This year’s 43rd International Sweets & Biscuits Fair (ISM) just happened to be my 13th. Within my relatively short span of attending this annual “Colognian Candyfest,” I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a few changes at the Fair itself.

Some of those highlights include moving the Fair from the labyrinth that existed in the old exhibition halls to the spacious and modern digs everyone’s familiar with today. Then there was the controversial, but now wholly accepted, introduction of ProSweets, followed the gradual disappearance of many major players (Kraft, Wrigley, Haribo, Ferrero and others), which no longer causes the angst it once did.  Most recently, I’ve seen the emergence of national pavilions as well as the debut of the New Product Showcase — both stimulating additions to the event.

During this same period, the confectionery industry has gone through several sizeable consolidations, significant expansion in emerging and Second World markets, a global recession, commodity price surges, more government regulation and increased consumer scrutiny.

All of the above have had an impact on Grande Dame ISM, the most obvious of which was a gradual but ongoing contradiction in exhibitors and attendance. And, while organizers might dispute the numbers regarding attendance and exhibitors, most annual attendees would agree on the slimming effect experienced during the past several years.

It’s a challenge all exhibitions face, particularly those that are annual. That doesn’t detract, however, from ISM’s importance to the confectionery marketplace. It remains the world’s largest and most engaging bazaar for sweets — a cacophony of stimuli enveloping tastes, smells, colors, packages and personalities.

 This year, upon reflecting upon what I’ve seen and heard — as well as what I haven’t — I’m beginning to see many familiar elements cycling back from my 13 years of reporting. Fruit flavors, both exotic and familiar, continue to have an influence in chocolate, sugar and gum, reinforcing ongoing health and wellness themes as well as interjecting new taste sensations.

Sustainability, that all-encompassing synonym for social consciousness and corporate citizenship, has made an imprint on multinational as well as on fledgling companies. Nostalgia or retro marketing remains an effective marketing tool to stimulate memories and taste buds.

Value has emerged not only as a component in low-end or mainstream confections; it’s touched the premium sector as well. Differentiation can be achieved through personalities or formulas, through storytelling or exclusivity.

Many of these themes are reoccurring; others have emerged as a result of Internet inundation. Regardless, the following snippets from the Fair merely scratch the surface of candy makers and confectioners striving to satisfy a world desperate for comfort and calm, eager for luxury and lift, hopeful for sweetness and silliness, and needy for energy and élan.  They do, however, illustrate the aforementioned trends; trends I believe will have an impact throughout global confectionery categories.

First, let’s take a look at one of the industry’s most iconic interactive brands: PEZ. In recognition of its birth as a mint created to help smokers quit the habit, and thus sold in tins resembling a lighter, the company has launched sugar-free PEZ peppermint candies in retro-styled tins.

As Gabriele Hofinger, head of marketing for PEZ International GmbH points out, the debut of a PEZ mint not only “…brings back childhood memories,” but it “…also makes the PEZ brand very popular amongst older target groups. Today’s adults have grown up with PEZ and are now looking forward to seeing the cult brand launch a product that is tailored to their needs.”

That’s not to say the company is forgetting its popularity amongst children and collectors. As Yolanda Johnson, marketing director for PEZ Candy, Inc., the company’s North American division, confirms, the tie-ins to movies, comic characters and seasonal mainstays will continue.

PEZ lovers can expect to see a slew of interactive candies next year featuring some of the hottest tickets and personalities in town, including Hobbit characters, Princess Merida, Dory from Nemo, the Man  of Steel, aka Superman, Wolverine and more Hello Kitty. This follows a 2013 program included a 25th anniversary set from Star Wars as well as Angry Birds, amongst others.

It’s clear that PEZ’s philosophy of keeping connected to current and past pop culture inserts vibrancy to a brand that traces its origins back to 1927. At the same time, its evolution into fruit gums and the accompany action dispenser takes advantage of the growth evident in the gummies and jellies categories.

Katjes, a long-time innovator and player in the gummies segment, reports that its vegetarian gummy line, which features no animal gelatin and debuted last year, continues to grow. In fact, the line has become the company’s third largest product, says Tobias Bachmüller, managing partner of Katjes.

The new line provides the company with a “good point of differentiation,” he adds. Three years in development, the vegetarian-based gummies dovetails well with the company’s roots, which traces ts beginning to that of an all-natural licorice company.

