Executive Editor Deborah Cassell gussied up for a night our on the Vegas Strip ... in between confectionery appointments, of course.


Vegas is all about the gambling, the shows, the food, the drink … and the candy. No, not eye candy (although that’s a given). I’m referring to the confectionery variety. Forget the Pussycat Dolls Lounge. Sin City is a sugar-coated destination all its own.

On a recent trek to Nevada’s most popular locale, I had the opportunity to visit three companies that are driving sweet tooth traffic to the area.

First, I stopped by The Mirage to meet with Sugar Factory co-owner Steve Davidovici. The compact store is stacked from top to bottom with goodies, fromJelly Belly beans and PEZ Dispensersto old-time candies such asRazzles and candy cigarettes. It has its own line of private label chocolates and apparel, from hats to tees. Bulk candy offerings include every confection under the sun, including the Australian-style licorice I’m so fond of. There’s even an adult novelties section. (It is Vegas, after all.)

But the main draw at Sugar Factory is itsCouture Pops: premium-priced lollis with reusable handles and replaceable heads. (You heard me.) The celebrity-endorsed suckers come in flavors ranging from creamy orange to pina colada and several styles, like the bedazzled Britney Spears Circus Tour edition, available in Big Top, Ring of Fire, Baby Pink and Charmed varieties.

Although Sugar Factory operates just one store, Davidovici and his partners plan to open two more in 2010. (Check out the January issue ofRetail Confectionerfor our exclusive Retailer Profile.) And the company recently formed a partnership with Neiman Marcus to produce a limited-edition lollipop line for the luxury retailer.

Such announcements can be found in Sugar Factory’s weekly enewsletter, which often contains photos of A-listers enjoyingCouture Popsand shopping at the Vegas hotspot. (Just days before I arrived, Britney came in and spent $3,000.) In-store advertisements feature everyone from socialite Kim Kardashian and actor Mickey Rourke to the Black-Eyed Peas and, yes, the Pussycat Dolls. (Like I said: eye candy.) Sadly, I didn’t run into anyone famous (not even one of those reality stars from “The Hills”) while there.

Next time.

Following my Sugar Factory foray, I headed down The Strip to the four-level, 28,000-sq.-ft. M&M’S World, across from Monte Carlo (my home away from home for the weekend). The store is one of three locations nationwide. (Turn to this month’s Retailer Profile for the full story.) Each is an awe-inspiring conglomeration of products featuring theM&M’S characters America has come to know and love, including my personal fave: Ms. Green. (I recently learned that she has her own Twitter account; I can’t wait to follow her.)

As a collector, I was tempted to buy everything in sight, but I stuck to postcards and stickers for my nephews. I didn’t have time to sit down and watch the 3-DM&M’S movie being shown upstairs, but I did walk through the whimsical tunnel leading to the theater, which showcases howM&M’SChocolate Candies are produced, from the ingredients stage (cocoa, milk and sugar) to the candy-coated shell process.

Raincheck.

Last but not least: Ethel’s Chocolate. Located just outside Vegas in Henderson, Nev., the company was founded by Forrest Mars Sr. (The Henderson site also is home to Mars Retail Group, which runs M&M’S World and handles licensed products for retailers nationwide.) There, consumers can take self-guided tours of the manufacturing facility, try free samples of finished product and make purchases in an on-site factory store: Ethel M’s Chocolate Shoppe. Among its newest sale items is theEthel’s Artisancollection of bean-to-bar chocolates. Consumers can choose from five handcrafted options: Madgascar Peru, Trinidad Single Origin, Venezuelan Trinidad Black, Red Vanilla Proprietary Recipe and Porcelana Single Origin.

When I told my parents I was visiting Ethel’s, they gushed so much about theEthel Mchocolate liqueurs my father (now retired) used to purchase on business trips that I had to pick them up a box. Flavor profiles range from top-shelf Irish Cream to an orangeGrand Marnier flavor (one of my dad’s favorites). I also bought three buttery pieces of the company’s signature pecan brittle, which literally melts in your mouth.

When I toldCandy Industry Editor Bernie Pacyniak I was visiting Ethel’s, he said be sure to tour its Botanical Cactus Garden. (You heard me.) One of the largest collections of its kind in the world, the four-acre landscape boasts 300 species of plants. I’m told it’s a must-see come Christmastime, when the cacti are draped in twinkling lights.

Guess I’ll have to make a trip back to Vegas sooner than I thought.

After I returned to Chicago from my sojourn in what some call the Entertainment Capital of the World, co-workers asked how the trip went - specifically, how much money I lost, if I took in any shows, what clubs I hit and where I ate.

I quickly reminded them that I was there on business.

Okay, it wasn’t all business. There was some pleasure, too. But you know what they say: What happens in Vegas …