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A Sweet And Savory Preview

Chocolate + Non-Chocolate + Gum + Salty Snacks

The 2011 NCA Sweets & Snacks Expo will be driven by innovation and a renewed sense of fun

Boasting the biggest show floor in its 15 years, the 2011 Sweets & Snacks EXPO, sponsored by the National Confectioners Association (NCA), is reportedly flourishing right along with the recession-resilient categories it represents — candy and snacks.

"We have 536 exhibitors and 140,000 square feet of candy and snack products," said Jenn Ellek, NCA's director of trade communications and marketing, in late April. "The show is sold out. We had to start a waiting list."

Several factors are behind the continued strength of the largest confectionery, cookie and snack show in the Americas, according to Michael Rosenberg, EXPO chairman and president and CEO of The Promotion in Motion Cos. Inc. For one, "just four years ago, we welcomed snack companies to our show and we are proud to say that now 40 percent of our exhibitors feature snack products," he said.

One such exhibitor is the world's largest manufacturer of pork rinds, Rudolph Foods, based in Lima, Ohio. Rudolph's vice president of sales and marketing, Mark Singleton, calls the EXPO, "a wonderful transformation from a sole candy show to a true snack show. A lot of times, the same buyer is responsible for both salty snacks and candy, so the show is one convenient place for a wide range of retailers to make purchasing decisions. It's one of my top two shows a year."

Singleton explained that seeing the buyers with greater frequency at shows like the EXPO is very advantageous. "We get their input. Some of our best ideas come from their insight," he noted.

The innovation this year from Rudolph includes Colossal Cracklins (the shoulder skin of pork rinds that has driven the category for the past four years, according to Singleton), its new kettle popcorn and a new chili-and-lime flavored puffed wheat snack, Chicharinas.

"I remind our team that we give consumers a moment of satisfaction for 99 cents," Singleton noted. "That's very important to the c-store channel, where a lot of this is sold."

From the candy side, Larry Lupo, vice president of sales convenience and retail for Mars Chocolate North America, views the EXPO as "a tremendous opportunity to meet with customers one-on-one." In addition to discussing new products and promotions that will help drive retail sales, "we'll show them Mars SweetSource insights, which offer customer solutions for growing the entire confection category," Lupo explained. "This includes planograms, best category assortment and category management best practices to maximize confectionery sales."

Confections combining sweet and savory, such as M&Ms Pretzel Chocolate Candies and Snickers Peanut Butter Squared, are on-trend with customers, according to Mars. To learn about trends and more, the confectionery company recently launched exclusively for c-store operators.

"It offers everything they need to create, enhance and maintain a thriving candy aisle," Lupo said. A new component of the Web site this year is the 2011 Fantasy Racing Program, a NASCAR-themed game that c-store operators can play for the chance to win prizes, including a trip to Daytona.


The NCA has kept up with innovation, too, just like its candy and snack exhibitors. "We've really been working on the experience of coming to the EXPO," said Ellek. "For so many years, we filtered out the fun to concentrate on getting business done, but this year we're really bringing it back." She explained a lot about the show was modeled after Disney, including "the awesome arrival and fond farewell. Attendees are really going to feel the fun of our industry this year."

Highlights of the 2011 EXPO include:

Innovation Alley — "This is 10 companies in the 200 aisle that are either new to the industry or are start-ups or are new to the trade show," Ellek explained. Buyers can expect to find innovations they wouldn't find anywhere else, and "cool, niche ideas that some big corporations haven't come up with," she added.

Prime Choice Foods, based in Henderson, Nev., is one such company. With a focus on all-natural, organic and Hispanic snacks, Prime Choice is highlighting its new line, Savory Balance, at the EXPO. "It's a completely different way of snacking," Mauro Gomez, vice president of sales and marketing, told Convenience Store News. Every serving of Savory Balance tortilla chips, about 10 chips, gives snackers a "full serving of fruits and vegetables and is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and antioxidants," he said. "People want to enjoy snacks with better nutrition without giving up flavor."

Six Top-Notch Experts/Speakers — These include Steve Matthesen, executive vice president with The Nielsen Co. on the state of the confectionery and snack industry, Joy Bauer, a nutritionist for the Today Show, speaking on, "Life is Hard, Food Should be Fun," and Nick Bilton, New York Times journalist and best-selling author to explain future technology trends.

EXPO Mobil App — Sponsored by The Hershey Co., this tool is available for most smart phones and the Web. It is said to be custom-designed to enhance the 2011 EXPO experience making the event more efficient, interactive and fun.

Buyers' Choice Best New Concept Award Program — Buyers use handheld technology to vote for their favorite new products and merchandising solutions at the start of the show on Tuesday and awards for the most popular picks are announced on-site on Wednesday. Five winners will be picked from the New Products Showcase, and three winners will be awarded from the Magic of Merchandising Display Gallery.

While the show attracts over 14,000 industry professionals, last year marked a banner year in qualified retail buyer attendance — more than 6,000, according to ellek. "and we're shooting for the same this year — all of our major trade channels are in sync or ahead of last year," she said.

The convenience store channel is a familiar one to the annual event. "Grocery and c-store attendees represent our top-two trade channels at the show," Ellek explained. "The convenience channel is a major one of concentration in the category. The growth continues to be very steady despite what's going on in the economy. There's such potential there. It's one of our great growth channels in candy and snacks."

C-store category managers such as Danna Huskey of E-Z Mart confirm this growth trend. "Our sales are very strong right now; I hope to continue seeing our numbers above 2010's," she told CSNews.

At the EXPO, Huskey is looking for new innovation in novelty candy for quick in-and-outs, she said. "I want to see which direction the manufacturers are going with items that target 8 to 18 year olds."

Jim Hachtel, senior category manager at BP/ARCO ampm, also confirmed his company is well-positioned to have a great year in confection. However he is also going to the EXPO with an agenda for how it can be better. "We need gum to hold up its end and help support the performance in the chocolate category," he told CSNews. "I am looking forward to the innovation coming out later this year from both Wrigley and Cadbury to address these needs."

Hachtel is also coming to the show to "meet with the majors to discuss the cost increases and the go-forward strategy for the category." Cost increases dominate his concerns for the category currently. "I am worried that this could kill the momentum we've seen in the category over the past couple years, and that consumers will pull back from candy as a way to treat themselves to small indulgences," he said.

Overall though, Hachtel loves the show. "Finding those hidden nuggets, attending some of the learning sessions and networking with the industry are all invaluable to us here at ampm," he said.

For comments, please contact Renée Covino, at rené[email protected].

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