Editor’s Letter: Ten Trends, 54,892 Steps

The Products team was giving this issue its final touch-ups the same week as the National Restaurant Association’s NRA Show and the Sweets & Snacks Expo. I spent a five-hour flight delay shooing fellow passengers away from my sample bag and condensing five days of walking Chicago’s McCormick Place—54,892 steps total, according to my fitbit—into 10 trends any showgoer couldn’t escape.

  1. Popcorn pops up. The prevalence of bagged popcorn was unavoidable at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. What I didn’t expect was to see it collide with another trend: sriracha.
  2. Gum gets the defibrillator. A few big brands are challenging R&D teams to resuscitate the sinking gum category. Ice Breakers Cool Blasts starts as a gum before dissolving into a breath-mint-like blast, and Juicy Fruit has two new extensions: a sugar-free soft-chew format and a bubble gum.
  3. Cooking gets faster. Manufacturers continue to shave time off the cooking process. Drawing a crowd on the floor was TurboChef’s colorful new Fire oven, which cooks raw-dough pizza in as little as 90 seconds. Ovention won its second consecutive Kitchen Innovations award for the Shuttle, a conveyor variation of its revolutionary Matchbox.
  4. Bread rises. While gluten-free products still blanketed the floor, various booths showcased a wide range of artisan breads for a variety of applications.
  5. Caramel stretches out. Hershey swung the spotlight back over to caramels when it launched the Lancaster brand last year. Now young brand Lovely Candy Co. has entered the market with a line of regular and seasonal chewy caramels.
  6. Protein remains prevalent. Meat-snack companies large and small dotted the Sweets & Snacks Expo floor. Nuts, seeds and roasted legumes such as chickpeas were also abundant, often sporting spicy flavors.
  7. Sweets get spoonable. The NRA Show floor had no shortage of products and equipment for frozen yogurt, gelato, smoothies and shakes. Manitowoc won a Kitchen Innovations award this year for a new iteration of its Blend-In-Cup machine that allows for manual ice fill. BlendTec debuted the latest version of its self-service smoothie machine.
  8. Bacon’s still going strong. As if we needed proof that bacon wasn’t a fad but a way of life, Hormel highlighted its fully cooked Bacon 1 product. Schmacon, a Food and Beverage Innovations award winner, is 100% beef bacon that doesn’t try to be pork, but rather delivers its own smoky goodness.
  9. The power of the pod. Lest you think it’s content to take over only the home coffee experience, Keurig launched its new Bolt system, which makes 64 ounces of coffee in 2 minutes using premeasured larger pods.
  10. Sustainability in the snack aisle. Many confectioners showed off their sustainability initiatives, especially around sourcing cocoa. These are increasingly important tenets for CPG companies within and beyond the candy and snack industry—certainly the foodservice industry, too.

So what was the first thing to be snatched from my sample bag upon returning home to family and friends? Jelly Belly’s Draft beer-flavored jelly beans. The question that remains is whether that’s a trend reflective of the greater U.S. consumer base, or my own family and friends. I’ll bet a beer on the latter.