On Health and Indulgence: My Trip to the Sweets & Snacks Expo

A slideshow on what stood out to me at this year’s show

CHICAGO -- I’ve been to 1.2 million trade shows in my tenure as a trade journalist. Well, almost that many.

But this was my first time to the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held at Chicago’s McCormick Place at the end of May. Willy Wonka’s theme song might as well have been playing in surround. I was indeed walking into a world of pure imagination.

I was welcomed by life-sized M&M’s, the smell of roasted nuts and attendees with bags overflowing with goodies. But there was so much more than the obvious afoot—the candy and snack arena is changing. Of course, many manufacturers were addressing the healthy elephant in the room, which is no easy task for snack and candy manufacturers. But there they were, right in front, both Mars Chocolate North America and Hershey’s unveiling better-for-you snack bars, jerky producers touting protein benefits and salty snacks made out of lentils.

And then there was indulgence. Oh the indulgence. You should have seen my bag when I snuck out through the gates. Let’s just say my two elementary-aged kids were super excited to see me when I got home.

Regardless of the flavor profile, nearly everything I saw could hold a place on c-store shelves, but here are a few that stood out.

Brookside Dark Chocolate Fruit & Nut Bars

Hershey’s Brookside Dark Chocolate Fruit & Nut Bars have simple ingredients and complex flavors. These gluten-free bars contain no high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or colors.

35-Stick Share Pack Wrigley's Extra Gum

This is a sneak peak at a prototype for the new 35-stick share pack for Wrigley’s Extra gum. The hard package and see-through window will not only survive better at the bottom of your briefcase, but it looks pretty cool, too.

Flipz Birthday Cake

This new flavor from DeMet’s Flipz brand chocolate-covered pretzels will be available in the fall. This party in a bag joins regular milk chocolate and white fudge options in the company’s lineup.

TGI Fridays Sriracha Snack Mix

These stand-up pouches of snack mix from TGI Fridays come in millennial-friendly flavors such as Sriracha Ranch, Cheddar Bacon and Sweet Barbecue.

Mars Candy Bars

These two limited-time offers are twists on classics. The Milky Way Marshmallow with Caramel Bar combines fluffy marshmallow nougat with a layer of caramel, all covered in creamy milk chocolate. The Snickers Mixed Nuts bar has peanuts as well as almonds and hazelnuts.

Jack Links Bacon Jerky

This new flavor joins the company’s pork protein line. Also new to the Small Batch line is bacon jerky—slow-smoked in the smokehouse for a rich flavor.

Plentils Chips

Enjoy Life Foods introduced Plentils, a chip made from lentil beans. It is packed with protein, is super crunchy, and is available in Garlic & Parmesan, Margherita Pizza, Dill & Sour Cream and Sea Salt flavors.

Mars Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate

Available in Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate, Apple Almond & Peanut Dark Chocolate, and Peach & Cherry Almond Dark Chocolate, goodnessknows snack squares are made with no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners, just whole nuts, real fruits, toasted oats and dark chocolate—all for 150 calories.