"Twisted" booze cake, jalapeno-spiked chews, donut and pencil shaving-flavored jelly beans, Moon Cheese puffs, and frozen pickle juice pops. May's Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago offered four acres of wild, weird and wonderful treats, featuring bolder flavors and many healthier, portion-controlled and bite-sized formats.
Trends were all over the board, but the sell-out show proves the market and the public aren't giving up sweets and people are snacking more.
Sponsored by the National Confectioners Assn. (NCA), the expo welcomed more than 800 exhibitors, most makers of confections and various snack foods – that's nearly 6 percent more this year. It also attracted more than 18,000 visitors from nearly 90 countries. A record 150-plus first-time exhibitors showcased premium, organic and gourmet treats before they go on-trend.
Candy and snack clusters with a hand-made quality were popular this year, as were hybrid or "mashup" snacks, pressed or shaped into something they're not. Two examples are PopCorners' popcorn from Our Little Rebellion, formed as a triangular tortilla chip, and Protes pea protein chips in four varieties. Many exhibitors used smaller, totable pack sizes that are resealable, and standup formats that cater to on-the-go consumers who snack or nibble throughout the day.
Birthday cake, coconut and similar sweet flavors are cropping up in typically savory or salty snacks, while sour and salted caramel and coconut are still popular for candy.
Ferrero Group's Kinder brand is entering the U.S. in January 2018 with a surprise-inside, egg-shaped Kinder Joy treat. The twin-compartmented egg halves peel open to reveal a tiny toy on one side and a spoonable, chocolate cream with crispy cocoa wafers on the other. Ferrero representative Georgina Turpin says Kinder, the world’s second largest chocolate brand, is betting the cute confection will ignite a collectible craze in the U.S.
Russell Stover's first sugar-free chocolate line sweetened with stevia extract includes pecan delight clusters, mint patties, peanut butter cups and coconut, which all took a few years to develop so that it's difficult to tell the sugar-free chocolates from the company's regular versions.
Mars Chocolate North America launched a whopping 30 new products and packs offering a multitude of choices to meet consumer preferences and deliver on trends like transparency. M&Ms Caramel candies with an inner milk chocolate layer over a gooey core of slightly salty caramel won the Most Innovative New Product Award in the chocolate category. Other M&Ms flavors include limited-edition Pumpkin, Strawberry Nut and White Chocolate, the last of which is permanent. Triple Chocolate M&Ms with a milk chocolate center and white and dark chocolate layers will arrive in time for Valentine's Day 2018. Snickers now come in a crunchy hazelnut variety, joining the original Snickers bar peanuts/nougat/milk chocolate combination. Resealable standup pouches also replace layflat bags for many brands such as M&Ms and Twix to improve display.
Maltesers bite-size malted milk balls rolled out in January. Favored in the U.K., Maltesers feature airy, crispy centers, dipped in smooth chocolate.
Pearson Candy Co. is expanding with 7th Street Confections Chocolate Thins in unexpected flavors. Chocolate Thins pair dark chocolate and fruit and bits of toasted coconut, nuts, quinoa, grains and other inclusions to align with current healthier trends.
Mauna Loa macadamia nuts from Hawaiian Host unveiled Maui Caramacs, four milk chocolate-covered snack-sized pieces incorporating chopped macadamia nuts and caramel.
Hershey's Reese's Crunchers won the NCA's 2017 Most Innovative New Product Awards Best in Show award for the second year in a row. This time, Crunchers feature milk chocolate-covered nuggets of mini peanut butter chips, peanuts and crispy rice-like puffs in irregularly sized chunks. The company also added the crunchy aspect to its stuffed Crunchy Cookie Cups peanut butter cups.
New options from old favorites
Mars' subsidiary, Wrigley, hopes new Skittles, Doublemint and Orbit products will give consumers a change they seek. Wrigley's Doublemint Perfectly Sweet contains real sugar. Orbit White soft chew, sugar-free gum was formulated to help keep teeth white. Starburst Gummies in original and sours flavors and Juicy Fruit Fruity Chew Watermelon flavor satisfy demand from for crossover flavors. Starburst Ice Cream flavored jelly beans also debuted.
Red Vines from American Licorice Co. have been "simplified" with a new, "naturally" flavored Made Simple version free of artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The Berry Twists are paler in color, have a softer texture and a subtler fruit taste. But alas, Red Vines also now come in a lip smackingly sweet Birthday Cake Twistettes variety that's bite-sized.
Ferrero Group's new Tic Tac Gum rolls out in January 2018 in three flavors: fresh mint; spearmint; and cool watermelon. Replicating the iconic look of Tic Tac mints, the gum was named Most Innovative New Product in the gum and mints category. Tic Tac Mixers mints now include a Pina Colada flavor that changes from coconut to fruity pineapple.
