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Sweets and Snacks Show Never Disappoints

June 22, 2016
The Sweets & Snacks Expo annually reveals new products, trends and strategies in this happy category.
More 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.

Mars' 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.

The 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.

"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

Folks 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.

Manufacturers are challenged to reformulate with innovative ingredients that adhere to consumer demands, such as the replacement of gelatin from gummy confections. TIC Gums' newest addition to the Ticagel line, Ticagel Natural GC-581 B, is a clean-label gelatin replacer for use in gummy candies. TIC Gums says clean label requirements have led to a simplifying of product labels and a change in ingredient lists. Formulators also can replace some of the vital textural attributes lost when removing gelatin with Ticagel GC-564 S and all-natural, non-GMO Ticagel Natural GC-581 B. Leveraging the characteristics of each hydrocolloid within these blends, candy manufacturers can customize a gelatin-free gummy product with desired textural properties.

Non-candy goodies

Although this used to be called the Candy Show, the show has broadened to include many other snacks, just as its attendees have done with their businesses.

Hershey is getting in on the snack fest, rolling out snack bars made with acai berries, trail mixes that feature small pieces of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and jalapeno almonds and pumpkin seeds coated in protein.

Snack mixes ranged from the sweet, savory and spicy Quiglees Premium Snack Mixes, which contain dried fruit bits, sesame sticks, pretzel balls, nuts and banana chips or green peas, to new Welch's PB&J Trail Mixes in Grape and Strawberry peanut Butter and Jelly flavor, in a 1.5-oz. bag (made by Healthy Food Brands LLC).

Energy treats featuring caffeine popped up in droves. Get Up And Go chocolate chip cookies each contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Get Up And Go Ventures LLC claims they'll "make the day a little brighter and you may become a little smarter." Bolts Energy LLC promises hours of energy (and 200mg. of caffeine) with a jolt of Thunder Bolts orange citrus flavored energy gummies. The adult gummies contain vitamins B3 and C, nutrients and caffeine without the bitter caffeine taste. Made with what the company says are advanced taste masking technologies, the gummies have 60 calories per 0.7-oz. package.

While some coffee makers are putting their brews on ice this summer, Goldensands Group is borrowing the look and flavor of coffee beans for its new Käfé organic spray-dried coffee candies in 1.05-oz. pouches. Made with only organic coffee, organic tapioca syrup and organic evaporated cane juice, the twist-wrapped hard candies each have about 30 calories.

Meat snacks and jerky are the fastest growing snack food in the country, according to IRI data. They meet trends for protein, paleo diets and snacking on the go. So there were plenty of them introduced at the show. New takes on iconic brands included more local and regional flavors that allow the larger players to compete with smaller, boutique jerky makers who are stealing some of the thunder.

Local and regional flavors cropped up in ConAgra's Slim Jims – in New York Buffalo Style, Philly Cheesesteak and Cali Taco meat snacks. Tillamook Country Smoker showcased hardwood-smoked meat sticks in teriyaki, jalapeno, pepperoni and original flavors. Think Jerky's line of grass-fed, free-range, gluten/nitrite-free beef and turkey jerky is flavored in combinations of Sweet Chipotle with Raspberries, Ginger Orange, Seasonal Thanksgiving Turkey and Sriracha Honey.

The ample Jack Link's exhibit presented small-batch Maple Bacon Jerky dried slices of real bacon and limited-edition Whiskey Glaze flame-grilled Pork Jerky, Korean BBQ Pork Strips and its new Lorissa's Kitchen brand of gluten-free, 100-percent grass-fed jerky. Aimed at women, Lorissa's beef, pork and chicken varieties are responsibly raised and sourced without antibiotics. They have a softer bite the company says will help meet demand for clean-label products.

Hershey's investment in snacks other than confections will provide growth even as U.S. chocolate consumption continues to slide, the company notes. New meat snack products are rolling out from its 2015 acquisition Krave Pure Foods. Krave could be a $500 million brand, according to Hershey officials. While the brand is heavily into jerky at the moment, a new Krave bar – with quinoa and fruit as well as meat – is set to debut in August. It will be Hershey/Krave's first new product developed jointly.

Interestingly, dill pickle flavored snacks seem to be a trend. There was dill pickle flavored popcorn from G.H. Cretors, dill pickle sunflower seeds from Frito-Lay North America's Spitz brand, dill pickle cashews from Emerald and Van Holten's Pickle-Ice pickle brine freeze pops.

Ghost pepper was another notable flavor winding its way through the show, including at Paqui's, with its scorching Haunted Ghost Pepper tortilla chips, for those daredevils who can handle blazingly hot snacks (the black bag's clever Aztec graphics depict dangerous peppers with skull-like faces).

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