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What’s Ahead for the Sweets and Snacks Business

Visions of sugar-plums and popcorn danced in the heads of attendees at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago. There were visions of upcoming trends, too, like unusual flavor combinations and healthy indulgences that appeal to consumers’ good and bad sides.

Reese’s and Butterfinger may be too indulgent for the very health-conscious among us, but if you followed the trends, you’d find over-the-top treats like Nestle’s Butterfinger Candy Pop popcorn or Hershey’s Reese’s Outrageous! Bar, with milk chocolate, Reese’s Pieces and caramel, the “it” candy ingredient, reported Chicago Tribune (May 22).

The expo’s innovation contest winners were snacks and sweets that mingled interesting flavor mixes. Some examples include Gone Rogue’s Chicken Bacon High Protein Chips, made with “quality cuts of chicken”; Hershey’s Gold Bar, a combination of salty, crunchy bits of peanuts and pretzels with caramel-flavored creme; and Combos’ Honey Sriracha snacks.

Consumers want snacks and sweets that taste good, but don’t make us feel guilty. According to Larry Levin, executive vice president at IRI, Sahale Snacks’ fruit and nut mixes are some of the industry’s best sellers, as are anything made with chickpeas and other legumes.

From the Ground UP’s cauliflower-based pretzel products, Southern Recipe’s gluten-free Blackberry Habanero Oven Baked Pork Rinds and In Season’s Crispy Trail Mix Crackers, made with mung beans, cashew nuts and raisins and then baked, are just some of the new snacks consumers can look forward to.

“It used to be sweet and salty, one or the other,” Levin said. “Now there’s a plethora of options for both.”

Smarties Candy’s rebranding — the company introduced a new logo, fresh packaging and a smoothie-inspired product line at the show — symbolizes how the candy and snack category has rebranded itself as a whole to appeal to today’s consumer. In our sweets and snacks, we want to eat something that catches our eye and our tastebuds, and is good for us, too. That may seem like like a tall order for the industry to fill, but that’s the way the organic cookie crumbles.

Speaking of cookies, Jared Koerten of Euromonitor International suggested at the expo that retailers ask online shoppers if they want to add extra items — like a cookie, nutrition bar or soda — as they check out.

While the sweets and snacks business has come to expect shoppers to make impulse buys as they stand in the checkout line, the industry has to re-examine how it approaches the impulse buy now that customers are making fewer trips to brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

“These changes are happening a lot faster than people realize,” Koerten said.

Another vision he helped attendees to see was the possibility of vending machines in grocery stores’ click and collect lockers, where consumers pick up orders placed online. This was yet another way to inspire impulse buys.

Another trend? Store brands such as Target’s Archer Farms and Trader Joe’s. As private labels emphasize better and fewer ingredients to appeal to consumers’ desire for healthy and natural food, they’re building brand loyalty. If you love Trader Joe’s Coffee Toffee Shortbread Cookies, you most likely won’t go searching for a similar product at another store.

“Some consumers don’t even know the difference between a retailer’s own brand versus a national brand,” said Sally Lyons Watt, an executive vice president at IRI. “It’s appealing to consumers who want just a little bit more for themselves.”

Simply put, consumers want to treat themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that.