Chocolate-covered cinnamon bears? How an unlikely treat became a Utah obsession.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chocolate cinnamon bears head down the production line at Sweet Candy Co., in Salt Lake City. The candy recently has become a sweet obsession in Utah.

Chocolate cinnamon bears are red and spicy, chewy and sweet — a uniquely irresistible combination that Utahns love on Valentine’s Day and beyond.

“They are really good,” said Maddi Luczak, a student at Brigham Young University. “The cinnamon is hot and the chocolate is sweet and it kind of subdues the spice.”

Plain red gummy candies — flavored with cinnamon and shaped like a cuddly teddy bear — have been around since the 1920s, says Rachel Sweet with Salt Lake City’s Sweet Candy Co. It wasn’t until the 1990s that someone decided to introduce the edible animal to milk chocolate.

“We had a vice president of sales that thought everything tasted better with chocolate on it,” Sweet said, so the company sent its already-popular red bears through the chocolate enrobing machine.

“People liked them,” she said of the original chocolate bears. “But we didn’t do a good job marketing them. We didn’t even package them under our own brand.”

Chocolate cinnamon bears remained relatively obscure until four years ago, when Sweet Candy Co. purchased equipment that packaged candy in stand-up plastic pouches.

Since then, sales have taken off. Sweet Candy produces about 1 million pounds of chocolate cinnamon bears annually. The candy is sold in buik-size bags at Costco, Walmart, Smith’s Food & Drug, Associated Food Stores, Harmons and other smaller specialty stores.

The chocolate version hasn’t taken over regular cinnamon bears, as Sweet Candy Co. sells about 4 million pounds of those each year.

Sweet Candy Co. doesn’t claim to be the first company to make chocolate cinnamon bears, but it is one of the few companies “that have the two large pieces of equipment needed to make them,” she said.

At its factory, the jelly machine (which makes the bears) and the chocolate enrober sit side-by-side. They are the same pieces of equipment used to make Sweet’s popular orange and raspberry sticks.

Because the machines have a double use, “we are limited in how many chocolate cinnamon bears we can produce,” said Sweet. “So we are often out of stock.”

While Sweet Candy distributes throughout the nation, chocolate cinnamon bears are clearly a taste made for Utah and the Intermountain West.

“Cinnamon is a regional flavor,” Sweet said. “It’s not popular in the Great Lakes area or even the East Coast.”

Finding love in Provo • Chocolate cinnamon bears have a cult-like following at Brigham Young University, said Mark Clegg, manager of the BYU Store.

The Provo campus store sells about 20,000 (1-pound) bags of the chocolate cinnamon bears each year, or “about 1 million individual bears,” he said.

That’s more than double the 10,000 pounds of homemade fudge the BYU Store makes and sells annually.

Regular cinnamon bears are available at the store, too. “But the chocolate outsells them about 50 to 1,” said Clegg.

The flavor combination is the reason. “It’s two solid flavors melded together,” he said, noting that students purchase the majority of the bears in to-go packages called “Bear Hugs.”

BYU has also made the treat an international favorite, Clegg said. The BYU store ships to 143 countries, and it’s not unusual for customers to buy a logo sweatshirt or hat and then add a bag of chocolate cinnamon bears.

Faculty and staff buy them, too, putting them in a bowl at the reception desk. Or, as in the Linguistic and English Language Department, giving them to the guest writers, editors and agents who speak in the Editing 421 class.

“When I tell them it’s chocolate cinnamon bears, they usually think it’s odd,” said Lorianne Spear, the graduate program manager. Then they try one. “I’ve had some guest lecturers snack on them while they’re talking to students.”

Spear said the chocolate bears fit with the BYU brand. “We’re known for sugar,” she said. “We have BYU fudge, ice cream and cinnamon bears.”

Utah author Carol Lynch Williams, who teaches Editing 421, agrees. “Ice cream and chocolate cinnamon bears,” she joked, “they’re alcohol for Mormons.”