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CHICAGO — Thousands of attendees and hundreds of supplier companies gathered together Tuesday at the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) 2015 Sweets & Snacks Expo to create what NCA President and CEO John Downs called "the largest candy shop in North America."
Spirits were high at the trade show's opening session due to the continued success of the candy and snack industries, which Downs labeled as "vibrant." He cited the extraordinarily high 98-percent household penetration rate of candy, which beats out other products many would consider to be more important, including toilet paper.
Health concerns and candy's public image are issues suppliers and retailers alike should keep in mind, yet consumers would rather adjust their overall sugar consumption by cutting down on sugar that is hidden in non-candy products and enjoy candy in moderation as a treat.
"Consumers understand what they are getting when they buy candy," Downs said, later praising the candy industry's leadership on the issues of sustainability, labeling and responsible marketing. "Life is sweet — celebrate it."
Other speakers at the expo's opening day keynote session included David Freedman, contributing editor at The Atlantic, who discussed the confusion caused by contradicting messages about the obesity crisis and how candy and snack industry players can react; and IRI Worldwide Executive Vice President Larry Levin, who discussed the meaning behind new facts and figures from recent market research.
The intersection of health and candy was also an important topic during the special lunchtime session, "New Era in Candy Land: Navigating Health and Well-Being," hosted by Mars Chocolate North America. Award-winning food reporter Steve Dolinski moderated the discussion, whose participants included Mars' Berta De Pablos-Barbier, vice president marketing, and Mary Myers, director of product development; Carolyn O'Neil, a registered dietitian and food and nutrition journalist; and consumer trend analyst, food marketing expert and "Supermarket Guru" Phil Lempert.
Retailers are focused on health and wellness but confused by it, as are consumers, and "people want education," said Lempert.
Panelists also discussed the issue of added sugar in candy and snacks as opposed to "intrinsic" sugar that exists naturally in many ingredients, including less obvious ones such as milk.
"All products can be part of a healthy lifestyle," Myers said.
As Seen on the Show Floor
Organic and better-for-you products that tie into consumers' desire for healthier treats and can fit into their lifestyle had a significant presence on the exhibition floor, as did premium and indulgent treats.
Exhibiting suppliers noted today's consumers are increasingly interested in experimenting with new and bold flavors, as well as new combinations of familiar flavors.
"Sour is huge," said a representative for Bazooka Candy Brands.
Other current popular flavors included cotton candy, sea salt and exotic fruits.
Along with displaying their newest products and upcoming launches, several suppliers showcased their creative sides on the show floor. For instance, The Hershey Co. demonstrated the creation of hollow 3-D Hershey's Kisses throughout the day using a 3-D chocolate printer, while Dorval Trading Co. Ltd. offered personalized "candyality" personality assessments based on people's candy preferences.
The 2015 Sweets & Snacks Expo continues through Thursday at McCormick Place in Chicago.