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Day one at the 2011 Sweets & Snacks EXPO, and the show floor reflected the state of the confectionery industry—still booming.

According to the National Confectioners Association, the confectionery industry posted a 3.6% gain in 2010, and in the 52 weeks ending April 17, 2011, the highest performing major confectionery segments based on unit sales were:

Single Chocolate Bars +8.5%
Seasonal Christmas Chocolate +7.2%
Snack Size Chocolate Bars +6.4%
Hard Candy Pkg/Rolls +4.4%
Chewy Candy +3.6%
Licorice +3.6%
Sugarless Gum +2.2%

Source: SymphonyIRI Group

All of these categories were well-represented on the show floor today. Here are a few that winked at me:

Candy Corn Jelly Beans and Mint Chocolate Dips
Jelly Belly, Booth 831

It was just a matter of time before Jelly Belly would take cues from its classic Candy Corn and create a Candy Corn-flavored jelly bean. Officially available in June, Jelly Belly’s Candy Corn jelly beans have a buttery taste with a hint of vanilla. The new beans will be available year round and come in 10-pound bulk cases and 9-ounce packages.

Also new from Jelly Belly are Mint Chocolate Dips. The Mint Chocolate Dips are a new flavor in Jelly Belly’s chocolate-dipped jelly bean collection. These beans are good, too! What I didn’t realize until today is that Jelly Belly chocolate-dipped beans don’t have the typical jelly bean sugar shell; the chocolate layer is the shell.  I also learned from Jelly Belly’s director of communications, Tomi Holt, that the Chocolate Dips are slightly less caloric than regular Jelly Belly jelly beans (3.7 vs. 4 calories per bean). While writing this post, I polished off two mini bags of Very Cherry Dips and don’t feel one bit guilty.

Hard Candy Shot Glasses
Melville Candy Company, Booth 2002
Gummy shot glasses created some good buzz last year. This year, it’s hard candy shot glasses.

The family-owned Melville Candy Company has created seasonal and everyday sets of hard candy shot glasses. I like the swirled variety above—perfect for when “Bridesmaids” and “Hangover 2” come out on DVD. Also new from Melville are lava lamp-shaped lollipops. I took a photo of these today, but since I am a rotten photographer, I’ll leave them up to your imagination. Based on buyer reaction in Melville’s booth, I will say that candy shot glasses and lava lamp pops have serious legs.

Chocolate Krispy Treats
Forbidden Sweets, Booth 2463

This booth was mobbed today. And, I know why. The company’s “Chocolate Krispy Treats” on a stick are creative, adorable, and come in zillions of designs, shapes, and colors. They taste good, too, and have a six-month shelf life.

One of the Forbidden Sweets‘ owners told me that the Peanuts Gallery collection (above, left), was created for and is carried by Hallmark stores. Take a look at the crisped food collection (above right) all on sticks. Love the mushroom and pickle.

Each treat is packed on a sturdy sucker stick in a clear cello bag and measures about 4 inches in diameter. The treats ship 8 per case.

Sugar-Free Glee
Verve, inc., Booth 1456

It’s happened. Verve, inc., the makers of Glee Gum, ventured into sugar-free and now have two products in the category: Lemon Lime and Refresh Mint gum.

Both products are sweetened with 100% xylitol, a sugar alcohol extracted from birch tree bark.

Sugar-Free Glee, like the rest of the Glee Gum line, is all-natural and made without artificial coloring, flavoring, sweeteners or preservatives.

The chewy texture comes from chicle, a tree sap harvested sustainably to help conserve the rainforest. Sugar-Free Glee is also gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free, and GMO-free. Packaged in recycled cardboard rather than blister packs, each box contains 15 pieces of gum.

Chocolate Squares for Zzzz’s
Slumberland Snacks, Booth 1876
The Upstate Dream Institute in Ithaca, NY, came to the Sweets & Snacks EXPO with “Slumberland Snacks Chocolatey Sleep Squares: The bedtime delight that helps you sleep through the night.”

I kid you not. (Full disclosure, I have yet to try these nighty-night squares for fear of nodding off in the middle of the trade show floor, but they are intriguing. Additional disclosure: Sleep Squares actually launched at the 2010 Natural Products Expo East Show in Boston, but they’re new to me, so I’m plopping them in this post.)

According to Slumberland Snack’s Web site, the sleep mechanisms in these squares are “Traditional herbs: Blue Vervain, Passionflower Extract, L-Theanine, Hops Extract Brain Fuels: L-5-HTP, Choline L-Bitartate, and Melatonin.”

If I have the guts to try these tomorrow—day 2 of the show—I’ll let you know how I fare. ?The product is currently available in two sizes: a 7 count (one week’s supply) and a 30 count (one month’s supply), and comes in three flavors: Original, Raspberry, and Orange.

Zanies Marshmallow Candy
Spangler Candy Company, Booth 1937

This Christmas, the Spangler Candy Company is introducing its newest marshmallow product, Zanies Wacky Marshmallow Candy. The packaging is vibrant and fun, and I think kids will dig it. Mine did when I showed them the image.