“It fits with our chromosomes,” says Bachmüller. It also fits with consumer purchasing patterns.

And, while vegetarians account for only 6-7 percent of the population in Germany, a lot of women are part-time vegetarians and only eat meat once or twice a week, he says.

Consumers will see more a “vegetarian-based strategy,” Bachmüller says, as the company expands its offerings. It will continue its acquisition strategy of pursuing strong brands to add to its portfolio as a means of fueling further growth.

Another gummi company on an upward growth curve, despite some production challenges related to shutting down a facility in Fürth, Germany, as well as with dealing with various government delays in kicking off production in a plant in Venezuela, is the Mederer Group.

Herbert Mederer, president and ceo of the Mederer Group, did point out, however, that the company expanded its Hagenow, Germany facility last November, doubling it in size. He also noted that the company will double its capacity in China, with a similar result in Spain after the company moves it production facility to a new site. It will also begin producing pharmaceutical candies, supplying confections with supplemental and functional ingredients.

“Gummies have a growing role in functional foods,” he adds.

At this year’s ISM, however, the theme for the new product launches was simple: “More fun.”

The Trolli Pingummi and Watschel fruit gums literally stand on their own in embracing the fun concept. Yes, the 3-D penguins and ducks take gummi moulding to another level, creating detailed characters that stand. A multi-stage manufacturing process keeps the birds realistic and authentic, complete with beaks, wings and webbed feet.

In that same vein of napkin-doodling innovation that only Mederer can deliver, the company has come out with several additional fun products: Tutto Mare takes ocean creatures — squids, seahorses, starfish and fish — and turns them into extra tangy, extra fruity treats; Rainbow Gums deliver a spectrum of intense fruit flavors while Soft Jelly Gums transform fruit jelly sweets into a new textural experience — velvet smooth gums with a crunchy sugar coating.

It wouldn’t be an ISM, of course, without some discussion about chocolate. No better place to start with Rausch Schokoladen GmbH, one of the originators — no pun intended — behind fine-flavor, single-origin chocolates.

Coming off what he says was the best year for the company, despite a soft market in Germany, Managing Director Jurgen Rausch says the emphasis remains on finding and producing the best chocolates by ensuring the sourcing of the finest single-origin cocoa beans.

Having always taken an active role in finding and supporting cocoa plantations that meet fine flavor standards,  the company continues to  — now more aggressively than ever — seek out new sourcing sites around the world.

This year the company launched the Grenada single-origin bar to round out its eight main cocoa plantation-based varieties. As Rausch explains, “We’re concentrating on what’s important,” which is aromatic, fine-flavor cocoa beans transformed into extraordinary chocolate.

Part of that concentration involves investing into processing, €4 million last year and another €4 million for 2014. These outlays stem from commitments to “new products, new lines and new ideas,” he says.

Cognizant of the current climate for confections in Germany, Rausch looks to expand exports. Last year exports accounted for 15 percent of Rausch Schokoladen’s revenues, but the chief executive looks to push that total to more than 50 percent within 10 years.

He also looks to turn over the keys to the company to his son, Robert, in 2018, which will mark the company’s 100th anniversary. Robert Jurgen joined Rausch Schokoladen about a year and a half ago.

One can see a similar commitment to cocoa in the French company, Cemoi. Three years ago, the company became part of a joint venture, Processors Alliance for Cocoa Traceability and Sustainability (PACTS), which united Cemoi, Blommer Chocolate and Petra Food in developing an ethical and quality cocoa network in the Ivory Coast.

The agreement between the three family- run groups aims at supporting a sustainable approach in achieving the following goals: establishing a cocoa network; improving cocoa yields through natural farming techniques, introducing a three-phase fermentation process to enhance development of cocoa aromas, broadening the roles of cooperatives in cocoa processing and development; and promulgating the long-term sustainable development by improving cocoa quality and network productivity.

There are, of course, other goals the company has in mind, such as furthering growth in two key markets — the United States and Russia, two areas where Cemoi opened up offices.

