Natural Foods Merchandiser

Products and trends at Sweets and Snacks

“Snack isn’t a category it’s an eating occasion” – Lynn Dornblaser of Mintel

The early summer heat did nothing to melt the sugar-high of grocery and c-store buyers looking for the latest treats at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago. The event - overlapping with the National Restaurant Association show – was sold out, with 500 companies exhibiting.

A palpable concern at Sweets & Snacks is the growing rumbling around the legislation of sweets and treats. Keynote speakers encouraged the Sweets & Snacks folks to get ahead of the legislation, before they get themselves legislated out of business.

While it might have some people scratching their heads, the candy and snack folks are sincere about offering healthier options. This jives with the latest trends in snacking according to Lynn Dornblaser of Chicago-based market research firm Mintel: value, simplicity and health. And these were well-represented on the trade show floor. Roughly 10% of the exhibitors were either Natural Products Expo regulars, or conventional companies with healthy-for-you products. Other trends in the sweet and snack world are real/natural sugars, and natural dyes. This trend is being driven by savvy moms and kids, and was confirmed by Kim Modolfsky from – a firm that connects moms to brands. Also noted were trends outside the industry- specifically genome mapping. Michele Bowman from AndSpace says we will be seeing genome mapping being used to develop customized, personalized health products, and challenged the keynote audience to envision candy and snacks personalized to an individual’s satiety profile.

New products at the show demonstrate other trends, as well: twists on classic candy, calorie-conscious portions, and gourmet flavors. Treats such as vegan chocolate truffles, Vitamin Gum, Annie’s Gummy Bunnies, and Honey-Lovers Fruit Chews were favorites of industry leaders. Other items to note -- more intelligent packaging and QR codes that engage consumers to go on a company website to find out about nutrition, sourcing, product story, etc. And of course, there is chocolate and a trend on ethical labeling such as fair-trade.

Speaking of chocolate, the last few years have shown an enthusiasm for more complex flavor profiles in chocolate bars (Chili, anyone?). This show had a handful of candy products taking on these sophisticated flavor profiles – notably in caramels and in the lollipop category -- where tea flavors and ethnic spices gussied-up the ol’ sucker.

The show had a gourmet/natural/organic pavilion, but natural, organic, and gluten-free manufacturers were also found in-line next to the chocolate-covered Peeps, and an abundance of jerky products (the NRA show had a natural and organic pavilion, and a gluten-free pavilion, too).

Another strong contingent of exhibitors at the show were fixture companies (lots of POP displays), and companies with recycled/sustainable packaging. The Sweets & Snacks folks did a good job of connecting both products and merchandising with the Merchandising Solution Center.

While it’s refreshing to see the snack and candy world becoming more aware of the value of natural and organic, and products that provide healthier indulgences, Natural Products Expo still remains the place where both the buyers and the exhibitors are ahead of the curve and really understand their products. At Sweets & Snacks, the buyers are just getting up to speed. I overheard buyers asking “what is gluten-free? And even some of the manufacturers are at the beginning of the learning curve – not understanding the organic labeling on their products.

As far as products, I finally got to taste and sniff (yes, sniff) two unique products that I had only read about: Perky Jerky (a guarana-enhanced beef jerky), and Le Whif (a chocolate and coffee product that you inhale). My favorite product of the show was Famous Organic's shelf-stable U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic hummus. The product had terrific flavor, was organic and had a one year shelf-life – providing it a unique value proposition in the dips category. Other highlights included Nutorious nut blends, Mrs. Mays fruit and veggie chips, Sahale biscotti crisps, Tasty organic superfruit snacks, Peanut Butter & Co. kids snack packs, and DAS caramels.

While the Sweets and Snack industry still has a way to go, it’s encouraging to see the awareness of healthier ingredients and portion sizes. I'm looking forward to what this industry brings to the table, both in flavor profiles and packaging. While I'm waiting, I'll be snacking and sweeting.

Industry stats (from the National Confectioners Association):

• Product launches in 2009:
•2,843 new confectionery products debuted:

  • Chocolate : 1,760

  • Non-Chocolate: 969

  • Gum: 114

2,980 new snack, cookie and cracker products debuted:

  • Cookies: 808

  • Crackers: 159

  • Potato Chips: 300

  • Popcorn: 96

  • Nuts and Seeds: 289

  • Cereal Bars: 401

  • Other snacks (pretzels, puffed, fruit snacks, meat snacks): 927

52 week total confectionery sales:

  • 56% chocolate

  • 29% Non-chocolate

  • 15% Gum

Confectionery industry sales increased 4% in the 52 weeks ending 4/18/10
• Category Leaders:

o Chocolate:

  • Candy bars – up 11.3%

  • Chocolate Candy Box – 2.8% up

  • Chocolate snack size - 2.5% up


  • Licorice – up 4.2%

  • Non-Chocolate Chewy Candy – 14.4% up

  • Novelty non-chocolate candy – 6.7% up

  • Plain Mints – 6.9% up

Sugarless gum accounted for 87% of all gum sales in Q1

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