SNAXPO is just one of those shows where you know you’re going to have a guaranteed good time, says executive editor Marina Mayer. Read on to find out what happened at the snack industry’s most coveted event.

Ever since college, I associated the Spring Solstice with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) brackets. Regardless of how well I thought I knew what I was doing, or believed in my “system” of picking the winning teams, I usually ended up having to bow out by the time Sweet 16 rolled around.

Thankfully, I don’t have to endure that pain anymore because nowadays, I peg springtime as SNAXPO time-a time when I roam the aisles to learn about the latest and greatest in ingredients, equipment and, well, snacks. It’s a show where I pack light because I know I’m coming home with cookies from Ellison Bakery, Fort Wayne, Ind., snacks from Rudolph Foods, Lima, Ohio, and an assortment of pens, bags, mugs and literature from all the fun and innovative exhibits showing new things in the snack industry.

It’s also a time when I run into wonderful friends, such as Michael Season, president of Addison, Ill.-based Natural Snacks, LLC, the maker ofMichael Season’sandMexi-Snaxbranded snacks and the recipient ofSnack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s 2010 Snack Manufacturer of the Year award.

And who can forget the picture-and-autograph session with the folks from Shearer’s Foods, Inc., Brewster, Ohio, the producer ofTangos, Shapers, Shearer’sandRiceworks brands and the receiver ofSnack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s 2011 Snack Manufacturer of the Year award (okay, maybe Bob Shearer, chairman, co-founder and CEO of Shearer’s didn’t sign autographs, but he was stopped a few times on the way to our booth to talk shop)?

And oh yes, there was a make-your-own-chili buffet, complete with cheesecake and lemonade-anything to quench that 90-degree Orlando heat.

SNAXPO is just one of those shows where you know you’re going to have a guaranteed good time.

This year’s SNAXPO, which is sponsored by the Snack Food Association (SFA), Arlington, Va., and took place March 20-23 in Orlando, was no different. In fact, more than 1,100 attendees networked, exchanged ideas and experienced what I call the SNAXPO buzz.

The ingredient suppliers showed up with some tasty prototypes that delivered exotic, hot and savory flavors.

For example, Marc Green, senior manager, marketing communications for National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., treated me and my sales staff to a demo of crispy, crunchy and “crinchy” chips and crackers.

Wixon, St. Francis, Wis., showcased its Global Street Food BBQ Tastes campaign, which includes Kansas City BBQ potato chips, Argentinean Asado sweet potato chips, Korean Kalbi crunchy snacks, South African Braai corn puffs and Russian Shashlik potato balls, all made with the company’s KCLeanSalt, which reduces sodium by 50%.

Companies such as Technology Crops International, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc., Johnston, Iowa; and Oilseeds International Ltd., San Francisco, displayed an assortment of new fats and oils designed to offer functionality, taste and performance. (To learn more about these and other fat/oil companies, look for the Ingredient Technology section ofSnack Food & Wholesale Bakery’s August 2011 issue).

In the packaging arena, folks at the Printpack booth handed out samples of Zip-Pak’sZip360, a package that features a multi-align zipper, a 360-degree opening for easy access and pour-spout functionality in a stand-up format, suitable for snack applications.

Other highlights included the State of the Snack Industry report, presented by Sally Lyons Wyatt, senior vice president of Chicago-based SymphonyIRI Group. In this session, Lyons Wyatt provided statistics on consumer spending habits (42% of shoppers are cutting spending on snacks) and explained how confidence is returning despite economical concerns.

She also touched on how sustainability remains a growth opportunity for the snack market (20% of consumers say they are trying to eat more natural and organic products) and how many shoppers are turning to brand name products that come with reasonable price tags (salty snacks increased 0.4% since last year). Learn more about the state of the industry for your snack market inSnack Food & Wholesale Bakery’sJuly 2011 special report.

Meanwhile, the late Earl Wise, Sr., founder of Wise Foods, Inc., Berwick, Pa., received SFA’s 2011 Circle of Honor award, which recognizes the achievements of snack food industry executives who have been leaders in the association.

Whether it’s a new product, ingredient or equipment, making the trek out to SNAXPO is a better gamble than some silly basketball bracket. That’s because it’s always a guaranteed good time.