Exclusive: Sweets & Snacks Expo on the fast track to success in Indianapolis

There was a strong mix of expectation and excitement surrounding the halls of the 2024 Sweets & Snacks Expo, as the event returned to Indianapolis three years after it had hosted the show during the Covid-19 pandemic, writes Neill Barston.

That sense of genuine enthusiasm was maintained across the entire four days of the show – including its supplier showcase that set the tone for proceedings on its 13 May opening, offering the floor to a diverse assembly of equipment, systems and ingredients businesses from around the world. (watch our exclusive video review of the event here).

As for the main floor of the event, there was plenty to savour during its three days of bustling activity across the event’s 1,000 exhibitors, which saw numerous candy, snacks and chocolate launches enthusiastically premiered from small independent firms and major global players alike. This clearly heightened the atmosphere, and added to the sense of occasion that had been boosted by ‘Hoosier hospitality’ on show from the host city.

Confectionery Production was on hand to report on key developments from across the show, which began with its traditional awards ceremony that delivered a host of worthy winners, including Mars Wrigley for its latest Hubba Bubba, Lakrids by Bulow for a new passionfruit chocolate-coated liquorice, and Nerdy Nuts Avalanche peanut butter treat named as best in show to name but three (see our separate story on the accolades here).

Notably, while the sector has continued to face ongoing tests in terms of elevated ingredients costs and wider supply chain challenges, businesses presented a resilient front, which was underlined by recent market data showing the US region remains buoyant, posting sales of $48 billion in the past year alone, with further steady growth projected for the sector.

Speaking to Confectionery Production at the event, John Downs, president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association, appeared full of praise for the host city, with the event welcoming a record figure of 16,000 visitors across its 250,000 square foot of space, as a total of 80 nations represented, ensured it had a truly international feel.

John Downs, president and CEO of the National Confectioners Association, enthuses on a successful return to Indianapolis. Pic: Neill Barston

“Everyone seems to be very pumped up about being here. I think there’s a big awesome vibe out there on that show floor that hits you right in the face when you get around the place,” enthused the president, who conceded that while they didn’t know precisely how this year’s show would go compared to its longstanding home in the ‘windy city’ of Chicago, he felt it had been a resounding success.

This was especially the case in offering some additional social opportunities, including a memorable ‘happy hour’ experience at the nearby home of the Indianapolis Pacers basketball team. Show entrants were treated to the chance to mingle and use some of its outdoor practice facilities for a special gathering that brought the event to a fine culmination ahead of its final day.

For a grand finale, visitors were also offered a high-octane opportunity to soak up a practice session of the city’s famed Indy 500 circuit, with the scene being aptly set by race champion Marcus Ericsson, who dropped in as a special guest to the Sweets & Snacks Awards to inspire guests for the supercharged closing spectacle for the expo.

“The city may be a little quieter than in Chicago, but the thing about Chicago was that you saw everybody doing business on the show floor, but then after that, you never saw anybody. So we had an opportunity for creating some sort of shared sense of community here in Indianapolis. After the event, you see everyone in the street and the bars and restaurants, so it’s really alive.

“Our marketing theme for this year was ‘Big and Bold,’ which was our brand promise. And I think we’ve executed. against that, I really think that we’ve delivered, and that’s what all the feedback so far that I’ve received has been all positive, which is fantastic,” who reflected on the NCA’s decision to host the show in Indy three years ago. He noted that it had a break even point of being 50% of ‘normal times’ which it achieved, and gave the organisation a sense of belief that post-pandemic, the show could very definitely go on the road back in Indiana once again.

Record performance
With a clear sense of pride he noted that this year had delivered on its goals in terms of attendance rates, as well as moving the event forward from what had been a fondly-regarded home in Chicago. It will now return to Indy next year, and then rotate with Las Vegas over the next decade.

“This year’s show has gained record attendance, record exhibitors, record, square footage, records all the way around. So, it’s the biggest show we’ve had, which is amazing stuff, and everybody seems to to be doing really really well out there. The other thing I like about it out there too is that you feel the aisles are wider, you have more room, and the lighting just makes everything pop.”

pic: Neill Barston


“I hit all the hit all the booths of the supplier showcase – they were very, very happy again that’s bigger than it’s ever been before. Our product awards have also improved in that we’v had the most entries that we’ve ever had, and you can see all the entries down the hallway, with more than 300 being submitted, which I think is pretty cool,” remarked the president, who says the success of the show has proved especially energising.

