In 2017, the Sweets & Snacks Expo celebrated its 20th anniversary. Held in Chicago and run by the National Confectioners Association, the Sweet and Snacks Expo is the largest candy and snack trade show in the world, drawing in nearly 20,000 attendees every year looking for the hottest new snack trends from around the world.
You may recognize it from one of the more iconic Simpsons episodes (decades before it started to suck) where Homer is accused of molesting the babysitter when trying to pull the Venus de Milo gummy that stuck to her jeans after she sat on it while he gave her a ride home.
It’s everything you see here, and more, and here’s the scoop of how to get in and make the most of your adventure through the candy convention. You can pick up enough free samples to roll around naked in it and binge for a year with friends.
Admission to Sweets & Snacks Expo
The Sweets & Snacks Expo is held every year at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago. It’s closed to the public, so the only way you’re getting in is by being a member of the NCA, a retailer, or member of the media.
The event is typically held toward the end of May. Sweets & Snacks 2017 took place from May 23-27. Tickets can be purchased on the official Sweets & Snacks Expo website. The link provided is for 2017 and may change for future events (as can some of the finer details like venue and cost, so don’t hesitate to visit the site to learn more).
Admission starts at $50 for early bird brokers, suppliers, and exhibitors, and $100 for retailers and wholesalers. These tickets will get you onto the exhibit floor, along with educational sessions and the keynote reception, but many events require separate registration.
Media passes are free and media registration (along with qualification guidelines) can be found here.
Sweets & Snacks Expo Tickets
Sweets & Snacks passes are in the form of a plastic ID card with a scannable QR code. The lanyard has two holes punched in it, and it’s scanned at every entrance to the exhibit halls and session rooms. It’s not necessary for after-hour events, however, as these are handled through PR agencies through email and online booking sites.
Passes are picked up onsite starting one day prior to the start of the event.
Sweets n Snacks Expo Sessions and Afterparties
Although the real draw for any foodie or snack fan is the exhibit floor, there are a ton of informational sessions to attend and learn every aspect of making, packaging, selling, and marketing snacks of all flavors. Consumer buying trends vary year by year, and everyone from giants like Hershey’s to start-ups are constantly seeking that next big flavor sensation, and these sessions are the premiere place to keep an eye on who’s innovating where.
Several educational tracks are available for all levels and skil lsets, and there’s also an awards ceremony that’s worth attending.
As with any expo, trade show, and conference, the best business deals are often made in the clubs afterward. Corporations rent hotels, bars, and other venues, along with hospitality suites, to negotiate wholesale, importing, and other issues while having drinks and celebrating. This is the best place to network with industry professionals.
If you can’t get into the expo, try to get into these after-parties to get business done.. Arrive early and post up at a table – people will cycle through looking for that extra seat across from you, and you’ll have one-on-one time with some of the the snack industry’s most powerful leaders.
What to Expect at the Sweets n Snacks Expo
Being the largest confectionery and snack food trade show, companies from all over the globe show up. Both Japanese and Mexican candies and snacks have a large presence, as do international and global conglomerates from all walks of life. There’s a nice range of large megacorps and startups to meet every need and taste.
There are two exhibit floors, but there are also conferences, meetings, and events held throughout the conference center. Shuttles run to and from McCormick Place to several offsite hotels, as well as Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
At any given moment, there are several educational sessions happening. Planning ahead of time goes a long way in making for a smooth conference.
Aside from gummies, chocolates, hard candies, and other sweets, you’ll find teas, juices, energy bars, nuts, jerkies, and pretty much everything found in convenience and retail checkout stands across the globe.
What to Bring and Wear to the Sweets and Snacks Expo
There’s no specific dress code, though business casual seems to be the generally agreed-upon median. It depends on what you’re there for – you’ll need comfortable clothes to walk and sit through much of the events, but presenters, exhibitors, and others often choose business professional.
Concessions are hilariously overpriced – though only media and VIP attendees are provided with lunch and breakfast, you’ll have no problem finding sustenance while walking the exhibit floor. Bring some clothes to workout in – to experience everything, you’re going to be doing a lot of walking and heavy lifting.
Picking up samples is no issue, but getting them home can be. In addition to luggage we brought, we ended up shipping over 38 pounds of candy and snacks back home and waiting a week for it to arrive so we could finally complete this write-up. Overall, it’s definitely worth your time to head to Chicago in May, and be on the lookout for 2017’s latest candy trends.