CHICAGO — “Can you last five minutes?”
That is the challenge issued by Flamethrower Candy Co., St. Louis, the maker of The Toe of Satan lollipop. The product contains nine million Scoville units. To put it in perspective, that is roughly 900 times hotter than a jalapeño pepper.
Hundreds of social media posts are devoted to the spicy sucker showdown. Beyond bragging rights, the prize is unclear.
Flamethrower Candy featured its portfolio of red-hot confections at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 21-23 in Chicago. Joining the lineup is Lil Nitro, the world’s hottest gummy bear, also made with a chili extract featuring nine million Scoville units. (This editor’s courageous sister sampled Lil Nitro and described the experience as “fire coated the whole mouth.”)
Consumers are discovering new products in the forms of unusual colors, popping candy, hot and spicy options, cooling effects, and interactive, personalized packaging.
Nearly 60% of consumers under the age of 44 agree “it is important to spend money on experiences,” giving rise to the concept of “sensorial snacking,” said Jared Koerten, head of packaged food at Euromonitor International.
“One element is visual; in an Instagram world where I’m taking a picture of everything on my smartphone before I eat it, color really, really matters,” Mr. Koerten said during a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. “It’s not just visual, though. It’s texture. It’s mouthfeel. It’s the idea that I want something crunchy and creamy and sweet and maybe a little salty, all at the same time.”
Nearly two-thirds of American consumers say they love to discover new flavors, according to Innova Market Insights. The industry is responding.
“What we’re seeing is increased branding efforts on discovery, with 17% annual growth in discovery claims over a five-year period,” said Mindy Hermann, senior market analyst at Innova Market Insights. “How do we define discovery? Products packaged with the words ‘discover,’ ‘explore,’ ‘uncover’ or ‘unveil.’”
Consumers are seeking adventure and novelty through global flavors. An example at the Sweets & Snacks Expo comes from Finland’s Fazer Group, which has operations in Andover, Mass. The company is introducing to the U.S. market its Nordi premium chocolate brand, featuring such flavor profiles as sea buckthorn and salty caramel, raspberry and tangy licorice, and hazelnut and coffee.
“Like our founder, Karl Fazer, the fearless pioneer who brought people new ideas and inspiration from all over the world, we value artisanal crafts and pure ingredients to innovate and combine taste sensations that touch upon magic,” said Nathalie Ahlstrom, managing director of Fazer Confectionery. “We saw a great opportunity to bring our promise, ‘Northern magic, made real’ to the U.S. market with our better-for-you premium chocolate brand that imparts a sense of Nordic adventure through the taste of chocolate.”
Offering a twist on texture, Riffs Smokehouse, Minneapolis, has developed Bacon on the Go, a line of fully cooked, thick-cut strips of bacon in flavors that include sweet and spicy, hot coffee, raspberry chipotle, Thai curry and habanero heat. The ready-to-eat product is shelf-stable and may be microwaved in the package for five seconds to create a “hot-off-the-smoker” taste and aroma, according to the company.
Beyond discovery, individual needs and preferences are creating a significant impact on new product development. Products positioned as plant-based grew 55% over the past year, while paleo products grew 31%, vegan products grew 20% and high-protein products grew 16% on a global basis, according to Innova Market Insights.
A standout snack at the show was Vegan Rob’s Vegan Burger Puffs from Rob’s Brands, L.L.C., Sea Cliff, N.Y. Made with organic whole grain sorghum flour, the product features a plant-based seasoning inspired by the Beyond Burger, said founder Robert Ehrlich.
Another vegan offering, from Nomba Enterprises Inc., Walnut, Calif., are gummies in sour tamarind, hot guava and raw mango flavors. Described as “vegan candy with a kick,” the products are made with a proprietary blend of plant-based gels instead of gelatin.
“Alternative proteins are huge and are becoming bigger and bigger in the snacks arena and also the sweets arena,” Ms. Hermann said.
Seeds stand in for nuts as an allergen-friendly alternative in a number of products on display at Sweets & Snacks. 88 Acres, Allston, Mass., debuted watermelon seed butter, which is described as earthy, buttery and savory, and is packaged in jars and single-serve pouches.
Snack puffs from A’mond Snacks, Woodland, Calif., are made with almonds and a multigrain blend of rice, quinoa and sorghum, plus added probiotics to promote digestive and immune health.
“Consumers are willing to pay a premium when it comes to healthier snack offerings,” Mr. Koerten said. “The way people think about the products and the brands they buy is changing.”