Confections and snacks both vie for the same “share of stomach,” but the fortunes of the two camps have moved in opposite directions in recent years with snacks ascending and confectionery reeling. 

Growing health concerns over sugar are challenging confection makers. According to a 2018 poll by Ipsos, 69% of American adults say they are concerned by the sugar content of candy.

These concerns have led some confectionery makers to diversify into snacks and others to leave for greener pastures. Hershey, for instance, added to its snack portfolio by purchasing Pirate Brands in 2018. Nestlé, on the other hand, exited the American confectionery market in 2018 by selling as many as 20 brands—including Butterfinger, BabyRuth, LaffyTaffy and Nerds—to Ferrero for $2.8 billion in cash.

These changing fortunes influenced confectionery and snack innovation in 2018 as companies adapted to new realities. For confectionery, this meant turning to hot and spicy flavors plus other new ideas to make candy fun.

The popularity of hot and spicy flavors in the food industry has not been lost on candy makers. Tuong Ot Sriracha Hot Salted Sriracha Chocolate Bar references the brand that created the sriracha trend—along with a 55% dark chocolate bar. Mars’ Skittles brand also launched Sweet Heat Bite Size Candies to tap the trend.

Hot and spicy candy is catching on. According to IRI, sales growth for spicy candies has outpaced overall candy sales growth since 2016, and the trend is continuing.

Inclusions also were hot in 2018 as a way to add new sensory characteristics.

Waffles have their own unique texture, one that works in confectionery. Chuao Chocolatier Sprinkle Dreams Chocolate Bar combines crisp waffle cones with hazelnuts and rainbow sprinkles for an ice cream dessert-inspired treat. Hershey’s Waffle Layer Crunch uses waffle cone pieces to add crunch. 

Potato chips also add crunch. MilkBoy White Chocolate with Blue Potato Chips & Sea Salt Swiss Chocolate Bar uses blue potato chips for crunch. Taza Chocolate Organic Dark Chocolate utilizes a special stone ground process to grind cacao, yielding a bar with a gritty texture.

Hershey went with candy inclusions to add crunch with Reese’s Stuffed with Pieces Big Cup King Size Candy and Reese’s Outrageous Stuffed with Pieces, both stuffed with hard shell Reese’s Pieces candies. 

Even gum makers are adding crunch. Mondelez’s Trident Vibes Sugar Free Gum has a crisp outer shell along with flavor beads that pop when chewed. Ferrero’s Tic Tac Gum uses a crunchy shell for an engaging gum experience.

Another play on textures is the cluster format. Theo Peanut Butter & Jelly Chocolate Clusters uses it to combine peanuts, coconut, raspberries, dates, Himalayan sea salt and dark chocolate. Popping candy adds a sensory boost for Bazooka Candy Brands’ Baby Bottle Pop Lollipop with Popping Powder Candy. 

Some brands went in the opposite direction. Ferrero’s SweetTarts Whipped & Tangy has a light and fluffy texture described as “delightfully airy.”

Candy is supposed to be fun, especially for kids. Hershey’s Ice Breakers Ice Cubes leveraged sparkly edible glitter with its Summer Snow Cone Glitter Gum. Topps Chewing Gum’s MatchEms Gummy Candy takes a Lego-like approach with interlocking gummies in eight flavors; mixing and matching pieces creates up to 28 unique flavor combinations. 

Just Born had fun with limited edition Mystery flavored marshmallows in three mystery flavors for Easter 2018, allowing one to guess and share on social media. Root Beer Float, Lemonade, and Blue Raspberry were revealed to be the “mystery flavors.”

Ferrero USA finally let Americans experience Kinder Joy, a candy long banned in America as it has a non-edible toy center. Kinder Joy got around that with a plastic egg-shaped package with separate sealed halves – one with candy, the other with the toy. Interestingly enough, IRI recently identified Kinder Joy as last year’s top selling single new product (IRI’s “New Product Pacesetter”) with total year one sales of $124.4 million.

Cross-category flavor innovation—involving borrowed flavors from other foods or drinks—also was a strong confectionery trend in 2018.

