While walking the brightly lit halls of Koelnmesse, it becomes clear why thousands of visitors return to the sprawling exhibition center and Cologne, Germany, each year for ISM, the world’s largest trade fair for finished confections and snacks.

The show strikes a balance between old and new, tradition and innovation — just like Cologne, its 2,000-year-old yet still modern host city.

During ISM’s 47th edition, held Jan. 29-Feb. 2, nearly 38,000 visitors traversed exhibition halls packed with more than 1,600 exhibitors from 68 countries. In fact, two-thirds of visitors came from abroad, as did 86 percent of exhibiting suppliers.

That demonstrates ISM’s long-held status as a global fair, says Katharina C. Hamma, coo of Koelnmesse GmbH.

“ISM once again confirmed its international position as a global platform for the sweets trade,” she says. “Furthermore, we were able to further reinforce our position with a slight growth in the number of exhibitors.”

With eye-catching booths, confectionery heavy-hitters and industry newcomers occupied more than 1.2 million sq. ft. of exhibition space. NelleUlla, a four-year-old chocolate operation based in Riga, Latvia, was among them.

Arriving at NelleUlla’s booth was like stepping into a Latvian forest. Paper printed with trees covered the walls, and flowers and berries were scattered on display tables, giving the booth an earthy feel.

Export Manager Anna Petra Mūrniece says that wasn’t an accident. She noted Latvia’s natural features inspired the NelleUlla’s aesthetic. The company’s slogan is “chocolates from the forest.”

“It’s part of our national identity,” Mūrniece says.

That’s reflected in its confections. NelleUlla, which is a combination of two feminine Baltic names, offers more than 30 varieties of truffles, many of which are coated in pieces of freeze-dried fruits and herbs. The company also creates full bars with whole freeze-dried berries gently pressed into them.

All are made by hand, meaning most of the company’s 40 employees are producers, Mūrniece says. She noted NelleUlla, which exports to 19 countries and distributes mostly through boutique outlets, hoped to connect to larger channels.

“Now we’ll see the interest,” Mūrniece says.

Ruben’s Chocolate, the three-month-old sister company of Austrian importer Interfood, was also looking to make inroads at ISM. The company, which produces premium lactose-free chocolate under the Ruben’s brand, also presented another unique product: buffalo milk chocolate.

“Our focus is innovation,” says Miriam Zangerl, assistant to Ruben’s ceo. “We felt we needed to develop something special.”

Packaged under the brand Augusto, the chocolate is available in Original and Almond and Bergamot flavors. While the flavor difference is subtle, the buffalo milk changes the chocolate’s texture, making it creamier than traditional milk chocolate.

Zangerl says the specialty aspect of the product, now distributed only in Austria and Germany, could play well in the United States.

“We think people are willing to pay for a higher price for this kind of product,” she says.

Maria Sharapova, tennis star and founder of Sugarpova, also hopes followers and candy enthusiasts will enjoy new additions to the company’s premium chocolate line. She stopped by the Sugarpova booth on ISM’s third day — her second time at the fair — to greet fans and speak with the press.

“To be able to come back with a whole new set of exciting sweet treats is fun,” she said while visitors and media members snapped photos.

After introducing four non-GMO, 100-gram bars in partnership with Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Baron Chocolatier last year, Sharapova has developed two more 100-gram bars, four varieties of truffles and a chocolate-covered version of her signature lip-shaped gummies. Flavors include:

  • Milk Chocolate Covered Gummy Lips
  • Dark Chocolate with Orange bar
  • Dark Chocolate with Pear bar
  • Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut truffles
  • Milk Chocolate Pistachio truffles
  • Dark Chocolate Pomegranate truffles
  • Dark Chocolate Orange truffles

Sharapova noted consumer research influenced the new varieties, adding the “zesty and sweet” orange is one of her favorite flavor combinations.

“It’s really important to know what an audience wants, what they expect, what they like,” she said.

Creating the chocolate-covered gummies proved to be a challenge, but expertise from Baron Chocolatier, a division of Poland-based Millano Group, along with high-quality ingredients, made it possible.

“It’s one of the reasons we work with them,” Sharapova said.

Baron Chocolatier and Sugarpova weren’t the only companies with strong ties in the United States to exhibit at ISM. Nearly three dozen companies and organizations set up shop in the American pavilion, showcasing a range of ingredients and finished products.

Janesville, Wis.-based Impact Confections, manufacturer of Warheads, exhibited for the first time. The company was looking to expand its reach in Europe, and the appeal of sour — despite the sharp sensation it provides — can work in Impact’s favor, says Marketing Specialist Kerri Harold.

Warheads, super-sour hard candies, already pose a challenge, but Impact has taken it a step further with the new Extreme Sour SMASHUPS, the first new flavor introduction in Warheads history. Flavor combinations include Lemon Berry, Strawberry Grape, Orange Pineapple, Mango Melon and Cherry Lime.

“We’re on the forefront of two major trends happening in the candy world right now,” said Jenna Rebout, Impact Confections brand manager, in a news release announcing the product. “Sour candy has grown 12 times faster than non-chocolate candy since last year. And now, Generation Z is demanding more flavors, unique flavors and intense flavor experiences.”

