2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo: mindful eating, part #2

Torie & Howard organic hard candies, on display at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo

Is there a better time to talk, taste and enjoy sweets and snacks than during the summer months? I reckon there isn’t. I don’t know about you, but we’ve been gorging on berries – nature’s best sweet snacks, available in abundance as we speak 😉 Indeed, summer produce offers plenty of options to indulge while keeping an eye on the environment and your own well-being – and that’s exactly what US consumers have been craving lately. Sweet and snack manufacturers have been trying to capitalize on the increased demand for mindful, healthier, closer-to-nature products, and this trend has been on full display at the latest edition of the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held in Chicago recently.

As the centennial edition of the National Restaurant Association (NRA) Show ended, bringing the mindful eating trend to the forefront (you can check out my review of this Show here), the Sweets & Snacks Expo took center stage at McCormick Place Convention Center, continuing the trend-focused debate in a similar vein.

With 15,000 industry professionals in attendance, over 800 candy and sweet exhibitors at the start, and 2,000 new product launches over the course of 3 days, there was something for everyone at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

The Innovation Avenue is usually my first stop at the Expo (you can check out my reviews of previous editions here and here) – and this year made no exception. What’s the newest? The most groundbreaking? The best among the best? It was there that I was going to find the answers to my questions. Along with the “usual suspect” ingredients such as quinoa…

…and kale…

…I was excited to find a diverse range of innovative vegan snack options, from Pan’s mushroom jerky

… to Shirakiku meaty mushroom crisps…

… and Avolov avocado chips.

I also came across seaweed-based products…

…in various applications:

Size and portability matter greatly to consumers this year, and at the Expo I got the chance to familiarize myself with a variety of bite-size, easy-to-carry-around fruit&veggie-based sweets and snacks that are making the waves – from Sunny Fruit‘s tantalizing sun-dried tomato bites…

… to Nature’s Intent‘s tangy, slightly sweet and utterly decadent chocolate covered mandarins…

… to Fazer Nordi‘s deliciously European sea buckthorn snacking thins…

… and ending with Rhythm‘s organic cauliflower bites.

Innovation in terms of ingredients and technology was clearly at the forefront of the Expo – witness these technologically advanced cauliflower chips and pretzels produced by From The Ground Up:

If I were to single out one product that stood out to me in terms of innovation from a variety of perspectives, then I would pick Tru Fru‘s award-winning freeze-dried chocolate-covered raspberries:

Tru Fru products are made with 100% real fruit, frozen fresh, immersed in white & dark/ milk chocolate and hyper-chilled to enhance flavor. While other methods of preservation (eg. dehydrating or air drying) use high temperatures that can destroy more than half the food value of the fruit in question, freeze dried fruits typically retain 97% of the nutritional value.

It’s easy to see why Tru Fru’s freeze-dried raspberries immersed in white and milk chocolate won the top awards in this year’s Most Innovative Sweet Snack and Gourmet categories, beating several reputable competitors in the process. The mix of fruit and chocolate flavor was simply astonishing! By freeze drying the berries, Tru Fru’s creators managed to miraculously lock in the freshness and deep berry flavor, enhancing the tartness of the fruit so as to beautifully counterbalance the sweet indulgence of the chocolate.

What a memorable tasting experience! I recommend you check out this product at the earliest opportunity (the Store Locator section can be found here). You will not be disappointed!

Barry Callebaut’s ruby chocolate was another highlight of this year’s Expo.

Barry Calebaut’s ruby chocolate contains no added flavors or colors, and is usually described as “a tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness.” Ruby cocoa beans grow under unique climate conditions and can be found in Ecuador, Brazil and the Ivory Coast.

Having tried ruby chocolate as an application of crispy cereal treats (a unique gourmet way to elevate a classic recipe, in my opinion), I fully agree with the above description of its flavor profile. This chocolate variety had a light, astringent berry flavor I thoroughly enjoyed. It instantly made me think of a raspberry and milk chocolate combination – not too dark, not too tart, just perfectly balanced and utterly delicious.

After a visit to the Haribo booth and a sampling of their delicious gummy bears (they’re super popular in Europe, where I come from)…

…as well as an encounter with Haribo’s exquisitely crafted fresh fruit sculptures…

… I stopped at Godiva‘s booth to catch my breath and to try their chocolate-covered strawberries. Delicious!

I then headed to the Specialty Market pavilion to meet “groundbreaking candy and snack makers displaying a dazzling array of organic, premium, free-from and sustainable products.” Undoubtedly, this is the best section to visit if you’re looking for some of the latest and greatest in terms of mindful eating, all concentrated in one place.

Among the products that stood out to me at this pavilion were Crunchy Rollers, vegan, certified organic, and non GMO rice rollers which come in a variety of natural fruit flavors. As a parent and as a writer with an ongoing interest in healthier sweet and snack alternatives, I was impressed with this product’s delicate sweetness and apparent simplicity. There was no bag of sugar “hitting” my taste buds while sampling these – only a touch of sugar, complemented by a bundle of berry and rice flavors which were honest and to the point. These also brought back memories of some of my most cherished childhood snacks. I appreciated the trip down memory lane as much as I loved seeing my daughter’s smile upon trying these snacks for the very first time 🙂

Just as I was preparing to leave the Expo, I had a final memorable encounter – this time with Nalini Mehta and Anita Balakrishnan, the creators of Yoga Pops.

Yoga Pops are made from Asian water lily seeds which are hand-roasted, spiced and packaged in small artisanal batches in Minnesota and Atlanta.

They are gluten free, non GMO, and exhibit exotic flavors and a crunchy texture. I just loved the addition of cardamom in the variety I tried. What a delicious and innovative product!

Unpopped Asian water lily seeds next to Yoga Pops

I had a memorable experience at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo: I got the chance to sample a variety of high quality and innovative products, I met intrepid business owners and trend-setters, and I gained a better understanding of the industry trends, both present and foreseeable. From Tru Fru to Yoga Pops and Avolov to Crunchy Rollers, it’s obvious manufacturers are working hard to create products which satisfy consumers’ growing demand for sustainable novelty and mindfulness. With so many developments in the works and so many exciting ideas yet to research and to explore, I can’t wait to see what next year’s Expo will bring 🙂


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