M&M’s Hot Cocoa Chocolate Candies debuted as a limited time winter offering. Jelly Belly paired up with Krispy Kreme for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Jelly Beans inspired by flavors like Original Glazed and Chocolate Iced with Sprinkles. 

Ice cream was fertile ground for flavor poaching. Just Born added Peeps Filled Delights in a Neapolitan flavor. Mars did the same with M&M’s Neapolitan Chocolate Candies.

Finally, packaging innovation came from Glow in the Dark wrappers for Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, great for trick-or-treating in the dark. Perfetti Van Melle’s Mentos Share-A-Bowl seems inspired by baby wipe packaging. This reclosable soft pack opens up as a bowl for sharing.

Confectionery makers dabbled with healthful ingredients, especially energy boosters. Maca, a South American root, found its way into Zazubean Cheeky’s Salted Toffee & Banana with Maca dark chocolate bar. Pacari Guayusa Bar launched a chocolate bar with guayusa (a jitter-free energizer from the rainforest).

The low-carb, high-fat Ketogenic diet is driving innovation. Keto-friendly Bhu Keto Semi-Sweet Chocolate Discs are free of cane sugar, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners.


Snacking: The Fifth Meal

Snack innovation was torrid in 2018 as consumers—especially younger consumers—favored snacks. An August 2018 OnePoll survey found that two in five Millennials turn to snacks for energy versus one in five for adults age 55 and older.

This desire is boosting protein-dense foods like jerky. Cattleman’s Cut Texas Style Flank Steak Beef Jerky takes jerky upscale as does Lorissa’s Kitchen Original Premium Steak Strips. Chops Beef Brisket Beef Jerky capitalizes on brisket’s tender, tasty meat.

This upmarket push carried over into adjacent categories, such as pork rinds. Examples include new Southern Recipe Small Batch Oven Baked Pork Rinds in flavors like Blackberry Habanero.

Jerky makers also targeted authenticity and texture. Barbacoa Sabor Beef Jerky hopes to do for Mexican jerky what the Corona brand has done for Mexican beer. Elsewhere, Bovino Crispy Beef Jerky gives jerky a crunchy texture.

Non-animal-based jerky opens jerky up to vegans and vegetarians. Dr. Amy’s Organics Verky Organic Veggie Jerky is meat-free, being made from eggplant. Outstanding Foods Pig Out Pigless Bacon Chips are made with mushrooms.

A new jerky challenger is meat- or poultry-based chips. Wilde Brands went there with Wilde Chicken Chips which are protein-rich, Paleo-friendly thin and crispy chips from chicken. Elsewhere, Land O’Frost Inc. introduced Gone Rogue High Protein Crisps, which promise the crunchiness of a potato chip with the high-protein benefits of jerky. 

Yappah Protein Crisps from Tyson Foods target food waste as they are made with “upcycled chicken breast trim,” “rescued vegetable puree” from juicing, and spent grain from brewing beer. 

The snack industry’s protein push may help create a new chip niche: cheese chips. Stacy’s Cheese Petites Cheese Snacks from Frito-Lay blazes this trail with a cheese-based baked snack delivering 6g of protein per serving.

Snack nut and seed innovation focused on indulgence, flavor, and health. Planters Drizzle Chocolate Drizzled Nuts was a “limited edition” launch in flavors like Roasted Cashews with Milk Chocolate—and this product straddles confections and snacks. Another new offering, Dove Chocolate Flavored Nuts, dusts almonds and cashews with cinnamon and cocoa. 

Foodie-inspired Blue Diamond Almonds Crafted Gourmet Almonds targeted specialty flavors such as Black Truffle. Planters Signature Whole Cashews went gourmet with “nuts sourced from the best growers around the world and crafted with natural flavors.” Chinook Seedery Small-Batch Sunflower Seeds showed that seeds could also go upscale.

Lotus Pops Lotus Seeds carved a new snack niche with a Paleo-friendly seed with a puffed snack-like texture. Bohana Popped Water Lily Seeds also have a puffy texture with 3g of protein per serving.