Consumers aren’t just looking for new flavor experiences — something Tobias Bachmüller and Bastian Fassin, managing directors of Katjes, know well.

Katjes’ expansive, pale-green booth was a hive of activity during the show, thanks to the company’s Magic Candy Factory — 3D printers that in minutes extrude Katjes’ all-natural, vegan candy into any shape imaginable.

For this fair, the machines were printing “3D Sweet Selfies” using photos taken of visitors on site. Personalization proved to be a popular concept, with the line of selfie fans extending around the booth. Wait times surpassed 45 minutes.

“It’s a super reaction,” Bachmüller said. “It shows that consumers are not always looking for old-fashioned candy.

“It’s a big step forward,” he added. “This is so far ahead it could be at a digital fair.”

Since Katjes debuted the prototype at the 2016 ISM, the Magic Candy Factory has been picked up by Dylan’s Candy Bar and appears in Candylicious’ Dubai store. Melissa Snover, managing director of Katjes Fassin UK Ltd., noted the company plans to bring the machines to duty free outlets, amusement parks and event facilities.

Katjes also introduced two new varieties of its recently retooled Katjes vegetarian gummies. The Wunderland gummies come in unicorn and rainbow shapes, while the Vemoji gummies feature rabbits making the same faces as popular emojis.

Trolli GmbH, another powerhouse player in the gummy field, presented new products of its own. Among them was Saftsäcke, soft, bag-shaped gummies filled with fruit-juice gel. Available in Apple, Strawberry, Orange and Grapefruit flavors, the gummies pack a flavorful punch.

The Fürth, Germany-based company also presented a multipack of spooky gummies for Halloween. The Halloween Sweet & Sour mix features witches, stones, bones, skulls, spiders, bats and original Trolli eyeballs with sour, fruity filling.

While seated at Trolli’s vibrant booth, General Manager Nicolas Mederer shared more than the company’s new products. He noted Trolli’s production facility in Valencia, Spain, has reached its 7,000-ton capacity, but it will soon double with the addition of a second mogul line later this year.

In the meantime, Trolli is focused on maximizing the efficiency and productivity of its existing equipment.

“You have to think about that first before developing new business areas,” Mederer said.

Not far from Trolli’s booth, A.G. Loacker played host to many visitors, which wasn’t surprising given its status as a leader in the wafer sector. Nonetheless, Chairman UIrich Zuenelli says the South Tyrol, Italy-based company plans to push forward, particularly in the wafer-based specialty category.

Loacker recently introduced a line of chocolate bars that contain its signature wafers and cream fillings. A line of 50-gram bars with flavors including Milk, Dark Noir and White are set to hit the U.S. market in April. Loacker’s 55-gram specialty bars are expected to go to market with redesigned packaging in October.

“We feel that this is a very valuable and differentiating addition in order to sustain the growth,” Zuenelli says.

Loacker also plans to advance its vertical integration strategy, which applies both to ingredients and retail operations.

Zuenelli said Loacker has acquired 154 hectares (380 acres) on which to grow hazelnuts, and the company’s agricultural director is coordinating partnerships with local farmers for additional supply. Through both avenues, Loacker hopes to have a self-sufficient hazelnut supply by 2025.

Zuenelli noted the company is evaluating and developing strategies for cocoa, milk and vanilla, adding “better-for-you indulgence” starts with sustainably-grown, “flavor-giving” ingredients.

Loacker has also launched seven Loacker Stores, a hybrid of a coffee shop, pastry shop and retail outlet, offering consumers coffee, pastries, a limited café menu and an opportunity to peruse the entire Loacker product line.


Products we loved

Many products were on display at ISM, but here are some that we loved.

ISM Products We Loved

Lambertz Mini Donut Cookies

Henry Lambertz GmbH & Co., Aachen, Germany

These round, crispy butter cookies are coated in rich chocolate certified through the Fair Trade program. They are available in two varieties: Milk Chocolate Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate Coffee.

ISM Products We Loved

Sushi Dessert Bento Box

Cosijns Chocolatier, Wemmel, Belgium

Building off of its sweet sushi concept, Consijns Chocolatier has developed a Bento Box, a play on the popular lunchtime portion. It comes with four pieces of sushi, ginger, wasabi and chopsticks made of chocolate, marzipan, fruits and nuts.

ISM Products We Loved

Torcidas Rellenas (filled licorice)

Fini Golosinas, Murcia, Spain

Fini will soon introduce Torcidas Rellenas, a novelty that fuses red licorice with a flavorful filling. The soft, chewy licorice tubes play off the texture of the sweet, strawberry-flavored gel.

ISM Products We Loved

Chicolate chakra chocolate

Chicolate, Schinnen, Netherlands

For those in need of energy realignment, Chicolate offers Belgian chocolate infused with Healing Arts oils designed to “open” the consumer’s chakras, or centers of spiritual power. Oils and flavors correspond with each of the seven chakras: Calmness, Sensuality, Inner Strength, Love, Expression, Intuition and Spirituality. Each chakra has a milk and dark chocolate variety.