Affection for Confections and Snacks Stays Strong

Largest-ever Sweets & Snacks Expo opened its doors this year to a feast of candy and snacks featuring bolder, lighter and free-from products with a twist.

By Lauren R Hartman, Product Development Editor

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"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.

kinder eggsBirthday 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.

Chocolate rules

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.

MMsMars 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.

Sweets and Snacks show 2017

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.

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