Show Preview: Sweets & Snacks Expo

Snacking, gourmet indulgences at forefront of show trends

Traditional candy products are losing some of their identity—and confectioners couldn’t be happier. The lines are increasingly (and intentionally) being blurred as candy varieties assume snack characteristics. Meanwhile, more products are reflecting gourmet desserts as a way to satisfy indulgent cravings.

Category innovation skewed in this direction will be on display May 21-23 at Chicago’s McCormick Place for the Sweets & Snacks Expo, which represents the largest in the show’s 16-year history. The sold-out Expo—featuring 610 exhibitors (up from about 550 in 2012)—encompasses $150 billion of worldwide buying power in the confectionery, snack and cookie categories.

A growing number of marketers touting products with snack and indulgent/gourmet qualities are flocking to the Expo, Jenn Ellek, director of trade marketing and communications for the Washington, D.C.-based National Confectioners Association (NCA), who organizes the show.

“From multinational companies to boutique firms, we’re continuing to see growth in the snack segment of the industry, as 40% of this year’s exhibitors will feature a snack-type product in their line,” she tells Convenience Store Products. Emblematic of this trend is an offering such as M&M’s Snack Mix, a sweet and salty blend of roasted almonds and crunchy pretzels with wholesome raisins enhanced by M&Ms chocolate candies, available in 8-ounce, resealable bags.

Meanwhile, marketers are increasing their stake in gourmet offerings, creating a consumer experience that mimics characteristics of indulgent desserts.

A sign of the times is that the Expo’s Gourmet Marketplace has grown over six years to represent more than 85 gourmet confectionery and snack companies, an increase of 10% from 2012.

“We’re seeing flavors based on comfort desserts, and one example is red velvet cake chocolate bars,” Ellek says.

One recent launch that looks to capitalize on this is General Mills’ Sweet Rewards, which features Devil’s Food Bites, Buttercream Bites, Chocolate Chip Bar, Triple Chip Bar and Fudge Crunch Bar. The varieties are formulated with a mix of cake and frosting dipped in chocolate coating, and soft cookie with chips also dipped in chocolate coating.

The overarching theme of both trends—snacking or indulgence—is an emphasis on portability. Chicago-based IRI recently indicated during a March webinar that on-the-go snacking is fueled by a bubbling trend that sees more baby boomers enjoying active lifestyles. The result is sustained day-part snacking and the desire to stay satiated throughout the day. The solution is mini-meals, according to the research firm.

Ellek says that a few other trends have carved out a niche in the industry this year, including the proliferation of honey-based snacks. “Honey features healthful attributes, and one example is honey chews formulated with bee pollen,” she says.

Spicy and hot is unrelenting, she says, seen through the continued pipeline of products formulated with chipotle, cinnamon and jalapeno. Retro food trends—where all that was old is new again—is seen in the form of offers such as candy corn pops and ring pop gummies, says Ellek.

At the Expo, innovation excellence will be acknowledged through the Most Innovative New Product awards. A panel of 12 industry leaders across retailing, consulting, trend experts and wholesale distributing (plus one dietician) will select the new products most likely to succeed across eight candy and snack categories—rating 200-plus products in the process.

Amid the emphasis on gourmet and indulgence, marketers are making a point to be vigilant in two ways: transparency with ingredient disclosures and smaller portion sizes. Many manufacturers have adopted the front-of-package labeling system that provides consumers with product ingredient listings.

Being able to view the ingredient profile of a snack provides guidance to consumers, but at the end of the day these indulgence-loving consumers, “while always thinking about better-for-you eating, have a mindset that when it comes to an indulgent snack, they demand indulgence to taste the way it should taste,” says Ellek, “and they won’t settle for substitutes.”

For more information on the 2013 Sweets & Snacks Expo, visit