It’s not every day you get a chance to play in the Big Leagues.
Having joined Candy Industry five months ago, I didn’t think I’d attend ISM, the world’s largest trade show for finished confections and snacks, for several years. Editor-in-Chief Bernie Pacyniak, a 30-year B2B news veteran and a 16-time attendee, usually has it covered.
However, an outpatient procedure weeks before this year’s show, which ran from Jan. 29 - Feb. 2 in Cologne, Germany, prompted Bernie to decide to sit it out. He asked me — the other half of our two-person tag team — to go in his place.
I had been to Europe once before. In 2007 (a decade ago!), I traveled to Paris and Versailles on a concert tour with my high school choir. My only other experience with international trade shows came through attending last year’s Yummex Middle East, another Koelnmesse Group fair staged annually in Dubai.
So, for a variety of reasons, this was going to be a special experience. And it certainly was. 
First, Cologne is a wonderful city, with a charming mix of old and new. The best example comes when you exit the west side of the Hauptbahnhopf, a super modern train station in the heart of the city. You come face-to-face with the looming Cologne Cathedral, breathtaking in both its size and gothic detail.
I also thoroughly enjoyed eating my way through Cologne, having — quite literally — Jӓgerschnitzel, currywurst, a pork knuckle and dozens of frites under my belt. The Kӧlsch, the city’s signature style of beer, also went down without much difficulty.
ISM, in its 47th year, was just as awe-inspiring, especially for a newcomer. Nearly 38,000 people from 140 countries roamed the show’s six halls over the four-day show. More than 1,600 vendors from 68 countries occupied 1.2 million sq. ft. of exhibition space, further demonstrating ISM’s status as the World Series of the confectionery and snack industries.
As I met with industry heavyweights and ISM neophytes, it became clear that the offerings mirrored Cologne itself, with time-tested favorites being presented alongside new and innovative snacks and sweets.
Winners of the New Product Showcase confirm that theory. Take, for example, Misfortune Cookies by Pechkeks Gmbh. Like their hope-giving counterparts, Misfortune Cookies have messages inside, but they are less than positive. The cookies are also black, adding to the fun concept.
Furthermore, my ChipsBox Gmbh caught visitors’ attention with its Organic Veggie Box, which  contains a combination of three natural, air-dried vegetable crisps packed inside a compact box. Its selection reaffirms the ongoing interest in better-for-you snacking.
In contrast, Pralibel, a Belgian company, wowed visitors with the immaculate Dȏmes, perfectly rounded and polished truffles presented in a circular package, illustrating that attention to detail and craft will always win out.
Although the circumstances for my visit weren’t ideal, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience the best of what the global confectionery industry has to offer. And if I can simultaneously see more of the world itself, I’m happy to do it.