Sweets and Snacks Expo delivers major confectionery releases

Delivering market insights and a host of new products, this year’s Sweets and Snacks Expo held plenty of intriguing prospects, as Neill Barston discovered


An array of colourful cartoon mascots, creative displays and all-important new product launches helped ensure a festival atmosphere at this year’s Sweets and Snacks Expo.

Having cemented itself as the key showcase for the US market, the annual trade fair in Chicago delivered hundreds of fresh and expanded ranges that set the tone for the remainder of 2019’s global industry.

Confectionery Production played its part too and returned to McCormick Place to cover the sector showcase, which delivered a number of notable launches that vied for honours at the event’s annual innovation awards.

With the US market maintaining its position as the largest in the world, valued at around $35 billion, there were key launches from confectionery groups including Mars Wrigley, Ferrara, The Hershey Company, Perfetti Van Melle, Mondelez International and Ferrero.

According to event organisers, the National Confectioners Association, more than 15,000 visitors were recorded across the three days of the event, representing dozens of countries from around the world.

The trade fair included more than 800 exhibitors across its main trade halls, and speaking to a number of businesses at the event, the US sector appears in a buoyant position, despite challenges to the industry,

Among the major trends being explored, there was a shift from manufacturers in focus to providing healthier snack options in the form of protein-enhanced confectionery, as well as a number of new items catering for vegan and gluten free markets.

Encouragingly, figures from the show revealed that at least 250 exhibitors from the event are exporting for international audiences, albeit in slightly differing formats in some product instances.

For many exhibitors, the new product awards conjured a major highlight, with this year’s honours attracting more than 300 entries across its nine core categories. The best in show accolade was claimed by Ferrara Candy Company, for its latest Trolli brand Sour Brite Crunchy Crawlers, a dual-texture gummy, which won over judges with its distinctive flavours.

This year’s event also featured a hall dedicated largely to smaller independent confectionery and snacks businesses, which helped deliver an added dynamic to the event. There were a number of companies demonstrating ranges developed in response to demand for reduced sugar products, that represents a segment with considerable growth potential.

Among the most notable businesses making inroads with delivering natural and organic ingredients was the Sugarpova series, launched by tennis champion Maria Sharapova, who attended the event herself for its US unveiling.

“We removed artificial colours from our gummies, testing products for 18 months to make sure they were made from the highest quality ingredients possible,” said the grand-slam winner of her confectionery range.

Major brands

Speaking to Confectionery Production, Rick Brindle, Mondelez International’s Vice President of Industry Development, explained there had been a strong response to its core snack product ranges.

Among its core focus for the event were its well-established Swedish Fish, Sour Patch and Oreo Brands – with the latter enjoying particular success selling out a special edition Game of Thrones version in the US.

Brindle said: “This is a tremendously important show for us, with visitors wanting to check out our insights and product innovations. We have been in the same space here for three years – and this time we’re seeing more quality traffic, so we’ve been really excited about it.

“We try to make our booth to have an element of engagement that makes it worthy of being on instagram. We had a huge package of Game of Thrones Oreos that had everyone taking their picture with it.”

Having been in the business for over 40 years, 23 of which with Mondelez, he says that it’s been the people working in the sector which have made it such an enjoyable experience.
He also noted that the fact the sector is constantly evolving with new products – particularly within the US market, that ensures that maintaining an oversight on the industry is a rewarding challenges.

“From a product development front, we have an initiative called snack futures, looking at new innovations that are on trend – as a snack company, you always want to be on trend, and now that is very much about health and wellbeing. We have a vibrant, mindful snacking approach, which incorporates enjoyment and indulgence.”

For its part, Mars Wrigley used the trade fair to unveil a diverse series of updated and new confectionery items. This included expansion for its core M and M’s brand, with a new milk chocolate bar range in five flavours, plus an additional range of hazelnut spread chocolate candies.

Another of the group’s big names, Snickers, also gained a boost with its latest incarnation with a creamy series featuring fresh-ground nut butter fillings presented in almond, peanut and maple options.

Fans of the well-established Skittles candies have been seeking out its Darkside dark fruit flavours, which has now been extended. There is now even an ‘imposters’ range, with flavours that keep you guessing in not matching their outer colours. The group also introduced six new flavours for its Dove chocolate bar range, two gelato bars, as well as a new Extra Refreshers gum line.  On the snacks front, the company also released its jalapeno flavoured baked mini tortillas.

