The Sweets & Snacks Expo was a festival of finger foods, says Editor-in-Chief Lauren R. Hartman. Find out what new product introductions hit the show floor.

I went to the Sweets & Snacks Expo, May 24-26 in Chicago, for the first time, and enjoyed seeing all kinds of new products. Hosted by the National Confectioners Association (NCA), Washington, D.C., the show drew plenty of inspiration. There were thousands of new, exciting snack products from hundreds of exhibitors. I was thrilled that about 40% of the exhibits featured snacks, though there were more than enough candy, chocolate and other sweet confections too numerous to mention.

According to the NCA, this year’s show experienced 13% growth in the number of exhibitors and was the largest in terms of both floor space and exhibitors in the event’s 15-year history. In fact, there were more than 14,000 visitors from across the globe and 545-plus exhibitors, including 160 new ones.  

“We have established a waiting list for exhibitors,” says Larry Graham, president of NCA. “Our attendee registration count also tracked ahead of our record-breaking 2010 show counts, and 29% of our exhibitors were new to the 2011 event.”

Fun new trends were everywhere, including a gourmet marketplace set up with hundreds of items on display, as well as a new product showcase that boggled the mind with automatic data scanning for more than 60 snacks and specialty treats.

All natural played a big part in the introductions there, as consumers are looking for both healthy and indulgent products. Consumers want healthier snacks with quality, whole ingredients and no preservatives without sacrificing taste, according to American Roland Food Corp., Hatfield Mass. The specialty food importer launched all-natural butter cookies made with a handful of delicious ingredients: Sables Shortbread Crisps, made from a combination of seven all-natural ingredients and real butter; and Galletes Shortbread Cookies, which hit the sweet spot between great taste and better-for-you.  
Americans are also developing more of an appetite for hummus, which is listed as one of the hot ingredients for 2011 by industry trend watcher Andrew Freeman.

That’s why Simply 7 Snacks created plenty of buzz with its Hummus and Lentil Chips, which are all-natural chips that provide an ethnic twist for the health-conscious consumer. The Houston-based company insists that lentils aren’t just for soup and salad and hummus doesn’t have to be just a dip. “Imagine the first guy who thought to turn a potato into a potato chip,” says Simply 7 president Rashim Oberoi. “That’s us with new ingredients. And we’ve worked tirelessly to ensure that our chips taste authentic and are healthy, the way you’d expect.”

Speaking of chips, Natural Snacks, LLC, Addison, Ill., showcased itsMichael Season’skettle-cooked potato chips in Lightly Salted, Sea Salt & Balsamic Vinegar, Honey BBQ, Jalapeño and Unsalted (which I truly applaud) varieties.

Various snack makers featured retro themes, such as Natural Snacks with its retro Hot & Spicy Flavored tortilla chips.

Freeze-dried fruit snacks in convenient stand-up pouches from Funky Monkey Snacks, Fishers, Ind., feature a better-for-you ingredients list, so those with food allergies can snack worry-free.

For those computer and video game enthusiasts (and who isn’t?), stand-up pouches of Gamer Grub performance snacks (produced by Biosilo Foods, Inc., San Diego) boast no keyboard crumbs and no greasy fingers, though I doubt these are in the healthy category.

And Diamond Foods, Stockton, Calif., announced that itsEmeraldbrand’s new Breakfast on the go! Nut & Granola Mix has joined Pop Secret in support of the Labels for Education program to nourish kids’ potential and energize back-to-school sales.

Seasoned nuts in more exotic flavors are a big trend. Flavors from Sahale Snacks, Seattle, include Barbeque Almonds with Mild Chipotle & Ranch, Southwest Cashew with Chile & Cheddar and Tuscon Almonds with Parmesan & Herbs. Lord Nut Levington (made by Holy Cow LLC, Irving, Texas) is a new line of seasoned peanuts that come in five varieties-the Rebel Mary variety incorporates tomato and garlic powders mixed with traditional Bloody Mary ingredients.

Corazonas Foods, Inc., Los Angeles, offers kettle-style potato chips in five new gourmet options with 40% less fat than most regular chips. Plus, they are gluten-free, have no trans fat and are said to have 0.4 g. of plant sterols per serving, which helps lower LDL cholesterol. Kernel Season’s, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., unveiled bags of popcorn in several exciting kinds that are made with its popular seasoning.

But the snacking doesn’t stop with that. This month, our annual State of the Snack Industry report is a festival of snacks, covering everything from trends and analysis to product performance and packaging initiatives. We start with an overview of the market, and move into potato chips, tortilla chips, pretzels, nuts and trail mix, jerky and meat snacks, popcorn and pork rinds. We uncovered interesting market share and product category reports and interviewed various snack industry product leaders, marketers, executives and plant managers. We’ll also tell you what’s in store in the snack food industry, acting as a carnival of information for producers and suppliers alike.

We hope you enjoy, so grab your favorite beverage, a napkin and take a look.