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Generations of Sweetness at the Philadelphia National Candy,Gift and Gourmet Show


“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”  Well, chocolate covered lions and tigers and bears that is, all on display at The Philadelphia National Candy, Gift and Gourmet Show. If you have a sweet tooth, it just got a whole lot sweeter. With samples everywhere of chocolate covered almonds, chocolate covered pretzels, chocolate covered raisins, chocolate covered caramels, chocolate filled martini glasses—and oh yes, did I mention they have chocolate? And that’s not all, there’s much more, in addition to chocolate, everywhere, there are lollipops, candy canes, liquorish, gift boxes, baskets and candy tins that decorate the halls of the Atlantic City Convention Center. Chocolate

The show, in its 60th year, opens its doors to over 220 exhibitors displaying their best candies to an expected 3,000 attendees in the candy-industry from exotic places such as Venezuela, Switzerland, Japan, Hawaii, Canada, China and Mexico.

Now, if you’re trying to figure out when you’re attending this Candyland, here’s the bad news—it’s not open to the public. Francis Cox Jr., President of Dorothy Cox's Chocolates in Massachusetts and the Chairman of the Philadelphia National Gift & Gourmet Show explains, “This is a trade show basically for the people that are in the industry. We have a complete line of anywhere from chocolate and ingredients to finished products to packaging for the whole industry.” He also adds, “For attending, you get to see what’s new in the industry, new and creative ideas of how somebody else uses or sells the same product that you have.”

Fortunately, we were allowed in and had a special sneak peak. Cox shared a little history about candy-making in Philadelphia! The City of Brotherly Love has played a key role in the candy business through the years. “Candy making in the city of Philadelphia was probably in the top 10 (ranking) of the country for areas,” he says, “Years ago I would have to say it was number one, but other areas have grown slightly larger such as Buffalo and other areas like that, but Philadelphia is probably, I would even say in the top five.”

The Retail Confectioners Association of Philadelphia Incorporated was founded in 1949 by a few local suppliers who made candy displays at the Christmas and Easter RCAP meetings. The show proved to be a huge success. Originally it was housed in Philadelphia’s Broadwood Hotel then and the Ben Franklin Hotel. Each year the show continued to grow and in 1961 it was moved to the Exhibit Hall of the Sheraton, which is now Philadelphia’s Suburban Station. In 1984 to accommodate the shows continued growth and expansion, it was relocated to the Valley Forge Convention Center. By then, 85 exhibitors were showing, many with multi-booth displays. Officials say attendance soared into the thousands and by 1989 floor space had doubled again. So, in 2006 the show moved to The Atlantic City Convention Center to accommodate all exhibitors on one show floor and provide a destination for attendees to integrate business, networking opportunities and fun into their visit to the show. Jack Asher

Today seven original exhibitors continue to have a display at the show including Pennsylvania’s own: Asher’s Chocolates. The company has been in business for four generations. Jack Asher, the President of Asher’s Chocolates, Lewistown, Incorporated says his grandfather, Chester Asher, a Scottish farm boy left Canada and worked briefly for a candy factory in Boston. With a mind for business and a passion for confections, Chester decided to start his own business and in 1892, he founded the Asher’s candy making business in Center City Philadelphia. As time went on the Asher business grew. In the 1990’s Asher purchased 31 acres of farmland in Souderton, Pennsylvania and built a 125,000 square foot factory, shipping center, executive offices and a retail store. Asher explains, “In the meantime we bought a plant up in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, which I run and we do a lot of specialty things up there—a lot of hand work up there which we don’t do in the main plant because we have a lot of machinery in the main plant.”

In addition to selling their famous Chocolate-Carmel candies, Asher says everyone likes something different. “Our biggest seller is Almond Butter Crunch, other than that, we have a lot of things: Butter Creams, Marshmallows a lot of barks like Almond Bark and then from there really just a variety of things, as my brother says, ‘Too many thing!’ But we sell it and we make money, so that’s what counts.”

As the holiday season nears, if you’re looking for delicious candy to serve, give as a gift or nibble on yourself, just remember Asher’s has been creating sweetness for generations.