What do pizza slices, CeeLo Green and futuristic fuel pumps have in common? They were all at Chicago’s McCormick Place last week for the NACS Show, sponsored each year by what was once known as the National Association of Convenience Stores. (Now the association goes by NACS, the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing.)
More than 22,000 visitors perused the 400,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space featuring companies belonging to six core areas of convenience retailing: Fuel Equipment and Services; Food Equipment and Foodservice Programs; Candy/Snacks; Facility Development and Store Operations; and Merchandise and Technology.
Vendors handed out samples of their best wares, while singer CeeLo Green and former Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant drew crowds. Star Trek veteran William Shatner also dropped by.
Food and entertainment aside, the show’s main mission is to bring together convenience and fuel retailing industry professionals for four days of learning, buying and selling and networking — all designed to help participants grow their bottom line. That also includes sharing insights that help convenience stores connect customers with the sweet, savory and crunchy products they want as quickly as possible. 
Here are a few highlights from the show:
SMASHMALLOW Smashcrispy 6ctBuilding off its marshmallow expertise, SMASHMALLOW has developed SMASHCRISPY, its version of rice crispy treats. Made with natural ingredients, SMASHCRISPY is available in three flavors: Cinnamon Churro, Mint Chocolate Chip and Strawberries and Cream.
Chelsea Ward, v.p. of marketing for SMASHMALLOW maker Sonoma Brands, said creating a premium, natural version of the marshmallow-based childhood classic made sense for the brand. Available in single-serve ( S.R.P.: $1.49) and 6-ct. family packs (S.R.P.: $4.99), the treats started shipping earlier this month.
Two new SMASHMALLOW flavors will also be available at the end of October: Candy Cane, a seasonal variety, and core flavor Cookie Dough. Those flavors join Cinnamon Churro, Mint Chocolate Chip, Mocha Chip, Root Beer Float, Toasted Coconut Pineapple, Strawberries and Cream and Meyer Lemon Poppy Seed.
Ward, who noted 7-Eleven recently picked up the brand, said natural, better-for-you snacks have a place in the convenience store setting as consumers seek speed and permissible indulgences.
“We’re in a position where we don’t really have to compromise,” she said. 
Mars Wrigley Confectionery shares shopper insights, announces new products
The way consumers shop continues to evolve and spans in-store, mobile and online, says Tiffany Menyhart, v.p. of U.S. category leadership at the newly merged Mars Wrigley Confectionery.
Shoppers engage with products across multiple touch points, sometimes before they step into a store. And everything from health and wellness priorities, time of day and seasonal needs impact how shoppers navigate their list and the store. With 70 percent of impulse purchases being driven by visibility or an in-moment craving, it’s critical retailers make it easy for shoppers to find products that meet these needs in the moment.  
Mars Wrigley Confectionery’s research also uncovered a major gap in how shoppers’ feel in the candy aisle. The enthusiasm shoppers have pre-shopping and joy they find in consuming products afterwards is disconnected from the way shoppers feel in aisle. Shoppers are only willing to spend up to 57 seconds in the candy aisle, and the longer they search, the more frustrated they become. By creating a more intuitive and visually structured experience, retailers can reduce searching time, increase satisfaction in stores and ultimately drive sales.
Menyhart pointed to Mars Wrigley Confectionery’s Best in Class Planograms, which build on these insights to systematically design shelf displays and grow sales. Approximately 25,000 outlets have adopted these programs. 
Mars Wrigley Confectionery also presented a variety of new products that will be available to consumers at the end of 2017 or in 2018. They include:
Alert caffeine gum
One piece of Alert Caffeine Gum provides 40 milligrams of caffeine, about the same amount, on average, as a half cup of coffee, one 12-oz. can of soda or a half of an 8-oz. energy drink. 
Michelle Green, Mars Wrigley Confectionery senior manager of brand communications, said the company wants to position Alert as an energy product, not necessarily as as confection. She added the sugar-free gum, available in Mint and Fruit flavors, is somewhat bitter, so consumers keep its intended purpose in mind.
Alert gum
Wrigley first began selling Alert in 2013 but suspended sales after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration decided to take a closer look at caffeinated foods. Steve Johnson, Mars Wrigley Confectionery v.p. of marketing, gum and mints, said the company had waited long enough for the administration to outline rules for caffeinated products.
“We know the FDA has many important priorities, and despite good-faith efforts, they have not yet provided new guidelines on caffeine consumption,” he said. “However, since then, there’s been new data released and research published about caffeine’s effects on individuals and the population, as well as behaviors of people who consume it.”
All the while, consumers have been searching for non-liquid energy products that allow for greater intake control.
Alert fills that need by providing caffeine in a finite amount that they’re able to control,” Johnson said. “Based on the research and scientific rigor that went into relaunching this product, we know that Alert offers consumers a safe way to consume caffeine as intended.”
