Voices: Toops' Scoops

2005 All-Candy Expo Features Indulgent Treats

At this year’s All Candy Expo, the recent charge of the lite brigade was challenged by indulgence.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

Teen pop group TGK likes their candy. From left to right: Gina Thomas is a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup aficionado, David Wolf craves lots of Nerds Ropes, James Foley thrives on Butterfinger Crisps and Ivette Thomas likes her break to include Take Five.

Candy lovers recently gathered to sample the latest offerings at All Candy Expo, sponsored by the National Confectioners Assn. (NCA), and held in my hometown, Chicago, each year (for which I'm eternally grateful).

Attendees were entertained with the sweet sounds and eye candy of up-and-coming teen pop group TGK, the new spokespersons (replacing 'N Sync) for TeenCentral.net. It's a safe Internet resource to help kids face and overcome life's daily challenges.

Confectionery manufacturers are brilliant at creating buzz - both literally and figuratively - and it resulted in $26.3 billion in sales during 2004. They keep the category fresh by introducing scores of limited edition products, new flavor combinations and creative concepts to engage consumers of all ages. "One thousand new products were introduced last year, and the success rate was 25 percent," says Larry Graham, president of NCA.

Combining candy and fitness may seem like an oxymoron, but the combo increasingly sweetens the bottom line for innovative confectioners. Consumers spend some $3 billion annually on energy bars, drinks and gels, so maybe it's no surprise to see Sports Beans from Jelly Belly. Each 1-oz. serving contains vitamins C and E and 120 mg of electrolytes to boost energy and prevent dehydration.

Meanwhile, at the bar, Hershey's Smart Zone-crunchy chocolate brownie flavor is balanced with proteins, nutrients and reduced carbs. House of Brussels Chocolates subsidiary Chocomed's real chocolate-covered 24/7 all-natural nutrition bar offers a carb, dietary fat and protein ratio of 40/30/30 and tastes like an indulgent candy bar. Or you can fast track with XLR8 Energy Chews, made by BestSweet Inc., endorsed by stock car racing icon Dale Earnhardt Jr. The tasty chews are made with caffeine, guarana and ginseng (three equal one can of Red Bull).

Taking the Red Bull by the horns (minus the sugar) are Big Sky's Warp mints, hypercharged with guarana and ginseng, or sugar-free Blitz Energy Gum, containing 100 mg of caffeine (about the same as a cup of coffee), by Schuster Marketing Corp. Other offerings include Myntz! Green Tea (extract) with Ginseng Breath Mints from Vitech America, Lotte's Green Tea Mint Sugarless chewing gum or Nutra-Trim gum containing green tea, l-carnitine, chromium picolinate and guarana, which claims to boost metabolism and control appetite to help you lose weight.

With the number of diabetics in the U.S. at 18 million - some 6 percent of the population - and aging baby boomers trying to lose weight, sugar-free options continue to proliferate. Last year, sugar-free candy sales were up 60 percent. Hershey's reformulated its line of sugar-free chocolates to have a creamier, richer taste, and added sugar-free Twizzlers and Reese's White Peanut Butter Cup miniatures to its lineup.

Russell Stover Candies' Whitman's Weight Watchers Mint Patties and English Toffee Squares stress portion control. One mini-bar garners only one point on the Weight Watcher's scale.

Dark chocolate took the stage this year - the darker the better. Hershey kicks off its limited edition offerings with Almond Joy Chocolate Chocolate and Pina Colada flavors and Hershey Double Chocolate Bar (milk chocolate filled with dark chocolate). Masterfoods debuts Twix Caramel White Chocolate Cookie Bars and Ice Cream Flavored M&M's. Tootsie Roll offers Junior Mints Inside Outs (dark chocolate inside and a white coating outside). Chocolate also appeared, apparently for the first time, in a chewing gum: Choco'la from O'Lala Foods Inc.

Other flavors du jour include mint, orange, cinnamon, caramel, banana, honey, licorice, blueberry, raspberry and strawberry, and flavors in general are more intense. Jelly Belly's "rookie" flavors include Apricot, Buttered Toast, Chocolate Cherry Cake, Honey Graham Cracker and Tabasco-flavored Cinnamon. It also debuted Jelly Belly Mint Trio (a medley of spearmint, peppermint and wintergreen) and Jelly Belly Baked Beans, a tribute to the slow-cooked beans served at Fenway Park in Boston.

