CHICAGO — Funky flavors and innovative formats abounded at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, one of the largest showcases of new snack and candy trends from around the industry. This year’s show, held May 21-23 at McCormick Place in Chicago, featured more than 1,000 suppliers displaying their newest items, ranging from gummies and saltwater taffy to crickets and pasta chips, which may reach convenience-store shelves in the near future.
Here were 12 big trends CSP noticed at this year’s show …
Beverage-flavored snacks and candies were hot at this year’s expo. This was seen in products such as Craft Beer Pretzels from the Boardwalk Food Co.; Jack Daniels’ Tennessee Whiskey Cake; Guinness chocolate bars; and brand-new Theo’s Root Beer Barrel Dark Chocolate bars, which also come in Cinnamon Horchata Crunch and Grapefruit Ginger flavors.
The compound annual growth rate for soft-chew gum has increased 36% since 2013, making it the fastest-growing form in the gum category, according to Mars Wrigley Confectionery. This led the company to debut its newest gum variety, Extra Refreshers, at the event. It comes in three flavors: Spearmint, Polar Ice and Tropical Mist, all of which are sugar-free and come in 40-count bottles and 120-count stand-up pouches.
Emojis and chocolate
The Hershey Co. showcased its new-and-improved milk chocolate bar, which features a unique packaging and format. The new design aims to appeal to consumers who enjoy emojis, which are ideograms used in electronic messages and web pages. The bar features 25 emoji characters across six different package designs. It will launch in retailers nationwide this summer for a limited time in standard 1.55-ounce individual bars and 9.45-ounce snack-size bags.
Cheese-flavored items have been around for years, but what about products that list cheese as the only ingredient? Snack suppliers have tackled this trend in response to consumer demands for treats with as few ingredients as possible, representatives from Elma Farms, producer of Air Cheese, told CSP at the show. Other 100% cheese snacks at the expo included Just the Cheese bars and Stacey’s Cheese Petites.
Meat snacks were ubiquitous at the show, and some of these products were showcased in formats besides classic beef jerky. Take Jack Link’s Zero Sugar Beef Jerky, which increases the better-for-you appeal for consumers; and De.Hi Crispy Jerky, traditional jerky that has the texture and crunch of a potato chip.
This year’s expo had a strong international presence, especially from Asian snack food brands such as Sokusa and Korepia Corp., manufacturers of Seaweed Crisps, Lotus Root Crisps and other plant-based snacks. Kalahari Biltong, a meat-snack company based in New Zealand, also showcased its Biltong Jerky, which comes in Original, Spicy Peri Peri and Garlic flavors.
While sunflower seeds—a convenience-store staple—were prevalent at the event, attendees also sampled products made with more unique legumes, such as Crunchsters and Go Raw, which contain mung beans and pumpkin seeds, respectively. Crunchsters are protein-packed superfood snacks that come in tube-like packages, while Go Raw Pumpkin Seeds come in stand-up pouches.
It was impossible to miss the variety of sweet-flavored popcorn at the show. These included Butter Toffee and Chocolate Drizzled popcorn from Patti LaBelle Brands, Vanilla Caramel and Cookies & Cream Caramel from Farmer John’s Popcorn, and Chocolate Chip and Butterfinger flavors from Cookie Pop Popcorn.
Pasta Snacks, a producer of noodle chips, debuted its brand-new Penne Straws at the show. The oval-shaped chips are made with lentils and white beans and come in a variety of flavors, such as Parmesan Garlic, Marinara and Pepper, all of which are gluten-free. Besides the new Penne Straws, Pasta Snacks also showcased its classic Pasta Chips and Bowties at the show.
Products containing cannabidiol (CBD), the nonpsychoactive ingredient in cannabis, made an appearance at the expo in snack, candy and energy-shot forms. The wellness shots from CBD producer Go Tukan come in two formats: Recover and Focus, both of which contain 25 milligrams of CBD per shot. The difference between the two is that Focus contains caffeine and Recover does not.
Big Dipper Cookie Dough Co. debuted its flagship product, raw cookie dough, in four flavors at the show: Chocolate Chip, Cookies and Cream, Cherry Chocolate Chip and Monster (chocolate chips, oatmeal, coconut and peanut butter). Big Dipper Cookie Dough is free of eggs, allowing consumers to enjoy the product without the risk of getting sick. This was the only raw cookie dough product at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.
Are six-legged creatures the snack of the future? Snack and candy producer Hotlix showcased its Crick-ettes, a line of crispy cricket snacks, at the show. These real crickets are seasoned and come in three flavors: Bacon & Cheese, Salt N’ Vinegar and Sour Cream & Onion, all of which are available in 1.4-gram pouches.