October 2011/Prepared Foods -- The Snacks and Sweets Expo allowed a look at some of the latest confections and snacks hitting the marketplace, as well as new creativity in those segments. Some of those innovations, however, seemed to look back to the past. New England Confectionery Co., for instance, has opted to embrace the history of its Necco Wafers by moving away from the all-natural trend. The company is returning the confections to their original, artificially colored roots, after a couple of years of an all-natural range of hues. A Necco spokesperson likened it to the New Coke/Coke Classic event of decades ago but, more importantly, was quick to note the move was the result of consumer demand. Whether it is the first salvo in a pushback against natural as a trend remains to be seen. For that matter, it also may be the first indication of consumer dissatisfaction with the somewhat unregulated “natural” claim. Regardless, the packaging did not boldly proclaim anything artificial, so it may be something of a soft relaunch. Instead of vegetable-derived colorings, the manufacturer opted for yellows 5 and 6, reds 3 and 40, and blue 1.

As one established brand eschews natural, however, another is set to embrace it. The Topps Co.’s Bazooka Candy Brands, fresh off its acquisition of Sharkies Inc. (makers of organic and natural fruit chews), is now ensconced in the natural confections segment, with Sharkies Organic Fruit Chews. The fruit chews are geared toward young people, and there is a range of Adult Organic Energy Sport Chews, as well.

While Hershey may be a long-standing company, it continues to strive to push the envelope of innovation; one of its bigger launches of the year saw the company take its namesake brand into stratospheric new territory. Hershey’s Air Delight is one of the company’s first aerated chocolates and, according to spokespeople, offers a light and airy texture. Not only is it available in a 1.44oz bar form, it also joins the Kisses range.

The Dark (and Milk) Side of Chocolate
Considering it was the Snacks and Sweets Expo, chocolate’s presence should be little surprise, though it was found in new options. Jelly Belly Candy Co. introduced Jelly Belly Dips, jelly beans dipped in chocolate in six flavors--Very Cherry, Coconut, Strawberry, Raspberry, Orange and Mint. A similar concept from SweetWorks Inc. covered cappuccino truffle sticks in dark chocolate; Cappuccino Ovation sticks are made with real coffee beans, claims the company, and promised to be 100% natural.

Several allergen-free introductions featured chocolate. Seth Ellis Chocolatier added Nut Free Sun Cups, featuring organic, gluten-free sunflower butter and chocolate. Varieties include Sunflower Butter and Chocolate, Sunflower Butter Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate Caramel Cups and Dark Chocolate Mint Cups.

A number of gluten-free options were on-hand at the Sweets and Snacks Expo. Well known for its gluten-free gums, Glee Gum from Verve Inc. expanded its range this year with a sugar-free variety, sweetening two flavors (Lemon-Lime and Refresh-Mint) with 100% xylitol, which company representatives were quick to note is a sugar alcohol made from American birch bark, found naturally in the fibers of fruits and vegetables. Hummus Chips from Simply 7 Snacks LLC feature chickpeas and are seasoned with authentic flavors, for options such as Sea Salt, Tomato Basil and Spicy Chili Pepper, but are free of gluten and genetically modified organisms (and, one presumes, ingredients from such organisms, as well). The company’s Lentil Chips were on display, showcasing their Mediterranean roots with flavors such as Sea Salt, Creamy Dill and Bruschetta. A similar concept came courtesy of Flamous Brands, whose Falafel chips are natural and free of MSG, nuts, trans fat and gluten.

Free of wheat, gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugars, Clove Simple Squares from Simple Squares are all-natural, savory-sweet, nut and honey confections infused with vanilla and herbs. The kosher products are raw and made with organic ingredients, so the squares’ nutrients were not compromised, according to the company.

