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Merchants tasting sweet success

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With 10 days to go before festivities begin, Olympic candymakers and sellers already are reveling in the sweet glow of sales of licensed Games confections.

Logo-wrapped chocolate squares, Olympic crystal-emblazoned saltwater taffy and the friendly icing-created faces of mascots Copper, Powder and Coal atop lollipops, candy canes, bubble gum and finger puppets are proving a hit with locals and visitors alike.

The reception is good news for retailers, since it will take a candy-eating marathon to consume the 218-mile sugar swath that could be created by the 4.6 million pieces of saltwater taffy already produced to satisfy the Olympic sweet tooth.

Locally owned Alpine Confections, which holds the Salt Lake Organizing Committee license to produce Olympic-themed sweets, already has nearly met its original goal of $300,000 in sales and now guesses it will collect roughly $500,000 by the time the last tasty morsel is sold.

"SLOC bought a whole bunch themselves to keep their employees and volunteers well-sugared," said Tyler Carlson, Olympic sales and marketing specialist for Kencraft Candy wholesalers, owned by Alpine Confections.

"The employees feel a lot of pride," Carlson said of the handmade hard candy designs produced by Kencraft in its Alpine factory, which will be open for tours throughout February. "It's kind of fun, especially since we're a local company, to be involved in the Olympic process."

As of Monday, Kencraft had turned out nearly 84,000 pieces of its Olympic hard candy designs and finger puppets. Sister company Dynamics Chocolates in Vancouver has produced more than 1.5 million Belgium chocolate squares wrapped in Olympic emblem or mascot themes.

"We do get a smile, but I'm not sure if it's the Olympics or the chocolate," joked Will Keesen, manager of the downtown Market Street Grill, which serves up the souvenir chocolates with each coffee drink.

Mascot lollypops and boxed saltwater taffy in 10 Olympic flavors are the top sellers so far.

"They've been hot for six months," said Joe Weakland, owner of the Candy Barrel in Crossroads Mall. Always a favorite with out-of-town visitors, Olympic-themed saltwater taffy was an especially big holiday item, he said. "It's by far my biggest seller."

Weakland, an enthusiastic Olympic supporter, carries the full line of Games candy. But he wishes he could predict what will most appeal to foreign visitors two weeks from now.

"It's going to be a guessing game," he said. "I wish I knew. If I knew what they wanted, I'd be a rich man."

"We intend to introduce a lot of people to saltwater taffy while they're in town over the next month," said Ken DuVall, vice president of sales for Salt Lake City's Sweet Candy Co., hired by Alpine Confections to produce the taffy line. "We hope that people from all over the world will try it."

Sweet, the country's largest producer of saltwater taffy, created four new taffy designs to add to its six biggest-selling flavors for its Olympic line. Located in Salt Lake since 1900, the company is privately owned and run by the Sweet family.

Still in the final stages of production, the crystal Olympic emblem-wrapped taffy has consumed 171 hours of production time spread over 13 machines creating the whipped nougat morsels at a rate of 450 pieces a minute, DuVall said.

The range of sugary souvenirs are a unique niche but ultimately will be only a small percentage of each company's yearly business.

"It's kind of like the frosting on the cake, but it's not the cake," said Kencraft's Carlson. "It's a great way to start off our fiscal year."

E-MAIL: moneill@desnews.com