"Advertising is about happiness," famously said Mad Men's Don Draper. Happiness and merriment aplenty could also describe the mood at the 2011 Sweets & Snacks Expo, sponsored by the National Confectioners Association held in May in Chicago.
Both the expo (boasting the biggest show floor in eight years) and category sales in 2010 flourished even in this time of economic uncertainty. A whopping 556 confectionery and snack companies (170 of them first-time exhibitors) maxed out three acres (130,680 sq. ft.), as some 14,000 attendees from nearly 70 countries sampled more than 2,000 products to hit store shelves in 2011 and 2012.
And I probably tasted them all; it is my favorite show after all.
Fortunately innovation runs rampant in both confectionery and snacks, and new products this year are no exception. Where else would you find Air Delight Chocolate bars and Kisses, aerated milk chocolate offering a light and airy texture, compliments of Hershey Co.? Or a spectacular candy brand extension for Nestlé Confections via its frozen dairy Skinny Cow franchise? At 110-120 calories, Skinny Cow Dreamy Clusters, are bite-sized treats with crunchy crisps, drenched in creamy caramel and covered in milk chocolate or dark chocolate. Skinny Cow Heavenly Crisp candy bars are delicate wafers layered with either chocolate or peanut-butter filling and drenched in a chocolaty coating.
Mars Chocolate North America debuted Marathon Smart Stuff Bars in four varieties. Made with wholesome ingredients -- such as peanuts, blueberries and cranberries -- they're fortified with a blend of eight essential vitamins and minerals for consumers seeking healthier alternatives. The bars meet the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Competitive Food Guidelines for Snacks.
And for those who seek the ultimate pleasure, there is the Wine Collection: luxurious chocolate bonbons filled with wine flavors, packaged in a wine shaped container and placed in a silky bag that includes a gift card from 2 Chicks with Chocolate.
And that's just in the chocolate category.
On the same floor you could sample LaPacos Alpaca Jerky and Alpaca Old World Sticks, a unique snack made with alpaca meat. And Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. launched www.MyExtraGum.com so consumers can upload photos and messages and personalize packs of Extra Sugar Free Gum for any occasion.
In this time of growing distrust in our politicians, how can one resist the first release of the educational The Presidential Series 1 from Pez? Scheduled for a November debut, the first boxed set highlights the accomplishments of the first eight presidents of the U.S. Their names will be printed on the stems and the dispensers will be bust-up designs of the president's heads. Educational information about each president will be included along with an insert sheet showing all of the sets in the series.
Relax, there are no plans for an Anthony Weiner Pez dispenser.
"Trends in confectionery and snacks for 2011 reflect the larger patterns seen across the food industry - Americans are more interested in what they are eating, and are looking for new flavors to satisfy increasingly complex palates," says Larry Graham, president of NCA. "Consumers look for value, exciting flavors and nutrition when seeking new sweets and snacks."
More value for the dollar and smaller portions were some of the major trends evident at the show, resulting in smaller packages and bite-sized treats to savor for longer. Other trends: fusing a variety of flavors together for a sweet/savory mouth pop; antioxidant fruit flavors; licorice, peanut butter, caramel, coconut, peach, banana, watermelon, chili, mint; simple ingredient labels; sea salt; all-natural; gluten free; vitamin-fortified, nutrient-enhanced and fiber-added; plus personalization and choice.
The overall sweets and snacks category was estimated by SymphonyIRI Group at $26 billion in 2010. Last year, 2,655 new confectionery products debuted -- 1,480 chocolate, 1,077 non-chocolate (sugar confectionery), and 98 gum selections, according to Datamonitor's Product Launch Analytics.
On the snack front, 3,805 products rolled out – 786 cookies, 550 cereal bars, 526 potato chips, 308 nuts and seeds, 259 crackers, 237 popcorn products and 1,139 other snacks (pretzels, tortilla chips, puffed snacks, fruit snacks, meat snacks, etc.).
Despite a lagging economy, confectionery posted a 3.6 percent gain in 2010 - outpacing overall growth of food sales in leading channels. Salty snacks experienced average growth with a 2 percent gain over previous-year sales. The cookie category eked out half a percent growth last year. Chocolate confectionery led sales in 2010, growth that is expected to continue through 2011 as new product launches remain strong and consumer interest in potential health benefits of dark chocolate grows.
New research (to be unveiled later this summer) by The NPD Group and The Futures Group for NCA found that consumers appreciate the unique role chocolate, candy, gum and other snacks play in their lives. Older Americans have a higher preference for dark chocolate; research indicates people over 45 consume more dark chocolate because it's perceived as healthier. In fact, the average American consumes chocolate confectionery about 107 times per year.
Other findings include: Daily gum chewers are 34 percent more likely to view sports activity as a major motivator in maintaining or improving their health; parents claim children who consume chocolate daily exercise nearly twice as often as children who eat chocolate weekly; gummy candy is 23 percent more likely to be consumed in the fall (driven by Halloween sales), while licorice consumption increases in the warmer, summer months based on its portability.