2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo review: the perfect way to celebrate the advent of National Candy Month!

Baobites, a baobab-based snack

Who doesn’t like a piece of sweet at the end of a meal? Make it not just any sweet, but baobab-based sweet – and I think you will love the change! Citrusy and refreshing like an apricot yet also gentle to the stomach like a pear, the pieces of baobab pictured above are pure flavor Heaven. Having tasted baobab for the first time at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, I am pleased to report that I am now a baobab fan. Not only are baobites delicious without being sickeningly sweet, but they are also good for you from a nutritional standpoint. I checked out several peer-reviewed articles on the topic, and the facts (high vitamin C and fiber content, amongst others) are there. Hurray for nutritious sweets and snacks!

Held in Chicago at the end of May, the Sweets & Snacks Expo celebrated its 20th anniversary in style this year, bringing together 17,000 professionals from the confectionery, cookie and snack industries and over 200 new exhibitors. A show of this caliber can be anything you want it to be: an exploration of food trends, a networking opportunity, a series of exciting and fun discoveries. This year I did a little bit of everything, and time flew by really fast. πŸ™‚

So, what’s new in terms of trends in the sweets and snacks industries? For once, corporate social responsibility has become very important to companies, and their commitment to business practices geared towards the common good shines through in various ways: promotion of wildlife conservation and/or access to fresh water resources, fairtrade or direct trade, investments in community education and/or support of farmer empowerment. In my view, no other company epitomizes community development better than Sunshine Nut Company, which was founded by former Hershey’s executive Don Larson to provide poverty alleviating opportunities to the underdeveloped regions and orphans of Mozambique. It’s always great to meet Don!

Sunshine Nut provides fair prices and employment opportunities to Mozambique cashew growers, and its transformative reach has been going from strength to strength. The cashews are roasted, seasoned and packaged manually on-site in Mozambique. What we get is a product that it is both a little gem of flavor & freshness and a vehicle for change. Believe me, once you try the Sunshine Nut cashews, you won’t let them go. So delicious!

Going back to the topic of industry trends, one thing is for sure: upscale, gourmet products are here to stay. Hand-painted chocolates, coffee and liquor fillings, artisanal flavors, high-quality ingredients and sophisticated packaging are all hallmarks of this year’s sweets and snacks. Sales of premium chocolate have gone up quite a bit lately, and there is a growing demand for luxury products with a high cocoa content. 90% cocoa chocolate? Dark and true to itself, this really is a special treat – so count me in!

Also, following consumer demand for less calorific treats, the trend towards portion control-friendly sweets and snacks has continued to expand. Good things do seem to come in small sizes, no matter what you call them: β€œbites,” β€œbarks,” β€œthins” or β€œminis.” For instance, TCHO (one of the chocolate companies I wrote about last year) has come up with a line of bite-size versions of its candy bars. Taking snacking to the next level, these “bites” are good for portion control purposes, shareable and portable, and come in convenient resealable packaging – so what’s not to like?

What else is new and fashionable in 2017? The answer is: CRRRRRRunch! πŸ™‚ Indeed, hard shells covering chewy centers or combinations of crispy centers and smooth exteriors are very trendy this year. Eager to capitalize on it and to satisfy consumers’ appetite for texture and crunch, companies have come up with all sorts of inventive sweets and snacks. The ones that caught my eye at the Expo were quinoa crisps covered in chocolate (also good for portion control)…

… and chickpea savory snacks. Seeing how many companies have embraced this humble bean at the Expo, I think a glut of chickpeas is forthcoming – great news for chickpea lovers like myself:

All in all, there were many highlights in my Expo experience in terms of both flavors I discovered and knowledge I acquired. One of the highlights was meeting young entrepreneur James Cruickshank. The TreetingCards CEO is likely to be the youngest Sweets & Snacks Expo exhibitor ever!

James’ candy cards are whimsical and delicious and are filled with unexpected twists and turns, being a true reflection of what he loves to do the most: make people laugh! James hopes that his business will continue to grow for many years to come, and the money he earns will help him support organizations which save sharks and their habitats throughout the world. Without a doubt, getting a business idea off the ground at 12 is inspiring!

Other highlights of my experience were spending quality time at the Haribo booth (Mr Haribo is so sweet and charming :-))…

… tasting The Daily Crave‘s award-winning gouda & romano cheese quinoa chips (so good, so creative!)…

… and indulging in delicious cinnamon sugared matzo chips at The Matzo Project booth while chatting with co-owner Ashley Albert. What a fun meeting that was!

I always love to attend the Sweets & Snacks Expo, and this year has made no exception. I found out more about the latest industry trends, discovered amazingly creative products and entrepreneurs, and networked my way throughout the show. Preceding June, the dedicated National Candy Month, this expo is a gentle reminder that food craftsmanship in all its shapes and sizes – from close-to-nature baobab snacks to satisfying cashews, from matzo chips to crunchy quinoa treats – needs to be recognized, supported and celebrated year-round. I am looking forward to next year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo – with lots of excitement building up already πŸ™‚

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

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