Chicago, May 21-23, 2013 – The same day the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Restaurant Show was wrapping up the Sweets & Snacks Expo was gearing up at the other side of McCormick Place in Chicago. The energy at the Sweets & Snacks Expo was a remarkable contrast with business professionals scurrying around the show with the bags of samples and the sparkle of excitement in their eyes at almost every booth.
A stunning display of couture candy style by curator Terese McDonald of Chicago retailer, Candyality greeted those arriving at this conference with a strong message that candy never goes out of style.
This report explores some of the parallel perspectives on the trends seen at the candy show that have relevance to the food business and not just the sweet side of foodservice.
Tried and True Brands with New Energy
Some of the biggest brands in candy demonstrated that a great brand can be constantly refreshed with line extensions that are on-trend with today’s consumers. Favorite brands like Milky Way and Snickers turned into bites, M&M’s were embedded in a milk chocolate candy bar, Twix added a savory salty peanut butter layer and dark chocolate Dove beguiled with a swirl of mint.
Larger than life M&M’s characters walked the show, and even the most serious looking business professionals called out to them for photos with their favorite color. Brand personalities on display forged an emotional connection with buyers and consumers.
Amazing and Sustainable Packaging
There is nothing like powerful consumer packaging to capture attention. Merchandising was an important part of the discussion on every deal at the major manufacturer booths. Packaging did much more than capture attention, new shapes and sizes gave products status, functionality and sustainability.
Big Flavor Palates
Sweet, salty, sour and hot flavors were found throughout the show in delicious and sometimes unexpected forms. Jelly Belly is a company to watch when it comes to flavor innovation to create an experience. The hot feature flavor is popcorn said to be reminiscent of the theatre experience. Also featured was a glamorous jewel collection – high end flavor that is impervious to hard times; a princess collection targeting young girls; for the connoisseur, the Ultra 20 gift box.
Indulgence with a Conscience
Organic, fair trade and sustainable offerings were featured in virtually every aisle of this show from major manufacturers and artisan boutique companies. Handcrafted specialties made from time honored traditions traded on the trust with the customers that they would never compromise on the way their products are made and delivered.
Classics Take New Forms
Traditional favorites like brownies transformed into brownie brittle with rich brownie flavor and the crunch of a cookie.
Thin is in – from dark chocolate coated pretzel thins to ultra thin chocolate bark.
Malted milk balls are an old fashioned candy store staple that were seen in a rainbow of colors from pastels to rich jewel tones allowing the candy store to offer an of-the-moment color selection.
Consumer interest in instant energy drives the category, and lots of new contenders are featuring delicious and indulgent ways to grab that kick in indulgent treat form. Java gum fights drowsiness with caffeine. Conscious caramels have super food ingredients. Functional chocolate was available to energize or calm the consumer.
Wellness is Inescapable
At a recent conference on healthy kids flavors, a presenter quipped that if we could chocolate-coat broccoli, kids would love it. At this show there was no need for the chocolate coating with the many delicious veggie snacks including veggie poppers, skinny sticks and peeled fruit snacks.
The classic potato chip was seen as almost a vintage icon at this show where many were made of ancient grains, newly popularized and a wide range of root vegetables. Falafel chips were offered in original, spicy and za’atar flavor. Seaweed takes another inherently healthful product and turns it into flavorful roasted chips in flavors like sesame, olive oil and wasabi. All of the hot new ethnic and American regional flavors were evident in various incarnations of this salty crunchy snack.
Nuts have gained a following as a healthy snack alternative. Pistachios sampled were traditional, salt and pepper flavor and sweet chili pistachios that gave a healthful snack a whole new kick. The new nut at this show was the hazelnut touted and the new “miracle nut” imported from the Black Sea region of Turkey.
Even at the Sweets & Snacks Expo wellness was inescapable.