Confection: Decadence and Differentiation

Craft brands permeate Sweets & Snacks Expo, while legacy players innovate

The footprint of high-end, craft and natural confection at the annual Sweets & Snacks Expo (held May 20-22 at Chicago’s McCormick Place) continues to grow, reflecting the ongoing consumer desire for affordable luxuries.

At the same time, legacy candy brands had their R&D teams working at full throttle to deliver a wide array of new extensions on perennial favorites in time for the show.

All these trends and their reflective products will appear on convenience-store shelves in the year to come.

Truffle oil, imported salts and browned butter added taste and texture to a wide variety of decadent products introduced at the expo. Indulgent categories have been on the rise for a few years, according to show host National Confectioners Association (NCA), Washington, D.C.

This year candy and snack makers found inspiration from dinner’s final course, such as whoopie pie and banana crème pie candy bars. For those who prefer to drink their desserts, attendees found a variety ranging from beer-themed chocolate and chewy candies to cherry cola, macchiato and crème de menthe flavored treats.

Coconut is also experiencing a resurgence in popularity with entries into the NCA’s Most Innovative New Product Awards in the sweet, salty, savory, chocolate and gourmet categories.

Overall, major manufacturers continued to focus on shareable, resealable varieties of consumer favorites, as well as resuscitating the gum category while riding the growth wave of mints with innovative new items. Wrigley launched a Juicy Fruit brand extension in a bubble-gum format, and The Hershey Co. rolled out Ice Breakers Cool Blasts, which starts as a gum before dissolving into a mint-like blast.

York Minis from The Hershey Co. won the inaugural Best in Show Award. The NCA awards Best in Show to the product that receives the most scans in the New Product Showcase and ranked in the top 10 of its category during the tasting panel.

Category winners meanwhile included Tabasco Dark Spicy Chocolate Wedges from The Chocolate Traveler; Jelly Belly Draft Beer Beans from Jelly Belly Candy Co.; Doodle Eggs from Vigneri Natural Chocolate; Sour Farts Flow Packs from Leaf Brands, Astro Pop LLC; Slim Chips Aged White Cheddar from Gourmet Basics; Show Me The Honey Coconut Chips from Bare Snacks; Bark Thins Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut with Almonds from Ripple Brands Collective; Project 7 Coconut Lime gum from Project 7; and Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Popcorn from POP! Gourmet Popcorn.

During an education session at the expo, Larry Wilson, vice president of customer relations for the NCA, encouraged retailers to focus on his “5E Principles” for driving customers to the candy aisle: experience, emotion, effectiveness, efficiency and environment.

“If you can create an increase in dwell time—how long a customer spends in the candy aisle, and not because they can’t find what they’re looking for—you can increase the chance of purchase by 30%,” Wilson said.