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Scoping Out the Top Trends at the Sweets & Snacks Expo

Our top ten picks

Did someone say candy?

Actually, some 20,000 people are talking about the trends in candy pretty intensely, following the 2011 SWEETS & SNACKS EXPO.

That number includes key confectionery and snack buyers, 14,000 food professionals, and 1,000 international visitors from more than 69 countries. And, of course, The Food Channel crew.

We saw some pretty amazing things at the show, including a stunning portrait of wizard Harry Potter made out of thousands of jelly beans. It was created by artist Kristen Cumings who is known for her Masterpieces of Jelly Belly Art Collection, large-scale mosaic representations of fine art masterpieces created entirely out of jelly beans, commissioned by the Jelly Belly Candy Company. Her works include reproductions of the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh's Starry Night.

But mostly the crew spent time checking out some of the newest products and trends in candy, so we can tell you what is coming and what is just now hitting the stores. And, in typical Food Channel fashion, we’ve created our Top Ten list of innovative products that you should be looking for. Here are the new releases we love and the food trends we see in action.

1.  Milk Straws – We all know about the Got Milk? Campaign. Well, now the Magic Milk Straw company and The Milk Processor Board are working together to give you another reason to drink more milk. The innovative Magic Milk Straws are recyclable plastic straws that are filled with little candy beads. You stick the straw in your milk and the milk is sucked up through the straw, collecting flavor along the way. Simple idea . . . it sorta comes under the heading of “wish I’d thought of that.” In fact, it won most innovative product at the National Restaurant Association show, and won awards for both merchandizing and product innovation from the Sweets & Snacks Expo people.

 

2.  Antioxidant Mix – It’s a name that tells it like it is. A company called Gourmet Nut has packaged together pecans, walnuts, goji berries, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, and organic dark chocolate to give you a bunch of antioxidant-carrying products all at once. “Instead of taking a vitamin supplement,” said company president Morris Elbaz, , “we thought people would like the nutrients all in one snack.” We also liked the Breakfast on the Go packages from Emerald Nuts, with a nice nut and granola mix in three flavor varieties. Convenience meets health meets flavor in both of these products!

 

3.  Wine and Chocolate – Here’s a pick-three for you, because the real news is the growing number of companies who are deliberately pairing wine and fine chocolate.

Example #1: The wine box from 2 Chicks with Chocolate. Elyissia Wassung, the self-proclaimed Chick-in-Charge, told us the inspiration came from her trips to California wine country. “I’m a red wine drinker and I love chocolate. I just got tired of going to Napa and Sonoma and not finding good wine chocolate. It’s all liquid-filled and that just spurts out. This is a ganache and a caramel—it’s textured.” The packaging is what first caught our eye, though—it’s a wine-bottle shaped box of twelve chocolates, complete with a wine bottle bag. Overall, it won Best New Concept from the judges at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Example #2: Turin, the company from Mexico that is introducing its new fruit chocolates. Erika Chavez in the U.S. office told us that ganache is also the secret here, with flavors of strawberry, blackberry, raspberry and pomegranate. “People are going healthier,” she said, “and it’s a way to bring some fruit to the table.”

Example #3: The classy chocolate-sculpted grape cluster from Splendid Chocolates that serves as a wine charm, and lends the perfect touch when giving the gift of a bottle of wine. It’s 1.4 ounces of dark chocolate . . . and beautifully epitomizes the new emphasis on wine and chocolate.

 

4.  MARS, as a company, gets credit for three of our favorite new products, meaning the big hurrah goes to the company for continuing to innovate and bring new ideas to market. In this case, it’s the Dove Coconut candy, the Dove Swirls, and the new Marathon Bar. Coconut, as we’ve mentioned before, is definitely an on-trend flavor, and they’ve managed to create a smooth coconut that works well with the milk chocolate (where’s the dark chocolate variety, though?). The Swirls are interesting enough that we’d already picked up a bag before seeing them at the show—after all, they represent that fruit trend we’re seeing everywhere. They are in two varieties, including the dark chocolate raspberry that is, frankly, pretty addictive. As for the Marathon, it’s an energy bar (or a protein bar—check out both) that manages to be lower calorie with a hint of candy flavor. Give me my “bad” with my healthy and I’m happy, in other words. It hits shelves in June in four flavors.

