Confectionery manufacturers showing their latest products offer a glimpse of current and upcoming industry trends, including hot ingredients, growing categories, and standout packaging.
Candy makers around the globe go through approximately 2.2bn pounds of sugar each year, according to the National Confectioners Association. Judging by the abundance of products on display at the 2014 Sweets and Snacks Expo this week, most of that sugar is at the conference.
Here are some of the trends on view at this year's event.
Several popular brands have gone big, or little, with the size of their treats. The 2014 Sweets and Snacks marks the show debut of Just Born’s (booth 1803) Mini Peeps, which shrinks down their popular sugar-covered marshmallow candies, and brings them from the confines of the Easter candy season to year-round shelf presence.
Other brands went the opposite direction—Mars (booth 805) has launched Mega M&Ms, which resemble the candy-coated dots on steroids. Hershey (1505) also announced its Krackel crisp-rice chocolate bar, perennially present in its Miniatures assortment bags, will return to retail in its original full-size bar.
Spice is the variety of life
Candy makers, especially chocolate manufacturers, increasingly are adding unexpected flavors to their sweets. Hot peppers and curries lead the pack in these unconventional taste additions.
Tabasco Chocolates (booth 1600), which lend more than a touch of spice to dark chocolate bars and wedges, drew enough of a crowd during the show’s first day that passers-by emptied the sample bucket. Marich (booth 893), specializing in chocolate-covered fruits and nuts, debuted cashews coated in curry-spiced chocolate.
“People enjoy that taste of the unexpected,” said Katie Hart, marketing representative for Marich.
It’s a natural
Industry leaders and consumers can debate whether the word “natural” truly means anything when emblazoned on a candy or snack package, but at Sweets and Snacks 2014, the word is everywhere.
However, the vocabulary of words to describe the “goodness” of ingredients in confectionery continues to grow, and the number of products with non-GMO certification marks and “organic” on the label is increasing. Torie & Howard (booth 1198), for example, showed off its gourmet hard candies, touting their organic ingredients.
Ashley Mendel of Funley's (booth 1595), a line of edibles emphasizing organic and GMO-free ingredients, told natural products appeal to health-conscious snackers, and parents looking to feed their kids wholesome treats.
"It's as important to us as it is to consumers to have healthy, wholesome products," she said.
Chocolate-covered fruits are a longtime favorite among high-end candy manufacturers. However, big-brand confectioners are offering a larger number of chocolate-fruit combo products this year than in the past.
Brookside, a chocolate-covered fruit brand owned by Hershey, expanded its line with clusters of fruit mixed with crunchy grains. Dove, a Mars brand, is getting into the game with its own fruity chocolate treats.
In addition to totally new products, brands all over the show floor are rewrapping existing products in new products. The idea is to add convenience, portion control, seasonal appeal, or other features, with little or no changes to the product itself.
Juicy Fruit, a Wrigley/Mars brand, is pouring its recently launched Fruity Chews gum into multi-piece cups tailor made for a car’s cupholder. Funley’s has relaunched its products in slick standup pouches for snacking and sharing.
The 2014 Sweets and Snacks Expo, the annual industry event produced by the NCA, is taking place May 20-22 in Chicago.