SNX 2024 is the place to be for some serious snacking business. Taking place in Dallas this week, the SNAC International gathering brings together snack makers and suppliers from across the country (and around the world) for learning opportunities, networking sessions, and more business-building activities. According to organizers, the intent is to encourage dialogue, spark innovation, foster growth, and bring together snack industry professionals from across the supply chain to grow deeper relationships. 

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to mix business with fun. The Flavor Showdown competition pits some of the industry’s top flavor and seasoning suppliers against each other. This year, in honor of the Longhorn State location of the event, participants were invited to work on a savory Texas-inspired flavor to enter into the contest. This week, SNX attendees will get to visit the Flavor Zone on the show floor to sample the entries, weigh in on their choice for the best of the best, and then watch as the winner is announced at the closing event.

This year’s participating companies are:

What’s in store for this year’s Flavor Showdown? To learn more, Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery checked in with some of the competitors.

Jenni Spinner: What does a flavor firm like yours get out of throwing down during the showdown? It’s a lot of work taking your entries from idea to the event; what do you and your team gain from the experience?

Mike Cantore, Carolina Ingredients: We get enjoyment from showcasing our ability to innovate the latest in flavor/ seasoning technology to the attendees of SNX. It is a lot of work, and we spend countless hours researching the latest trends and crafting them to the specific target audience. This year’s theme is to create a Texas-inspired seasoning, which was particularly challenging because there were so many options. The flavor that we chose is sure to impress.

Alexa Vaughan, Chesapeake Spice: We thrive from competition and a new challenge. The showdown grants us the ability to step away from the day-to-day projects and have fun innovating to see what we come up with. As the team tastes, the concept evolves in both flavor and nomenclature. We are a geographically diverse team, so a lot of laughs come out of finding the perfect name for our entry. Our participation in the vent also gives us the added bonus of exposure to potential new customers.

Sharon Cushen, Fuchs North America: The showdown allows us to showcase our expertise and innovative processes. Our process for identifying and developing our entry mimics the product development cycle that we follow with our customers, starting with identifying up-and-coming flavors inspired by trend research and ending with a craveable food product that was custom-developed by our R&D experts. So, not only does the showdown provide us with an opportunity to flex our creative and culinary muscles, but it also allows us to demonstrate the type of quality and customized support our partners can expect from us.

Bill Nisbet, McClancy: We are a culinary/R&D driven company, and always have been. However, over the past few years, we have made several large investments in our business, predominantly emphasized through our top-tier culinary talent and facilities. A showdown like this allows the customers to “Taste the Difference” that the new and improved McClancy offers. We invite them to come into our recently opened state-of-the-art culinary center to do just that, “Taste the Difference!”

JS: If you competed in past iterations of the Flavor Showdown, what did you learn from the whole process (from ideation, to perfection, to competition)? Did your entries ever take home the gold?

MC: We have competed in all of the past events. Each year we learn something new while deep-diving into the flavors of different regions and creating that wow factor of the show's attendees.

SC: We have been participating in the Flavor Showdown and its past iterations since the beginning. Each year, we start planning months in advance, with several ideas for potential entries. Strategizing about how each concept may be received by SNX attendees and narrowing it down to just one concept to show is always a fun challenge. Through the competition itself, we always receive wonderful feedback that offers insight into how these flavors will be received once on the market. We’re certainly aiming for the gold this year!

BN: We have not participated in the past sessions, so we are excited for this to be our inaugural entry!

AV: Mainly, not to overthink it; the main objective is to develop a seasoning that is delicious, fun, unique, and marketable to your customers. The big win would be to have your concept appear on grocery store shelves. Another big learning was that it is a LOT of work from start to finish; it’s not just a one-and-done scenario as we want to deliver the best flavor we can. Last year was our first time entering and we won the gold for Sweet Flavor of the Year! The team is still elated, and it truly felt as if we took home an Olympic gold medal!

JS: What can you tell us about current sweet snack flavor trends and consumer tastes that might be influencing the entries we might see from the 2024 competitors? 

