• Candy Comfort

    Central Point gourmet marshmallows excel in soft market for confections
  • His is "the company that a vanilla marshmallow built," says Peter Croyle.
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  • His is "the company that a vanilla marshmallow built," says Peter Croyle.
    On that fluffy foundation, Croyle stacked dozens of new colors, flavors, shapes and sizes since moving his business from Los Angeles to Central Point three years ago. In the recent economic slide, marshmallows are cushioning the candy industry's fall, says the owner of Pete's Gourmet Confections.
    "I think marshmallows are a really good comfort food," Croyle says. "They're soft, and they don't talk back when you bite into them."
    But that doesn't mean candy companies are giving customers the same spongy stand-by. Pete's Gourmet is among the manufacturers delivering swirled, stuffed and chocolate-coated versions. Retail marshmallow sales (excluding WalMart) totaled about $146 million in 2008, up from $141 million the year before, according to market research firm Information Resources Inc.
    Last year saw the launch of chocolate-drizzled marshmallows called Zebras by Doumak Inc., the Chicago area-based maker of Campfire-brand marshmallows. For those who want their chocolate on the inside, there's GudFud's marshmallows, which debuted in 2007 and also come stuffed with grape, orange or strawberry jelly.
    Marshmallows' makeover from baking ingredient to treat is centuries in coming. According to candy lore, marshmallows date back to ancient Egypt with a sweet made from the sap of the marsh-growing mallow plant that was deemed fit for pharaohs. In the 19th century, French confectioners took the sap and whipped it with other ingredients, making a fluffier version. Eventually, gelatin replaced mallow root sap, though the name endured.
    Learning to make marshmallows the old-fashioned way in his grandmother's kitchen, Croyle, now 40, distributed them one year as holiday gifts. He toted the leftovers to Los Angeles movie and television sets, where he supervised construction. Co-workers liked the marshmallows so much they soon inundated Croyle with orders just as the "foodie" movement was renewing interest in hand-crafted, gourmet confections. His contain no artificial flavors or preservatives.
    "We actually make every single marshmallow by hand," Croyle says. "You can really tell the difference."
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