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What Are the World's Most Popular Candies?

If you've ever tried to find a Snickers bar in Saigon or Hershey's Kisses in Paris, you were out of luck. While such American favorites as Coca-Cola (KO), Big Macs, and Marlboros can be bought in just about every major city in the world, Americans looking to satisfy a sweet tooth overseas must choose from among such exotic brands as Flake, Freddo, and Curly Wurlys.

The global confectionery market accounted for $150 billion in retail sales in 2008, according to international market researcher Euromonitor. And it's a market that has grown steadily over the past five years at a 5% compound annual rate. The U.S. is the world's largest candy consumer, spending more than $8.8 billion on various sweets last year, a 2% increase over 2007. On average, Americans consume about 25 lb. of candy per capita annually, according to the Census Bureau.

The rest of the world likes its sweets, too. As industry experts will tell you, confectionery is broken up into three categories: chocolate, nonchocolate, and chewing gum. Chocolate is by far the largest, with a 55% of the total, while gum holds only a 14% stake but is the fastest-growing segment.

Switzerland is the reigning chocolate champ, where per capita consumption is 25 lb. a year. Britain comes in second, eating 19.4 lb., and Belgium third at 19.1. (The U.S., by comparison, seems positively abstemious with an average consumption of 11.6 lb., although we apparently like to load up on plenty of other sweets instead.)

Chewing Away Cravings So what are the chocolates and candies that people like to eat most around the world? As June is national candy month, BusinessWeek collaborated with Euromonitor to compile a list of the top-selling candy and gum brands in 25 countries. The list includes some familiar names such as M & Ms, which are the best-selling candy in the U.S. as well as worldwide. But it also includes some little-known brands such as Colombia's Jet and Ukraine's Roshen, that are top sellers only in their home countries. And some of the world's best-known candies—Snickers and Kit Kat, for example—didn't make the list because they're not No. 1 in any of the countries surveyed. For the record, Euromonitor says Snickers is No. 2 in sales worldwide behind M & Ms (sweet news for Mars, which makes both of them), followed by Trident gum, made by Cadbury Schweppes. The Kit Kat bar, made by Nestlé, and Wrigley's Orbit gum, owned by Mars, round out the global Top 5.

One surprise is the growing popularity of chewing gum—even in countries such as France, where Hollywood gum outsells more traditional sweets such as truffes au chocolat.A key reason behind the surge is the tough anti-tobacco stances that many governments around the world are taking. Increasingly unable to smoke indoors or looking for a cigarette alternative, many smokers are taking up chewing gum.

The global economic downturn may have caused many consumers to cut discretionary spending, but candy proves to be an exception. Nielsen categorizes candy as among the top five recession-proof foodstuff categories, alongside seafood, dry pasta, beer, and pasta sauce. "People have a special relationship with candy, especially those who have grown up with it," says Michael Allured, publisher of Manufacturing Confectioner, a trade magazine. "It's comforting and relatively inexpensive."

Sweets skirmishesThe candy business is dominated by global giants. For years Britain's Cadbury (CBY) battled it out for the top spot with Nestlé (NSRGY) based in Vevey, Switzerland. But the April 2008 acquisition by privately held Mars of Chicago chewing gum maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. for $23 billion propelled Mars from No. 5 in 2001 to No. 1 in 2008.

Emerging markets have seen particular growth in recent years, leading some multinationals to more aggressively penetrate these markets in an effort to increase their market share. Yet while the biggest companies and brands enjoy supremacy in multiple markets—Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar, for example, is the best-seller in Australia, Britain, and India—they still enjoy only a 42% market share worldwide. That leaves smaller, local manufacturers like Hsu Fu Chi International in China and Tiger Brands (TBSJ.DE) in South Africa to enjoy dominant market share in their home countries.

Read on to find out what are the world's best-selling candies—and it won't even give you any cavities.

Deprez is a reporter for Bloomberg News in New York. Follow her on Twitter @esmedeprez.

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