Tout de sweets
We couldn't make up some of the trends we saw at this year's Candy Expo, McCormick Place's annual junk-food trade show. Luckily, somebody else could.
Sugar took many forms at this year’s Candy Expo, from Airhead’s whistles (yes, you can really blow them) to spin-offs of Pop Rocks (which apparently aren’t cool enough as a candy on their own, so they’re now also a dip for lollipops). But to us, the most fascinating trend was the liquefying of candy: “The world’s first premelted chocolate bar” and Binaca-like candy sprays suddenly make sugar even easier to swallow. It’s a trend that is only topped by the Soda Pop Top, a sucker that screws on to the tops of soda bottles (or, as shown here, a bottle of water). Because, you know, soda’s never really been sweet enough on its own.
Again and again we saw companies steering their products toward the supersour route. Mamba Sour, for instance, is a sharper, raspberry-flavored version of the original fruit chews. At the same time, brands that have built empires on puckering mouths to a painful degree are taking their products to ever-more sour lengths. Candy Dynamics is marketing “hazardously sour” Toxic Waste Drum hard candy, WarHeads now makes chewy candy and the Sour Patch family has a new addition: Sour Patch Extreme, a ridiculously tart, dual-flavor gummy. Lip-balm manufacturer OraLabs is even getting in on the action with an oppressively sour candy whose label warns it’s “not recommended for children under five years of age.”
The organic trend has finally hit the candy aisle, though in somewhat limited form. Variations ranged from Pure Fun’s hard candy and lollipops to Florida’s Natural fruit chews to…more lollipops. But organic fans shouldn’t be discouraged: We were promised that this is just the beginning, and with most companies planning to expand, mass-produced organic chocolates shouldn’t be far behind.
The dark side
Chocolate got serious this year, as candy companies revealed their deeper, darker sides. Dove showed off its new “Origins” line, for which all of the cocoa beans are sourced from the same place (one bar is made entirely of cocoa from Ghana, another’s makeup is courtesy of Ecuador and so on); Ghirardelli touted its new “Intense Dark” series (some of which, at 60 percent cocoa, aren’t really that intense); and Lindt has taken to adding chiles to its chocolate, resulting in a bar that bites back. But not everything was so serious: After all, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. bar called Big Mo’? Now that’s got to be a joke.
Old is new
More than ever, candy companies are trading on nostalgia. Of course, Necco, which has built its kingdom on its wafers and other products released in the early 20th century, made a strong showing. But children of the ’80s also received a sentimental jolt from Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, the latter of which are being rereleased for the umpteenth time. Other brands have gotten makeovers; look for new strawberry and rereleased caramel-apple Cow Tales to hit shelves soon, alongside the chocolate and vanilla flavors you’ve loved since you were a tot.
Sweets have always been a kids’ market, but some candy makers are tailoring their packaging to women shoppers. Little i has a line of sugar-free mints and energy gum in tins sporting vanity mirrors, so ladies can keep in check their hair and makeup as well as their breath. When it’s that time of the month, Pretty Mean Snacks (a.k.a. PMS) hopes women reach for their “PMS relief” chocolate, like the Hot Mama Madness (dark chocolate, ginger and wasabi)—a candy bar that’s packed with almost as much cocoa as sexist marketing sass.
See? It’s not so bad…
It’s one thing to be told that snacks are being made healthier; low-fat kettle corn from LesserEvil, a lower-fat “whipped” Reese’s peanut-butter bar and whole-wheat pretzels from BB make a pretty strong case. But many snack foods are taking it one step further, adding the types of supplements that were previously reserved for the aisles of GNC. Choklat Crunch’s Belgian chocolate bar with added protein and NRG’s caffeine-infused potato chips give junk food just one more ingredient for us to decipher.