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CHICAGO -- Candy and snacks prove to be forever-young as new products and trends abounded at last week's Sweets & Snacks Expo -- the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) annual trade show -- held in Chicago's McCormick Place.
The new show name, formerly the All Candy Expo, "better reflects the wide variety of snack products featured," according to Larry Graham, president of the NCA. "At a time when trade shows in many other industries have declined, the Sweets & Snacks Expo has grown and become even more valuable to confectionery and snack manufacturers and customers alike."
The show boasted a record-breaking sell-out of 484 exhibitors, a 7.5-percent increase over 2009, and a 20-percent increase in attendees (1,000 more than last year), according to Jenn Ellek, NCA's director of trade communications and marketing.
In an opening show session, four trend specialists identified the "coolest products" and "hottest trends" of the industry after independently reviewing more than 100 new items sent to them before the show. Five of the candy items were mentioned by more than one panelist as being one of their top-choice favorites, namely:
-- M&M's Pretzel Chocolate Candies: "It's a neat brand extension that you think, why didn't they come up with it sooner?" said Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink. Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG Trend Insights at Mintel, also chose the M&Ms Pretzel as a top-choice, but added that Mars "risks getting a little too far away from what M&M's are all about. It could backfire." Then again, the "crunchy, salty, sweet" sensation highlighted on the packaging was a continuing popular trend at the show this year.
-- Gimbal's Honey Lovers Heart-Shaped Fruit Chews: "They're not only made with honey, I love the fact that on the package it says that 5 percent of the proceeds goes to honey bee research," said Michele Bowman, co-founder, AndSpace Consulting. "Honey is the new sugar," added Bodell. The "honey do" trend was also picked up by Glory Bee Foods in their HoneyStix and Jelly Belly with their new Honey Bean flavor.
-- VBI vitamingum: "I love the packaging and the fact that it's healthy and functional," said Bowman. "It's also another way of melding what we see as boomers are aging and coming into retirement with the ways I see us taking medication -- this will be vastly different and chewing gum is one option," added Bodell. Other "functional" items highlighted at the show were Cadbury's Dentyne Pure, the first in the category with NeutraFresh, said to neutralize bad breath odors, and Premier Nutrition's Titan Vanilla Caramel Nut Bar, said to be high in protein and low in sugar.
-- Cote D'Or Pistache Noir Chocolate Bar from Kraft: "Yum" is all Dornblaser could say about that. Bowman agreed with the "yum factor," but added it was a good example of a company "putting more effort into branding their social responsibility." The bar is a great example of two popular trends in the chocolate arena: dark and "green" efforts.
-- Annie's Organic Bunny Fruits: "Organic is really big," said Kim Moldofsky, blogger and founder of MomImpact.com. Fruity flavors with a "twist" are also popping up in many non-chocolate candies like Wrigley's Skittles Fizzl'd Fruits and Necco's Dazzled Tart Sweethearts.
Other new-product highlights from the panel, some overlapping in the trends mentioned above, included: Notorious Nut Confections, Jim Beam Bourbon Glaze Strips, Dentyne Pure Gum, Crystal Light Chew Candy, 3 Musketeer's Truffle Crisp, Asher's Sea Salt Caramels, Dark Chocolate Kit Kat, American Licorice's Natural Vines, Endangered Species Supreme Dark Chocolates and Vegan Chocolate Truffles.
Panelists also offered predictions for "what candy will become" in five years. "Candy will continue to blur the lines between food and medicine, food and fun, nourishment and treats, and good and bad," said Dornblaser.
"Candy will be the new health food," predicted Bowman. "It'll be a great opportunity to rethink what candy is -- it doesn't have to be all about sugar. An apple is healthy, but what if it was genetically modified with cinnamon and sugar -- it becomes more like a candy all of a sudden. Diabetes is a huge problem, and candy has a huge opportunity to become that new category to address it."
As a warning to the industry, Moldofsky said: "Candy has the potential to become legislated if it doesn't take the lead."
"Look at Campbell's Soup and the soup industry -- what they've done to get out in front of sodium before everyone else," offered Dornblaser. "That's the challenge -- to get out in front of legislative issues before you get legislated out of business."
Candy and snack trends were also discussed by convenience store retailers at Convenience Store New's Candy Roundtable, held in conjunction with the Sweets & Snacks Expo. There, participants mentioned Cadbury's Trident Layers as one of the best new products in their stores recently. At the show, Trident introduced more new Layers flavors to the lineup, including Cool Mint with Melon Fresco. Cadbury Adams also unveiled its Stride Shift gum -- the industry's first flavor-changing gum, going from a citrus or berry flavor to mint.
For more candy roundtable highlights, stay tuned for an upcoming issue of Convenience Store News.
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