Sweets and Snacks Show Never Disappoints

The Sweets & Snacks Expo annually reveals new products, trends and strategies in this happy category.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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Candy SnackMore than 3,000 snack and confectionery items are introduced each year in the U.S. alone, and the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo, sponsored by the National Confectioners Assn. (NCA) featured plenty of the latest examples in this $35 billion U.S. market. More than 750 snack, cookie and confectionery exhibitors showcased their latest and greatest May 24-26 at Chicago’s McCormick Place.

The Best in Show award for most innovative new product went to Hershey Co.'s Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup, slated to hit shelves this summer. The new treat teams Reese's signature peanut butter cups with miniature Reese’s Pieces candies in a king-size format. Another Hershey item to get super-sized is Kit Kat Big Kat, a bar that has the same taste as regular KitKat chocolate-covered crispy wafer bars but with five layers in a single bar (although there are three break point) in 1.5- and 3-oz. bars. The regular Kit Kat has three layers of wafers with the bar broken into four smaller bars.

Other Hershey derivatives moved in the opposite direction. Hershey's PayDay Snack Bites, which will launch this summer, and Hershey's Milk Chocolate with Almonds have been cut into snack-sized nutty, crunchy pieces. The 2.5-oz. tube packs are great for on-the-go snacking.

snickers crisperMars' new flavor extensions in the Snickers line include hazelnut. "Confections containing hazelnuts have increased 14 percent in sales," explains Timothy LeBel, vice president of sales at Mars Chocolate North America. Also new from the company are Twix White Chocolate Cookie Bars and Snickers Crisper bars, which mingle crisped rice and peanuts topped with caramel and milk chocolate. And Mars unveiled refreshing Dove Sorbet bars and Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Promise individually wrapped pieces combining silky Dove dark chocolate and peanut butter creme.

Better-for-you ingredients, bold and regional flavors and meal-replacement serving sizes are becoming critical to snack and sweets companies looking to expand their presence in the market. Organic formulations, more transparent ingredient information, responsible product marketing and sourcing and are just a few of the prevailing trends.

LARABAR BitesThe Larabar business unit of General Mills will launch Larabar Bites in June at select retailers across the country. The truffle-like morsels incorporating fair trade chocolate, dates, almonds and coconut are made from five or six "simple," real food ingredients and have 12-14g of sugar per serving. Hearing from consumers who love treats but don't want artificial ingredients, Larabar portion-controlled the new bites in a resealable pouch that allows indulgers to treat themselves one bite at a time.

Snyder's-Lance presented 100-calorie gluten-free pretzels and sandwich crackers and its Late July Taco Truck Inspired whole-grain tortilla chips, which are organic and non-GMO. The Daily Crave's (thedailycrave.com) cache of "better-for-you" vegetable and lentil chips and sticks now includes Smoked Gouda Lentil Chips, have no GMOs, preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, trans fats or hydrogenated fats; but they do have 3-4g of protein per serving.

Gluten Free Snyders Pretzels

"The clean label trend is maturing into a mainstream segment of the food industry because it covers a broad spectrum of labeling concerns," says Mar Nieto, senior principal scientist at TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md. "Consumers are seeking reassurance about the safety and healthiness of their foods, so they are demanding foods made with recognizable ingredients. While the all-natural claim continues to be popular, consumers are now also interested in the sources of ingredients."

Candy and confection ingredients are becoming natural, clean and sustainable, agrees Rob Bent, beverage business development manager at flavors provider Virginia Dare, Brooklyn, N.Y. "We're happy to support them in doing so — both through reformulation of our own ingredients and through solutions that help clean up labels in other ways. On the reformulation side, we’re constantly making adjustments to meet customers’ needs, from removing ingredients like propylene glycol or preservatives to creating flavors that align with evolving standards, like non-GMO certification and allergen-free claims."

Chewy stuff

Jelly Belly Organic Fruit SnacksFolks were scrambling to try the Jelly Belly Organic jelly beans and fruit snacks with real fruit juices and purees. Launched earlier this year, these are the company's first organic products. "Introducing an organic bean is something near and dear to our hearts," says Lisa Rowland Brasher, president/CEO of the Fairfield, Calif.-based firm. "We know organic isn't just a trend any more. It's a lifestyle and we want to participate in that lifestyle." The products feature10 assorted jelly bean flavors and five sour flavors and six favorite fruit snack flavors.

Bazooka Candy Brands added to its Juicy Drop line with a gum that lets users change the flavor of from sweet to sour by squeezing an attached "gel flavor booster" bottle. Available in four flavors, Juicy Drop Gum will launch in early 2017.

William Wrigley Jr. Co., a subsidiary of Mars Inc., introduced several products in its popular Skittles, Doublemint and Orbit brands. Skittles America Mix features red, white and blue berry flavors, and Doublemint Perfectly Sweet gum contains real sugar. Next year, the company will debut Orbit White soft chew sugar-free gum said to keep teeth white. New gelatin-free gummy candies include Wrigley's Starburst Gummies and Juicy Fruit Fruity Chews Watermelon, and Starburst Ice Cream Flavored Jelly Beans will debut in time for next year's Easter egg hunt.

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