Candy Show 2006 Brings Out the Inner Child

Aug. 1, 2006
The usual, delightful sugar and spice plus plenty of chocolate … and fortified candy arrives on the scene.

Health and wellness may seem like an oxymoron for the candy industry, but manufacturers had success last year with products that played a healthier tune. Diet candy sales pulled their weight with a 17.3 percent increase, sugarless gum sales popped 6.5 percent and chocolate, with its new-found antioxidant halo, grew 11.1 percent.

Those were some of the facts unveiled at the All Candy Expo, the annual trade show of the Vienna, Va.-based National Confectioners Assn. (NCA), held in June in Chicago. The show is a whimsical candy wonderland that attracts confectionery connoisseurs from around the world for sampling of the newest indulgent flavors and innovative candy creations driving $100 billion in worldwide sales.

Americans eat 25 lbs. of candy per person annually and tend to be brand loyal. In fact, 65 percent of American candy brands have been around for 50 years. At the same time, new product innovation drives excitement. Some 2,767 new products debuted in 2005: 1,328 were in the chocolate category, 1,301 were non-chocolate 138 were in the gum category.

Trend watching is my beat, and this is my favorite venue. Chocolate with high cocoa content proliferated, including Ghirardelli Intense Dark Gourmet Chocolate Bars, Nestle Raisinets Dark, Masterfoods’ Snickers Dark, Snickers Almond Dark, M&M’s Dark Chocolate Candies, Espresso Escape (dark chocolate infused with ground espresso beans) and Bubble Wrap’s Bubbly Dark Chocolate aerated bars.

Hershey’s indulgent Cacao Reserve is coming in September. In December, look for Hershey’s Bubble Yum chocolate-flavored gum. Or pick up white chocolate treasure in M&M’s Pirate Pearls – white, cream, pastel yellow and light blue candy shells with pirate images, released to coincide with blockbuster movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Mars scored a promotional tie-in that should rake in the doubloons by pairing its new white chocolate M&Ms with the summer sizzler “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

Portion control is the new buzzword, and confectionery is no exception. Options include Hershey Sticks (60 calories), a product of Hershey’s Center for Health and Nutrition, Masterfoods’ Nestle Stixx (90 calories), Whitman’s Weight Watchers candy (less than 50 calories) and Sugar Free Dove Dark (38 calories).

Pumping up products on the wellness front, Simply Lite Foods’ Sunkist Fruit Gummies and Welch’s Fruit Snacks are both made with natural fruit juices and contain 100 percent of the daily recommendation of vitamin C. Brach’s Mott’s Fruit Snacks contain real applesauce, and Botticelli Belgian Choco-Omeg incorporates omega-3s. Still a small slice of the $27 billion U.S. market, fortified candy “is definitely the one to watch right now,” says Susan Fusel, spokesman for NCA. The skinny is Wrigley soon will roll out Airwaves Active, enhanced gum for the immune system.

Energy infused treats kept attendees running. They included HydraTech Innovations Diablo Ice, energizing breath strips with guarana and the boost of an energy drink, new flavors of Jelly Belly Sports Beans infused with electrolytes and Shock Coffee’s chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Cool new options in gum include Sathers Super Bubble Blast (chewy outside and liquid center) and Ford Gum and Machine Co.’s Pomegranate Power. Topps has a new softer formulation for Bazooka that delivers larger bubbles and more intense flavor. Wrigley’s Eclipse Big E-Pak is 60 pellets of gum in a portable package that fits in the beverage container in your car. Gum Runners’ Nutra-Trim gum curbs your appetite, and Cadbury Adam’s Stride claims to be “the ridiculously long lasting gum.” Masterfoods’ Skittles Extreme Fruit Bubble Gum, a bold combination of fruit flavors, and Trident (six sweet and six sour pieces), both allow you to customize your chew.

Another mantra was bursting with flavor, especially sour ones. Altoids Mango Sours, Sour Jacks, Toxic Waste Sour Chew Bar, Masterfoods’ Starburst Sour and Topps Juicy Drop Pop Sweet all were lip-puckering good. Licorice is hot in cool new flavors including Lucky Country’s Pineapple and Green Apple and formats like American Licorice’s Sip & Chew Straws. Spitz Sunflower Seeds are now available in chili-lime, smoky and pickle flavors. Snickers Xtreme, without nougat, but with more caramel, peanuts and chocolate, debuted in the caramel category, along with Kit-Kat Crisp Wafers filled with caramel (coming in November). Among the products catering to the Hispanic market are King Henry’s Chili Lemon Peanuts and Bota-Nice’s Roasted Lima Beans/Lemon & Chili with a free packet of hot sauce.

Kids will be delirious when they sample Nestle’s interactive Wonka Zoid, a combo video game and candy dispenser; Candy Logs – build a house and eat it; Tung Toos – tasty tattoos for the tongue; Monster Memos – kids can eat their words with sweetened wafer paper and food coloring pens; and Fear Factor’s Cockroach Bites.

The piece de resistance for attendees is a trip to the Candy Room, replete with barrels of candy. Armed with a 9-by-7-in. bag, you can fill it with all your favorite candy with one caveat; it cannot spill over the top -- serious business, requiring engineering skills and a good eye for detail.