He noted that the sector still had its challenges to face, including an ongoing quest to engage the FDA (Food and Drug administration) to step in and support the industry in tackling issues including individual states unexpectedly, and in the organisation’s view, erroneously, legislating against confectionery dyes and on cadmium within chocolate, contrary to prevailing scientific recommendations on the subject.

However, while he says ‘the status quo’ remains on its mission to fight on behalf of confectioners, he noted that continued advocacy on behalf of the industry in Washington remained of significant importance.

Despite such challenges, he said there was much to be encouraged by at the show, including the introduction of a new small business award, along with the ‘level and amount of innovation, which really popped for me,” which included a wide array of product launches across the event’s three days.


Major product innovation
Among the standout product debuts for this year’s event was Ferrero’s Tic Tac brand releasing its Tic Tac Chewy variant, which was a global first for the business, which is set to be released this September.

Speaking to Confectionery Production, Yann Bastien (below), brand marketing director, said: “We’ve had a lot of visitors stopping by to our booth to try this new innovation, which is being introduced for the first time in the US and the world, and it’s the first time that Tic Tac has entered the sugar candy category, which is a very exciting journey for us.

“It’s not every day that you get to launch something that is totally new from scratch, so this is something that doesn’t exist anywhere else, so we are happy to give this opportunity to the US market. So, it’s a big milestone for the Tic Tac brand,” he noted of its big release. The company was also present with its other core ranges including Kinder chocolate, Ferrero Rocher, and Keebler.

Launches targeting younger audiences

Meanwhile, Mars Wrigley was also among major players releasing an array of new product options across its portfolio, as trade spokesperson Mike Gilroy explained to Confectionery Production.

He enthused that while its confectionery brands have gained broad appeal across generations, the business has made a number of new launches that have especially reached out to younger demographics

Mike said: “What we know about Gen Z is that they love experiences, whether that’s taste, textures, formats and how fun something is, and how can myself and my friends engage with it. That’s important to them. The other thing that’s important to them is purpose, you know, associating themselves with purpose-led brands. And then the authenticity of those brands.

“So, we’ve launched Skittles Littles and Eminem peanut butter meanings in the in our plastic tubes, which have strong play value in a fun miniature size, so you talk about all those experiential elements are there – pop the top, close it up take it with you have a little bit more space. There’s  also larger bags that can be purchased, take it away with yo, to share with friends, or include in your baking, or sprinkle over your favourite ice cream.

“That’s one area we what we also know in particular around Gen Z is they have as a cohort of the economy that is strong in terms of their buying power now I just think as these people mature through their careers how strong that buying power is going to be in the not too distant future so they’re a critical cohort to be focused in on as consumers of confectionary snacks and treats.”

He added that there had also been a ‘tremendous rise’ in the gummy market, with growth in the double digit territory over the past four years, with more than 50% of consumers in the Gen Z and millennial categories favouring products in that category.

Consequently, he explained that the company had been active within the segment, as it sought to carve out a strong market share, which also reflected the depth of its overall product offering.

“We’ve been in the gummy space for well over a decade now, with series such as our Lifesaver Gummies, and we’ve more recently launched Skittles Gummies and at the show this week we’re featuring Starburst Gummies.” explained the product specialist, who revealed that another key success on its stand at Sweets & Snacks was its M & M’s Peanut Butter Mega series.

As he noted, the launch of the latter range particularly chimed with a number of other key launches around the show, with a total of five peanut butter flavoured products from across the sector being finalists in the event’s awards, not least of which was the best in category accolade.

Furthermore, as Mike added, the business was particularly pleased to have scored success itself in the form of honours for its Hubba Bubba mini gum with the Skittles five fruit flavours, which had a strong nostalgic confectionery feel.

