The British capital’s busiest shopping area is now a haven for sweet tooths with a taste for American candy.
In less than a square mile there are now nine mega candy stores, with names like American Candy World, American Candy Land, Candy Surprise and Kingdom of Sweets — which claims to be the first of its kind.
You don’t have to look too hard to find them. With some of the highest retail rents in the city, they stand out for their bright colors and elaborate designs. One even makes sure the sensory overload is complete by piping out the sweet-smelling aroma of bubblegum to entice customers inside.
Shokofeh Hejazi, a food trends expert, calls the craze — first reported in Time Out — “edible escapism.”
“Consumers are looking for comfort and nostalgia these days,” she said, adding that they have a “strong sense of borrowed nostalgia” from the States.
“They grew up watching American TV and films and watched their favorite characters eating things like Twinkies, Pop-Tarts, Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s chocolate,” she said.
It's not just London: Demand for American sweets has skyrocketed throughout the U.K., particularly during the last year.
Hancocks, a British confectionery wholesaler with the biggest range of U.S. brands in the U.K., said they saw a significant spike in demand for American sweets and snacks in the last year.
“Over the last 12 months we’ve seen a notable increase in demand for American confectionery,” the wholesaler that sells to over 25,000 independent retailers told the trade journal Confectionery Production in June. “We have been stocking brands from the U.S. for over 20 years and over the last 12 months have seen a big increase in demand.”
This sort of demand is driving some convenience stores, known locally as “newsagents,” to specialize in American candy.
When Faizal Ravat, 30, took over ownership of a small store in the hip East London neighborhood of Stoke Newington about three years ago, he tried several other business ideas — from a typical British grocer to an organic Whole Foods model — before landing on American candy and snacks.
“Once we got into candies, we had people coming and saying, ‘Hang on, where are the snacks?'”
Now Hollywood Candy is a full-blown American candy and junk food emporium.
His stock of retro American candy and junk food would be impressive if his shop was in New York City, nevermind a corner of London. His offering includes everything from Hostess Sno Balls to Cap'n Crunch to Froot Loops to Jello mix.
Now he’s got customers — both kids and adults — who come from other cities miles away just to get their sugar or snack food fix.
One diehard fan comes every two weeks, bicycling or jogging from Battersea Park, a neighborhood about 8 miles away in southwest London, Ravat said. The man fills up a knapsack with American groceries and candy.
“He loves Reese’s!” he said.
On the other side of the city in the suburb of Kew, Pav Singh, 25, also recently converted part of the convenience store he runs with his father to stock more American candy.
“I have run a business for almost 7 to 8 years, it’s all about keeping up with the trends,” he said.
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Both Singh and Ravat also credit social media trends for the upsurge in interest for American candy, particularly a series of TikTok challenges, like the #JellyFruitChallenge craze, which saw social media users sucking and swallowing a jelly straw at the same time and has had over 101 million views. Another featured people biting into oversized gummies.
Once the challenges go viral they said people come into their stores asking for specific candies.
“Whatever is trending will always run through,” Singh said. “Platforms like TikTok have given American candy a boost.”
Ravat said he keeps up with the trends through his kids and his own social media presence.
He said the biggest sellers are Sour Patch Kids, Mike & Ike and Swedish Fish. “Sour, especially kids, they tend to go for sour,” he said.
However, that jolt of American nostalgia will cost you. A small bag of Reese’s Pieces costs 1.49 pounds, or $2.04.
That’s more than twice as much as a typical British chocolate bar would run you at about 0.79 pounds, or $1.08.
That’s how Ravat, who has never been to the U.S., is really living the American dream.
“When we started and we were a newsagent, we were dead,” he said. At the time, he said the total sales per customer was about 2 pounds ($2.73) and now it’s 8 to 10 pounds ($10.93- $13.66).
“I just wish I had a bigger shop,” he said.