Fancy’s back. At least that’s what attendance at this year’s Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco suggests. More than 18,000 buyers opted to visit the annual show in San Francisco organized by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT).

Fancy, however, doesn’t mean “fru-fru.” Among the more interesting confectionery trends is man candy; essentially savory style flavors simpatico with traditional guy grub: beer, bacon, chilies, etc. 

This trend translates into package design as well, with the use of more manly basic colors and upping the piece size to satisfy a man’s larger maw.  Some outstanding examples of man candy at the show were Artisan Candy’s Pecan Rum Bacon Caramel Corn andXan’s Black & Tan Truffles

One typically doesn’t associate manly with marshmallows, but it’s clear that adult flavors are now part of the gourmet marshmallow mix. Similar to cup cakes and French macarons, it could be that artisan hand-made marshmallows will reign as the next indulgent must-have. Plush Puff’s gourmet marshmallows, with their playful flavor combinations and color schemes such as Mango Tango and Cherry Chocolate Chip, are good examples of this category. 

Playfulness, always an inherent part of confections, now, however, shares top billing with mindfulness. Consumers are not only seeking out gourmet products, but good corporate citizens who make those products.

Thus, several enterprising and altruistic snack bar makers are hoping their social responsibility missions and/or raw ingredients will help them stand out in a very crowded snack bar category.  Two Degrees Food and Go Raw Foods provide classic examples.

Fancy also applies to creative product design, which was evident in Eclipse Chocolat’s tall, sleek chocolate bars, Torie & Howard’s gorgeous tins of organic hard candy and Recchiuti Confections’ redesigned chocolate bars.

A short rundown of some of the trendsetters are the show provide more detail.


Artisan Candies

Artisan Candies have been making “old fashioned candies with a twist” for about ten years, starting with an old family recipe for peanut brittle. Kristen and Dean Scott had been obsessing about caramel corn all year, every night, about “how to bring it into our company and make it unique.” Artisan’s Maple Pecan Chipotle Brittle was a SOFI 2011 silver finalist in the snack food category.  Jumping on the bacon bandwagon, they introduced Pecan Rum Bacon Caramel Corn at the show, more man bait.


XAN Confections

More man candy, this time in the form of large truffles in two manly flavors: Crunchy Peanut Butter and Black & Tan.  The latter box contains four pieces, two espresso bean truffles and two stout truffles.  “A pick me up in the morning and a mellow me out before going to bed,” says head Chocolatier Lauren McCusker.

Sales have been huge, reports President Cathleen Johnson Anthony. “It is a great  option to give a man for Valentine’s Day, or even for Christmas or Easter.” To make the product more macho, the company used more masculine packaging, larger piece sizes and dropped the traditional pink Valentine’s Day color scheme.


Plush Puff

Forget those industrially generated white plugs of uncertain age from campfire days of yore.  These gourmet marshmallows are freshly made with all-natural ingredients, corn syrup-free and dessert-like flavors.  They are another example of a confectionery product targeting adults. 

The idea for Plush Puffs was born several years ago when the son of the business partner wanted a pumpkin-flavored marshmallow for Halloween.  Now the Sherman Oaks-based company offers twelve flavors, including Mango Tango (with a kick of cayenne pepper), Chocolate Chipetta (made with Guittard chocolate chips), Maple Bacon, Toasty Coconut, Peppi-Mint and Luscious Lemony Meringue, as well as seasonal flavors like Gingerbread Spice and Pumpkin Pie.  Owner Anne Hickey-Williams notes that the flavors intensify when roasted.

Plush Puffs’ introduced its new product line, Toppers, a hockey puck-sized marshmallow designed to dramatically top off a mug of hot cocoa and available in two flavors: Latte Vanilla and Peppermint.  The Toppers can be decorated with the customer’s name or logo, for added private labeling opportunities.  A new flavor is Smoked Honey, a cold smoked marshmallow that “will be amazing for pastry chefs to work into a dark chocolate signature dessert.”


Go Raw Foods

Go Raw is one of the leaders in the raw food niche of the snack bar category.  Go Raw’s products are sprouted-seed based, raw, vegan, organic, gluten-free and nut-free.  According to company president Robert Freeland, his typical customers are females between 30 and 50 years old and who are seeking to add more flax for their diets, looking for healthier snack alternatives and/or have nut allergen issues. 

Go Raw has launched a new product line, which is a smaller (12-13 grams) and less expensive ($0.99 - $1.19 SRP) version of its main bar line. “It’s an easy gateway into eating raw foods.  The conventional world is really getting turned on to this.”


Two Degrees Food

Given a choice among comparable quality and priced products, premium food consumers seem inclined to choose the brand offering value-added social benefits. For Two Degrees, this means a mission of donating a medically formulated nutrition pack or fortified meal to a hungry child for every food bar sold.  “It’s a simple and elegant model, and consumers know that they are feeding a hungry child every time they buy one of our gluten-free, all-natural, vegan food bars”, says co-founder Will Hauser. 

