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    A Sweets & Snacks Recap from All Candy Expo

    More than 2,000 new sweet treats and savory snacks debuted on the show floor.

    By Renee Covino

    CHICAGO -- It was a three-day sugar and snack rush for attendees who came to preview, sample and strategize sweets and snacks at the National Confectioner Association’s (NCA) 2009 All Candy Expo held here last Tuesday through Thursday.

    It seems even the down economy couldn’t sour a show that was filled with sweet unveilings and subsequent sweet traffic. Preliminary NCA numbers revealed overall attendance was up 6 percent for the show, and the number of exhibitors appeared to be up slightly, too—by about 1 percent.

    Educational sessions kicked off the show and the start of each day in a "Candy Time Today" room, created with see-through wall paneling and ample seating right outside the main entrance to the show floor. New item trends, confectionery and snack merchandising for the times, growing confectionery sales in the convenience channel, maximizing checkout performance, and better-for-you snacking were some of the relevant topics covered to well-attended crowds.

    "People really love the sessions—our educational seminars hit an all-time high in attendance," said Jim Corcoran, NCA’s vice president of trade relations. An average of about 225-230 audience members were reportedly present for each session.

    Overall, Corcoran believes the largest confectionery and snack trade show in the Americas "really clicked" with show-goers, especially given the category’s power in this economic climate. "The interest and quality of customers in attendance reveal the importance that retailers and wholesalers place on candy and snacks in their overall sales and profit mix," he said.

    On the show floor, more than 2,000 new sweet treats and savory snacks debuted. Below are some strong themes surrounding the new items that would seem to resonate in the category moving forward:

    -- Super fruits are super hot flavors (cranberry, pomegranate, blueberry, cherry, raspberry acai);
    -- Lemonade and lemon flavors are strong contenders;
    -- “Real” fruit flavoring is appearing on more packaging;
    -- Exotic origins are on the rise—expect to see more "odd-sounding" flavors;
    -- Limited editions are more limited, but still pertinent;
    -- Premium chocolate is waning a bit in dark, and some interesting unveilings have come out featuring premium milk chocolate;
    -- Little gourmet chocolates are flowing from mainstream players;
    -- Sea Salt is a key topper, not just for snacks, but in sweets, too;
    -- Jalapeno flavor is everywhere in snacks, including meat snacks;
    -- Restaurant-licensed snacks are gaining in popularity;
    -- Specialty drinks are hot snack flavors (think Margaritas and Bloody Marys);
    -- 100-calorie snacks are not going anywhere -- portability and portion control are targeted to both kids and adults;
    -- Old nostalgic favorites are carefully expanding with minor line extensions;
    -- Favorite candies are also expanding into holiday shapes and colors;
    -- Nostalgic packaging continues to make a comeback;
    -- Super sour candy still packs a punch with kids—regular sour candy seems to have some adult followers, too; and
    -- Sugar-free gum flavors continue to evolve, with mint being a popular blend with fruits and other exotic flavors

    Also featured within the show:

    -- It’s All About Merchandising, a showcase of the latest cutting-edge retail merchandising displays for confectionery and snacks, including permanent and temporary displays, shelving, signage, in-store solutions and other display aids.

    -- The Gourmet Marketplace, a "show within a show" featuring a variety of specialty products in every candy and snack segment, from premium and upscale to fortified, all-natural and organic. This is where show attendees also got to experience upscale wine/beer tastings and pairings (with chocolate and snacks), while meeting some of the world’s top chocolate artisans.

    On the last day of the All Candy Expo, Convenience Store News’ 2009 Candy & Snacks Best Practices Roundtable, sponsored by McLane Co. and held in conjunction with the NCA, brought together best-in-class c-store retailers to discuss best practices and trends in the candy and snack categories, as well as to share their opinions for what they saw at the show. The insight from these top-notch players will be featured in an upcoming CSNews article.

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