Fun fruits and shared sweets, foreign flavors and healthy snacks are emerging as the year’s trends to meet the ever-evolving appetites of consumers, as evidenced at the 2012 Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, May 8-10. Sponsored by the National Confectioners Association (NCA), the show drew hot, new products from more than 560 companies, spotlighting new flavors, tastes and trends.

The NCA also took to the streets to measure the happiness quotient of Chicagoans during show week, before and after receiving a small "Happiness" bag filled with a few pieces of candy. One-hundred percent of those surveyed reported that even the small bag of candy brought happiness to their day, increasing their happiness quotient by an average of 22%. Additionally, the survey revealed that consumers choose to snack because they like the taste (29%), and because snack food brings them happiness (29%).

"Trends in confectionery and snacks for 2012 are pushing new boundaries. As consumer palates become more complex, flavor profiles across the industry are doing the same," reports Larry Graham, president of the NCA. "People are looking beyond borders and convention for what's next; whether its crunchy snacks with Asian or Mediterranean influences, the growing popularity of all things salty and sweet, or tropical fruit flavors such as mango."

The top trends this year include sweets are for sharing, as consumers celebrate “sweet” moments in life by indulging in affordable treats. Stand-up bags made for sharing with family and friends are also news, and work as informal gifts. Theater boxes have increased in popularity and are becoming more widely available at retail.

Also widely popular is the pairing of "salty and sweet," an American favorite. This year, there were a variety of new products with this flavor coupling, from milk chocolate-covered raisins and peanuts to cinnamon sugar popcorn, chocolate-covered pretzels, potato chips and more. Snacks with Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean influences popped up on store shelves, and a number of snacks coming to market are based on chickpeas, lentils and seaweed, providing alternative choices to American classics such as potato chips, corn tortilla chips and wheat crackers.

Mango Mania is a new generation of tropical fruit flavors appearing on store shelves. Pairings of mango with pineapple, orange, coconut and strawberry also create new confectionery flavors that are gaining in popularity. But the tropical fruit is also making its way to the snack aisle, from freeze dried fruits to mouth-watering salsas and more. Healthy snacking continues to gain momentum as a growing snack item is the nutritional health bar.