S.R.P. (8 pieces): $2.49
DOVE Chocolate-Covered Dusted NutsDove Dusted
Mars Wrigley will introduce in December a new dusted, chocolate-covered nut collection. Featuring a matte finish, the items include:
  • Milk chocolate cashews dusted with sea salt
  • Dark chocolate almonds dusted with cinnamon
  • Dark chocolate cashews dusted with cocoa
S.R.P. (single pack): $1.99
New goodnessKNOWS flavors
New goodnessknowsAdding to the brand’s fruit and nut offerings, six new flavors of the dark chocolate-dipped snack squares will debut next year. They include:
  • Peanut Butter Crunch
  • Nut & Sea Salt
  • Maple Cinnamon & Almond
  • Honey Almond Bourbon Vanilla
  • Mocha & Almond
  • Oats Raisins & Almond
With fewer than 150 calories per 1.2-oz. single pack, each flavor is designed to provide 10-15 percent of a consumer’s recommended nutrient needs without added calories, added sugars or sodium.  
S.R.P. (single pack): $1.59-$1.99
Snickers Peanut Butter Crisper
Hitting shelves in DSnickers PB Crisperecember, Snickers Peanut Butter Crisper balances sweet and salty and creamy and crispy. Featuring milk chocolate, puffed rice, caramel and peanuts, the Peanut Butter Crisper comes in four portioned squares to share or save for later.
S.R.P. (2.83-oz. share size): $1.10
Hershey promotes Gold Standard Planogram, introduces new products
After the first year of testing and implementing its Gold Standard Planogram with a handful of retailers, The Hershey Co. was eager to share how the systematic laying out of sweets and treats improved sales.
“Retailers who’ve implemented our planogram saw a 4 to 6 percent lift in high-velocity instant consumable sales. This year, our layout is even stronger,” said Dale Clark, Hershey senior director of category engagement, small format. “We want our retail partners to see our insights team as front-line partners in growing total-store sales and thought partners in testing emerging technology.”
And with the development of Crunchers and other sweet-and-salty items, Hershey outlined the possibility of displaying a continuum of sweets and snacks in stores, creating a dedicated space for products that don’t fit neatly in either category.
The concept could prove popular among consumers, according to a 2014 Hartman Group focus group. More than 40 percent said sweet-and-salty was their favorite flavor combination.
With that in mind, here are a few new products Hershey presented at NACS:
Hershey’s Gold Caramelized Creme Peanuts & Pretzels
Hershey GoldBilled as Hershey’s fourth flavor sensation, Hershey’s Gold bars feature a proprietary golden caramelized creme, delivering a buttery, sweet flavor. The bar also includes crunchy bits of peanuts and pretzels. The bar will be available beginning Dec. 1 in a 1.4-oz. standard bar (S.R.P $0.99) and a 2.5-oz. king-size bar.
S.R.P. (2.5 oz.): $1.69
Hersheys Crunchers
Hershey’s S’mores Crunchers Candy 
Hershey’s S’mores Crunchers Candy pairs mini graham cookies, mini marshmallows and graham pieces covered in Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. Cookies ‘n’ Creme and Reese’s Crunchers are also available. The sweet, small bites marry classic flavor combinations and a variety of textures. All come in 6.5-oz. stand-up pouches (S.R.P. $3.49) and a 1. 8-oz. tube pack.
S.R.P. (1.8 oz.): $1.99
Kit Kat Dark King-Size Bar
One of Kit Kat’s most-requested flavors is now available in 3-oz. king size. Crispy, sweet wafers covered in smooth dark chocolate create a bold, new bar. As part of the launch, the Kit Kat Dark Standard bar is getting a new look. Both bars now have a glossy black label. 
S.R.P. $1.99  
Jolly Rancher Misfits Candy King Size 
Jolly Rancher Misfits Candy mashes together two Jolly Rancher fruit flavors and characters into one piece of chewy candy. Try the delicious Green Apple + Cherry, Blue Raspberry + Watermelon, Strawberry + Lemon flavor combinations. Available in 8-oz. bags (S.R.P. $2.49) and a 3.4-oz. king size bag.
S.R.P. (3.4 oz.): $1.69 
Xlear introduces Spry Dental Defense gum and mints
New to the convenience store channel, Xlear Inc. has introduced Spry Dental Defense Gum and Spry PowerMints. They’re sweetened with xylitol, which can help reduce the risk of tooth decay and promote oral health.
National Sales DirSpry gum and mintsector Lois Mizdal said Xlear, which also produces toothpaste and oral rinses, has a presence in natural and health stores, but it hopes to expand into other retail channels.
“More consumers are shopping for healthier options, and that’s across all classes of trade,” Mizdal said.
Available in canisters (S.R.P.: $4.99)  and 12-ct. blister packs (S.R.P.: $1.99), Spry Dental Defense Gum comes in six flavors: Wintergreen, Bubble Gum, Cinnamon, Peppermint, Spearmint and Licorice. PowerMints are available in 70-ct containers and in three flavors: Wintergreen, Peppermint and Cinnamon (S.R.P.: $2.99)