SC: Ultra-indulgent flavors are becoming increasingly popular, as consumers have been turning to sweet snacks for comfort amidst ongoing economic and social uncertainty. As such, we may see some over-the-top, dessert-inspired entries in the 2024 competition. Seasonal-inspired flavors also continue to trend, as consumers’ restlessness is forcing brands to innovate faster than ever before. LTOs that feature seasonal and holiday flavors are becoming all the more important for standing out and appealing to consumers who are tired of more of the same. With spring having recently sprung, it would not be surprising to see other entries capitalizing on the popularity of this trend by showcasing sweet spring-inspired flavors.

AV: Regarding sweet trends, it seems as if berries are in! Blueberry and strawberry have been the leaders; familiar flavors that are versatile. Both have expanded beyond pies, breads, and syrups on menus and in the marketplace. On the West Coast, tamarindo is exploding from beverages to snack foods and more! Being as the show is in the heart of Texas, we may see some chamoy/tamarindo mash-ups to fit the host city.

MC: We have been featuring a lot of new sweet seasonings which feature:

  • Fruit and Floral Notes which highlight refreshing and aromatic flavors, a link to a healthier lifestyle, and lend a playfulness to the flavors.
  • Sweet Plus Heat concepts which showcase the dynamic and evolving nature of culinary preferences. We use sweet fruits, floral honey, or decadent chocolates paired with spicy chilies and hot sauces.

JS: Then, please share your perspectives on current savory snack flavor trends and consumer preferences in that area which might impact the savory Flavor Showdown entries.

BN: Bold and smoky flavors are trending in 2024 which is a perfect fit for Texas! Heat and flavor fusion are also trending which allowed us lots of options to be creative and show the talent of our R&D team. It was a lot of fun to create six Texas-inspired flavors that we will be showcasing for SNX. It was tough to pick only one for the competition! Our submission is a bold flavor based on the rich history of Texas that we think is a winner!

MC: Our trend research has shown:

  • Amped Up Umami: We have featured seasonings with a strong savory and satisfying taste experience by using familiar ingredients such as parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and tomatoes. We have also started to impart notes of miso, soy sauce, and seaweed to focus on umami.
  • Global and Ethnic: We see continued growth in adventurous global cuisines of different cultures. We have featured more Middle Eastern and African flavors which offer an inspiring combination of aromatic sweet and savory spices.

AV: For savory trends, unique peppers are back! The hot honey trend has facilitated this by expanding upon cayenne pepper + honey. Jalapeno honey, chipotle honey, etc. have been popping up in the marketplace and I think it’s just getting started. Chipotle aioli has been exploding locally on menus and I expect snack manufacturers to follow suit. Being as we will be in Texas, I expect chipotle and other versions of smoked peppers to be popping up in entries; whether it’s called out or hidden within the profile.

SC: Tangy, sour, and fermented snack flavors are winning favor with consumers, as are extremely bold and spicy flavors. This trend is all about delivering unique flavor experiences that go beyond just tasting good and give consumers something new and different to get excited about. We would expect that big, bold flavors will be on display at the Flavor Showdown. Global flavors, and especially those inspired by Korean, Indian, and African cuisines, are picking up steam with consumers. The international flavor trend has been fueled by consumers’ desires to explore the world through food, and this trend shows no signs of going away anytime soon, so it’s quite possible that we’ll see some entries reflecting this trend at the competition.

JS: Before I let you go, is there anything you’d like to say to your competition?

AV: Good luck and we hope to be a finalist among other great submissions! As an R&D employee, I truly appreciate all the hard work that goes in from brainstorming to multiple iterations of the seasoning to stalking grocery store aisles to find the perfect base and usage level and to generating enough samples for the competition. It’s truly a month-long process while juggling everyday work to present something that you’re not only happy with but represents your company and its capabilities.

SC: We are excited to see the innovations showcased at the Flavor Showdown and hope that it motivates and inspires us collectively as an industry to continue to push the envelope when it comes to innovating with flavor.

BN: It is our pleasure to participate with the industry’s finest manufacturers and suppliers in this competition snack down! We aren’t in the practice of doing a lot of talking. We let the attendees “Taste the Difference!” Good luck to all!

MC: Let’s get it on!