CHICAGO — Sprouted mung beans and lotus root crisps are among new formats competing for shelf space in the supermarket snack aisle. Puffed quinoa is popping up in chocolate bars, portabella mushrooms are masquerading as meat jerky, and cauliflower is replacing grains in pretzels and tortilla chips.
Such products may be seen at the Sweets & Snacks Expo this week in Chicago.
“Unusual ingredients, I think, is a bit of a perpetual trend,” said Carly Schildhaus, public affairs manager for the National Confectioners Association (N.C.A.), Washington, which produces the annual event.
An estimated 18,000 industry professionals were expected to attend the trade show, held May 21-23 at McCormick Place, to view and taste new confections and snacks debuting from approximately 850 exhibiting companies.
Collectively representing more than $86 billion in annual U.S. retail sales, the snack ($51 billion) and confectionery ($35 billion) markets are measured as the second and fourth largest consumable categories, respectively, according to data from the N.C.A. Product innovation is key to driving continued growth in the confectionery and snack industries. New products account for nearly 5% of sales in the snack category and more than 6% of sales in the confectionery category, which compares to about 3% of sales for overall consumer packaged goods.
“There are always thousands of new products that debut at the show, and there are a lot of different things we’re seeing in terms of flavors and the products themselves, but what we think is really interesting is the industry leadership as it relates to helping people manage their sugar intake,” Ms. Schildhaus said. “You’ll be seeing a lot of products in smaller pack sizes, specifically package sizes of 200 calories or less… I think we’ll see it more prominently this year than in past years.”
Smart is the new skinny
As consumers shift away from a traditional diet mindset in pursuit of holistic wellness, brands previously marketed as “thin,” “lean” or “skinny” are embracing new descriptors, such as “smart.”
Debuting at Sweets & Snacks is Smart Tart, a better-for-you take on the toaster pastry. Smart Food Co. L.L.C., Costa Mesa, Calif., offers a range of flavors, including blueberry acai, strawberry chia and cinnamon, with 8 grams of protein, 180 calories and 50% less sugar than the average brand, according to the company.
SmartSweets, Vancouver, is expanding its portfolio of reduced-calorie candies with Peach Rings gummies. Sweetened with stevia, the product has 85% less sugar than traditional candy with no artificial ingredients. Like all other SmartSweets products, which include gummy bears, sour gummies and sweet fish gummies, each serving has 3 grams of sugar and 80 calories.
Susie’s Smart Cookie, Katonah, N.Y., produces breakfast cookies and bites containing omega-3 fatty acids from canola oil, walnuts and ground flax, with oats, dried fruit and eggs.
“Most people associate omega-3s with fish,” said Susie Allport, founder of Susie’s Smart Cookie. “But fish get their omega-3s from plants.”
Beverage flavors are bubbling up
Cocktails, coffee and cola are trending tastes in confections and snacks launching this year.
“We’re seeing a lot of products that are incorporating different drink flavors,” Ms. Schildhaus said.
Soda stars in several new candies. American Licorice Co., La Porte, Ind., is debuting Sour Punch Bites featuring cherry, lime and cola flavors that may be mixed and matched to create new combinations. The company also is introducing Red Vines root beer and orange cream licorice bites. Orange soda flavor is featured in new Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish chewy candies debuting from Mondelez International, Inc., Deerfield, Ill.
Other innovations at the show offer new ways to consume coffee. From the creator of Dippin’ Dots, 40 Below Joe, Carbondale, Ill., features frozen beads of coffee and dairy-free creamer in a range of flavors, including french vanilla, hazelnut, salted caramel, mocha and house blend. Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa, Miami, is debuting Nudge Coffee Butter, a spread made entirely from Italian roast coffee beans.
Tea flavors are brewing in such products as layered matcha cream wafer cookies and a chai chocolate bar.
From Kopper’s Chocolate, Jersey City, N.J., On the Rocks Chocolate cordials contain a liquid center inspired by libations such as vodka and tequila. Wrapped in dark chocolate, the alcohol-free bites are available in Moscow mule, cold-brew coffee, barrel-aged bourbon and strawberry margarita varieties.
