By Crystal Lindell
Associate Editor

I just returned from the ECRM Candy Annual Planning EPPS event, held Sept. 18-21 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort in Orlando, Fla.

The most important thing I learned while there was that every conference ever should be held in Orlando, Fla., at a resort with multiple pools, and more palm trees than a Beach Boys video.

ECRM events are technically trade shows, but only in the way that e-mail is technically a series of letters - they are completely different.

For those unfamiliar, during ECRM events most of the manufacturers are assigned to hotel rooms where the beds have been removed, while others set up in a full conference room or at a station in a ball room, called the Power Hall.

Buyers then spend the week going from room to room and having 20-minute or 10-minute one-on-one meetings with the manufacturers.

Throughout the day, ECRM also caters each meal, which is basically their polite way of forcing a networking - a technique that’s only heightened in the evening when organizers coordinate activities, such as Casino Night.

The set-up makes the conference extremely productive, if somewhat expensive. From what I can glean, manufacturers pay about $15,000 each to participate, while the buyers attend completely free. The price is worth it for the manufacturers though because of all the luxurious one-on-one time they get with the various retailers.

This year’s Candy Annual Planning event provided an opportunity for a slew of manufacturers to debut new products. We’ll have full coverage of ECRM in the November issue, but for now, here are some of the highlights.

Candy Industry and ECRM Co-Sponsored a Buyer’s Choice Award at the show. The winners included:

● Best New Non-Chocolate Candy: Original Gourmet's Cream Swirl Lollipop

● Best New Chocolate Candy: Lucky Country's Chocolate-Covered Licorice

● Best New Novelty Candy: Candy Dynamics' Sour Smog Balls

Please accept our warmest congratulations on your win!

The top scanned items by buyers at the event were:

Anastasia Confections’ Coconut Patties Bar

Morris National, Inc.’s Tangy Zangy Sour Wild Fruit Twist Sticks

Gimbal's Fine Candies’ Gimbal’s Sour Lovers.

Koko's Confectionery’s Slush Puppie Dip-n-Lick

Galerie’s Star Wars Lightsabers

To recap, that’s just one chocolate item. Where has all the cocoa gone?

I was especially excited to see Anastasia Confections on that list though, because while I was in the Sunshine State, I took some time to pop over to the Orlando-based manufacturer.

You can read the full story about the company in the November issue of Candy Industry, but for now, I’ll tell you that their new 80,000-sq.-ft. factory smells of warm coconut, is as clean as a lab at Lysol, and features the equipment needed to make everything from chocolate bars to salt water taffy and fruit squares.

I’m back in the Windy City again, and the fall rain here in Chicago is not nearly as fun as the rain that regularly falls in Florida, where the sun is out all day, even during the storms.

Meanwhile though, other Candy Industry staff members enjoyed some warmer weather this week. Publisher Kristine Collins and Editor-in-Chief Bernard Pacyniak were walking the halls of Pack Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev. Not sure what Bernie will report regarding Park Expo because - as the saying goes -what happen in Vegas, stays in Vegas.