Twizzlers or Red Vines? Never has a confectionery question so divided the masses. While researching this month’s licorice trends feature, I took an unscientific poll of my co-workers and Facebook friends regarding their preferences and was bombarded with responses.

“When I crave licorice, I crave Twizzlers!” writes KeleMarie.

“Definitely Red Vines - they are softer and have a better flavor, and they remind me of the concession stand at my high school basketball games!” asserts Kelsey.

“Twizzlers, hands done,” Roz says. “Whether fresh or stale, the consistency is to my liking …”

“Red Vines,” Keri states. “They taste good even when they get a little hard.”

“Twizzlers!” Katie exclaims. “They (Twizzlers Nibs) remind me of road trips.”

“Definitely Red Vines,” Courtney opines. “I like the cherry flavor, the soft texture, and eating Red Vines always reminds me of going to the movies.”

“WEIRD, I’m eating licorice right now!” replies Adrienne, who prefers Red Vines.

“Twizzlers, of course!” Melissa says. “Why? Because they make mouths happy!”

You get the picture.

Twizzlers and Red Vines are the two top-selling licorice brands, but there’s a great divide between them in terms of dollar sales - $133 million, to be exact. Although The Hershey Co.’s Twizzlers brand outpaces American Licorice Co.’s Red Vines brand at retail, you wouldn’t know it to talk to dedicated fans of the latter.

“Consumers are very brand loyal, with a distinct regional split between Red Vines in the West and Twizzlers in the East,” says Michael Kelly, consumer communications manager for American Licorice, which began producing Red Vines in the San Francisco Bay area in the early 1920s. “While Red Vines are distributed in all fifty states, it’s only in the last few years that we’ve begun to advertise nationally and use social media channels to connect with consumers back East.”

For example, American Licorice built a product locator tool on its Facebook page (, where it also allows its 16,000 followers to make comments and take video tours of its production line.

Red Vines now has another site,, where visitors can post positive messages and help “grow the vine” for a chance to win a trip around the globe. “The world could use a little more Red Vines,” the site declares.

Twizzlers also embraces social media. Currently, more than 56,500 people “like” the brand’s page (, which features discussion boards, commercials and fan photos.

Hershey used to the site to launch its 2010 Twizzlers Irresistible Summer Road Trip to promote Twizzlers Sweet & Sour Filled Twists. The eight-market tour traveled to family festivals, sporting events and beaches, distributing samples and engaging consumers with music, games and prizes. Twizzlers Crew members wore Twizzler backpacks accented with 8-ft.-tall Twizzlers replicas and sampling trays with built-in iPods. The team encouraged passersby to dance in a Twizzler Twist-Off, which they recorded, awarding them jump ropes, cooler bags, backpacks and pool toys. The best moves will be compiled into a video for Facebook and YouTube.

But Twizzlers and Red Vines aren’t the only players in the field. Over the past couple of years, licorice has leapt from staid segment to innovative confectionery category through the introduction of premium varieties and the import of Australian-style products. Even private label producers are onboard, coming in at No. 8 on IRI charts with $6.7 million in sales for the latest 52 weeks ending July 11. Top-sellers also include Good & Plenty, Wonka Kazoozles, Rips, Darrell Lea and Panda.

As for my informal poll, Twizzlers was the victor. But Red Vines lovers fought hard. As an executive at a competing company puts it, “Red Vines eaters know that they are dominated by Twizzlers, and they don’t care.” Let the battle of the brands continue.

Sidebar: Make Mine Black  

“Gross.” “Terrible.” “Wouldn’t touch the stuff.” “The only person I know who likes it is my grandpa.” “Boo.”

Few confections get as bad a rap as black licorice.

Take the aforementioned comments, made by participants in my survey of co-workers and Facebook friends - hardly a cross-section of America, but no less vocal about what they do and don’t like.

However, those who love black licorice really love it. Take my father, who gets to enjoy my product samples, and my colleague, editor Bernie Pacyniak, who won’t even eat the “red” kind.

As true connoisseurs know, there’s no such thing as “black” and “red”; there is only the former, original flavor. The average consumer of authentic licorice does skew older; that said, grandpa isn’t the only fan.

“Generally, children do not like black licorice,” notes Ron Love, ceo of Molly Loves Candy, maker of the Chateau D’Lanz brand - a traditional product containing real licorice and anise. As for adults, 30% absolutely love licorice, and 70% avoid it, Love says, adding that when he acquired his company, he didn’t know this and thought he’d made a huge mistake: “Then I thought … I think I’d like to have a population of 100 million people who like my product.”

As for the “red” stuff …

“The public thinks that they’re eating licorice, but it’s not,” Love asserts. “It’s just candy.”