Chicago is well-known for many things, from the Cubs, the Bears and the Bulls to deep-dish pizza, but “Sweet Home Chicago” is also known for candy.

Since 1997 the National Confectioners Association and its member companies, retailers and other manufacturers have converged on the city for the Sweets & Snacks Expo. The annual trade event draws crowds of more than 16,000.

OPINION

But candy’s presence in Chicago doesn’t end on May 21 when the Expo ends. The industry has a strong, proud local and statewide history.

Illinois is home to more than 85 manufacturing facilities, employing about 7,500 workers, and that’s just in the manufacturing sector. Each year Illinois confectionery manufacturers ship $1.5 billion worth of chocolate, non-chocolate candy, gum and mints from these factories. Chicago is home to the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Tootsie Roll Industries, Primrose Candy Company, World’s Finest Chocolate and many more. And who hasn’t smelled the unbelievably delicious chocolate aromas wafting from The Blommer Chocolate Company’s factory in the West Loop?

The Chicago suburbs are also home to many candy plants, such as Ferrara Candy Company in Oak Brook and Haribo of America in Rosemont. Many of the industry suppliers and brokers are located here as well, as are candy wholesalers and retailers, such as The Hershey Store, Candyality and Dylan’s Candy Bar, newly opened on Michigan Avenue.

Nationwide, the confectionery industry generates $35 billion at retail and provides 70,000 jobs in more than 1,000 manufacturing facilities across the country.

In addition to being a big part of the local, state and national economy, candy is a special part of Americans’ lives. Candy and chocolate have a household penetration rate of about 98 percent – that’s higher than soap!

Most people in the U.S. enjoy candy about twice a week, averaging fewer than 50 calories per day from confectionery items. Candy accounts for about 2 percent of the average American’s overall caloric intake. While consumers are more frequently counting calories these days, they still recognize that candy is an affordable, honest, authentic, transparent and fun treat. Americans still enjoy candy in moderation as part of a happy and balanced lifestyle.

Candy is one of life’s little pleasures. Americans are tired of doom and gloom. At a time when our national dialogue is focused on economic disparities and income inequality, confectionery products make the world a happier place for everyone.

At the Sweets & Snacks Expo this week we’re celebrating the innovation that drives our industry. Our attendees will see clear calorie labels on the front of packaging and hear more about our industry’s commitment to responsible marketing. We’ll also showcase how the industry supports Chicago’s economy, and provides jobs across the country. We hope you’ll join us in recognizing that, while candy might be a small piece of our diet, it is simple pleasure in our lives, our celebrations and our traditions.

John H. Downs is the president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), the trade group representing more than 600 companies engaged in the business of confectionery.