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Five acres is an obscene amount of candy and snacks. That’s 800 exhibitors and nearly 18,000 candy and snack professionals gobbling up samples (and distribution deals). The Sweets & Snacks Expo is as colorful and manic as you’d expect it to be.

What you might not expect, and we certainly didn’t, was the sea of meat jerky options too vast for any mortal to traverse in an afternoon. No joke, the place was 30% jerky. Makes sense when you consider the rise in popularity of high-protein diets, but DAMN.

Jerky was just the tip of the trend-berg. We submit for your approval the humble discoveries of a couple of guys who tried to take it all in.

Trend: It’s Made From What?

Ryan: People are putting some wacky stuffs in their sweets and their snacks these days and often with hidden health benefits. Most notably:

  • Crickets: Crickstart makes high protein snacks from, you guessed it, certified organic and Canadian-farmed crickets ground into powder. Which is kind of brilliant, actually, because it removes that “bite into a bug” barrier to entry.
  • Chickpeas: Hippeas have been charming consumers for a while now with their peas/peace puns, but our favorite in this category was easily Pulse Roasted Chickpeas’ high-protein crunchy bean snacks that “provide the goodness your body needs, while satisfying the flavors your body craves.”
  • Seaweed: Was out in full force in everything from chips to wafers to sheets of the unadulterated toasted stuff. SeaSnax opted for a strategy of “beat ‘em to the punch” with their tagline “Strangely Addictive”, and branding featuring seaweed flecked toothy grins.
  • Jicama: Pronounced “hick-uh-muh” Not terribly surprising when you think about it, jicama is essentially a potato crossed with an apple and both of those things make very tasty chips. Exhibit A: JicaChips were not only tasty, but contain half the carbs of potato chips, so they’re basically health food.

Trend: Flavor Out The Wazoo

Derek: You’ve gotta give the people what they want…and the people want a flavor punch in the face.

  • Beer: Chocolate Storybook, makers of packaged cotton candy, launched a beer flavored variety and, honestly, it’s not half bad. What else were you going to get your dad for Father’s Day?
  • Habanero: Remember when Nacho Cheese Doritos seemed spicy? Habanero chips, jerky, and candy had us wondering, “if it didn’t register on the Scoville scale, did it even happen?”
  • Korea-inspired: From kimchi to BBQ, Korea is supplying the flavors du jour, showing up in more jerky and chips than we could shake a stick at. The best iterations manage some punny word play, like Perky Jerky’s “BBQ Beef With Seoul” flavor.

Trend: A Little Story Goes A Long Way

Ryan: A great backstory makes a great brand—especially when a company is young and in need of some differentiators. Some of our favorites even keep it all in the family.

  • Covered Bridge Potato Chips: They’re “potato chips made by potato farmers”. And that’s all that needs to be said. Short and salty. Who else would you want making your chips, and with their great grandmother’s recipe, no less?
  • Carolina Nut Company: Family owned for 60+ years, this company is proud of their southern heritage and traditions—like NASCAR truck racing which they proudly sponsor and even incorporate into their branding.
  • Siete: This family of seven decided to go gluten- (and even grain-) free in solidarity when one of their own was diagnosed with celiac disease. Not only do they make delicious grain-free Mexican snacks, but they get our unofficial award for best logo in show.

As far as industry conferences go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a tastier one. Until next year, Chicago. Now, where’d we put those samples…