Sweets & Snacks Expo is back, but the return is bittersweet.
“It’s our last dance in Chicago,” said expo spokesman Chris Gindlesperger.
Popularly known as the candy show, the trade event at McCormick Place is not open to the public.
The expo becomes the center of the sweets and snacks universe this week, said Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the National Confectioners Association, which hosts the show, where 800 exhibitors and 16,000 people were expected to attend this year.
“We’ve brought about $21 million to the city of Chicago each of the years that we’ve hosted here,” he said. Convention estimates typically include spending from attendees at hotels, restaurants, transportation and entertainment venues. “This is a community of everyone in the chocolate, candy, gum and mint categories, as well as snacks.”
In 2020, the NCA canceled the show due to the pandemic, among 150 cancellations at McCormick Place with an estimated $2 billion loss by August that year. In 2021, the expo moved temporarily to the Indiana Convention Center, leaving Chicago for the first time in show history, with crowd limits still in place in Illinois early that May.
Last year the event returned to Chicago, once dubbed the “Candy Capital of the United States.” The NCA was founded in the city in 1884. The trade association is now based in Washington, D.C.
The first All Candy Expo debuted at Navy Pier in 1997, but moved to McCormick Place in 2001, and changed its name to the Sweets & Snacks Expo in 2010.
“We may be leaving Chicago, but we are keeping Chicago in our heart as we move forward,” said Gindlesperger. “Because the foundation that we’ve built together on the show will live on as we move to new host cities.”
Next year, the expo moves back to Indianapolis for two years, followed by one year in Las Vegas. The show will make that rotation three times through 2032.
So why is the expo moving out of Chicago?
“The decision was really driven by the community and the growing demand for the show,” said the spokesperson. “And those cities are the right fit for us as we look at the future of the show, to be able to continue to provide innovation and insights and connections that the industries really want and need.”
What happens in 2033?
“Later on in this two-city rotation, we’ll figure out the next steps for 2033 and beyond,” Gindlesperger said.
Meanwhile, the show goes on in Chicago, where the expo announced the winners of its annual Most Innovative New Product Awards on Monday.
The NCA also released a forecast of four trends, which were reflected in some of the 13 award winners, including one unusual sweet that uses bone conduction technology.
Trend: Social media-friendly interactive treats
TastySounds RecordableLollipop in peach nectar flavor by Amos Sweets won the award for best novelty or licensed product.
“As you enjoy the lollipop, there’s no speaker, but you can hear the music being played through technology,” said Gindlesperger. “It’s something that’s groundbreaking when it comes to sweets and snacks.”
TikTok reaction videos show tasters testing earlier versions of the lollipop. When they bite down, shock shows on their faces, when bone conduction allows them to hear music that’s silent to the viewer. The new version plays licensed songs and makes recordings.
“You can record your own voice or the voice of a loved one,” Gindlesperger said. “If somebody wants to send you a special message, they can record it, then give you the lollipop as a gift, and you can hear that recording back.”
Trend: Brand collaborations
Jack Link’s Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Flavored Beef Jerky by PepsiCo Foods won best meat snack.
“The brands that you know and love for certain products are engaging with other brands that you know and love for certain products and making something new together,” Gindlesperger said. “PepsiCo Foods really came in with a very cool innovation under their Jack Link’s and Doritos brands collaboration, with spicy sweet chile-flavored beef jerky.”
Trend: Flavor mashups
Mexican hot cocoa bites by Kopper’s Chocolate won the award for best chocolate.
“This is a favorite,” Gindlesperger said about the trend. “There’s a combination of things that you may not typically expect.”
Fans of Mexican hot chocolate expect warm spices, but the award-winning cocoa bites amplify those flavors with sweet chunks of marshmallow, covered by chile-infused dark chocolate, all dusted with cinnamon and sugar.
Trend: All about options
Apple cinnamon Chunk Nibbles won the award for Best in Show.
The sweet-and-salty snack mix began with a recipe by founder Brad Cocklin’s grandmother. The Chex Mix-inspired snack is made in Troy, Michigan, by a family-owned company founded in 2018.
Consumers revealed through in-depth research they believe their emotional well-being is just as important as their physical well-being, Gindlesperger said.
“Whenever you dig into emotional well-being, and ask them the type of activities that fuel that, candy and snacks are right there at the top of the list,” he said.
Candy and snacks can also touch the heart space if you talk about nostalgia, he added.
Attendees may not feel it yet, but they may be entering their nostalgic era for the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago.
“I have never seen it as energetic and exciting as it is this year,” Gindlesperger said about the expo. “I was walking past registration, and it looks like the entry to a Taylor Swift concert this morning.”
He thinks it’s attributable to two things.
“One, the categories are on fire,” said the spokesperson. “And the other thing is, getting together in person is so much more important now than it ever has been before.
“Those are two key aspects of the brand promise that we make with the Sweets & Snacks Expo,” he added. “And here in 2023 in Chicago, we’re very much delivering on that promise.”
Stay tuned to see if the expo returns to the city in 2033.
Until then, National Candy Month is back every June.
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