In 2011, having just finished its first full year in operation, the company has donated over 250,000 meals to needy children in Malawi, Kenya, Somalia, Haiti and India.  “We partner with responsible, experienced non-profit organizations all over the world to deliver meals to hungry children,” says Hauser. 

The 44-gram bars retail for $1.99 - $2.49).


Nuubia Chocolat

Although only two-year old, Nuubia Chocolat has already garnered some national acclaim.  Last year co-owner Lionel Clement was recognized as one of the ten chocolatiers in North America by Dessert Professional.  He honed his skills for five years as Head Chocolate Chef at the Wynn/Encore Law Vegas before partnering with Alexandra Saunders to open an ultra-lux chocolate boutique in Pleasanton, Calif.

His philosophy involves using only the highest quality ingredients to orchestrate a balance of subtle flavors.  Sometimes, he takes an old sweet standard and reinvents it.  

For instance, at the show he debuted his kicked-up version of the classic mendicant, typically a small disk of dark chocolate traditionally studded with four candied fruit and nut pieces. 

As his new take on the mendiant, Chocolatier Clement stuffs his chocolate disk with hazelnut praline.  That inspiration really makes his mendiant pop with a mouth-filling explosion of creamy nuts.  “It’s a nuts party in your mouth,” explains Clement.  Additionally, his disks are square-shaped, adding both a unique presentation and an aid to more efficient production.

Co-owner Alexandra Saunders is very sensitive to social responsibility issues and has dedicated 15% of company profits to be earmarked for wildlife conservation causes.  


Eclipse Chocolat

Putting his seven years of art school and MFA in sculpture to good use, owner Will Gustwiller designs all of his company’s graphics and creative development.  One result is his chocolate bars’ distinctive shape.  Long, narrow and shaped like a piece of half-round molding, they appear bigger than the standard 3-oz. bar.  

Additionally, he developed a countertop display that accommodates more bars, or flavor assortment, in a relatively small footprint, making the display ideal for retailers with limited space available at the register.  Gustwiller claims that his display can pack twice the number of bars than conventionally shaped bar displays.  Because he sells his chocolate bars to many wine enthusiasts, all his labels include wine pairing suggestions.

He also donates 10% of profits to causes that support the people who are buying his products.  “This is the type of future in a global economy.  People need to think local.”  He has a commitment to green energy and sustainability, such as sourcing all his chocolate from Guittard, using post-consumer packaging and extensive on-premise recycling.


Torie & Howard

Torie & Howard makes organic hard candy.  Even its packaging is eye candy.  Drawing you in by an initial pleasing visual created by tins with distinctive embossed images, use of bright complementary colors and the jewel-shaped candy pieces formed in special moulds, the end result shows that the owners have an eye for design. 

Not surprising, given that both founders have design backgrounds.  Torie Burke was a color consultant and Howard Slatkin a world renowned interior designer. (His 12-room Manhattan townhouse once graced 19 pages of House & Garden.) “Each element down to the piece of candy is designed to reinforce Torie & Howard’s brand,” explains Torie Burke.

Torie & Howard’s line of products use dual flavor profiles to cater to a more sophisticated palate: Italian Tarocco Blood Orange & Wildflower Honey, Tart California Pomegranate & Sweet Freestone Nectarine, D’Anjou Pear & Ceylon Cinnamon and Pink Grapefruit & Tupelo Honey.  “The flavors are so fresh, that one customer wrote that it was like drinking fresh juice.”

Tori & Howard products are sold in 2-oz. tins ($3.99 - $4.99 ) and bulk ($8.99 - $10.99/lb) and in a 6-oz. handbag ($7.99 - $8.99). Each candy contains about 3 grams of sugar and 12 grams of calories.


Recchiuti Confections

Recchiuti has relaunched its chocolate bar line with four new flavors, a process that shows the exemplary creativity that makes these products so shelf-stopping. Almond (with brunt caramel syrup and sea salt) and Hazelnut (dark milk chocolate with toasted Oregon hazelnut pieces) were inspired by the dragée line.

The Sesame Nougatine (dark milk chocolate with toasted sesame seeds, cane sugar and sea salt) draws inspiration from the company’s Sesame Nougat Truffle while the Orchard (dark chocolate with almonds, mulberries, currants and salt) is a totally new creation.

The packaging designed was redesigned by Creative Director Jacky Recchiuti.  She draws most of her design inspiration from art and architecture.  “Drama. Gesture. Rapture. Foundation. These are the building blocks of inspiration – not necessarily in that order but definitely capturing the passions Michel and I share,” she posted on her blog. 

The bars were downsized to three from four ounces to align with the most popular size on the market.   Additionally, the bars use a custom mould that is scored in variable sizes “designed for sharing,” according to sales and marketing manager Heather Sears, and embossed with images from Michael’s sketchbooks. The sleeves are resealable and designed using very sleek, sophisticated black backgrounds and bright artwork.

“Seeing all eight bars on a shelf really make the line pop,” Sears says.