Tootsie Roll goes tropical with its Tootsie Roll Tropical Storms Tootsie Pops in Berry-Berry Punch, Orange-Pineapple, Lemon-Lime, Strawberry Banana and Citrus-Punch - but there's still a chewy Tootsie Roll inside. Poppycock, from Lincoln Snacks, added a Peanut Butter and Chocolate variety. Adults can take a gamble with Sin City Suckers, lollipops shaped like dice with handpainted dots in Grape of Spades or Pina*Co*Slatta flavors, made by Sin City Suckers. Giving a presentation? Quench Gum, by Mueller, stimulates your salivary glands to eliminate dry mouth.

Lindt & Springli Inc.'s Lindt Intense Pear Dark Chocolate, with real pear pieces combined with almonds and covered with dark chocolate is a divine indulgence. Coffee perks up Madelaine Chocolate Novelties' Latte and Espresso cups - edible truffle cups with coffee-flavored ganache. The outer shell of DeFranco's Espresso Secrets cradles a burst of authentic espresso coffee hidden inside.

Wolfgang's Natural Blueberries and Raspberries dipped in dark chocolate are made with a patent-pending process making the individually wrapped pieces shelf stable. For those who prefer lighter fare, Brach's Confections Orchard Fresh line features real fruit puree centers of Cherry, Strawberry and Blueberry covered in milk chocolate. Kookaburry Liquorice combines two unexpected flavors in its Kookaburra Chocolate Covered "Old Fashioned" Black Liquorice. Darrell Lea offers mango, strawberry and green apple licorice varieties. Black current is coming soon to the line, which the movie character Crocodile Dundee favored.

Anyone remember Monty Python's famous "Whizzo Chocolate Factory" skit? One wonders what the Pythons would have to say about "Fear Factor Crunchy Larva" snacks . . . The real California-bred larvae taste a little like chicken with a spicy nutty crunch.

Tie-ins with blockbuster movies keep the category fresh. Jelly Belly Bertie Botts Rotten Egg and Bacon flavors celebrate the upcoming Harry Potter movie. Capp Candy's Harry Potter daily specials include Dirt, Booger, Vomit, Earwax and Drooble's Best Blowing Gum, which turns your mouth blue. They taste gross, appealing to millions of kids. In fact, the beans bring in some $10-15 million in revenues each year for Jelly Belly.

To celebrate the Willy Wonka movie remake Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Nestlé debuts Wonka Twisted Flavors - 14 flavor favorites across Wonka's most popular brands - Nerds, Nerds Rope, Laffy Taffy and Sweet Tarts. Incidentally, Nestle provided 1,850 Wonka chocolate bars for the movie and stored them on the set in a special cooled trailer. And coming soon, Masterfoods' M&M's White Chocolate Pirate Pearls, a treasure for Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, who joins the cast of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" in 2006.

A fun option for kids is Sherwood's Amazing Candicraft. It's a candy-filled pen that little artists can use on edible paper. When the drawing is done, they can eat it. Cadbury Adams invites kids to take a bite and connect with both their sweet and sour sides with Sour Patch Connectors. They twist and pull the tasty interlocking halves to create their own flavors - some 28 combinations.

If your youngster is forever blowing bubbles, he'll appreciate Bubble Gum Booster from Topps Co. Inc., which recharges flavorless gum; Charms' Mouth Factory (chew, pour a flavor packet in the mouth and let it give taste buds a blast); or Bubble Roller Sour — six feet of bubble gum in sour blue raspberry or sour green apple flavors that come with a belt clip to bring gum fun anywhere they go — from Morris National Inc. Even the venerable Masterfoods Skittles franchise blew into the bubble gum category. Moms will appreciate Orbit White Bubblemint, from Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., which helps keep kids' smiles sparkling white.

Adults can explore their softer side with Cadbury Adams USA's Dentyne soft chews gum or Dentyne Mints Ice Peppermint and Fire Spicy Cinnamon. Gum, incidentally, is America's favorite snack, according to the NPD Group, and 86 flavors of gums debuted at the show. Orbit Sweet Mint, a combination of vanilla and crème de menthe, offers a unique flavor experience from Wrigley, and coming soon is Juicy Fruit Sours Tropikiwi Kick.

There isn't much that grosses out young boys, but adults can be squeamish. A recent challenge by the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals pressured Kraft to remove its Trolli Road Kill Gummi candy from the market. What will they do when they take a gander at Brand New Products LLC's Fear Factor Frogs Legs with candy bones and red candy blood dip? Or my favorite, Fear Factor Crunchy Larva? The real California-bred larvae taste a little like chicken with a spicy nutty crunch. Available in three flavors - Cheddar Cheese, Mexican Spice and Tangy Barbeque - each box comes with its own mini chopsticks.

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