“The other thing we have been talking about this week is the resilience of gum, as probably not too long ago, we only thought of gum really as kind of breath -freshening, as during the pandemic nobody really needed fresh breath because they weren’t talking to anybody in person. But coming back out, we’re seeing a resurgence of gum. But what we’re also finding is that gum can help with mental focus, which has made the news as well,” he added, explaining that the company remained shopper focused and customer driven in its approach to delivering new product ranges.

it’s for me it’s all about the brands, the strong brands that we have, and I believe the company’s in a good place now. We’re always innovating, always listening to the consumers and what they want, which is what keeps us at the forefront of things.”

As he concluded, the company’s activities have been bolstered last month with news of a $70 million into its US manufacturing operations at Hackettstown, New Jersey, will see the development of significant new research and development facilities serving the region.

Key portfolio releases

For its part, as previously reported, Hershey unveiled a range of key product releases at Sweets & Snacks, including an Olympic and Paralympic Games Paris 2024 Reese’s Gold Medals, in support of the major global sporting event.

Its other core releases included Hershey’s Crunchy Waffle Cone Bars, Ice Breakers Sparkling Mints Pineapple Mango Seltzer Flavour and  Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels Parmesan Garlic Flavour.

Hershey made a number of releases at this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo. Pic: Neill Barston


In addition, the company also made a further notable release in the form of a special limited edition pink lemonade flavour KitKat, which is now available in stores.

The brand, which is made by the company under licence in the US and remains manufactured in Europe by Nestle, has become renowned for a continuing dynamic range of variants that have made an impact on confectionery markets around the world.

“Creating new, unexpected flavour experiences for our KitKat fans is at the core of what we do,” said Hilary Long, KitKat Brand Lead. “The pink lemonade flavoured bar delivers an immersive experience in every bite, reminiscent of a refreshing glass of pink lemonade as the weather heats up for summer fun.”

Independents succeed

As Confectionery Production found exploring the aisles of the show, from a total of 1,000 exhibitors, this year’s event included a total of 300 first-time businesses, as well as a broad spectrum of firms that have been firmly attached to the event.

One such US-based business, Squire Boone, has enjoyed key success with the show for nearly three decades, and enthused that the response to the switch to Indianapolis has been particularly encouraging.

Carrie Rigsby, marketing director, said: “It’s been a phenomenal show. We’ve been doing the event for about 30 years, and this is the best one in local memory. The buyers are engaged, they’re enthusiastic. The show is huge, and we have been very, very pleased with how things have gone.

“We’re excited to be in Indianapolis, and excited to see what’s going on. future shows. Well across the board, our top candy is rock candy. We’ve been a manufacturer for 40 years and it’s always our number one. We launched a new product called Bugsuckers this year, and it has painted bugs on the inside. and that’s been the hit of the show. This is going to be the  candy of the summer,” she explained of its key sugar-free range, with the business also offering a number of significant novelties for the market, including Jurassic DNA popping candy, which also attracted notable attention.

As for the chocolate category, the event also threw up plenty of intriguing new developments within the sector, which was reflected by the most recent sales data for the segment that showed it is in a comparatively buoyant position.

Among first-time exhibitors this year was Colombia’s Cordillera, producing premium grade ranges with a strong emphasis on sustainable sourcing at its heart, which it believed had given it a strong unique selling point.

Sweets & Snacks Expo 2024. Pic: Neill Barston

Daniela Zuluaga Valencia, brand director said: “This show has been so great for us. It’s our first time exhibiting. So it’s been so important for us to know everything related with the confectionery sector.

“For us, it’s really important to know how it’s everything going in the US, and around the world. This is the most important show related to confectionery in the world, and we wanted to be here represented as a Sustainable Latin American Chocolate.

“When we have talked to people at the event, they have been so impressed, because we have the shortest cocoa supply chain and have commented that our chocolate tastes so different in its notes and flavours. So we are very proud and glad to have those reactions.

“Sustainability is our core purpose and we source our beans from Colombia, Peru and also Ecuador, and we  have a close relationship with our cocoa farmers. We don’t have middlemen, it’s just the company and the cocoa farmer, which is so great and important for us.

“Being leaders in Colombia, we purchased the 60% of the cocoa production in our country, which is so important for us in relation to food sourcing and everything that we are working on to improve the productivity in our country, and in terms of our responsibility to the planet, we also have zero deforestation with our production.”

  • For an extended version of this feature, see our next edition of Confectionery Production magazine.



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