What happens to unsold holiday candy (and how long can you eat it)?

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Pretty soon, those red-and-green confections will disappear from retailers' shelves, but where do they go?

There’s that day in January when you go to the store and see no more festive candy canes, holiday-themed Hershey's Kisses or red-and-green colored M&Ms; the holiday-themed Whitman's Samplers, the chocolate Santas bundled in colorful foil wrappers, those chocolate "oranges" — all gone without a trace. They may be overflowing into the aisles of your local big box retailer or drugstore right now, but after the holidays are officially over, where do all of these Christmas-specific sweets end up? Are they destroyed? Given to charity? Sent to the North Pole?

If, like I did, you always thought that, come January 1, they went into hibernation in the closets of every grandmother in America — tucked in with the leftover wrapping paper and recycled gift boxes before being pulled out and dumped right back into the Christmas candy dish the next year — you may be partially right.

"Generally, stores really do sell through most of their inventory by lowering prices," said Michael Allured, publisher of candy trade magazine The Manufacturing Confectioner. "All but a very small portion is sold, the rest may go to a food pantry like Second Harvest. But every retailer has to deal with their own leftover inventory on their own."

He also has observed that manufacturers are now starting to make seasonal candies with more general motifs so that they have a longer shelf life.

"For Halloween, for example, they'll have more of a fall motif than a specific Halloween motif,” he said. “It gives the candy more staying power and keeps waste down."

Anna Lingeris, global brand manager for The Hershey Company, which makes a broad assortment of Christmas confections, from Jolly Rancher candy canes to Reese's peanut butter holiday trees (the best-sellers are still those classic Hershey’s Kisses dressed up in festive holiday hues), told TODAY.com that, "We only make as much as we already have orders for. Generally, product leftover from the holiday season is discounted per the retailer; however, The Hershey Company does donate a portion of unsold candy to various organizations including Feeding America, Operation Blessing and others."

"When it comes to seasonal products, we don't even make any Christmas-specific products unless we already have an order for it," explained Tom Ward, president of Russell Stover, which also produces Whitman's. Ward says if the company does end up with extra inventory, due to a retail customer purchasing a smaller quantity than originally promised, they’ll send the excess to their own Russell Stover retail stores, mark it down and eventually it may end up at a food pantry or the Salvation Army. But once the retailer purchases the candies, that retailer is responsible for moving the product.

Of course, once December 25 has passed — and often before — the price-slashing begins as stores pull out the big discounts in order to move inventory. And, interestingly, all of the retailers we contacted said the pre-and-post-Christmas sale prices, along with careful buying practices, were enough to make the candy disappear.

A spokesperson for Walmart stores said that they typically sell out of all of their holiday candy, discounting it after Christmas and allowing stores to keep it on sale at their discretion. Target had an almost identical response. At Walgreens, the candy also magically disappears thanks to sale pricing. And at Family Dollar stores, roughly 75 percent of the holiday candy stock is sold before Christmas and the rest sold after.

So what about folks who are buying those candies after Christmas and archiving them, along with discounted wrapping paper, for the next year? Do they really last and, more importantly, will they still taste good?

When it comes to items like Hershey's Kisses, the candy buy-and-hoard contingent is in luck.

"They generally have a shelf life of up to 11 months,” Lingeris said. “Chocolate products will maintain their quality if stored in a cool, dry place (55-60 degrees F)."

As for the swankier gift boxes? Not so much. "The Russell Stover and Whitman's boxes all have a customer-facing 'best by' code," said Ward. "They're different depending on the item, but the seasonal samplers, for example, are generally good for two months after the holiday season. After this date, we request that the retailer no longer sell the product."

Allured agrees you won't want to keep them, or any other higher-end box chocolates for very long, as the quality deteriorates quickly. "The center fillings will lose their flavor and with more expensive chocolates that use heavy cream, they can eventually spoil."

Your best bet for long-term candy storage? Hard candy. When the apocalypse comes, it sounds like it's going to just be the cockroaches and… candy canes.

"Things like candy canes or ribbon candy are good for well over a year, up to five years possibly. The sugar creates a matrix that holds it all together," said Allured. This is as long as you store it in a cool, dry place: "Humidity is the enemy."

Ward also answered a pressing question we've always wanted to know the answer to: which side of the dividing line does he fall on when it comes to taking a nibble out of a chocolate and then putting it back if you don't like the filling?

"I think it's really rude!" he said. So there you have it, straight from the president of the company.

Kirsten Henri loves any kind of chocolate with a coconut center, but thinks the ones filled with fruit should be considered punishment, not dessert.

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Discuss this post

I was in a Rite Aid the day after Christmas last year and watched two employees tear off the holiday wrapping from some boxed chocolates and re-wrap them with Valentine's Day paper. All I could do was shake my head. (And swear to buy confections only at a business that makes them buy hand!)

