With a raging sweet tooth since basically birth, being able to attend industry shows like National Confectioners Association’s Sweets and Snacks Expo is one of my favorite job perks.
I’d gotten the chance to attend the annual spring event, held each May at Chicago’s McCormick Place, about seven years ago while I was in grad school. This week marked my first time back since then, and wow, had a lot changed!
Instead of sugar-laden treats like Snickers and Gushers taking center stage (though they did have a presence), more health-conscious, lighter items—including many savory choices—were big players at the 2017 Sweets and Snacks Expo. Here are four major trends I spotted as I ate my way through the expo hall yesterday.
From Skittles to Starbursts to Warheads, several unexpected brands debuted products that went from sour to sweet to spicy hot as you tasted them. Skittles Sweet Heat and Starbursts Sweet Heat flavors will launch this summer, and Warheads new Extreme Heat Worms are out now. After sampling the Skittles, I felt like I needed to wash it down with some chocolate…but spice-lovers (you know, the kind who dumps hot sauce on everything) will love these.
Planner Takeaway: As palates change, shake up profile flavors of desserts and even drinks to keep people guessing. Along the same line as sweet heat flavors, cocktails like mango jalapeno margaritas are so hot right now.
Overall I felt a lower energy throughout the show than I’d remembered from my first visit. However, the savory companies—especially the jerky purveyors—were the most fun booths at the whole show. Perky Jerky blasted tunes and served up cold beers while we sampled their all-natural beef and turkey jerky, in interesting new flavors like Jamaican spice, from a groovy Airstream trailer.
Planner Takeaway: People are craving more savory snacks during breaks. Jerky is a high-protein snack that gives more lasting energy than candy or baked goods, plus comes in a wide variety of flavors and meats—I spotted beef, turkey, salmon and even chicken jerky among the aisles.
If the empty freezer shelves at the grocery stores lately are any indication, healthy ice cream brands like Halo Top are creating a cult following. I thought I’d found my true love in Halo Top Sea Salt Caramel, but a new brand called Enlightened just may have stolen my heart with samples of its high-protein, low-sugar ice cream.
Planner Takeaway: As attendees become more health conscious, consider incorporating healthified brands of the same treats they love. Ice cream in summer? Perfection. Healthier ice cream in summer? Nailed it.
Pop the Question
Popcorn was everywhere at Sweets and Snacks Expo. Brands like The Little Kernel (which also gave away catchy stickers with punny phrases like, “Every day I’m Trufflin’”) showed off mini popcorn in colorful bags, while Popsalot Popcorn sampled gourmet flavors like Saigon Sunrise and Honolulu Aloha.
Planner Takeaway: Everyone and their mother is craving popcorn. Try one of the dozens of new brands out there during a snack break, or create build-your-own popcorn bars with a variety of toppings in colorful boxes (hint: sponsorship opportunity!). Don’t forget to add Caramel M&Ms, a hot new chocolate this year.