Candy maker turns to caramel popcorn to sweeten winter

Pru Sowers

You may envy a candy maker’s life but when it comes to the business end of the business, all is not sweetness and light.

There’s the rising cost of sugar. Trying to find good staff. Coming up with the right products to attract new customers and satisfy old ones. Having to purchase expensive manufacturing equipment when you want to roll out a new confection.

And in Provincetown, there are special challenges like the fact most sweet-eating tourists desert the town for half of the year. That’s the one that particularly bothers John Cicero, owner of Cabot’s Candy, 276 Commercial St. Despite the fact he has “a nice place” in Florida and talks about retiring, the 65-year-old Cicero really only wants to work. And he also wants to hang on to his small year-round staff, who would leave for other jobs if he couldn’t keep them employed full time.

Enter Cape Cod Caramel Honey Crunch Popcorn, what Cicero believes will be the solution to his challenges. First tested on the shelves of Cabot’s Candy last summer, where he said it flew out the door, Cicero is taking his caramel popcorn to the next level by selling it nationally.

“I learned that with the equipment I had, I could make caramel popcorn. Usually for each candy you need special equipment. My twist is that I use honey, which has a stronger flavor. And it’s a fall-winter item and won’t interfere with [summer candy] production,” he said.

Cicero already sells his saltwater taffy and peanut brittle wholesale on a year-round basis. His signature boxes of Cabot’s taffy are fixtures in most East Coast airports. But the honey crunch popcorn may soon catch up to those sales. TJX Companies, which owns T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores, tried the popcorn out in some of its stores last year. The result was that the company just upped its original order from 5,000 to 30,000 half-pound bags, which it will sell under its own label. That’s going to keep Cicero and his winter staff busy for a while.

“Although we’re small we are able to fulfill the orders. You can keep people busy and keep going even though the season slows,” Cicero said.

The same vats that are used to mix Cabot’s fudge and the cold tables where that chocolate confection is poured out and cut can also be used to make the caramel corn during the winter, when the fudge business falls off. What Cicero had to do, once he learned about the product at a candy seminar he attended, was to come up with a formula that tasted good, and find a way for the 16-wheeler from TJX to back up to the store to load up the finished product.

So far, so good. Cicero has learned about the right type of popcorn to pop — called mushroom popcorn because it forms a round ball that is ideal for coating with caramel — and how to keep the coated kernels from sticking together.

“It sounds simple but it’s not,” he said proudly. “I am a professional candy maker. I can make any kind of candy. It’s exciting, the adrenalin you get when you work and produce something.”

Pru Sowers can be reached at