 

5.  Fig Newton Fruit Thins – For an established brand, it might be risky to play around. But this product rises to the challenge with 8 grams of whole grain in something that actually tastes good. It’s a thin cookie without the soft inner filling of a traditional Fig Newton, but it somehow works. And, it comes in flavors including Raspberry Chocolate, Cranberry Citrus Oat, Blueberry Brown Sugar, and Fig & Honey. We liked it enough to look for it at the store.

 

6.  Jelly Belly Chocolate Dips, in new Mint flavor – Hang on until July, because mint just got more interesting, not to mention jelly beans. The Jelly Belly Candy Company has found success with its new line of fruit flavors covered in chocolate, so the next logical step was to take it to other flavors, right? Toni Holt, Director of Communications, told us it's a natural for their audience. She said, “Our target is 25-49 year old women who like ‘kid candy.’ The dark chocolate mint appeals to a more sophisticated palate.” For those who haven’t found the appeal of jelly beans before, this could change your tune. The mint is startlingly good, and the dark chocolate coating adds that additional layer of interest. Side note: they also have a candy corn flavor of Jelly Belly coming out for the first time this year. Holt said, “We’ve been making candy corn since 1898 and it took us until this year to do the flavor of candy corn in a jelly bean.” Another hit for the nostalgia trend.

 

7.  Strawberry Fields Tic Tac – Does the name start a tune going in your head? If so, you’ll be a fan of this new flavor mix from Ferrero. It comes out in December (although we hear you can find them at some Wal-Marts now). “It’s our new summer flavor,” said Trey Roden, Channel Lead with the company. “It’s only the second time we’ve released a multi-flavored sensation in one pack and we’re really excited about it.” He adds, “Fruit is a growing part of the mint category. Consumers like the freshness of a fruit flavor—it takes them to a new place.” Yes . . . like Strawberry Fields. Forever.

 

8.  Granny Carol’s Yummie Crunch – It’s not all big companies—obviously, a lot of innovation occurs with the individual entrepreneur. Case in point is Carol Dolan, who took her sister’s recipe to market after they didn’t find anything like it. “It” is yogurt-covered cranberries and peanuts with a secret ingredient that adds some pleasant crunch. “We entered it into a contest,” she said, “and after it won we’d just been making it for family and friends. One day my son and I just said, ‘Let’s do it.’” They win for gutsiness as well as being one of the best things we tasted at the show.

 

9.  Smurfs hard candy lollipop – This one caught our attention because, well, it’s just so cute. And it’s the Smurfs. With the new Smurfs movie coming out later this year, this could be just the start of the movie swag. My Idol Pops—just a year and a half old as a company—is already expanding, after the success of their Rango lollipop. Elizabeth Mohan told us that their licensing is with both Sony Animation and Lafig Belgium (creators of the characters), and that the cool blue pops will still be around after the movie has come and gone. “Our mold maker is actually a sculptor,” she added. “All the molds are made by hand,” meaning Papa Smurf has his own identity, carefully sculpted in blue raspberry.

 

10.  Trident Vitality – Maybe it’s a Baby Boomer looking for a quick fix, but we think this product is interesting. The gum is enhanced with beneficial ingredients, with options such as green tea, ginseng or Vitamin C. Kraft company spokesperson Gary Chinn told us, “Consumers are looking for something added to create a new benefit. In this case, it’s about well-being.” We also like Kraft bringing the Swedish Fish back into the forefront—a bit of nostalgia is right on trend

 

11.  BONUS: Ghirardelli’s new dark chocolate with sea salt and roasted almonds. Just because.

Also see our Top Ten picks from the 2011 National Restaurant Association Show.

NOTE: The companies mentioned in this article, their parent companies or subsidiaries may have advertised on or sponsored content on The Food Channel. No consideration was given to that in selection of these products, and this is not sponsored content.