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Mongo Like Candy: A Look at the 2007 All Candy Expo

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Sep 18, 2007 6:00PM

2007_09_candy_expo_prime.jpgNow that we’ve recovered from the sugar crash, we can tell you about some of the things we found during our visit yesterday to the National Confectioners Association’s All Candy Expo at McCormick Place, which ends tomorrow. The industry-only event draws 20,000 visitors to town to sample over 2,000 gums, candies, and snack foods. New products and trends within the industry are also unveiled with all the accompanying sizzle to prospective retailers and wholesalers. The Greater Chicago Food Depository can also expect a large donation of candy from NCA once the Expo wraps.

If what we witnessed was any indication, a majority of confectioners are doing their best to capitalize on raised consumer awareness regarding antioxidants, organic foods, and concerns about obesity by marketing a wide variety of products claiming to help in the battle of the bulge or to strengthen the immune system. We couldn’t walk down an aisle without passing a booth promoting the health benefits of dark chocolate and a Department of Agriculture-certified line of organic snack food. While we’ll never argue against less dark chocolate on the market, products like Jolt! Caffeine gum and Nutra-Trim weight loss gum would have no place in a society that had its priorities straight. The latter, in particular, soaked up the saliva in our mouth like a sponge, leaving us parched and searching for the nearest water cooler.

Following the jump, we’ll list some of our highlights of the Expo.

2007_09_fizzies.jpgFizzies drink tablets: These flavored drink tablets, popular in the 1960’s, are a hit with nostalgia stores, according to Greg Kuhl, account manager for maker Amerilab Technologies. Amerilab is hoping Fizzies can capitalize on both the powdered soft drink market and consumer concerns of links between high fructose corn syrup-laden soft drinks and obesity. Fizzies are sugar free and loaded with Vitamin C. For the kids, the fun is in making their own soft drink by simply dropping a tablet into 4-6 ounces of cold water. We can totally see this as a hit with the parents on our staff.

Trail Steaks: Chicagoist likes a good piece of jerky. This Tennessee-based company makes a variety of products that fall somewhere between jerkies and marinated, dry-aged smoked steaks. We were simply amazed at how succulent and tender Trail Steaks' products tasted. Trail Steaks vice-presidents Alan Bazzell and Jason Wilga told us their steaks are hand cut, marinated, then smoked in a humidity-controlled smoker. With a shelf life of eighteen months after packaging, Trail Steaks never need to be refrigerated. You won’t break a tooth on them, either. While unavailable in Chicago, you can purchase them on-line.

2007_09_turona_1.jpgTurona: Turrón, a nougat confection, has been popular with Spaniards for centuries and has origins dating back to the Moors and Arabs. It’s also common to see on store shelves around the holidays. The local company Barry Callebaut, which specializes in gourmet chocolates and cocoas, is offering a free turona kit to chocolate shops and confectioners who purchase a minimum amount of their products. Callebaut’s take on turrón is to add chocolate and make it a layered confection, appealing not only to sweet tooths and chocolate lovers, but fans of hypermodern cuisine and "food-as-art" geeks. We thought that this would be a great gift for home kitchens, but Callebaut sales manager Eric Martinet told us that the cost for packaging to ensure the kit doesn’t break prohibits this at present. We can only imagine what this kit could create in the hands of a master pastry chef, like moto’s Ben Roche or Custom House’s Elissa Narow. Not that we think they’d need it.

Supreme Protein Bars: This New Jersey-based company has seen huge numbers of their four-layered protein bars at 7-Eleven. Chocolate gives you a burst of energy and carbs to help you power you through a solid workout, and fifteen grams of protein in the snack-sized bar help muscle buildup and recovery. National Sales manager Kelly Conklin told us that consumers prefer Supreme Protein bars over Luna in blind taste tests, which seems like a given considering all the nuts, chocolate, and caramel with which these bars are loaded.

Seeds of Change and Green & Black’s organic chocolates: Two companies for whom the terms “organic” aren’t just a buzzword to target consumers with just enough knowledge to be dangerous. Each of Seeds of Change’s chocolate bars contains enough cacao in them to make good antioxidants, plus they use all organically grown chocolates and fruits. Additionally, Seeds of Change national accounts manager Sheila Boegel told us that one percent of their sales support Conservation International, a non-profit organization committed to protecting “biodiversity hotspots” around the globe. Green & Black’s emphasizes dark, organically grown chocolates, cocoa powders, and ice creams. Their “Maya Gold” line is a Fair-Trade certified line of dark chocolates from Belize. You’ll find both at — where else? — Whole Foods.

Microwavable Individual Fondues from Les Fondues au Chocolat: Vicki Mirabile of Chicago Importing Company, the importer for these and other exotic confections, says that these are big sellers at Southport Grocery for their simplicity and reduced mess. The ceramic containers housing the chocolate retains heat longer, which means that consumers will spend less time transferring the fondues from microwave to table, re-heating the fondues. Another wonderful product Chicago Importing markets is an amazing Szechwan Pepper chocolate bar from Café-Tasse.

Increased Emphasis on Chocolate and Beverage Pairings: Kraft Foods subsidiary Côte d’Or chocolate was sponsoring a chocolate and lambic tasting yesterday. Next to them, Mars, Inc. brand Dove Chocolate was conducting a pairing of their products with wine, a subject with which Chicagoist is familiar. Both proved to be popular with vendors interested in selling chocolates for home consumers.