Having recently attended the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, I spent some time this morning reviewing my notes and ahem… “taste testing” some leftover samples from the show. As a proud connoisseur of all kinds of candy, it’s always a fun show to attend and I’m always excited to see what trends are emerging and waning. Here’s my personal recap.
Five Interesting Trends and Discoveries at the 2017 Expo:
Heat meets Sweet.
Like a little spice with your sugar? The candy industry is betting on it. Wrigley launched “Sweet Heat” flavors for both Starburst and Skittles. The products start out sweet and then have a slow build of heat. Another example of this trend was found in numerous chocolate brands who are incorporating various peppers in their products. My personal favorite was a brand out of Plainview, NY called Little Bird Kitchen. Their Fire Bites were incredible. Try to get your hands on these folks.
Natural/ BFY foods continue their takeover of the snack category.
This isn’t new news but the category continues to grow with the growth of the BFY products. The show featured emerging brands of Fava/ peas snacks, seaweed chips, nut butters, dried fruits, and new variations on trail mixes. My favorite brand discovery in this subsegment was Tropical Fields (distributed by Alli and Rose). Their crunchy seaweed rice bites were nominated for the Savory Snack Innovation award and in my humble opinion, deserved to win.
Who knew marshmallows could be so interesting? There were over 20 booths featuring some variation on this time-tested confection. Many of these brands boasted all-natural ingredients and were available in gourmet flavors ranging from mint chocolate chip to espresso bean. Clearly, many of these premium confections were targeted at adults. However, a small brand that caught my eye and held appeal for both mom and kids alike, was Dandies, an all-natural, vegan line made by Chicago Vegan Foods. While Dandies aren’t adorned with the beauty of a brand like Smashmallow, they deliver on taste and versatility.
Meat snacks on every aisle.
No exaggeration. Meat snacks have moved far beyond the Slim Jim’s of my youth into hundreds of variations of protein, sizes, shapes, flavor profiles and textures. Most seem to be migrating to better-for-you claims such as grass-fed and preservative-free. Outstanding brands in this space include The New Primal out of Charleston who recently launched a line of meat snacks with flavor appeal to kids. They are perfectly sized and seasoned to become lunchbox staples. And one of my favorite new discoveries of the show was a brand called Skinny Salamis. Launched by a traditional charcuterie company, the product is a true slow cured (not cooked) meat stick in three protein varieties, angus beef, truffle and lamb. These are so good that my mouth is still watering just thinking about them.
Multi-generational/100-year-old brands for the win.
One of the most charming parts of the confectionary industry is the impressive number of enduring, family-owned brands. These include Goetze’s, Gimbal’s, Spangler, and Red Vines just to name a few. Each of these brands introduced new spins on our old favorites at the show while staying true to their respective specialties. Nostalgic candy is clearly making a comeback with the next generation. It’s one part connection to the past and two parts old fashioned deliciousness. Look for more presence of these candies over the next couple of years.
And although it doesn’t really fit into a trend category, I would be remiss not to mention my all-time favorite new brand of the show: Legally Addictive. True to it’s name, I could not stop sampling these small batch cookies that are precisely the right combination of sweet, salt, crunch and chocolate. My favorite flavor profile was the Crack Cookie. If you run across this brand in a store near you, purchase a bag and then promptly go to a secure location where you won’t have to share. Trust me on this one. You are going to thank me.
All in all, it was a great show. The innovations weren’t earthshaking but the quality and variety of products was impressive. There is always plenty of room for newcomers in these categories with our seemingly insatiable appetite for snacks.