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CHICAGO — The National Confectioners Association’s (NCA) 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo wrapped up last week, but not before unwrapping the latest trends, flavors, products and innovations in both candy and snacks.
Convenience Store News editors spotted these seven trends on the show floor:
1. A Bunch of Crunch
Laura Renaud, associate manager of content and editorial strategy for The Hershey Co., told CSNews that the overall theme of this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo was "crunch." Which was fitting, seeing as Hershey's latest wave of innovation — Reese’s Crunchers — took home Best in Show as part of the expo's Most Innovative New Product Awards.
Following last year’s launch of Cookie Layer Crunch candy bars, Reese’s Crunchers are milk chocolate peanut butter cups filled with crunchy cookie pieces. Hershey is also introducing a new Crunchers range, which includes Hershey’s Cookies ‘N’ Crème Crunchers, bite-size clusters combining mini chocolate cookies and graham wafers covered in milk crème.
Other crunchy- and crispy-coated products that were showcased on the expo floor were Trolli Sour Gummi Crunchers from Ferrera Candy Co., and Sugar Babies Caramel Crunch from Tootsie Roll Industries. Both these products aim to appeal to younger consumers, company representatives said.
2. Spicy: The New Sour
Sweet heat is the new flavor profile in a growing number of confections and snacks, with companies pairing peppers with fruit, honey or chocolate.
Widely known for their colorful sweetness, Skittles Sweet Heat and Starburst Sweet Heat from Wrigley feature the brands' classic fruity candies, but with a spicy twist.
Other sweet and spicy offerings seen on the show floor included Genius Jerky’s honey habanero beef jerky, and from Hawaiian Host’s Mauna Loa brand, macadamia nuts in mango chipotle and honey sriracha flavors. Additionally, entering into the sour, sweet and heat realm, Impact Confections’ Hotheads Extreme Heat Worms are chewy candies that come in 0.5-ounce packages, available in two varieties: Original and Tropical.
3. Healthy Snacking
A walk through the expo's Skyline Hall Innovation Avenue introduced attendees to a number of new companies in the confection and snack world that boast unconventionally healthy items. For example, mushroom chips by Porta Bela made their debut at the show, alongside The Daily Crave Quinoa Chips, whose Gouda & Romano Cheese variety took home the Most Innovative New Product Award for salty snacks.
Then, there’s Vegan Rob’s, which was launched by entrepreneur Robert Ehrlich in 2015, who wanted a product that focused on nutrition, according to a company representative. The certified-vegan snacks are also certified gluten-free and kosher. The line includes products like Asparagus Chips, Brussel Sprout Puffs, Organic Spinach Strips, and Sea Salt Chickpeas, to name a few.
4. New Packaging
Soon popping up on convenience store shelves will be new innovations in packaging and product design. Mars Chocolate North America showcased stand-up, resealable packs for its core line of M&M’S, which are designed for future consumption and take-home, on-the-go portability, according to Jim Dodge, director of c-store sales.
Mars Chocolate also unveiled a makeover of its Combos snack brand. After analyzing the product shelves surrounding Combos — which have traditionally been sold in black packaging — Mars decided to repackage the salty snack line in standout white packaging with an updated, enlarged font. By lightening up the packaging, Combos will stand out from other brands that use dark colors, and this will keep it from getting lost in a sea of products, Dodge explained. The updated font also draws consumers in so they know they've found the exact Combos variety they're looking for.
Perky Jerky, too, showed off some new product packages that are part of the company's evolution. Driven by female consumers — chiefly, moms on the go — the company released its first stand-up pouch that is comprised of multipacks of smaller-portioned jerky. Then, specifically for the convenience channel, there are "protein pal" packs. These easy and convenient packs have a shelf life of six to nine months and feature portion-sized compartments of jerky, dried fruit, and a salty snack.
5. Riding the Technology Wave
Technology seemed to be around every corner at the 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo. This year, NCA introduced Destination Retail, which highlighted digital point-of-purchase displays and solutions that build shopper loyalty. IBM’s Watson technology was showcased. It can analyze consumer behaviors to help retailers better understand shoppers and drive in-store traffic.
Confection makers are jumping aboard the technology train, too. A new Beanboozled app from Jelly Belly Candy Co. allows friends to play on a virtual spinner remotely via a video feed. By using a video feed to connect, players see the same virtual spinner wheel, allowing them to play as if they were in the same room. It is available free for iPhone ot Android.
CSNews also caught up with Chuck Van Hyning, ecommerce director for Wrigley, who told editors that while many retailers and manufacturers fear the world of ecommerce, Wrigley is embracing it. Without disclosing names, Van Hyning explained that Wrigley is currently working with “brick-and-click” partners to grow confection sales online, as well as enhance marketing strategies.
One way in particular has Wrigley working with convenience store retailers to create a digital shopping trip. The process would allow consumers to make confectionery purchases online and then stop in-store to pickup their order. In-store pickup could lead to impulse buys and incremental basket sizes, Hyning noted.
“Digital gives unlimited opportunities,” he commented.
6. Small Companies Making Their Mark
During an "Eye Opener" session titled “State of the Market: Confectionery,” speaker Larry Levin, executive vice president of consumer and shopper market at IRI Worldwide, said that in terms of product innovation, David is performing at the same rate as Goliath and, in some cases, is outpacing him significantly. For example, when it comes to the top four snack and confectionery giants, new product innovation only grew 0.3 percent in 2016, while small companies grew 2.4 percent.
One small company made its mark by winning the inaugural Small Business Innovator Award as part of the Most Innovative New Product Awards. Buddha Brand Co. took home the prize for its Hungry Buddha + Probiotic Coconut Chips in Cheeky Chocolate, winning over a panel of judges with the product's taste, innovation, packaging and go-to-market ability.
7. Commitment to Transparency & Sustainability
Unveiled at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo was the announcement that eight confectionery companies — Mars Chocolate North America, Wrigley, Ferrero Rocher, Lindt, Ghirardelli, Russell Stover, Ferrara Candy Co. and Nestlé USA — are teaming up with the Partnership for a Healthier America in redoubling their efforts to create more options in innovative packaging, and educate consumers about how chocolate and candy play a role in a happy, balanced lifestyle. Over the next five years, these companies have committed to 200-calories-or-less sizes, as well as upfront message on 90 percent of its best-selling candy and chocolate products.
Hershey has committed to making 50 percent of its total portfolio of individually wrapped standard- and king-size confectionery products with 200 calories or less by 2022. In addition, 100 percent of its standard- and king-size confectionery products will feature Facts Up Front, easy-to-read front-of-pack calorie labels, by the end of 2018.
The 2017 Sweets & Snacks Show ran May 23-25 at Chicago's McCormick Place West.