Live Smart Manufacturing’s Original Flax Bar and Chocolate Original Flax Bar both promised to be free of several allergens (namely soy, lactose and wheat), but it is the products’ functional benefits that may prove most appealing to health-conscious consumers. Each bar contains antioxidants and 100% of the recommended omega-3 fatty acids. Attempting to capitalize on the relaxation trend notably seen in the beverage category, Slumberland Snacks’ Sleep Squares are positioned as a sleep aid, promising to help the consumer fall asleep fast; maintain sleep throughout the night; and wake up without side effects. Its Supplement Facts information notes a “proprietary blend of blue vervain, passionflower extract, choline L-bitartrate, L-theanine and hops extract,” plus 300mcg of melatonin.

Mars Chocolate North America introduced Marathon Smart Stuff Bars in four varieties. Made with such ingredients as peanuts, blueberries and cranberries, these are fortified with a blend of eight essential vitamins and minerals and target consumers seeking healthier alternatives. The bars meet the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Competitive Food Guidelines for Snacks. Mars likewise introduced Kudos Granola Bars in three new flavors, featuring Snickers Peanuts, M&M’S Brand Milk Chocolate Candies and Dove Chocolate. Made with whole grains, each 100-calorie bar promises to be an excellent source of calcium.

Nestlé Confections expanded its frozen dairy Skinny Cow franchise into the confectionery arena.  The 110-120 calorie Skinny Cow Dreamy Clusters are bite-sized treats with crunchy crisps, drenched in creamy caramel and covered in milk chocolate or dark chocolate. The Heavenly Crisp variety feature wafers layered with either chocolate or peanut butter filling and are covered in a chocolaty coating.

Offerings from Mars Chocolate North America also provided a mix of sweet and savory flavors. Snickers Brand Peanut Butter Squared added peanut butter to the classic Snickers recipe featuring peanuts, caramel, nougat and milk chocolate. This was far from the company’s only fusion effort: Mars also added Dove Brand White & Milk Chocolate Swirl and Dove Brand Raspberry & Dark Chocolate Swirl (also available as bite-sized Promises).

In another launch born of nostalgia, Bosco would seem to be back—sort of. Praim LLC, the owner of the Bosco brand, has included the brand name on a bar of milk chocolate. This is in spite of the fact that the candy bar contains neither the malt extract nor cocoa powder said to define Bosco’s identifying taste, nor other key ingredients of traditional Bosco syrup, including high-fructose corn syrup, “natural cocoa,” cultured sugar, xanthan gum or three B vitamins.

For those old enough to remember that brand--anyone over 21, in fact--2 Chicks with Chocolate added the Wine Collection of confections. Spicy Merlot is a bonbon with a 38% milk chocolate shell, filled with milk chocolate ganache and infused with Merlot, cinnamon, orange and a touch of black peppercorn. Cabernet Caramel has a 64% dark chocolate shell, wrapped around a touch of wine, caramel and a hint of salt. Tempranillo Ganache features a Spanish grape flavor in a smooth ganache with an undernote of raspberry, while Meritage Caramel blended Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel. As Larry Graham, president of the National Confectioners Association (NCA), noted in his opening remarks, “Trends in confectionery and snacks for 2011 reflect the larger patterns seen across the food industry--Americans are more interested in what they are eating and are looking for new flavors to satisfy increasingly complex palates. Consumers look for value, exciting flavors and nutrition, when seeking new sweets and snacks.”

As the Candy Expo has evolved to become the Sweets and Snacks Expo, a number of its exhibitors have also merged the notion of confections with options more traditionally regarded as snacks. Snyder’s-Lance Inc. introduced York Peppermint Pretzel Sandwich Dips, featuring peppermint cream sandwiched between two bite-sized pretzels and dipped into dark chocolate.

Picking Fruit Flavors

Mars’ Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. also took the flavor fusion route for the latest additions to its 5 line of chewing gum: Swerve goes from tangy to sweet tropical, and Vortex provides a green apple option, while the company’s React 2 could be found in Fruit and Mint varieties. Wrigley also unveiled Extra Dessert Delights Orange Crème Pop, combining orange flavor and a creamy taste to create a dessert flavor; Apple Pie was expected to join the line in September.