Jelly Belly's new five-flavor Krispy Kreme collection, packed in a mini donut box, captures donut flavors such as original glazed, cinnamon apple filled and chocolate with sprinkles. The company's latest brazen flavors are found in the Bean Boozled Minion movie edition. One is called Pencil Shavings and another is sour apple "Minion fart," which has a strong skunk-like quality.
As for noncandy snacks, Moon Cheese doesn't exactly come to mind, but the new puffed, gluten-free, high-protein tidbits are an excellent source of calcium, according to NutraDried LLP, the brand's joint partnership owner. The crunchy morsels in Gouda, Pepper Jack and Cheddar are made only of cheese using patented dehydration technologies that remove moisture and keep the nutrition and flavor.
Perfect Size for One is a new Duncan Hines mix from Pinnacle Foods that bakes up a single cupcake after microwave heating it in a coffee mug.
Single-serve Booze Cakes in a Jar from Good-N-Twisted, York, Pa., come in Rum, Lemon Drop Vodka, Red Velvet Rum, Chocolate Amaretto and seasonal flavors. The baked cakes in 8-oz. jars have a 60-90 day shelf life.
Val Holten's Pickle-Ice pickle-flavored Freeze Pops incorporate the same brine the company uses in its pickles plus added electrolytes.
Thin, crispy and crunchy weren't just for chocolate candies. The savory and salty snack categories also offered lighter, lower-calorie munchies, such as Mondelez's Nabisco Ritz Crisp & Thins oven-baked potato and wheat crisps, which have 50 percent less fat per 30g serving than most fried potato chips.
Good Health Natural Products' Veggie Stix extruded snacks contain vitamins and nutrients from tomatoes, spinach, beets, broccoli and carrots.
American Halal Co.'s Saffron Road Chickbean crisps are made of protein rich milled chickpeas, lentils, sweet potatoes and peas baked into slim, crispy triangles.
The Matzo Project's thin Matzo crisps in Cinnamon, Salted and Everything are sturdy enough to hold up to gefilte fish dip. Hilarious packaging graphics show a grandmother asking, "Would it kill you to try something new?"
Our Little Rebellion Bean Crisps are popped black beans, green and yellow split peas, packed with 4g of protein, 3g of fiber and no gluten.
Meat snack bars, strips, bites and sticks were shown by both large and small companies, packed in resealable pouches and film wraps to provide quick snacking anywhere, any time. Among the notables: Jack Link's expanded its jerky snacks to mornings with the recently launched Breakfast Bacon and Sausage bite-sized jerky items under the A.M. umbrella. They come in totable 2.5-oz. bags. And Field Trip Jerky's gluten-free, grass-fed beef, vegetarian-fed pork and free-range turkey jerky and meat sticks come in mouth-watering Cracked Pepper, Maple BBQ, Teriyaki and Sweet & Spicy choices.
Spiked with spice
Spicy could be the new fruity. Spicy exotic and ethnic, globally inspired flavor profiles were prevalent in chips, cookies, cracker crisps, candy and chocolate confections.
Frito-Lay tapped several global flavors for new Lay’s potato chip varieties such as Brazilian Picanha, Canadian bacon poutine and Indian Tikka Masala.
Mars' massive 30-item new product launch tapped two fruity favorites now spiked with sweet heat. Sweet Heat Skittles and Sweet Heat Starburst start with fruity flavors followed by a spicy yet mild burn that's zippy but not overpowering. They'll move out to stores in December.
Zesty heat in Frito-Lay's Cheetos Flamin' new Hot Chipotle Ranch flavor teams savory, cool and spicy elements with smoky jalapeno, onion and garlic.
Mauna Loa Macadamias from Hawaiian Host showed off spicy-sweet Mango Chipotle, Maui Onion and Garlic and Sriracha nut flavors. The company's premium macadamias now come in resealable stand-up pouches.
Utz amped up its potato chips with distinct American flavors in the new Grillin' Classics trio. Buttery Sweet Corn, Cheeseburger (with mustard and onion) and Grilled Hot Dog (with a hit of ketchup) will be stars this summer.
Small batches of Jackson's Honest gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO Potato Chips in Purple Heirloom, Sea Salt and Sweet Potato are cooked in organic coconut oil.
Porta Bela's Mushroom chips personify the veggie snack boom. Farm-raised mushrooms are sliced and cooked via technology that gives them an 18-month shelf life − unusual for mushrooms, which tend to spoil in 7-10 days.
Exemplifying the coconut craze as well as sweet-heat and better-for-you trends, Buddha Brands' Hungry Buddha Probiotic Coconut Chips won the Small Business Innovator Award, recognizing companies with net sales under $500,000. The coconut chips come in Original, Chocolate, Smokin' Sriracha and Wild Wasabi coconut chips.