Lollipops, essentially sugar confectionery on sticks, have traditionally been aimed at the children's market. But this is changing - adults are increasingly taking to sucking lollipops, and manufacturers and distributors are keen to encourage them.

Confectionery as a whole remains a dynamic growth market, and lollipops constitute a particularly bright segment. Annual US lollipop sales have soared in recent years to represent a market worth US$198.5m last year, up from US$137.9m in 1997 (Source: Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based market research firm).

Some argue the growth in popularity lies in the convenience of lollipops - they can be held in one hand, they don't melt or dry up, and need no special storage. To make enjoyment more convenient still, Day Spring Enterprises Inc., the Buffalo, NY, maker of Rainbow Pops Spring lollipops, recently launched the 'popstop,' a plastic prop so that consumers can safely rest their lollipops while attending to other matters, such as answering the telephone.

Manufacturers are attempting to tap into the adult market by introducing new flavours intended to appeal to the more sophisticated palate. US market leader Tootsie Roll has launched yoghurt-flavoured smoothie and hot-chocolate lollipops, while Spangler Candy recently introduced its first new flavours in five years - buttered popcorn, fruit punch and orange cream. Spangler also intends to up its Dum Dums output by 35% by the end of 2001, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Manufacturers of other types of confectionery are also keen to get in on the lollipop act. Mars Inc. expects to launch a lollipop version of its Starburst range next month, while Hershey has already introduced the Jolly Rancher lollipop.

In Europe, Spanish lollipop giant Chupa Chups has long touted its products to the adult market, although some onlookers were disconcerted to see the popularity of lollipops at raves. This is attributed to the common use of the drug Ecstasy, which makes users want to grind their teeth and chew the insides of their mouths. Sucking a lollipop helps them resist this urge.

In the UK, meanwhile, nightclub bouncers have taken to handing out lollipops as revellers leave the venue to go home. The idea is that the lollipops will prevent them talking loudly and creating an unacceptable level of noise.