Sugar Policy Leaves Bitter Taste in LifeSavers' Mouth

LifeSavers is about to leave a huge hole in Holland, Mich.-- after 35 years, the suck-on candy plant is moving its operation to Canada.

"You'd never imagine a plant like this leaving the city of Holland. This is Holland. LifeSavers: that's what everyone thinks of Holland, Michigan," said John Drueke, president of Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local #822.

Parent company Kraft says the move is largely over the price of sugar.

Candy makers say they are getting hurt by the federal government's sugar policy. While import tariffs and federal subsidies protect sugar cane and sugar beet farmers, they also drive up the U.S. sugar price to more than twice the world market price.

"If all consumers knew that they are paying double the world price of sugar because of a government sugar program I think they would be much more outraged," said Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association.

Another candy company, Brach, is moving its Chicago plant to Argentina to get at cheaper sugar. Graham said up to 100,000 jobs are in jeopardy.

But sugar growers say they are being made into scapegoats.

"A pack of LifeSavers costs 60 cents. I calculated the amount of sugar in that pack of LifeSavers and it's one cent," said Jack Roney, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance.

Roney says the real reason candy makers are moving factories out of the United States is not cheaper sugar, but cheaper labor that reaps much higher profits.

But when Holland tried to keep the LifeSavers plant by offering a sweet, 15-year, no-tax deal worth $25 million, Kraft said no.

"By taking this operation to Canada, Kraft can save $90 million in just sugar," said Holland Mayor Al McGeehan.

With all the candy operations that have already moved out of the country, sugar growers want to know why prices have not changed.

"The candy that they bring in with the lower costs for labor and environmental standards is priced on the grocery store shelves at the same price as American candy," said Roney.

Candy makers insist there is no way to sugarcoat it -- as long as sugar prices are artificially high, the prospects of keeping candy factories in the United States have soured.