Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sweets & Snacks Expo 2017

Last week I attended the Sweets and Snacks Expo held at McCormick Place in Chicago. It was my third year in attendance. I love going to the expo because it's a great way to find out what new snacks are coming down the pike, what trends will be hot in the snack world this upcoming year.

The show is huge-- there were well over 700 exhibitors in attendance, which means thousands upon thousands of salty and sweet snacks to try and explore.  I only got to about a third of the show in the day that I allotted to attend, and chat with many of the companies.  One day I hope to spend all three days there, and try to see the whole show.  (An impossible task I'm sure.  After about 3 hours I was completely stuffed!  And I'm sure my salt intake was through the roof!  Hey, I'm doing it for the kids!)

I created a little video of my #SSE17 experience with the help of my iphone.  If you want to take the video tour of my experience, check out this video.

So here are my takeaways from the show:


There is a big push towards healthy good for you snacks. I had a long discussion with one of the vendors about the difference between Good For You snacks and "Fun for you" snacks (which is the way I read the Pepsi CEO describes most of Frito-Lay products.)

Most of the big names in the candy business are making a voluntary push towards healthy snacks and treats.  In fact, they've come together to make a promise that by 2022 half of the individually wrapped products will be 200 calories or less, and that 90% of the treats will have calorie information on the front.   (You can see that on the bus poster below!) That's a pretty impressive initiative from the likes of Mars, Wrigley, Nestle, Ferrero, Ferrara, Ghirardelli, Lindt, and Russell Stover.  You can find out more about the initiative at


I saw a lot of companies touting natural ingredients as the mainstay of their product.  And sometimes those ingredients were a little unusual!

The Mighty Baobab Tree.
 One company is a social enterprise- they are hiring Southern African woman to harvest Baobab trees during the season, and then using the harvest to create baobab fruit powder and Baobites, which are really delicious Baobab fruit snacks.  In case you are not up on your African horticulture, the Baobab tree is the very very thick "mother tree" that is all over Southern Africa.  (It's also the kind of tree that Disney modeled as the mainstay of their Animal Kingdom logo)

A bowl of crunchy crickets!
Another company from Austin TX is farming crickets (yes, Crickets!) to make cricket based snacks and also cricket flour.  It's an incredible protein, relatively inexpensive, and they are very crunchy and nutritious for you.  I asked the CEO what's next , and he said they are looking into grasshoppers and meal worms as sources of protein.  I tried them and they were good.  If you didn't know they were crickets, you wouldn't have a problem.  (There was another cricket company there, but I didn't get a chance to talk to them

A third company was a single woman who had a vision to start making coconut chips. I tried her chips and they were delicious. She was from the Bahamas, but apparently, Thailand is where the major coconut production is.  She's hoping to get some Caribbean production going eventually.

And I also really liked Figgin' Fruit, which might win for best name.  They make snack cookies that are full of fruit like fig and pomegranate and other good stuff.


One of the vendors told me there were over 60 popcorn companies at the show.  I believe it!  There were so many to choose from, including a couple of kosher popcorn companies, this one from New York.  PopInsanity

They had a magician in their booth Ben Cohen, and it turns out we had several friends in common!

Here's a video of a piece of his magic show.

I was also taken by a company called Live Love Pop.  Started by a woman who used to pop corn with her mom on the stove, and when she came back to take care of her when she was ill, it brought her mom joy to make popcorn.  So she started a popcorn company.  They are apparently doing quite well, and are in all sorts of stores, with more coming out nearly every day.  Their motto is "In Popcorn We Trust" Love it!

There were too many popcorn companies to mention by name, but here's just a few I captured by photo.  This is just 9-- there were many many more!


There were a tremendous amount of Jerky companies at the expo as well.  I had my picture taken with Sasquatch, who was there on behalf of the monster jerky maker Jack Links.  (They and their assorted brands own 67% of the American Jerky market!)
Me and Sasquatch at the Sweets and Snacks Expo.  I know, I know, it's hard to tell which is which!

 I discussed the fact of Jack Links dominance with a couple of the Artisanal jerky makers, who did not feel threatened at all by Jack Links.  They felt they were going after a much different market, and there was plenty of market share for them to pickup. Two of those jerky companies that I spoke with were Field Trip Jerky, an artisanal jerky company from Brooklyn, and Think Jerky, a Chicago based company.

Field Trip was founded by three friends who went skiing in Vermont and had some craft jerky and said, "We could do this!"  They've grown into a very savvy brand with great products.  Like most of the craft jerky there, they use grass fed , gluten free meat, and hand craft each batch.

Think Jerky has a very interesting idea-- they are making jerky based on recipes from famous chefs.  For example, one chef is Doug Sohn (of Hot Doug's, the famed hot dog shop in Chicago, now sadly closed) has given them the recipe for their original jerky. Other chef's include Gale Gand, Laurent Gras, and Matt Troost.  This gives them a leg up on flavor profiles, but also on cashing in on those chef's cache. And the packaging is designed to appeal to women as well as men.  Pretty smart!

Here are some jerky pictures to feast your eyes on. (I'm including an artisanal pork rind company as well, because, well I can!)

As I said, there were hundreds of companies I didn't see, but fortunately I have a big book of them, and hopefully I'll be making contact with some of those companies to see if I can bring news of those new snacks to you!

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