My review of this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo: Candy Heaven does exist! :-)

June is National Candy Month – so what better way to celebrate it than to preview the latest and hottest trends in this field at the Sweets & Snacks Expo? Held in Chicago at the end of May, the Expo brought together over 16,000 professionals from the confectionery, cookie and snack industries, who displayed their new creations on over 4 acres of show floor. Whether you’re an industry product developer, a buyer interested in attracting new business partners or a blogger eager to discover the latest manufacturer sweet and snack offerings – this definitely is the place for you to be.

As you know, I have a very sweet tooth, so I was looking forward to attending this Expo. At the same time, due to the focus of my recent academic research, I also wanted to see how sweet and snack companies addressed the complex issue of corporate social responsibility – what they had done to improve the conditions of their workers and the environmental impact of their business, and what issues (if any) still needed to be addressed. Mixing serious business with delicious candy and snacks sounded like a great plan for the day ๐Ÿ™‚

The day started off well for me and my friend&fellow blogger Marina, who joined me at the Expo. We met none other than tennis champion Maria Sharapova, who was in town to promote Sugarpova, her premium line of candy bars, gummies and gumballs. A self-confessed candy lover (surprising, isn’t it?) who believes in moderation and a healthy and balanced life, Maria created Sugarpova to offer consumers high quality treats they could feel good about indulging in. A portion of the sale of these products goes to the Maria Sharapova Foundation, which provides development opportunities to communities in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus that have been affected by the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. I was little when this nuclear disaster occurred, and I still remember my parents worrying over its repercussions to the region. They didn’t allow me to leave the house for several weeks, and that year we didn’t go on vacation to the seaside, as we usually did.

A good cause indeed!

 

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Non-GMO, organic if possible, with premium and minimally processed ingredients, represents a strong trend this year when it comes to both sweets and snacks – and many of the products I tried at the Expo epitomized this trend. From organic gummy bears and candy chews to apple chips, from dark chocolate covered quinoa and quinoa clusters and chocolate puffs to protein-packed cereals – the options were endless in number. The organic vanilla snakaroons (made up of coconut and almonds sweetened with agave nectar, with a splash of vanilla extract and a touch of Himalayan pink salt) and the dried mandarin oranges were my favorites.

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Similarly, when it came to savory snacks, the options on display were varied and complex. From gourmet jerky to sprouted tortilla chips and crackers, from organic pea snacks to handcrafted parsnip chips – there was so much choice, and so many “clean” flavors to sample and to savor!

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Out of all the snack companies I interacted with at the Expo, one company really stood out for me. Its stand did not use strong colors and did not bombard me with endless advertising, yet its underlying philosophy and business model were overwhelming and humbling, at the same time. Created by a former Hershey’s executive to provide poverty lifting opportunities for the underdeveloped communities and the orphans in Mozambique, The Sunshine Nut Company provides fair prices and employment opportunities to local cashew growers and distinguishes itself, amongst others, by having a production line inside Mozambique, as opposed to sending the cashew abroad for processing. 30% of the companyโ€™s net proceeds goes back into supporting local agricultural development, another 30% towards caring for orphans and vulnerable children throughout Mozambique, and another 30% towards supporting new food processing companies in various other regions of the country.

Making a long-lasting difference to individuals and communities, one cashew at a time – what a noble purpose and an excellent example of meaningful social responsibility ๐Ÿ™‚

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Good things do seem to come in small packages, no matter how you call them: “bites,” “barks,” “thins” or “minis.” Following increased consumer demand for treats that are easy to snack while on-the-go or in moderation, manufacturers have created a wide range of products that satisfy this trend. Below are just a few of the new “small format” sweets/snacks I sampled at the Expo:

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Chocolate covered fruits and nuts constitute another important confectionery trend for 2016, and this year we will also witness the introduction of a range of innovative fruit and nut products. Call me old-fashioned, but out of all the fruit/nut and chocolate combinations I tried at the Expo, my favorite were the chocolate covered bananas. You can argue there was hardly anything new or sky-shattering here – yet, the quality ingredients made the flavor combination nothing short of amazing. Mmmmmm…

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Speaking of chocolate covered nuts, at the Expo I was pleased to rediscover an old “guilty pleasure” of mine from Europe: Baci Perugina chocolates. When we were dating my husband used to bring me these tiny bits of chocolate& hazelnut Heaven straight from Italy, and I always loved eating them as much as reading the uplifting messages inside each wrapper. At the Expo I got the chance to speak to a Baci master chocolatier and to see how Bacis were actually made.

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Sales of premium chocolate have gone up considerably over the past three years, which means that there is a growing consumer demand for luxury and gourmet chocolate products, with a high cocoa content. At this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo I saw and sampled a variety of chocolates and chocolate-covered caramels which aligned with this ongoing trend. Chocolate as an art form? Yes, that’s perfectly possible ๐Ÿ™‚

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The chocolate company which stood out for me at this year’s Expo was Tcho. I was looking for a manufacturer that excelled in the area of corporate social responsibility, and Tcho surpassed my expectations. Tcho supports Fairtrade and also partners directly with cocoa growers in Peru, Ecuador, Ghana and Madagascar to offer them fair prices and the know-how to improve their cocoa cultivation and bean drying techniques. Farmers also participate in specially Tcho-designed “flavor labs” and thus have a direct input in the flavor development process. All of these foster sustainable and long-lasting community development and a better future for the cocoa bean growers and their families.

I thought the Tcho vision was inspirational and their chocolate was delicious (the Mokaccino variety was my favorite). If I were to characterize it in just a few words, I would say it is responsible chocolate: a chocolate with a heart. At the end of our meeting, the Tcho team invited me to take a tour of their factory. Too bad they are based in California, otherwise I would have happily obliged!

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I had a great time at the Sweets & Snacks Expo: I rediscovered old favorites, made some new friends, and learned a lot about the industry. Indeed, I found the Expo very informative and I discovered brands I’d never known existed, which in the end made me a better informed consumer. Equally important, now I have clear evidence that Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is not just a figment of someone’s imagination. Candy Heaven does exist ๐Ÿ™‚

*Disclaimer: I was not financially compensated by any of the companies mentioned or shown in this post. All opinions expressed here are my own.


3 Comments

  • MarinaY

    June 8, 2016

    My personal favorite was the Sunshine Nut Company! It was my pleasure to meet the owners – a family with a great purpose who created a “company with a heart.” One thing I was glad to be educated on is production of cashews – their origin as well as roasting process, and, very importantly, the working conditions of the producers. The Sunshine Nut Company gives 90% of their profits to the producers! In its inception, their business proposal was laughable to the big business executives. Now, the company is a role model of business where care and compassion for the struggling growers is a priority.

    Reply
    • MickyN

      June 9, 2016

      I couldn’t agree more, Marina! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
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