Photos: The 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo
By Lisa White in Food on May 22, 2014 8:30PM
Another year and another extreme sugar crash for Chicagoist after attending the Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place. Obviously we were most excited to taste the best and worst new snacks while doing some serious people watching. We'll have a full report of our favorite and most horrifying bites tomorrow but for now we've got some sights from the show floor. Including a run-in with Internet favorite Grumpy Cat.
As we wove our way through the booths, the biggest trends started popping out quickly. Popcorn is very in this year, which is no surprise as former Chicagoist editor Anthony Todd pointed out in his Sun-Times coverage that "according to AdAge, the ready-made popcorn sector increased by 11% in 2013" There is money in those tiny kernels with flavors that range from fancy truffle popcorn, all natural options and even a mash-up of another trend, Sriracha popcorn. Seriously, Sriracha was being thrown around a lot as a flavor enhancer this year. Although we love the sauce, we'll stick to the bottle form since the powdered version on the popcorn left us coughing thanks to a bit too much vinegar kick.
Snack food continued to dominate the floor and another popular option were a variety of different vegetable chips, from parsnip to seaweed to kale. Jerky of all kinds, from chicken to turkey and salmon, were being dished out. Greek yogurt was another addition to products to keep up with a cool food trend (granted a bit late) although if given the option of instant Greek yogurt pudding and actual Greek yogurt, we'll take the real deal always. And a focus on branding items for specific dietary needs was another popular tool, the words gluten free emblazoned everywhere along with vegan and paleo.
One of the more curious aspects of the show to observe is the marketing of products to not only consumers but potential buyers at the show. Most jerky and meat booths were clearly geared towards men, rugged and full of outdoorsy colors and other gendered stereotypes. Some went with an All-American patriotic look while others made phallic jokes. One booth even had ladies in suede assless chaps serving up samples with a smile. Apparently us ladies aren't suppose to enjoy smoked meat? Although we are sure it is only a matter of time until a brand of jerky is geared towards ladies with cute names and pink packaging, if it already doesn't exist. On the opposite end of the gender spectrum you had products that were clearly marketed towards women. Which were all chocolate because of course all PMS-raging ladies need chocolate to sooth our souls. Chocolate in the shape of lipstick, shoes, inner divas. They even had a "perfect man" chocolate shaped like a stereotypical dreamboat. Their booth included a photo opportunity for ladies at the Expo to pose with two (real, not chocolate) beefy men in heart print boxers and tight red shirts. Because obviously the perfect man is the same in the eyes of every woman, and clearly woman only find men attractive. It's always interesting to see how gender and sexuality factors into marketing products and after a day filled with many cliches at the expo we'll likely stick with our gender neutral snacks.
All in all we had a fun time chatting with small passionate business owners, seeing the latest products while meeting a few new friends.