The annual Sweets & Snacks Expo held last week at McCormick Place West in Chicago is widely known as the "candy show" and notorious for its free samples. But that's not quite right. The trade only event, not open to the public, does have candy, but much more too. The sweets, snacks, and cookies at the show represent just a taste of the $150 billion industry worldwide.
Expo buyers picked eight Most Innovative New Products award winners in the following categories:
Novelty/Licensed: TABASCO Jelly Belly jelly beans
Chocolate: Kit Kat Minis
Salty Snack: Sahale Snacks Pomegranate Pistachios
Gourmet/Premium: Hammond’s Candies Red Velvet Cake bars
Seasonal: Russell Stover Big Bite S'mores Bar
Sweet Snack: Sprinkle It On marshmallow sugar cones
Non-chocolate: Tierra Nueva Coffee Thins
Savory Snack: Fire Corn Popcorn
Buyers picked the eight award winners from 40 finalists, chosen by a panel of industry experts, including Chicago's own Moto restaurant chef/owner Homaro Cantu.
I thought of Cantu when I heard the story behind the pizza candy, PIZZA is 4 suckers, one of the 40 finalists. Cantu's Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook was first inspired by helping a cancer patient taste food better.
The pizza candy lady, Rita DiCarlo, starts her story unexpectedly as well: when she donated a kidney to her cousin in Detroit. Soon after she became a nurse for kidney patients. With their dietary restrictions, she tried to help find a substitute for pizza. Somehow pizza candy was her answer.
While it may not be my first choice in either the sweets or snacks categories, my mouth waters at just the memory. DiCarlo's pizza candy is sugar free, sodium free, potassium free, gluten free, fat free, and with no net carbs. Its aroma is pungent with oregano, and the flavor triggers a sharp and pleasant taste memory of cold pizza. DiCarlo worked with a hard candy scientist at the “Candy School” at the University of Wisconsin Food Science Department.
While East Coasters might now harvest wild 17 year cicadas, as my friends at LTH Forum did in 2007 around Chicagoland, safe insect candy and snacks can always be found by HOTLIX. They raise their own insects for human consumption. Their newest ANT-LIX suckers are available in four flavors: blueberry, watermelon, banana, and apple. COO Dena Price told me they roll caramel apples in Larvets at their store in Pismo Beach, California.
Last year I reported Chicagoland based Ferrara Pan merged with Farley's & Sathers in Minnesota. This year their booth was as big as ever, introducing a new limited edition 50 years Lemonhead tin, and an impressive Lemonhead social media campaign.
Haribo finally brought over gummi Smurfs from Europe, for the premiere of The Smurfs 2 this summer. As I was at their booth, a gummi specialist complimented the strawberry and raspberry Smurf blue candies' definition.
"It's the quality of the molds," she said, nodding knowingly.
Yet still no gummi Venus de Milo. Maybe next year.
Follow Louisa Chu on @louisachu.
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