The candy and snacks categories are continually growing in innovation, sales and product offerings, and the National Confectioners Association’s (NCA) 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo reflected this with more suppliers, retailers and industry experts than ever before attending the annual event May 23–25 at Chicago’s McCormick Place West.
More than 720 exhibitors alone displayed their wares at the show, which spanned two expo halls: the main show floor, and Skyline Hall’s Innovation Avenue that showcased companies just beginning their candy and snack businesses.
This year, the NCA also added a second theater for its lineup of educational sessions, which spanned nearly the full operating hours of the show — something that was a direct result of the wide variety of experts who were interested in sharing insights and guidelines, according to Larry Wilson, vice president of industry affairs for NCA.
The first day of the expo featured the presentation of the Most Innovative New Product Awards. Unlike in previous years, both the category finalists and the winners this time were determined by a judging panel that tested and evaluated more than 320 submissions. Points were awarded for taste, innovation, packaging and go-to-market ability.
“With more competition than ever before, each of the Most Innovative New Product Awards finalists and winners represent the upper echelon of candy and snack innovation,” said Barry Rosenbaum, Sweets & Snacks Expo chairman and president of Nassau Candy Distributors Inc.
The 2016 Most Innovative New Product Awards winners were:
- Chocolate: Grand Ferrero Rocher, Ferrero U.S.A. Inc.
- Non-Chocolate: Starburst Gummies, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.
- Sweet Snacks: Half Dips Dark Chocolate Mango, Alli & Rose LLC
- Salty Snacks: Hardbite “18 Carrot Gold” Carrot Chips, Naturally Homegrown Foods Ltd.
- Savory Snacks: Hungry Buddha Smokin’ Sriracha Coconut Chips, Temple Lifestyle
- Novelty/Licensed: Dippin’ Dots Redberry Sherbet with Sour Patch Kids, Dippin’ Dots Ice Cream
- Seasonal: Turtles Eggs, DeMet’s Candy Co.
- Gourmet/Premium: Organic Jelly Beans, Jelly Belly Candy Co.
- Gum & Mints: Bazooka Sugar-Free To Go Cup, Bazooka Candy Brands
- Best in Show: Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups, The Hershey Co.
“With the use of unique ingredients and flavor combinations, the tastes of 2016 are bigger, bolder and more groundbreaking than ever before,” said NCA President and CEO John Downs. “The Expo is a showcase of the ways in which our industry is working hard to provide consumers with choices, information and the support they need to make decisions that are right for them.”
TOP TRENDS SPOTTED
The 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo also unwrapped the latest trends in both candy and snacks. These were the top themes spotted by Convenience Store News editors on the expo floor:
1. Simple Ingredients
There was a noticeable rise in products boasting “pure” or “all-natural” ingredients. One example is the introduction of Old Wisconsin’s Natural Cut hardwood-smoked snack sticks, a gluten-free alternative snack that is also free of nitrates, artificial ingredients, preservatives, binders, fillers and MSG.
Another example is Buddha Bowl Foods’ Himalayan Pink Organic Popcorn, which vows it’s made from “ingredients as pure as the Himalayas.” The product is gluten-free and its ingredients list includes only three items: non-GMO popcorn, organic extra virgin coconut oil, and Himalayan salt.
2. “Healthier” Products
Some new products are targeting consumers who still want to indulge, but are looking to do so a little “healthier.” For instance, Jelly Belly showcased its organic jelly beans and fruit snacks, while The Hershey Co. highlighted its Simply 5 Syrup that health-conscious consumers can pour atop their favorite ice cream flavors.
3. Bites, Barks & Thins
Also along the lines of better-for-you, bites, barks and thins were more prominent at this year’s show. Described as a “revolutionary, edible coffee treat,” Krispy Kreme Coffee Thins infuse the doughnut chain’s signature coffee into chocolate thins. Varieties include Caramel Macchiato, Original Glazed, and Cappuccino.
4. Kitchen-Inspired Flavors
Kitchen-inspired flavors like pumpkin, fiery spices and international tastes are making their way into candy and snack items. Cinnamon, sriracha and chimichurri packed a punch on the expo floor, while coffee, espresso and cappuccino flavors made their presence known, too.
5. Seasonal & Occasion-Based Marketing
In addition to events-related tie-ins with Super Bowl and summer blockbuster movies, Mars Chocolate North America representatives discussed the “fifth season” (alongside Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas), which takes place between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Company representatives said this “fifth season” is wide open for promotional opportunities.
Mars also shared further research into its “Transaction Zone Vision,” the result of a research-driven approach to driving incremental purchases across all products that are typically found at the checkout. Mars and Wrigley found that shoppers have three primary mindsets: refresh, reward and remind. By merchandising to properly fulfill these mindsets, retailers can boost their incremental sales.
Along with its seasonal efforts, The Hershey Co. spotlighted its promotion of occasion-based treating. Its “Hello Happy. Hello Hershey’s” campaign is founded on the idea that happiness is a choice and Hershey’s products can facilitate sweet, intimate and personal moments of happiness.
6. Jerky, Jerky, Everywhere
It seemed like you couldn’t walk down one aisle of this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo without running into a jerky supplier’s booth. Format and flavor innovation were on display, such as with Hershey’s Krave bars, which combine dried fruit and quinoa with turkey, beef or pork to create a sweet and savory profile.
Jack Link’s not only showcased a variety of new flavors (Korean BBQ, Sweet BBQ and Whiskey Glaze, to name a few), but the company also debuted its Lorissa’s Kitchen jerky brand, which launched in March. The “farm-to-table” brand is more of a “lifestyle brand,” a company representative told CSNews. While the traditional Jack Link’s brand targets males and the classic jerky lover, Lorissa’s Kitchen focuses more on female consumers and those looking for a refined jerky experience.