The Sweets and Snacks Expo is the premiere snack industry trade show, held every May in Chicago, IL. We attended this year’s show to relive a dream from an old Simpson’s episode and go adult trick-or-treating with the pros. In our quest, we learned a bit about candy and snacking trends, how the industry markets its products, and what’s going on in the modern global snacking industry.
While I can’t share all the samples we received, what I can do is give you a glimpse into what trends to look for in the sweets and snacks aisles of your local grocery, convenience, or corner store.
1. Edible Toys
Toys and candy have always mixed well, especially since kids enjoy both. One of my favorite candies as a child growing up in Germany was Kinder Eggs, which were represented at the expo, but I wasn’t able to get a hold of one. Kinder Eggs are illegal in the U.S. because of laws about encasing toys in chocolate. Of course several companies released Kinder Egg knockoffs, and we tried them all. What they’re all missing is the layer of white chocolate inside the milk chocolate (obviously none of them has ever actually eaten a Kinder Egg). They also don’t have the cool licensing agreements with brands like Disney that allow you to get actually cool and collectible figurines.
There are, however, still plenty of great combos of toys and candy, such as edible sand, toys filled with candy, and candy-themed board games. Beanboozled is so much more fun than Chutes and Ladders. Also, the Perky Jerky samurai reminded us it’s ok to play with our food and inspired my American Beauty parody above.
2. Crunchy Sweets
Hershey’s was one of the big winners at the Sweets and Snacks Expo (big surprise) with its introduction of crunchiness to traditional flavors. Peanut Butter Cups and Cookies n Cream bars were transformed with graham-flavored crisps for shareable snack pouches, and another delicious variation on the pb cup was born.
Where this industry giant goes, others are sure to follow, and there’s already a few small businesses mixing sweet and crunchy before the bandwagon was created.
3. Organic and Healthier Options
People typically refer to processed candies, chocolates, chips, crackers, meat sticks, etc. as junk food, and the National Confectioner’s Association is planning to change that. Much healthier options were plentiful around the expo floor, with chickpeas, coconut oil, gluten free, and more healthy alternatives becoming more mainstream.
Black Forest and other gummy and fruit snack makers aimed for organic, while some beef sticks were made kosher, and smaller packages made even the richest deserts more sensible.
4. DIY and Homemade
A highlight of the snack show as seeing how many entrepreneurs enabled consumers to create their own flavor sensations. Everything from cookies, candies, breads, cookies, and cakes can be made at home with the right mix or equipment. Molly and Drew’s bread mixes were a definite highlight (that’s Molly in the pic above), as was the EggMazing Easter egg decorating kit that spins the egg while you draw with markers.
A Christmas ornament version is coming soon, and if you’re not into the holiday stuff, Cotton Cravings makes some of the the most drool-worthy cotton candy on the planet thanks to this amazing machine that you can buy for your own home. Instant teas, candy personalization, it’s all at the Sweets and Snacks Expo.
5. Licensing Agreements
Like any business sector (check out Marvel- and Disney-themed tech and games at CES and E3), licensing agreements play a big part of the candy industry. Ferrero’s Nutella hazelnut spread and breadsticks got a minion upgrade in time for Despicable Me 3, while Jelly Belly’s most-coveted flavor were its latest Krispy Kreme lineup packaged with a donut shop flair.
Hello Kitty, the Peanuts Crew, hell, even Jesus and the Bible all found their way onto the latest sweets and snacks for 2017. If you’re a fan (or just enjoy the irony), look for more partnerships and mutual agreements on snack shelves of checkout stands around the world.
6. International Rarities
One of the best parts of attending the Sweets and Snacks Expo is tasting all the random small batch, limited edition, and international flavors. 2017 was no exception, and we were able to pick up some delectable international flavors from recognizable brands like matcha-flavored Pocky sticks, guava Laffy Taffy, and mango chile nerds.
Also present were Lucas (a popular candy along the U.S.-Mexico border where I grew up) and several other brands from Latin America, Europe, and Asia. One of my personal favorites was, of course, the foaming toilet bowl that’s oh-so Japanese.