Sticky & sweet

From health-conscious chocolate bars to salty energy snacks, there was something for everyone at the 2011 Sweets & Snacks Expo.

By Elizabeth Louise Hatt

This past May, the weather in Chicago was hot and sticky. However, inside McCormick Place, candy and snack manufacturers were preparing for the cool weather holidays with the latest in colorful candy. Bright orange sweets waiting for trick-or-treaters, stocking stuffer-size chocolates wrapped in red and green and heart-shaped treats for Valentine’s Day were among the trends observed at the National Confectioners Association’s 2011 Sweets & Snacks Expo.

While many consumers are cutting back on sweets in the name of health, they are willing to make an exception and indulge on special occasions, say industry observers. This trend has opened the door for companies to capitalize on seasonal temptations with new and classic flavors packaged for the holidays.

“The holidays are a big opportunity. We excel in other areas but are looking to revamp our seasonal offerings over the next few years,” said Tim LeBel, vice president of sales, in store solutions and grocery/value for Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America.

The company plans to introduce a wide range of seasonal items. For Halloween trick-or-treat bags, the company will offer Milky Way Simply Caramel, Snickers Peanut Butter Squared, M&M’s and variety packs of fun-size bars as well as harvest-themed packaging for others items. The company’s 2011 Christmas gift packs will feature new M&M’s packaging, a range of Dove brand products in gift boxes and numerous store display cases. Retailers can expect holiday-themed packaging and displays for Valentine’s Day with new varieties of Mars, Dove and M&M’s branded products.

“Seasonal is a major player for us and we need more price-points to market to consumers,” added LeBel. “I am really excited about our upcoming seasonal products.”

The iconic marshmallow Peeps Chick, made by Just Born, is also spreading its wings. The Bethlehem Pa.-based company introduced milk and dark chocolate-dipped chicks for each season—orange for Halloween, caramel-flavored for Christmas, strawberry for Valentine’s Day and the traditional yellow chick for Easter.

“We are trying to leverage the icon of the chick,” said Matthew J. Pye, vice president of brand development and corporate services.

The company also launched chocolate-covered marshmallow treats—orange pumpkins for Halloween, mint-flavored trees for Christmas, raspberry hearts for Valentine’s Day and yellow chicks for Easter—as well as Peepsters, individually wrapped, bite-sized dark chocolate or milk chocolate candies with marshmallow-flavored crème centers.

Chicago-based Tootsie Roll Industries is also boosting its holiday presence with Andes Truffles, available in Christmas (3.66-ounce) and Valentine’s Day (3.66- and 1-ounce) packaging.

Chocolate cravings

The show wasn’t only about the holidays. Chocolate got its fair share of attention with new products catering to everyone from health-conscious consumers to peanut butter lovers. Low-calorie candy bars and dark chocolate indulgences were among the popular trends, but manufacturers have made sure there is something for every chocolate-lover. Here are some of the latest chocolate delights ready to hit the shelves.

Hershey’s Air Delight, The Hershey Co.’s first aerated chocolate, is available in 1.44-ounce single-serve take home bars and in a 9.4-ounce bag of Kisses. “Hershey’s Air Delight Chocolate is the Hershey’s chocolate you know and love with a light and airy texture that melts effortlessly in your mouth,” said Anna Lingeris, a spokesperson for the Hershey, Pa.-based company.

Skinny Cow has left the freezer with the introduction of two chocolate treats that have only 110-120 calories. Dreamy Clusters are a bite-sized crunchy crisp with a layer of caramel and covered with either milk or dark chocolate. The Heavenly Crisp Candy Bars are chocolate wafer bars filled with either chocolate or peanut butter (with an SRP of $0.99 for a single bar and $4.29 for take home boxes). “The Skinny Cow brand has a long history of turning ‘better-for-you’ skeptics into avid enthusiasts,” said Tricia Bowles, spokesperson for Skinny Cow, a brand of Glendale, Calif.-based Nestlé USA.

Mint is the latest flavor to join Jelly Belly’s Chocolate Dips, a line of jelly beans from Jelly Belly Co. that is covered in dark chocolate. Available in bulk, 2.8-ounce bags and a 4.15-ounce gift box with five colors, chocolate dips have less than 4 calories each and come in Very Cherry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Coconut, Orange and now Mint.