Brewhouse Legends from Mount Franklin Foods, L.L.C., El Paso, Texas, is a range of snack nut mixes inspired by craft beer and flavored with hops. Unique Pretzel Bakery, Inc., Reading, Pa., offers Original Sourdough Craft Beer Pretzel Rings made with malted barley and hops.
The meat snack category is expanding with new formats and flavors as brands aim to remain competitive in the crowded marketplace.
Biltong is booming. The air-dried, South African-style meat snack appeals to consumer desire for convenient, high-protein, low- or no-sugar foods. Several exhibitors including Stryve Foods, Plano, Texas; Ayoba-Yo, Springfield, Va.; and Kalahari Biltong, Cambridge, Mass., focus exclusively on biltong production, while others are adding it to their product lines. Chef’s Cut Real Jerky, Naples, Fla., is introducing biltong in original and spicy chili flavors, with 26 grams of protein and zero sugar.
Meat snack companies also may differentiate with texture. DE.HI Foods, Honolulu, offers crispy beef and pork jerky that “eats like a chip,” according to the company. Land O’Frost, Munster, Ind., recently introduced Gone Rogue, a crispy snack made from chicken that has been smoked, sliced, baked and seasoned.
Yet another take on the premium jerky trend are new vegan varieties made from ingredients such as mushrooms or fruit. Upton’s Naturals, Chicago, is introducing Jerky Bites made with wheat seitan in flavors including tamarind pepperoni, pineapple pink peppercorn and tarragon ginger lime. Each serving provides 8 to 10 grams of protein and 90 to 100 calories with a texture and chew similar to that of traditional beef jerky, according to the company.
Making keto convenient
Companies are launching convenient food and beverage products positioned around the popular ketogenic lifestyle. At Sweets & Snacks, exhibitors offering nutrition bars formulated for the high-fat, low-carb diet include Kiss My Keto, Los Angeles; Dang Foods, Berkeley, Calif.; Riverside Natural Foods, Vaughan, Ont.; and Love Good Fats, Toronto.
Such products are loaded with oils, nuts and seeds to help consumers achieve ketosis, a metabolic state linked with weight loss and performance benefits. Low-calorie sweeteners such as erythritol, stevia and monk fruit are key to keeping sugar low.
Fat Snax, Brooklyn, N.Y., makes low-carb, sugar-free cookies in flavors such as double chocolate chip, peanut butter, chocolate chip and lemon.
HighKey Snacks from Summit Naturals Inc., Blaine, Wash., is a brand of savory and sweet snacks marketed as low-carb and keto-friendly. Products include crunchy cheese bites made with cheddar and egg whites, bite-size cookies and nut butter made with macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, chia and pumpkin seeds.
Longstanding brands are introducing new formulations and forms to remain relevant to today’s consumer.
“We’re seeing what we’re calling ‘new takes on classics’… whether that’s a line extension… and also reimagining some old favorites,” Ms. Schildhaus said.
Boyer Candy Co., Altoona, Pa., the maker of Clark Bar, is launching Clark Cups, which are peanut butter cups incorporating the century-old chocolate bar brand’s signature crunch.
Boyer, which produces the Mallo Cup, bought the rights, recipes and equipment for the Clark Bar brand in 2018 after its previous owner, The New England Confectionery Co., filed for bankruptcy.
“It is very gratifying to bring the Clark name back to its home state of Pennsylvania, along with giving the classic candy a new twist,” said Anthony Forgione, president and chief executive officer of Boyer.
The Chick-O-Stick from Atkinson Candy Co., Lufkin, Texas, features an updated recipe with simple ingredients and more peanut butter. The product, characterized by its flaky, crunchy combination of peanut butter and toasted coconut, originated in the 1940s. Atkinson said it has removed artificial red and blue coloring in favor of colors derived from turmeric and vegetable juice concentrate.
The Hershey Co., Hershey, Pa., is debuting a new design for its namesake milk chocolate bar for the first time in its 125 years with the launch of its limited-edition Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Emoji bar.
“Our classic Hershey’s bars were made to be shared with others,” said Kriston Ohm, senior manager, Hershey’s brand. “By adding an emoji design to each pip of chocolate, we hope that parents and kids are inspired to share a chocolate emoji and make a connection with someone new.”