CHICAGO — From cotton candy to kale, new products showcased from 650 companies at the Sweets & Snacks Expo held May 20-22 in Chicago reflected trends in nostalgia, superfoods and flavor adventure.
“This year we see an interesting mix of new products that push flavor boundaries and introduce innovative ingredients, alongside new products that have returned to classic taste profiles and comforting ingredients,” said Alison Bodor, executive vice-president of the National Confectioners Association (N.C.A.), which hosted the show. “It’s an interesting balance; on the one hand, you have Sriracha, and on the other, peanut butter. There are products with kale or chia seeds, ingredients many Americans are getting to know, and products with coconut or marshmallows, classic ingredients being taken to a whole new level.”
Total sweet and savory snacks generate nearly $42 billion in annual U.S. retail sales, according to the N.C.A. In the 52 weeks ended April 20, salty snacks climbed 4.8%, chocolate candy grew 4.1%, and granola bars increased 4%. Crackers, cookies, and non-chocolate candy also grew in the past year.
To sustain the steady growth, product innovators are leveraging on-trend ingredients and flavors, portion preferences and consumer behaviors.
Seeds and superfoods
So-called super fruits, chickpeas, ancient grains and kale are gaining ground in mainstream snacks. With 45% of consumers seeking snacks with health benefits, according to IRI Worldwide, candy and snack manufacturers are answering the demand by adding such on-trend ingredients and flavors. BarkThins is set to launch a blueberry quinoa with agave variety to its line of chocolate snacks. Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. is expanding its Starburst line with a Superfruit variety, featuring such flavors as raspberry pomegranate, strawberry starfruit, passionfruit punch and blueberry acai. Chips made with chia seeds and flavored chickpea snacks also were featured.
Greek is the word
Snack makers are harnessing Greek yogurt’s health halo in such products as Instant Greek Yogurt Pudding Mix from Jel Sert, Greek yogurt-coated Pretzel Crisps from Snack Factory. Hostess is set to debut a line of Greek Yogurt Cakes, made with real Greek yogurt in such flavors as apple cinnamon and strawberry. Brach’s Greek Yogurt Granola Bites and G.H. Cretors Greek yogurt-drizzled caramel corn also were showcased at the expo.
Candy makers are keying in on childhood classics, with s’mores, peanut butter and jelly, and birthday cake among featured flavors in new products. The campfire staple sweetens new cereal bars from Kellogg’s Krave line and Chuao Chocolatier’s Oh My S’Mores, a milk chocolate bar studded with miniature marshmallows and crushed honey graham crackers. Peanut butter and jelly are featured in Bud’s Best Cookies bite-size sandwich cookies, Welch’s PB&J bite-size snacks, and Baron PB&J’s filled chocolate bars. Birthday cake is celebrated in a new M&Ms variety from Mars and sugar-free gum from Project 7. Additionally, Tic Tac has added a flavor of breath mints inspired by summer popsicles, and Hammond’s Candies has debuted a new line of cotton candy.
The heat goes on
Sriracha remains red hot in such new products as popcorn from Popcorn, Indiana, Pop! Gourmet Popcorn, and The Popcorn Factory, Giants sunflower seeds, and Cosmos Creations puffed corn. Also surging in popularity is wasabi, packing heat and complexity in new Chex Chips from General Mills, reduced-calorie popcorn from The Popcorn Factory, gluten-free rice snacks from Kameda Crisps, and seasoned sliced almonds from Good Sense. Sweets with a spicy surprise include new Tabasco-flavored chocolate bars and a jalapeno lime variety of brittle from Hammond’s Candies.
Indulgent cake flavors have become a favorite among candy makers, with red velvet reigning in chocolate truffles and candy bars. Russell Stover has added chocolate cake and wedding cake to its line of Big Bites chocolate-covered candies, which also features red velvet and cookie dough flavors. A new variety of chocolate bar from Hebert is banana cream pie, and Hammond’s Candies has added cookie dough and whoopie pie flavors to its line of chocolate bars. Strawberry cheesecake and crème brulee also are popular picks for new products.
Bites and minis
Scaled-down sweets are growing, with Hershey, Mars and other dominant players adding bite-size versions of popular products. Hershey expanded its hand-to-mouth platform with York Minis bite-size peppermint patties, and Mars has extended its Bites line with Twix, Three Musketeers, and Milky Way Simply Caramel. Ghiradelli also has introduced a Minis line of smaller squares in milk chocolate caramel, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate sea salt and almond varieties. Perfetti Van Melle Inc. is introducing Airheads Bites and Mini Mentos. Mrs. Fields recently added a Nibblers line of bite-size cookies in double chocolate fudge, peanut butter chip and milk chocolate chip flavors. New from Just Born are Peeps Minis, a bite-size version of its chick-shaped marshmallow treat in three flavors: chocolate, strawberry and sour watermelon. Unlike the franchise’s seasonal products, the miniature platform will be available year-round.
Belly up to the barFrom beer to buffalo wing, pub-inspired flavors are popping up in a number of new products. Draft beer is the latest jelly bean flavor from Jelly Belly. Also on tap is a Guinness dark chocolate bar flavored with the namesake stout. Snack makers also are picking pickle for recent product development. Herr’s Creamy Dill flavored popcorn, Lite Works Popcorn from The Popcorn Factory, Skinny Girl Pretzel Thins in cucumber dill flavor, dill pickle peanuts from The Carolina Nut Co., and Dilly Dally pickle candy from Barrels of Yum were on display at the show.