Zanies feature four Christmas-shaped marshmallow characters; Oliver Orange – an ornament, Gretchen Grape – a Christmas star, Sarah Strawberry – a stocking, and Adam Apple – a Christmas tree. Ideal for stockings and secret Santa gifts, kids can collect all four character ornament cut-outs featured on the back of each display carton.

Each 2.5-ounce pack contains 10 Zanies marshmallows.

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Rumor has it that Buffalo, NY-based SweetWorks, Inc. is the world’s largest gumball manufacturer.

Mariah Kerwin, SweetWorks’ brand manager, confirms that the rumor is indeed true, but qualifies that SweetWorks is the world’s largest “quality” gumball manufacturer and pumps out an enormous number of gumballs for its own Oak Leaf and Bubble King brands as well as other companies on contract.

Gumballs aren’t the only specialty at SweetWorks, though. SweetWorks began in 1956 as Niagara Chocolates. Niagara manufactured everyday and seasonal molded chocolate products and still does today under the SweetsWorks umbrella. In total, there are six major brands that fall under this golf-sized umbrella, including Niagara Chocolate, Oak Leaf, Sixlets, Bubble King, Ovation, and Florida Tropic. A seventh brand, Radz, is also about to take cover (more on Radz below).

Over the last 10 years, SweetWorks has been growing at a brisk pace. The company’s nostalgic Sixlets—a brand purchased from The Hershey Company in 2003—started out as a penny candy, but has become a “must-have” item on candy buffets now that the tiny candy-coated chocolate balls are available in a rainbow of single colors and pearlized finishes. Sixlets are consistently a top seller at Candy.com.

More growth is on the way, too. At next week’s Sweets & Snacks EXPO, SweetWorks will be launching two new product lines and a new flavor in its Ovation truffle sticks line. All three product lines have distinctly different target markets:

Kid-friendly: SweetWorks’ new Radz line of 250+ collectible toy dispensers come in a variety of  everyday and seasonal characters. Each Radz figure has interchangeable parts and dispenses colorful candy from its tongue, hence the tagline, “Fun For Your Tongue.™” Additionally, Radz has a social media component and Web-based interactivity for kids at RadzWorld.com (think Webkinz meets Candy Land). If you are attending the 2011 Sweets & Snacks EXPO, head to SweetWorks booth #1709 and get a Radz password to demo the product online. The first series of Radz to appear in the marketplace will be a limited edition Christmas Reindeer and Polar Bear. Both toy and candy are blister-packed to create a 3.04-ounce set.

Party-friendly: For party planners, SweetWorks’ new “Celebration” line is designed to make candy buffets, themed events, party favors, and cookie/cupcake/cake decorating pretty darn simple … and color-coordinated. “Celebration” includes 8-ounce retail-ready bags of gumballs, 14-ounce retail-ready bags of Sixlets, and 4.5-ounce jars of Sixlets and Pearls—all in bright, shiny single colors. A few shakes of a jar would make an ice cream cone even better.

Gift-friendly: SweetWorks’ line of high-end Ovation truffle sticks in Mint, Irish Cream, and Orange flavors, is getting a caffeinated sibling, Cappuccino. The dark chocolate Ovation Cappuccino sticks are all-natural and made with real coffee beans. Packaging for all Ovation products is beautiful, but not over-the-top frilly, so you will score points with both male and female foodie friends if you gift them. Each 4.4-ounce box of Cappuccino Ovation includes 40 sticks.

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Next week, Tues., May 24 – Thurs., May 26, is the 2011 Sweets & Snacks EXPO in Chicago! It’s America’s largest candy show, and Candy.com will be blogging and Twittering about new candies, trends, candy business news, and anything else worth sharing—live from the candy carpet all three days. Tune in!

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In two short weeks, America’s largest candy show will be in full swing. The National Confectioners Association’s Sweets & Snacks EXPO, running May 24-26 in Chicago, is a lot like a candy store, but on steroids.

The show always draws impressive media attention around new candies about to hit store shelves and the Web. Typically, it’s the grossest candies that get the most coverage, like scorpion-infused lollipops or barf-flavored jelly beans; or new product launches from mega brands like Hershey, Nestlé and Mars; or trending flavors like bacon or pomegranate; or novelty items like  plastic grizzly bears and sheep that poop candy.

This year, journalists won’t be disappointed. All of those headline-worthy categories are covered. (Take a look at the list of candies that will be included in this year’s new product showcase at the Sweets & Snacks EXPO.)

Here are five new products I don’t want to miss on May 24.

Farts Candies from Leaf Brands, LLC. (Booth 2102)
I called Ellia Kassoff, the CEO of Leaf Brands, LLC, yesterday, to find out what he was thinking with the launch of a confectionery product called “Farts.”

Turns out these little buggers are not brown or smelly, but “a better version of Nerds,” says Ellia. Like Nerds, Farts candies are tiny, fruit-flavored nuggets or “poofs,” as Ellia affectionately calls them. Unlike Nerds, Farts Candies don’t have a crunchy shell. Instead it’s a chewier candy shell, and I’ll stop there before things get weird.