The Fairfield, Calif.-based company also debuted a candy corn-flavored jelly bean that is decorated in orange, yellow and white available in 10-pound bulk cases and 9-ounce packages. The company is also releasing a 20-flavor collection of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans to celebrate the final Harry Potter movie that will be out this summer.

Marathon Smart Stuff Bars from Mars Chocolate North America combine chocolate with wholesome ingredients such as blueberries, cranberries and peanuts, as well as eight essential vitamins and minerals. With three to five grams of fiber and 140 calories or less per serving, the bars come in four flavors—Crunchy Multi Grain, Crunchy Chocolate Crisp, Crunchy Honey Graham and Crunchy Trail Mix. The line has an SRP of $0.89 for a 1.23-ounce single bar and $6.99 for eight-count multi-packs. Mars also featured its Snickers Peanut Butter Squared.

Beyond chocolate

Of course chocolate isn’t for everyone. Consumers who prefer fresh fruit and mint flavors are in luck. Many manufacturers are giving their classic fruit snacks a twist with new flavors and added health benefits. The same goes for gum, which has strayed far from the traditional bubblegum or mint variety.

Looking to make a splash in the fruit snack category, Round Lake, Minn.-based Farley’s & Sathers introduced Hawaiian Punch Splashers, a fruit snack with a liquid center that offers 100% vitamin C and 90 calories per serving.

Also catering to the better-for-you crowd, Tree Top brand debuted Fruit Dimensions Fruit Snacks, which are made with real fruit juice, no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, are gluten- and fat-free and come in six on-trend flavors. “We think the fruit snack category is going to continue to grow and expand over the next few years in highly differentiated segments led by powerful brands,” said Matthew Fenton, vice president of marketing for Farley’s & Sathers.

Farley’s and Sathers also rolled out Mott’s Medleys Fruit Snacks, which are made with real fruit and vegetable juice, and Mott’s for Tots Fruit Snacks, a fruit snack with less sugar, a smaller size and softer chew for younger children. The Mott’s for Tots Fruit Snacks are available in apple, apple white grape, fruit punch and strawberry banana.

The company’s Trolli and Brach’s brands are also getting an update. Trolli’s classic gummi bears have grown four times their size into Big Bold Bears, available in six flavors; Trolli Soda Poppers are offered in five soda flavors; and Brach’s Mandarin Orange Slices have been reformulated with real fruit juice and topped with orange sugar crystals. “It’s a fresh take on a classic favorite,” said Jamie Kuhn, senior brand manager for Brach’s.

Trident is spicing up its gum with Trident Vitality, a line with an array of flavors, including peppermint with ginseng, mint with white tea and citrus and strawberry with vitamin C. “Based on research, we found that many consumers were looking for unique new flavors that fit with their wellness lifestyle,” said Kelly Bivens, brand manager for Trident, owned by Cadbury North America, a division of Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods.

Kraft’s Stride brand introduced Stride Spark gum, containing 25% of the recommend daily value of vitamins B-6 and B-12, say officials. Available in two flavors, Kinetic Mint and Kinetic Fruit, Kraft officials said they developed the gum in response to con­sumers “looking to add oomph into their day-to-day activities wherever they can.”

Available in two distinctive mint flavor combinations—Mint with Melon Accents and Mint with Herbal Accents—Dentyne Pure contains NeutraFresh, a proprietary blend of ingredients shown to neutralize bad breath odors. “Dentyne Pure is a true breakthrough innovation freshening and is the first gum uniquely formulated with NeutraFresh to neutralize fresh breath, instead of just covering it up,” said Gary Osifchin, director of Dentyne, owned by Cadbury North America.

Chicago-based Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., a subsidiary of Mars, welcomed new flavors to its line of Extra gum with Smooth Mint as well as Dessert Delights, a line of dessert-inspired flavors, including Orange Crème Pop (available now) and Apple Pie (coming in September), that contain only five calories per stick.

Juicy Fruit, another Wrigley brand, is debuting three flavors in sugar-free pellet gum form—a green apple raspberry flavor called Juicy Green, a strawberry and cherry combination called Sweet Red, and Juicy Fruit Riddle, a new mystery fruit flavor.

Wrigley’s Gummies Collisions fuse together two colors and flavors—Cherry-Watermelon, Raspberry-Lemonade and Pineapple-Fruit Punch—and Starbursts Jelly Beans introduces Crazy beans made up of six dual-flavor combinations. 

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