“Innovation is at the heart of what we do at Mars Wrigley Confectionery and our retailers are at our core,” said Tim LeBel, president of Sales at Mars Wrigley Confectionery. “We want to provide new and exciting products to enhance shoppers’ experiences. Our product innovations are designed to capitalise on consumer demands and trends, such as the rise of nut butters and flavour mash-ups, which have largely influenced our product offerings.”

There was a celebratory mood on the Ferrara Candy stand, as the business gained two product awards during the event, which saw the company release an array of new products.

This included releases such as its Trolli Sour Brite Crunchy Crawlers alongside other major brands such as its Black Forest gummies line, Nerds chewy candy, and the latest flavour for its popular SweetTarts Golden Ropes tropical flavour.

“With our Crunchy Crawler range, it plays off the trend that customers expect sensorial experiences and are bored with mundane flavours.

“For us as a company, we’ve won three times in a row, and it meant a lot for us to take home awards in two categories, and are really proud of these brands,” explained Ashley Papanikolas marketing manager.

She added: “With our Crunchy Crawlers in particular, it had taken a large amount of scientific research to master the recipe for that, which is something that’s come out of our panning expertise which we’ve been doing for 100 years now.”

Key anniversary

This year’s event was a particularly significant one for The Hershey Company, as it marks its 125th anniversary within the sector, which was crowned with winning  a new product award for its latest Kit Kat Duos Mint and Dark Chocolate.

Among its other major releases were its milk chocolate emoji bars, featuring 25 different connection emojis on bars, being unveiled this summer.  There were also several products from the Reese’s brand, including Take 5 bars, combining chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, peanuts and pretzels.

The brand also unveiled its Lovers series in chocolate and peanut butter formats, along with a revamped Reese’s Thins – now designed to be 40% slimmer. In addition, the company also presented its Twizzlers cream pop filled twists, Ice Breakers mints, and Jolly Rancher gummies and bubble gum. The company’s media team explained there had been an encouraging response to its latest ranges on display on its main hall booth.

“There are two reasons why Hershey has been around for 125 years, enduring company purpose and the cultural relevance of our brands,“ said Todd Tillemans, US president for the business.

“We pride ourselves on equally competitive and compassionate, investing in communities, people and the snacks of the future. We are driving new snack occasions with Reese’s Thins, Hershey’s Emoji bars and Kit Kat Duos mint and dark chocolate, and as a result, making more moments of goodness for our consumers.”

Meanwhile, Sylvia Buxton, president of Perfetti Van Melle, enthused that the company continued to experience a notable upturn as it expands its present range.

As she explained, within segments for chewing gum, mints and non-chocolate candy, the business has just taken second place in terms of global sales.

For this year’s expo event, the company’s Mentos brand was an awards finalist, with the business increasing its flavour range across its established Airheads range, in response to a current trend for inventive fruit tastes.

Buxton added: “The US is making a strong contribution to our growth, and we are offering what we call ‘core and more’ with our Airheads, Airheads Extreme, Mentos ranges.

“One of the things that is proving interesting about the confectionery market is that consumers are promiscuous in that they have many different brands and products in their typical purchase set, so it’s important for us to remain relevant and at the top of their mind.

“As a group, we want to make sure we are practising responsible marketing, and offering consumers choices, with many of our products offering smaller portion sizes or sugar free options,” she added of the company’s approach to business, which includes a pledge not to advertise product ranges for children.

Movie merchandising

Delivering a striking showcase at this year’s event, Jelly Belly unveiled its latest licensed product range that saw significant interest from retailers.

Vice president of marketing, Rob Swaigen, explained to Confectionery Production that its latest offerings, including an established link with Disney, had continued to prove a strong source of products.

He said: “This includes plans for a new Star Wars themed product line for the end of this year, plus a link with the much-anticipated Toy Story 4 movie.

“We are having a good start to our year – one of the things we are doing well is diversifying and we have managed to push licence programmes as well as our core brands.

“Our BeanBoozled brand game comparing flavours, of weird and wonderful, that we’ve designed for hardcore fans to see what they can endure,” explained Swaigen.

He added: “The Harry Potter line has been a wonderful evergreen series for us and this year, we’re launching a nightbus filled with collectable candy, as well as house crest tins with jelly bean flavours.