Ellia says the name “Farts” was picked because, “you can’t help but giggle and smile when you hear it.”  He’s also quick to point out that this product is not being positioned as a short-lived gross novelty item. He says he’s going for mainstream by keeping things “cute” and out of the toilet.

I know my kids—and husband—lose their minds when they say or hear the word “fart” (my son got a whoopee cushion over the weekend and can’t contain his laughter when it sounds off), so I have to admit that Leaf Brands may be on to something big.

Farts candy is available in 126+ flavors, but Leaf Brands isn’t planning on launching all of them, at least not right away. Ellia says he’s going to let the public vote via social media.

The final flavors will be packaged in 2.17-ounce packs and in four different varieties: Fruiti, Sour, Single Flavors, and Small Farts. “Small Farts” are itty-bitty candy pieces that look like sprinkles for topping cakes, cupcakes, and ice cream. I see a co-brand with Dairy Queen coming on.

Astro Pop Asteroids from Leaf Brands, LLC (Booth 2102)

The folks at Leaf Brands have been busy tinkering in the test kitchen. Back in December, the company brought Astro Pops back to life in the form of a jumbo 2-pound version. Fast forward five months, and Leaf Brands is now introducing Astro Pop Asteroids with the tagline, “The classic rocket pop blasted into bite-sized candy pieces.”

Each individually wrapped Astro Pop hard candy piece features the same flavors as the original pop: pineapple (yellow), cherry (red), and passion fruit (green).

Leaf’s Ellia Kassoff says original-size Astro Pops are also in the works, but a release date has yet to be set.

Hershey’s Air Delight Kisses and Air Delight Milk Chocolate Bars (Booth 845)

When chocolate bars enter into the brand-extension zone, they typically get a hit of fruit, nuts, cookies, caramel, or some other standard add-on.

The Hershey Company is going a completely different route by adding air bubbles to its classic Kisses and Milk Chocolate bars.

Aerated chocolate isn’t anything new, but it’s never really taken off in the United States. In Canada and Europe, I’ve been told it’s a staple item.

Back in September 2009, all-natural Bubble Chocolate bars launched in the United States and now have distribution in a range of retail channels, including Whole Foods, Duane Reade, meijer, Roundy’s Supermarkets, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods. Both bars should be at the show, so it could be the perfect opportunity for a throw down.

Hershey’s 1.44-ounce Air Delight Milk Chocolate Bar and 9.4-ounce Air Delight Kisses are officially due out in June.

Air Heads 2-IN-1 Big Bar from Perfetti Van Melle USA Inc. (Booth 2145)
Good news for Air Heads fans (I am one of them). Perfetti Van Melle USA, Inc. has super-sized its standard 0.55-ounce Air Heads taffy to a 1.5-ounce bar and is combining two flavors in each bar.

Big Bar flavor combinations include Blue Raspberry/Cherry, Strawberry/Watermelon and Pink Lemonade/Orange. My money’s on Blue Raspberry/Cherry for best of the bunch.

Sour Lovers from Gimbal’s Fine Candies (Booth 1001)
New heart-shaped Sour Lovers chews from Gimbal’s are made with real fruit juice, gluten-free, kosher certified, and deliver a 25% daily Vitamin C dose per serving.

That’s all good stuff, but I think the most interesting thing about these sours are the grown-up, pucker-up flavors: Pomegranate, Strawberry Daiquiri, Sour Blueberry, Mango, Georgia Peach, Fuji Apple, Bing Cherry, Meyer Lemon, Watermelon, Grapefruit, Tangerine, and Baja Margarita.

“There is nothing like Sour Lovers in the market today,” says Karin Vollrath, sales and marketing director for Gimbal’s Fine Candies. “Existing sour candies out there are primarily of low quality, delivering a brief sour taste with limited flavor assortments that consumers consider unimaginative or artificial. Many adults grew up loving sour and still crave that taste, but now their palates have evolved.”

I like the fact that Sour Lovers doesn’t pack the sort of punch that makes you wince. For hardcore sour lovers, that may be a disappointment, but for sour fringe friends like myself, it’s a welcome relief.

Sour Lovers are available in 11-ounce laydown bags, 3- and 6-ounce peg bags, and 32-ounce jars.

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26 Apr

Party Trend: Mom Proms 0

Right after watching this clip from ABC News about the Wisconsin teen (right) who made her prom dress and accessories (including shoes!) from Starburst wrappers, I saw ABC’s segment on a hot new party trend, Mom Proms. Hilarious!

In a nutshell, moms dig out their old prom dresses and hold a girls’ night out in their dated gowns, corsages, and big hair. The founding “Mom Prom” moms in Michigan turned their annual Mom Prom into a charity event.

The whole time I watched the Mom Prom segment, I thought how perfect a retro candy buffet would be at an event like this.

Just as the Starburst-clad Wisconsin teen’s prom theme is Candy Land, so can a Mom Prom’s! Here are some ideas I found to carry out such an event, 1980s style … and much to the horror of your children:

Have you ever attended or organized a Mom Prom? If so, e-mail me at Sue@Candy.com. I want to hear all about it!

Photo credit Starburst dress: Gina Morrow

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