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    Snacks Remain Popular at NACS

    Beef jerky, healthy alternatives lead the way.

    CHICAGO -- Teriyaki-flavored, Cajun, hickory-smoked, jalapeno, pepperoni and pizza-flavored, in chips, in strips and links, beef jerky was ubiquitous at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) show at McCormick Place in Chicago.

    "Jerky has just boomed," said Eric Evenson of Old Trapper jerky. "The market is growing 25 to 30 percent a year." The growing popularity of low-carbohydrate diets has boosted sales, he said.

    Other snack trends and hot products at the NACS show include:
    * Energy-boosted everything: energy drinks, energy pills, energy Popsicles. There was even caffeinated gum -- by the same folks who brought you Jolt Cola -- in icy mint and spearmint. The slogan of Jolt Caffeine Energy Gum? "Chew More, Do More.''
    * Vampire-themed drinks from Transylvania Imports. There was Dracola and Vamp energy drink, "For When the Sun Goes Down." There was even red-tinted Vampyre vodka and Vampire Vineyards cabernet sauvignon. "We seem to get a lot of first-time wine drinkers," said Michael Machat, president/CEO, shaking up the vodka. "It just clings to the glass," he said. "It's like blood."
    * Doritos is offering a new shape, coming soon. They're rolled like tiny tortillas and called "Rollitos."
    * Low-carbohydrate drinks and foods. There's a low-carb Snapple "for people watching their weight, on the Atkins diet," said a Snapple spokeswoman. A malt liquor called "Thin Ice'' markets itself as "90 calories, 1 carb, 0 Guilt."
    * Spanish flavors. Snackerz is marketing Mexican snacks dusted with chili and lime. One of its most popular items are Saladitos, or salted plums with chili. "We sell it to all the pregnant girls across the country, Hispanic, anybody,'' said spokesman Ron Emrani.
    * Candy that's also a toy. Flashin' Lix Light Up Jelly Pops feature the likenesses of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for those nostalgic about those '80s terrapins. The lollipops get activated by pulling a tab, and the polycarbonate-encased lights shine through the translucent lollies.
    * Single-serving cups for all types of victuals. In these days of 10-cupholder minivans, "cupholders are for food now,'' said Jeff Lenard, director of communications for NACS. "There is no lunch hour, and I'm not sure people would say there's a lunch half-hour," Lenard said. "It's what you can grab and throw down." Items offered in cups include sunflower seeds, Famous Amos cookies, Cheez-Its, Cracklin' Oat Bran cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms and Campbell's soup, chunky and regular.
    * Viagra knock-offs. Milton Paris of Nationwide Vitamins was hawking dietary supplements called VigorA that claims to boost sexual energy. "It's unbelievable," Paris said. "You want to call my wife?"

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