All-natural products are gaining popularity, with lollipops sweetened and colored from beet juice. Kencraft is constantly developing new products, he said.
“The company that isn’t innovating is dying a slow death,” he said.
Koppers Chocolate, in Greenwich Village, N.Y., sells its candy caviar mints, cocoa cappuccino cordials and dark-chocolate pomegranate seeds to upscale retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, representative Adriana Tejada said.
The third-generation company’s products are served at wedding receptions, formal parties and special occasions all over the world, she said.
“I like our chocolate-covered cherries,” she said. “It’s a dry cherry with rich semisweet chocolate. It’s very good.”
Candy is a discretionary good with sales that fluctuate with the economy. According to the market-research analyst IbisWorld, candy sales are poised to rebound after falling during the global recession.
“As the economy rebounds, consumers will gain more disposable income and increase spending on industry goods, especially premium chocolates,” IbisWorld said in a 2013 report.
Jerry Brenner, of Mount Vernon, N.Y., and owner of Epicure Candy Co., said people have cut back on spending for candy since the recession.
The biggest loss was seen in corporate gifts, one of the first things companies slashed in lean times, he said.
Valentine’s Day is the king of candy holidays, trade show members said. But with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hannukah still to come this year, candy businesses are saving the best for last.
“We’ll see how this year goes. The fourth quarter is our biggest in the candy business,” he said.
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