Nuts are naturally crunchy, but there is room for improvement. Planters Crunchers Crispy Coated Peanuts have an outer crunchy coating for a double dose of crunch and flavor. The snack is similar to Doritos Crunch Nuts, which also debuted in 2018.

Popcorn is naturally conducive to flavor fun. Jif Poppers Peanut Butter Coated Popcorn Snack advanced peanut butter’s standing there. Funny Farm Goat Cheddar Cheese Popcorn brought goat cheese to ready-to-eat popcorn. Candy Pop Candy Coated Popcorn with Nestlé Butterfinger went with “candy meets popcorn.”

Pretzels went healthy, gourmet, and hot/spicy. From The Ground up Cauliflower Pretzels use cauliflower to cut carbs. Snappers Cookie Butter Crafted Snack Pretzels take the trending cookie butter flavor into pretzels. Rold Gold Flamin’ Hot Thin Crisps Pretzels extend Frito-Lay’s “Flamin’ Hot” flavor from puffed snacks to thin pretzels. Frito-Lay also added Flamin’ Hot Chipotle Ranch to the Cheetos franchise.

Speaking of puffed snacks, the category is enjoying a healthy makeover. World Peas Brand Peatos Crunchy Pulse Snacks are based on nutritionally dense peas and lentils. Green pea-based Harvest Snaps Green Pea Snack Crisps have half the fat of regular potato chips. Jackson’s Honest Grain Free Puffs have “more vegetables and fewer grains” with better-for-you ingredients like cassava flour.

Chip innovation was primarily driven by new flavors, with some ingredient innovation.

Hip Chips Corn Chips with Edamame have more plant-based protein and fiber than the typical corn chip. The Real Coconut by Daniella Hunter offers Tortilla Chips made from coconut flour, a trending grain- and gluten-free ingredient. Avolov Avocado Chips are the “first and only snacks that are naturally made with real Haas avocados.”

The big news in tortilla chips was the debut of the Taco Bell brand, offering “a taste of Taco Bell in tortilla chip form.” Frito-Lay upped the heat with Doritos Blaze Flavored Tortilla Chips. On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina Taste of Tajin Chili & Lime Flavored Tortilla Chips leveraged Tajin, the “leading fruit seasoning in Mexico.”

 One flavor to watch in potato chips is seafood-flavor chips inspired by Old Bay seasoning. Frito-Lay’s Chesapeake Bay Crab Spice Flavored Potato Chips are “perfectly seasoned with crab spices inspired by the Chesapeake Bay.” 

Truffle-flavored chips were on tap with Quillo White Truffle Potato Chips. Kettle Brand Bourbon BBQ Potato Chips pick up on the growing popularity of alcohol-flavored foods.

Harissa, a hot and spicy North African flavor, is gaining ground. Snackfood Charissa Gourmet Potato Chips uses this flavor to turn the heat. Cooling things down are Hardbite Avocado & Lime Handrafted-Style Chips which leverage 
trendy avocado.

On the texture front, Cape Cod Waves bet that thick-sliced, wavy-cut chips optimized for dip will resonate with consumers.

Snack bites have become a recent snack phenomenon, drawing inspiration from popcorn, puffed snacks, and even snack nuts.

Powerful Bites No Sugar Added Protein Snack extends the Powerful brand from yogurt to snacks with a high-protein, peanut-butter snack with whey protein isolate. Nature Valley Peak Edition Almond Butter Granola Bites take the Nature Valley brand into snacks. Skippy P.B. Fruit Bites Snack is a “portable pop-able snack,” showing that a center store brand like Skippy has snack aspirations.

Finally, snack mixes highlighted versatility. Hershey’s Crunchers S’Mores Snack Mix mixed mini graham cookies, mini marshmallows and graham pieces with Hershey’s milk chocolate. Bubba’s Fine Foods Snack Mix elevated banana chips as an ingredient.

Originally appeared in the July, 2019 issue of Prepared Foods as The Joy of Snacks.