The company is also introducing a new line of organic, premium, filled and fruit bars. The organic Nature line features the following: 70 percent mini dark chocolate bars, a 66% dark chocolate dessert /baking bar featuring Sao Tome cocoa beans; a 64 percent dark chocolate bar with quinoa, a 72 percent dark chocolate bar featuring cocoa beans from Ecuador and a 55 percent dark chocolate bar with raspberry inclusions.

Under its Cemoi brand, a new packaging design shows off the company’s 72 percent dark chocolate and 85 percent extra dark chocolate bars as well as its extra fine milk chocolate and dark chocolate with sea crystals varieties. The Cemoi filled bar lines feature fancy truffle, mint and caramel fillings.

The company will also roll out its new Nature fruit bar, available in mango, cranberry and orange flavors. The bars are made with real fruit (50 percent  fruit pulp), contain no preservatives and are a natural source of vitamins (B1 B6 and C) as well as rich in wheat germ, which provides fiber and contains Vitamin A.

The company also has younger consumers in mind; it will introduce its famed Petit Ourson (Little Bear Marshmallow) product line, as well as its companions, Petit Herisson (Little Hedgehog), a marshmallow and caramel treat; and Tete d’Ourson (Bear’s Head), a milk chocolate bonbon featuring a hazelnut paste filling.

In addition, the company will be promoting its new non-alcoholic Amarena Cordial Cherries as well as a revamped gift line, including its new Truffles made with Ecuadorian couvertures.

Another company that’s touting its commitment to sustainability as well as its presence in the United States is Newtree from Brussels. Touting its “chocolate without compromise,” slogan, Newtree says its new chocolate assortment comes from four cooperatives in Latin American. Using a combination of Hispaniola, Trinitaro and Criollo beans, all of the bars have organic and Fair-trade certification.

In addition, the company says its compensates for all its CO² usage — be it employee travel to its offices (hybrid or fuel-efficient cars) or  sourcing  and contract manufacturing — through Cimact, which is sponsoring an eolic energy project in India for Newtree.

Its new product line features three 100-gram bars in Belgian Biscuit, Lavender and Ginger flavors as well as new snackable chocolate pearls in orange and black currant varieties.

And while on the subject of new, there’s a new/old player in France: Chocolaterie de Bourgogne. The new company, forged last year when former Barry Callebaut executives teamed up to purchase Barry Callebaut’s last consumer products facility located in Dijon, France, looks to build on its $100 million in annual sales base in quick fashion.

Banking on a management group that’s long in experience and aggressive in goal-setting, Chocolaterie de Bourgogne looks to capitalize on its production capabilities — a 600,000-sq.-ft. plant with 14 production lines — as well as its French gastronomic heritage to supply consumer and retail needs.

“I’d say we have a tough but realistic plan,” asserts Philippe de Jarcy, ceo of the company. “We’re looking to be cash positive by the end of 2013 and surging in 2014.”

In addition to securing a five-year contract with Barry Callebaut to supply it with liquid chocolate, Chocolaterie also produces Lion bars and other items for Nestle. It’s game plan for double-digit growth includes supplying major retailers with high-end, quality products as well as introducing retailers to a new premium player in retail, the Chocolate Bourgogne brand.

“We want to be the Valhrona in retail,” de Jarcy says. To reinforce the strategy, the company has already come out with a new upscale line of products featuring stylish, deep purple packaging that will debut this summer.

De Jarcy also sees the United States and Russia as playing key roles in the company‘s growth. He believes the “Made in France” imprint will work well in both major markets.

“We want to be the ambassador of French gastronomy,” he says.

No stranger to gastronomy, Oscar Kambly, president and ceo of Swiss fine biscuit manufacturer under the same name, now includes education and entertainment as part of the “Kambly Experience.” An expanded visitor’s center features a confectionery demonstration area that invites people to bake their own biscuits;  a “little Hut” that replicates founder Oscar Kambly’s workshop, complete with a stage that puts on an animated show depicting a young Kambly baking his first biscuits; a coffee shop and confiserie and a retail shop.

The Kambly Experience draws 350,000 visitors yearly, says the third-generation head of the company.  But what draws knowledgeable consumers to Kambly’s biscuits is the company’s never-wavering commitment to quality and elegance.

Consider one of Kambly’s latest new introductions, Surprise a la framboise, which won France’s coveted Saveur de l’annee award, something the company has done seven times in the past 10 years.

Luckily, some things never change.