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Portion Control, Health, Millennials Guide Sweets & Snacks Expo 2015

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

May 20, 2015

New products at this week's Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, May 19-21, prove that candy and snack manufacturers are looking at different combinations beyond confections and snacks for flavors.

Breakfast flavors like maple, waffle and bacon are being used with both snacks and candy, and will be hitting stores shelves soon, as are comfort flavors and classic versions that evoke childhood memories like s'mores, birthday cake and lemonade. A fruit trend for new snacks and candy is on tap this year, with the use of real fruit in products on the rise. Flavors range from the conventional orange, cherry, banana and apple options, but there were many sophisticated new varieties and profiles such as mango, blood orange and Meyer lemon, pumpkin and pineapple jalapeno. Fruit snacks such as Welch's Fruit ‘n Yogurt Snacks are available with real fruit centers, covered in creamy yogurt and containing vitamins A, C, and D, and calcium. Another example was Adams & Brooks, which introduced licensed Hawaiian Punch Chews that taste like the Hawaiian Punch juice.

Chocolate was ubiquitous in the usual treats, but this year, it surfaced in beer, pita chips (Stacy's) and even 3D printing (at the Hershey booth). 3D Systems, a 3D printing company, partnered with Hershey to introduce the technology with chocolate in intricate designs and custom shapes such as faces, animals, buildings and logos that are not possible with traditional chocolate molding.

Fruit flavors merged with spicy chilis, jalapenos and sriracha and appeared in various guises. Thousands of innovative confectionery and snack items launched at the show spanned four acres of chocolate, candy, cookies and savory snack exhibits from 630 companies. Some of the hottest products also include Jelly Belly Pancake & Maple Syrup Mix (jelly beans), Kettle potato chips' Thick+Bold Dill Pickle flavor from Kettle Foods, Paramount Farms' roasted pistachios in new Wonderful Salt & Pepper, Wonderful Lightly Salted and Wonderful Sweet Chili flavors and Mauna Loa roasted macadamia nuts, now in Sea Salt, Honey Roasted and Maui Onion & Garlic varieties. Chocolate Bliss Crunchy Coconut Chips from Bare Snacks aim to placate a sweet tooth craving, while remaining healthy, with 170 calories per serving and 8 g. of sugar.

Hosted by Washington-based National Confectioners Association, the annual event links retail and wholesale candy and snack customers with industry manufacturers. NCA says this year's show marks its most successful in the event's 18-year history. There was an early exhibitor sellout, more than 16,000 attendees are expected to attend and almost 100 international companies from more than 20 countries are exhibiting.

New features at Sweets & Snacks this year include educational sessions, retailer-centric learning labs, and a session with Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox TV's The O'Reilly Factor. The Specialty New Product Showcase, held each year right outside the show floor, offers visitors a chance to see some of the organic, premium and gourmet candy and snack items introduced since last year's Expo, and can be voted on for the Most Innovative New Product Awards program.

"A review of new product launches and current industry trends points to other classic flavors like marshmallow, cinnamon and peppermint making resurgences this year," predicted candy trends expert and NCA's vice president of public relations, Susan Whiteside. "DIY has also crept into the category, with products consumers can assemble or make, dip, spread or decorate," she said. "We also expect to see innovation in the form of technology, like automation that allows you to customize your own confections on demand, sustainable packaging and even 3D printing."

NCA president and CEO, John H. Downs, Jr., who kicked off the show with a keynote address, noted that because the worldwide market for candy and snacks is growing at a fast rate, pegged at $428 billion, the Expo must provide access to more product categories from more international companies. "Last year, the show experienced double-digit growth in international participation, making the Expo a one-stop-shop for candy and snack buyers from around the world."

But no matter the form or flavor, candy is affordable, honest, authentic and transparent, Downs stated. "About 123 million U.S. households purchase chocolate, non-chocolate candy, gum or mints each year. Whether you're enjoying a taste of your favorite brand of chocolate or celebrating Halloween by passing out sweets, the presence of candy in our lives is always a fun treat."

Larry Levin, executive vice president and practice leader at IRI Worldwide, discussed influences and big changes in snacks and candies this year. Many of the trends are being steered by millennials who like to experiment with different flavor combinations such as coconut and bacon, honey and wasabi. Millennials also like smaller portions they can take with them on-the-go, he said, and they check package labels for benefits such as organic, natural and non-genetically-modified (non-GMO) and consult social media for more information on snacks and treats.

As U.S. consumers are more concerned about sugar than ever before, companies like Mars are advocating reduced-sugar product profiles. Most Americans—across all demographic groups — enjoy candy about twice a week, averaging less than 50 calories per day, said Downs. "Our consumers are concerned about sugar, but they also appreciate health benefits like chewing sugar-free gum after meals and the health benefits of dark chocolate and cocoa."