    Reply#1 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:11 AM EST

    MANY years ago, I worked at a Woolco. They would store the unsold chocolates in the back of the store until the next year - if it didn't sell then, they'd dump it. Hard candies were stored much longer. Yes, sometimes the chocolates would get "buggy." (I still can't eat a Rollo's.)

    Note - all of this was before the big discount stores (like Family Dollar, etc.) and before the charities were so prevelent.

      Reply#2 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:37 AM EST

      I buy expired candy on the flea markets all the time. As long as it is not more than a year past expiration I never had anything even remotely gone bad.

      • 3 votes
      Reply#3 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:19 AM EST

      Wait until we get to the subject of Fruitcakes...

      Now, they make the rounds.

        Reply#4 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:32 AM EST

        I went into a Walmart the day after Halloween one year to pick up some discount candy. Everything was gone. I talked to an assistant store manager who happened to be nearby. He told me that as soon as the doors opened that morning they had Hutterites come in and buy up everything they had. They told him that they fed it to the pigs to fatten them up.

        • 1 vote
        Reply#5 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:49 AM EST

        My parents are still eating chocolate from 3 years ago, it still tastes fresh (they keep it refrigerated though). My candy canes from 2 years ago are all gooey, I use them for my tree but there's no way I'm going to eat them.

          Reply#6 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 11:59 AM EST

          These candy canes are terrible even when fresh.

            #6.1 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:03 PM EST

            I think they grind all the leftovers up with some sticky oatmeal or granola and call them "breakfast bars".

              #6.2 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:40 PM EST

              The Hershey Company, which makes a broad assortment of Christmas confections, from Jolly Rancher candy canes to Reese's peanut butter holiday trees

              Christmas confections but a holiday tree....oookay.

                Reply#7 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 12:49 PM EST

                The candy canes that are hung on my tree every year are probably 20 years old. Every year someone will grab one and eat it. Nobody has complained or taken a bite and thrown the rest away. I don't care for hard candy so I've never tried them. They've outlasted many of my ornaments.

                • 2 votes
                Reply#8 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:01 PM EST

                Here's a good recycle: For weddings, after Valentine's Day, buy up all the hearts candy, mints, etc., and use them on candy trays. Many weddings are in the spring, and they make lovely "Be Mine" statements. The candy can be kept fresh if it is well wrapped and put in the freezer.

                We did this. It was exceedingly inexpensive, and a very nice sentiment. Also, Valentines Day is a great day to buy the stamps for the invitations. They usually have some heart motif at the post office. (They're not cheaper, but they are pretty, and you usually can't get them after the holiday.)

                • 1 vote
                Reply#9 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:02 PM EST

                Hersheys donates chocolate and other candy to food pantries?!?! Where's the outrage? Bloomberg, Michelle O, etc. should be all over this for contributing to the obesity epidemic.

                • 1 vote
                Reply#10 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:05 PM EST

                We live in AZ, so humidity is not generally an issue, but I had a friend who served Christmas M&Ms one June, and little white worms fell out among the candy when she poured it! YUCK!!!!!!!!

                  Reply#11 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:06 PM EST


                  Do you remember if they were peanut M&M's? I can't imagine worms being interested in the regular ones.

                  One time I opened a box of jellied fruit squares and a moth flew out. Then I saw several bugs in the box. They weren't expired and the box had been covered with plastic wrap. I wrote to the company and they got snarky about it. They didn't even offer me a new box.

                  • 1 vote
                  #11.1 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:23 PM EST

                  Well THANK YOU VERY MUCH for ruining my baking day!!!! :( Shizzles

                    Reply#12 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 1:28 PM EST

                    Long-term storage of any foods should be in a cold environment, like a deep freeze. If the item is well wrapped, it shouldn't draw moisture. ANY food item, that is kept in the cabinets for long periods of time can draw bugs. I put my extra sugar and flour in double ziplock bags and keep it in the freezer, too. It's just safer all the way around.

                    • 1 vote
                    Reply#13 - Tue Dec 18, 2012 3:38 PM EST

                    I called Hershey many months ago to ask about the shelf life of their Kisses. Could not get a definitive answer no matter how hard I tried. Now, I just read they have a shelf life of about 11 months, if kept in a somewhat cool environment. Why couldn't their representative just say that - plain and simple? One thing I was told very clearly that chocolate does NOT freeze well and should not be attempted. So, deep freezing Kisses, etc. is a no-no. I do freeze my large bags of all-purpose flower when I first buy it to kill any little bugs/eggs. Never had a problem.

                      Reply#14 - Wed Dec 26, 2012 9:04 PM EST
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