Trend Hunting at NACS

Big flavors, CPG ‘drafting,’ packaging power and eight more trends from the show

ATLANTA -- Another NACS Show has come and gone, leaving in its wake a multitude of new products that will flourish or falter in the next year. This year’s crop also reflects the state of the industry, and Convenience Store Products takes a look at a handful of trends revealed among the new products launched at the show.

1. Flavor Building

It’s rare to find a one-note candy or snack these days, because manufacturers are instead bringing in flavors that are meals unto themselves. Ferrero USA showed off Summer Ice Pop flavored Tic Tacs in the Cool New Products room. Featuring red, white and blue pellets, the fruit-flavored candies take on the flavor of the ice-cream truck favorite. Blend-in-cup milkshake brand f’real released its 2014 LTOs—pumpkin cheesecake and s’mores—while Jack Link’s sampled its burrito-flavored jerky. Mars continues to see success with its 7 Layer Dip Combos, and Skittles announced a new Desserts flavor set to launch in December; flavors include strawberry milkshake, key lime pie and blueberry tart.

2. Go for the Bold

Alongside that burrito jerky is a new sriracha variety, and Jack Link’s wasn’t the only company capitalizing on the slow-burning sriracha trend. Brakebush showed off boneless sriracha chicken bites, and Heinz had a sriracha wing dip at its booth. Lest you forget America’s first favorite hot sauce, a Tabasco-flavored chocolate bar was on display in the Cool New Products room.

3. CPG “Drafting”

A number of larger manufacturers are bringing product lines that have been successful in grocery stores to the convenience space, hoping to “draft” off that strong consumer acceptance in a different need state. The WhiteWave Foods Co. had an International Delight-branded dispensed iced coffee on display, capitalizing on the popular iced-coffee product launched in the grocery dairy aisle.

4. Foodservice Evolves

In similar silo-busting news, an increasing number of traditional restaurant suppliers have been showing up at The NACS Show. Along with its typical packaged snacks, General Mills is bringing more items from its foodservice business to the show. Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and Yoplait bulk yogurt—in pastry bags for easy parfait prep—both made their NACS Show debuts.

5. Equipment Innovations

In another sign of the evolution of c-store foodservice, Manitowoc brought its sophisticated Convotherm combi ovens and Frymaster open-well fryers to the show for the first time. Ovention’s Matchbox—the new dual-surface oven that launched at last year’s NACS Show and was recently purchased by Hatco—was also at the show with a larger presence.

6. Dispensed Profits

We all know dispensed beverages make up a decent amount of in-store sales and promise very healthy margins, and suppliers are keeping innovations flowing at the fountain. Insight Beverages showed off its Frozen Hot Chocolate, and retailers can now capture the smoothie trend in the dispenser category with V8’s V-Fusion smoothie mix, made in a partnership between Campbell’s and Island Oasis. The Coca-Cola Co. showcased a vitaminwater dispenser in the Cool New Products room, and also announced plans for a Diet Coke Frost Cherry frozen carbonated beverage.

7. Seasonal sells

Confectioners are placing a stronger emphasis on opportunities around seasonal-candy sales with pack sizes specific to the channel and marketing calendars that plan a year out. Beer and wine companies are also ramping up their special-occasion-based LTOs and promotions. (Check out this article from CSP’s Angel Abcede on a NACS Show education session about seasonal opportunities.)

8. Giving Her What She Wants

Suppliers and retailers continue to cast a net to capture the female shopper. V2 Cigs launched Vapor Couture, an electronic cigarette with a slim, sleek design geared toward females. In Zone Brands relaunched its kids’ juice line with the new good2grow brand featuring spill-proof juices, vegetable and fruit blends with lower sugar and toy tops for some peace and quiet on the road.

9. Black Is the New Black

Decades of research from fast feeders may show that red and yellow pique consumers’ appetites, but black will always make them feel cool. Suppliers rolled out sleekly designed products such as Swisher Sweets BLK Pipe Tobacco Tip Cigarillos and Miller Fortune, an undistilled golden lager with 6.9% alcohol by volume sporting a black and dark gray label. Marlboro Edge rolls out Oct. 30 with a bold flavor, cork tip and black packaging.

10. The Power of Packaging

We may take for granted the importance of packaging that fits both form and function. A number of new products boasted more bells and whistles on their outsides than inside. Innovations in foodservice packaging allow products to go from freezer to cooler to microwave, while beverage cans now have resealable tops. In the name of convenience, a number of unlikely items have been packaged for individual consumption, such as alcohol shots and mouthwash.

11. Bits and Pieces

Among the miscellaneous trends we noticed were the countless jerky products from suppliers familiar and new, and a similar bounty of bars, be they indulgent or better-for-you, gluten-free or protein-laden. Bite-size, unwrapped and pouched confections were found at nearly every candy booth, while beverage makers spent their R&D bucks on sparkling waters. Coasting on its better-for-you halo, Greek yogurt is being blended into just about everything. In our melting-pot world, suppliers are still focusing on comfort foods such as the return of Hunt Brothers’ Buffalo chicken pizza and Deli Express’ Premium Selections line—which was built directly from consumer research indicating the desire for high-quality yet familiar foods. And food manufacturers are getting better at fully enclosed hand-held items, such as Land Mark’s new breakfast additions to its calzone line, Johnsonville’s sausage-and-gravy-stuffed biscuits and Lettieri’s Roll-Upz.