In the timeless children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (author of another childhood fave: James and the Giant Peach), candy-making mogul Willy Wonka strives to create original confections for kids the world over. And he succeeds above and beyond his (and his father’s, per director Tim Burton’s version) wildest dreams. Who can forget those Everlasting Gobstoppers?

Charlie Bucket and friends (with symbolic literary names like Augustus Gloop) have twice been brought to life on the big screen by filmmakers who were as taken with Dahl’s twisted confectionery tale as world record-holder Violet Beauregarde is with chewing gum. A few fans of the story were so obsessed with Daddy’s girl Veruca Salt that they even started a band in her name. (You may remember their 1994 hit, “Seether.”) But I digress.

I recently caught back-to-back TV airings of both the 1971 and 2005 renditions of Dahl’s cult classic, during which I was reminded of just how weird Willy Wonka’s world is. But I also was reminded of how clever his confectionery concoctions - regardless of feasibility - are. Lickable wallpaper? Fizzy lifting drinks? Edible grass? Scrumdidilyumptious bars? Gum that tastes like a three-course dinner? Not only does Wonka mix his chocolate by waterfall, but he even beats his cows (actually, the Oompa Loompas do) to make “whipped” cream.

Absurd, you say? Not so fast. After all, in the competitive real world, originality is key. It’s also one of the biggest challenges facing confectioners from here to China. Just ask Richard Griseto, vice president of sales and marketing for Chicago’s own Primrose Candy Co. On my recent tour of his company’s facility, Griseto told me this is “a very exciting time” to be a candy manufacturer. The hard candy specialist prides itself on infusing products with flavor and color in unique ways.

“We’re trying to put candy in the consumer’s mouth that’s different,” Griseto says. “We’re taking regular candy and raising the bar.”

To that end, Primrose has introduced a line of Caramel Swirls that combines the taste of candy shop caramel with flavors such as apple, pumpkin, spice cider, candy corn and chocolate peanut butter (for fall), and butter rum, chocolate peppermint, egg nog and chocolate raspberry (for the yuletide season).

But Primrose isn’t the only Chicago confectioner with new tricks up its sleeve. Over at Ferrara Pan Candy Co. in nearby Forest Park, Ill., chewy Lemonheads and liquid-center gummies define out-of-the-box thinking. The innovative manufacturer, maker of some of the most popular brands on the market, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Who knows what the next century will hold for this forward-thinking family business?

After observing some taffy pulling over at Primrose and some starch moulding over at Ferrara Pan, I began to understand why Griseteo calls candy-making a “craft.” And I’ll keep that in mind as I head to the All Candy Expo, May 20-22, where I’ll be on the lookout for “golden tickets” in the form of novel flavors, colors, shapes and packaging that will turn the heads of shoppers in your stores’ aisles. Start the search in this month’s issue of Confection & Snack Retailing.

Regardless of how the end product is produced (I saw neither waterfalls nor cows during my factory tours), I venture to say there’s a little Willy Wonka in every confectioner who’s ever thought about making a longer-lasting gum (think Stride) or a carbonated candy (think Jones Soda Sours), for example.

Of course, there’s only one Willy. That said, there’s been great debate over who portrayed him better onscreen: heartthrob Gene Wilder or the wacky Johnny Depp. Oops. As Wonka says, “Strike that. Reverse it.”

Like the character he plays, the wacky Wilder was a true originator. That said, heartthrob Depp reinvented the role. In short, each actor gave a unique depiction of the fictitious candy man children worldwide have come to know and love for his imaginative ambition. According to Wonka, “Invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation and 2% butterscotch ripple.”

Yes, Mrs. Teevee, that adds up to 105%. But who’s counting? Certainly not candy makers. They’re too busy thinking up the next hot thing. And you’ll have to visit the upcoming All Candy Expo to see just what that might be.

“Oompa Loompa Doompadee Doo!”

Deborah Cassell

casselld@bnpmedia.com

P.S. I would be remiss not to mention that Nestlé USA actually makes Everlasting Gobstoppers under the Wonka name, in addition to Wonka brand Pixy Stix, Shockers, Laffy Taffy, Nerds, and the one and only Wonka Bar. You can find these items at www.wonka.com.