I've been an editor with Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery (SF&WB) since July 2016, but our former editor-in-chief (now publisher) always covered the Sweets & Snacks Expo, which was always held in his native city of Chicago, and so this was my first time attending the show. I attended on behalf of Candy Industry, now a microsite of SF&WB, and our SF&WB Chief Editor Jenni Spinner attended on behalf of our snack brand. 

The Sweets & Snacks Expo is probably one of the most fun shows I've attended. When I arrived at the West Hall of McCormick Place last week, the entire hall was decked out with candy and snack images, with a dazzling array of colors. Our chief editor had warned me not to eat every candy sample I was offered, otherwise I would be "sugared out" in a few hours, so I grabbed one of the S&S "treat bags" (available at registration) and began my appointments for the day. 

We'll be doing both a slideshow and a video for some neat and interesting products we saw at the show, but here are a few takeaways I noticed:

  • "Newstalgia"—a lot of companies are banking on nostalgia for certain candies, but, at the same time, trying to put a new or innovative spin on them. One example in particular was when we headed to the Ferrero (Keebler) booth, and had a chat with a Keebler VP about Ernie the Elf, and how his prominence on the packaging has risen and fallen over the years. 
  • Low-sugar snacks—whether for dietary or personal reasons, consumers have been wanting low-sugar snacks, and preferably those made with clean-label ingredients, i.e., no alternative sugars. 
  • Interesting flavor combinations—we dropped by the Mars Wrigley booth and sampled its new M&M'S Caramel Cold Brew flavor. Mars Wrigley has also been experimenting on new flavors for Twix and some of its other flagship brands.
  • Camaraderie—whether it's running into an old industry colleague or friend, or seeing some of the same company representatives at different shows throughout the year, it runs deep in the snack and confectionery industries.

Which actually brings me to my next point—on Tuesday, May 23, I was able to attend Candy Industry's 76th Annual Kettle Awards, and it was quite an affair. It kind of felt like the Oscars but for the confectionery industry, and Kirk Vashaw, of Spangler Candy, was the recipient of this year's award, with the other nominees being Sylvia Buxton, president/CEO, Perfetti Van Melle, and Douglas R. Dressman, president/CEO, Esther Price Candies, Corp. 

The Kettle Awards were established in 1946 by Candy Industry's founder and publisher, Don Gussow, and it represents the highest recognition an individual working within the U.S. confectionery industry can attain. The first recipient, in 1946, was actually Russell Stover—yes, that Russell Stover, founder of Russell Stover Candies. 

The event truly felt like a "who's who" of the confectionery industry. Although Vashaw took home the title (and the large trophy), the other two recipients each got to make a speech, and took home another prize, too (wrapped in a blue, possibly Tiffany's box, so my guess is something nice!).

Speaking of 2024, the Sweets & Snacks Expo will be moving to Indianapolis for the next two years, then Vegas for one year, repeating until the year 2032. Chicago has hosted the Expo for the past 25+ years, but as the saying goes, change is inevitable—and I'm looking forward to seeing what innovations and tasty treats The Hoosier Capital has in store for the industry next year.