NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- That fruitcake on the table and those candy canes on the tree may hang around your house until next year, but there's an entire red-and-green economy driven by these staples each holiday season.
According to the National Retail Federation, 91% of U.S. consumers put food and candy in their holiday budget -- allocating an average $95 to their mix of stocking stuffers and stuffing. Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce notes that food store sales last December outpaced the previous month's sales by more than 10%.
Holiday goodies have fattened in similar fashion this year, as November grocery sales rose nearly 1% since October (and more than 3% since last November). With grocery sales growing 2.2% year-to-date, there's more than enough room on the plate for the glut of holiday goods soaking up shelf space days after the all-Christmas radio station switched back to easy listening.
TheStreet took a look at five holiday favorites that may be in the discount aisle as you read this, but spur just as many sales as New Year's resolutions:
There are two basic recipes for egg nog: One that requires multiple ingredients and lots of effort and another that involves driving to the store, picking up a carton of yellowish dairy product and mixing the contents with whiskey. In the past decade, an increasing number of holiday-harried Americans have chosen the latter, with the International Dairy Foods Association noting that commercial egg nog production rose from 93 million pounds in 2000 to 128 million last year -- peaking at a record 132 million pounds in 2006. That's roughly 66 million quarts of creamy nonalcoholic goodness. Commercial egg nog consumption is also on the rise, with the average American quaffing 0.42 pounds of egg nog last year -- roughly a pint -- or 2.4% more than they did in 2008.
Ubiquitous and seemingly inexhaustible during the holiday season, candy canes are the holiday guest most likely to overstay their welcome. Why? Because they never stop coming.
One of the largest producers of candy canes in the nation -- Bryan, Ohio-based Spangler Candy, which also makes Dum-Dum and Saf-T-Pops lollipops -- makes 2.7 million candy canes each day. Its primary competitor, the Bobs Candies brand owned by Minnesota-based Farley's & Sathers, has been producing more than 2 million candy canes daily since the 1980s.
Though candy canes are one of the first items to get a markdown sticker once the Christmas presents are unwrapped, they're also one of the most useful. Bobs, for example, encourages taking a hammer or food processor to their hand-crafted product and using the remnants as a topping for baked goods, a stir-in for hot drinks, a fold-in for ice cream or as a garnish for the rim of a glass of the stiff drink of your choice.
Mass-market holiday candy:
Sure, they're available year-round, but Hershey's (HSY) - Get Report Kisses and Mars' M&M's become a holiday mainstay once dressed in their red-and-green seasonal finery. Last year, red-, green- and silver-foiled Kisses, nutcracker-shaped Cookies and Creme bars and York Peppermint Pattie gift boxes helped increase holiday sales 2.2% from 2008.
(HSY) - Get Report This year, with the National Confectioners Association saying 89% of adults included candy in their holiday shopping, Hershey sweetened the pot by adding Cookies and Creme Santas and Kisses Santa Hats. Mars, meanwhile, keeps its sales and production private but made its push for holiday sales very public by promoting personalized holiday M&Ms in 20 colors and $22 to $50 holiday gift packages.
It's possible to get this dessert/dwelling after the holiday season, but what's the point? The frosting makes a great snow, the nonpareils make nice snow-sprinkled shingles and gingerbread gets tougher to swallow as temperatures rise.
(HSY) - Get Report That said, most consumers build them while they can and bakers such as the D'Orsi family at Winchester and Wakefield, Mass.-based Gingerbread Construction Co. become confectionery contractors. Gingerbread Construction alone builds 4,000 of its $25 to $37 houses each year. This year, the D'Orsis sold out their online stock in advance of the holiday and needed a police detail for holiday pickup. Even if tracts of gingerbread houses end up going stale this holiday season, the concept hasn't.
Fruitcake is to the holiday joke book what New Jersey is to late-night monologues: a frequent and often unfairly targeted punching bag for bad comedians in need of a comic crutch. Think the fruitcake is a dated, inedible holiday relic? You're in worse company than a Jersey critic at a Springsteen concert.
(HSY) - Get Report In Claxton, Ga., Claxton Fruit Cakes alone cranks out 6 million pounds of its raisin, pineapple, cherry, walnut, almond, lemon and orange peel concoction, with the Parker family cutting 11-pound loaves into $19 to $62 combos of one-pound slices. With a five-pound loaf going for $50 -- including a holiday tin -- the oft-mocked fruitcake is an eight-figure industry.
As a Claxton representative told us, "If that many people are buying them, someone has to be eating them." Damn right.