“We’ve also expanded on the chocolate wand line, which now includes our first dark Voldermort version. We also have a Hogwarts Express chocolate bar, embossed to look like a train ticket.”

He concluded that the company’s research and development teams have spent considerable time inventing ever-more imaginative flavours, which had played a significant role in its improved business fortunes.

Sustainability and sales

For its part, Ferrero has experienced an exceptionally busy year in the US market, since acquiring Nestle’s confectionery assets for the states.

Paul Chibe, president and CEO for the company’s north American division, explained that its series had been performing notably well across a number of categories including its chocolate ranges – which saw a major show launch of its Golden Gallery selection box. The Italian-headquartered company also used the event for the US roll-out of Kinder Bueno brand, which has proved a particular success for the business in Europe.

Chibe said: “It has proved super busy at Sweets and Snacks ever since the doors opened, which says a lot about the energy in the industry right now. There’s been a lot of continued innovation from the big players, as well as some of the smaller businesses too.

“Our biggest launch at the show has been built upon our Kinder Joy brand, which has just won an award here this year. Part of what makes it so outstanding is its performance – we achieved over $100 million in retail sales last year, and we are on track to increase that, “explained the president, who said that the company was making notable progress with releases including its Tic Tac X-Freeze range.

On wider developments, he said the business was continuing to make headway with regard to its sustainability of sourcing key ingredients. The issue has continued to remain high on the wider agenda for the entire industry, and the CEO said Ferrero is playing its part in responding to key matters of tackling child labour and environmental protection measures.

Chibe added: “We are working together to challenge supply chains, packaging  and how we produce, so those are things that are happening and challenge ourselves to keep pushing.

“We’ve been progressive, we are most recognised in the area of palm oil, even Greenpeace has said we have done procurement of oil the appropriate way to protect the rainforest, so that issues around the chain are correct, and want to apply that across the board to the rest of our products and have already been working with other areas including on cocoa.”

Another notable highlight was Barry Callebaut’s launch for its ruby chocolate, which follows in the wake of its initial release two years ago in Shanghai, billed as the biggest development within chocolate in the past 80 years.

The company staged a reception event at Sweets and Snacks for its latest variety of chocolate, which it is working with the American FDA (Food and Drink Administration), for its full production licence.

Laura Bergan, brand director for the US, said the company was optimistic that a full launch of the product would soon be passed, with ruby gaining its initial launch at the show in couverture form.

“Having launched it in Shanghai in 2017, it’s great to finally have a plan for its launch in the US and Canada. I’ve been very involved from the birth of it – we did a pilot here last year and it was a surprise to win a new product innovation award. It’s great that customers here will be able to experience it and educate people on how they can use it.

“The Market is being challenged to bring new things forward for consumers – they more and more want something adventurous. In our view, we’re focusing on indulgence, in two way form – the high end treat that people desire.

“That’s driving the chocolate category now, and consumers don’t want to trade off on taste, but are perhaps looking for something that’s a little healthier. So we have been talking about offering those two different journeys,” explained Bergan, who said the company’s core focus for the event was around targeting reduced-sugar for customers. This included demonstrating a no sugar added chocolate, and another one percent added sugar, which she said had yielded a positive response from show visitors.

Also within the premium chocolate segment, Guittard returned to Sweets and Snacks with its latest range of chocolate bars, chocolate chips and premium chocolate series aimed at the gourmet chef market.

Having marked its 150th anniversary last year, the US business has expanded into Europe and displayed a number of existing and new lines for the Expo.

Among the most notable was an addition to its chocolate range, a 64% cacao offering named L’Harmonie, along with its present range of wafers, cocoa powder and baking bars.

Clark Guittard, international sales director, said: “After 150 years, you become a steward of your company and try to continue its traditions, while also implementing some of your own ideas. You’re building on what’s already there, and build with some innovative thinking.

“It’s an honour to be able to continue the family business. For me, I love food and I even had a catering business in France for a couple of years. It’s such a great way for people to come together, and in this technical world, it seems that cooking and eating are one of the last bastions for sitting down and having a conversation. I think that adds value to ourselves and our families.”

  • extended coverage of the event see our July/August edition of Confectionery Production.
  • See our video of Sweets and Snacks Expo, featuring interviews with the National Confectioners Association, Ferrero and trade organisation Abicab at: 



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