Fruit flavors were not exclusively Wrigley’s domain. Ferrero USA Inc. added Tic Tac Strawberry Fields, a blend of sweet-and-tart, strawberry-flavored Tic Tac mints, and Necco introduced Sweethearts Dazzled Tarts, colored sour candies in Pink Lemonade, Watermelon, Blue Raspberry, Sour Apple, Extreme Tangerine and Wild Berry varieties.

Starburst Crazy Beans are essentially jelly beans and are found in six dual-flavor combinations, including Grape-Ade, Razzin Watermelon, Tropical Cherry Splash, Peach-A-Palooza, Banana Berry Blast and Strappleberry. Wrigley’s Life Savers Gummies brand added Collisions, the first Life Savers Gummies variety to also bring two flavors together in one bite. Each dual-flavor piece contains a new flavor and color combination fused together in three varieties--Cherry-Watermelon, Raspberry-Lemonade and Pineapple-Fruit Punch. The experience is enhanced, as the product relies on gelatin, modified potato starch and corn starch ingredients for a gummy-like texture.

Meanwhile, for its Stride Spark launches, Kraft Foods sought to merge bold flavors with a somewhat healthful angle. Stride Spark added what the company described as electrifying gum flavors--Kinetic Mint and Kinetic Fruit. Each contains 25% of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins B6 and B12. Indeed, several launches have attempted to add a healthy benefit to treats. Promotion in Motion’s Welch’s Fruit Snacks are made with real fruit and fruit juice, per the company, and contain 100% of the daily needs of vitamin C, 25% of vitamins A and D, and 10% of calcium. The tangerine, lemon pink, grapefruit, cran-grape, cherry and green apple flavors were also free of gluten and artificial preservatives, notes the company. Vitamin C is also a hallmark of Chiquita Juice and Fruit Duos (in such flavors as pineapple banana, pineapple guava, peach mango and pear blueberry pomegranate), from Chiquita Brands LLC, and in Farley’s and Sathers’ extension of its Motts for Tots fruit shapes.

Despite a lagging economy, snacks enjoyed significant gains in 2010. According to the NCA, the confectionery industry posted a 3.6% gain in 2010, ahead of overall growth of food sales in leading channels. Salty snacks experienced steady growth, with a 2% gain over previous-year sales. pf

Editor’s Note: The dates for the 2012 Sweets and Snacks Expo have changed from those initially given at the 2011 show. The 2012 Sweets and Snacks Expo will be held at Chicago’s McCormick Place, May 8-10, 2012.

SIDEBAR: Stabilizers Add SplashyTextures

Wrigley’s Life Savers Gummies Collisions brand provides dual flavor in a chewing texture through use of gelatin, modified potato starch and corn starch. A trend seen with many other confectionery items is to provide not only two flavors in one product, but also two textures.

A quick search on Mintel’s GNPD brings up the August 2011 introduction of Farley’s & Sanders Candy Company’s Hawaiian Punch Splashers Fruit Snack Sweets that come in “awesome fun shapes and [are] filled with a splash of real Hawaiian punch.” Besides fruit juices and purees, sweeteners and coloring, the product’s double-textured composition is provided by stabilizers and structuring agents, including gelatin, modified starch (from corn and potato), pectin, and Arabic, ghatti and xanthan gums.

Similarly, a complex duet of textures (and flavors) is provided by Starbust GummiBursts, a liquid-filled gummy candy. Gelatin, modified potato starch, corn starch and pectin are the ingredients of choice to produce the complex, dual-texture system.

Xanthan gum’s thickening ability also plays a key role in the sweet, “juicy” filling of the recently repackaged Trident Splash Vanilla-Mint Sugar-Free Gum. Providing a little less splash, but also a little more chew, Jolly Rancher’s recently launched Awesome Twosome Bold & Tangy Chewy Candy consists of watermelon green apple and cherry orange flavors, notes Mintel. Its firmer texture is due in great part to ingredients such as enriched wheat flour, modified potato starch and cornstarch. In all cases, the ingredient system must not only deliver a desirable “bite,” but also not interfere with the product’s desired flavor and color.
-- Claudia D. O’Donnell, Chief Editor