Friday, June 25, 2021

Ten Take-Aways from the Sweets & Snacks Expo (a key trend-tracking show for all food and beverage)


What an amazing week! The first North American food industry trade show in 15 months took place this week in Indianapolis and I was fortunate enough to attend. After all, I could not miss out on The Sweet & Snacks Expo, which usually is held in my hometown Chicago, alongside the National Restaurant Association Show. (Both will be held in Chicago in May 2022.) 

While we all agreed during registration to follow safety guidelines and wear our mask when inside the convention hall, I was likely one of only 100 who did. (There were more than 8,000 registered.) I am a rule follower! I still managed to feel safe and explored the more than 450 exhibitors along with nearly 3,000 retail attendees, a.k.a. buyers.

Here are 10 take-aways from what I consider to be one of the most important trend-tracking expos. All food and beverage innovators can benefit from these findings. 

1. Smaller Pack Sizes. While 2020 had many consumers purchasing family-sized, shareable and multi-serving packs of their favorite foods, everything from yogurt to gummy bears, smaller packs are back. More companies continue to develop smaller pack sizes containing 200 calories or less. This trend empowers consumers to make informed choices, especially when they are ready to treat themselves to their favorite snack or candy. It assists with nutrient-dense foods, too, helping the consumer keep a mental check of their daily intake of protein, fiber and even probiotics.

2. Tropical Flavors. With the country reopening, many consumers dream of a day at the beach and enjoying all that summer has to offer. This year, tropical flavors are taking center stage with a focus on pineapple and coconut. 

3. Mix and Match: Can’t decide on what flavor to purchase? Marketers are mixing up sweet and salty, sweet and sour, fruity and chocolate, etc., all in a single package. This can be easily done with all types of dairy (and dairy-free) foods. 

4. Celebration Time. My friend Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of the consultancy firm 210 Analytics LLC, spoke on “The State of Treating” on Thursday morning. She said that people are ready to reconnect with the holidays, seasons and special events, and products that help them do so will do well this coming year. 

5. Texture Time. Anne-Marie also identified a notable difference in texture preferences among generations, with young Millennials and those under them preferring chewy and gummy treats. What does this mean for dairy? Well, boba—maybe fortified with vitamin C—might make a smarter dome-held mix-in for yogurt. “Chewy is the biggest game in town,” she said.

6. Fruit Flavors. Anne-Marie noted that there’s also a very strong division in flavor preferences between younger and older consumers. The former is all about fruit flavors, maybe with an additional dimension, such as sour, tart or even heat. Older consumers prefer chocolate. Bitter, dark cocoa is about as extreme as they will take it. 

7. Spice It Up. That brings me to lucky #7. Hot continues to trend in sweet and salty confections and snacks. Many product lines featured chili, sriracha, jalapeño and habanero. There’s room for heat in dairy. It does not need to be off the charts hot, just a mild kick. This is showcased in High Road Strawberry and Espelette Swirl Ice Cream. It’s a combination of perfectly ripe strawberries with a hint of Espelette peppers and super delish! The flavor received a Silver sofi in the Frozen Desserts category in May, as part of the Specialty Food Association’s 2021 sofi Awards. The sofi Awards competition is open annually to members of the Specialty Food Association. The Awards have been given each year since 1972. They recognize extraordinary specialty food and beverage products and the people who create them. 

8. Cheese It Up. Real dairy or plant-based, cheese was everywhere at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. It was oozing out of pretzel balls and sprinkled on dairy-free, super grain Ka-Pop! snack puffs and popped chips. Ka Pop! chips are made from sorghum and are allergen friendly, gluten-free, paleo, non-GMO and vegan. Dustin Finkle, a CrossFit instructor pitched the chips Season 11 of Shark Tank, which aired in January 2020. While the Sharks loved the taste, only one made an offer. Kevin “Mr. Wonderful” O’Leary offered Dustin $350,000 for 17.5% equity, which Dustin deemed too much so he declined the offer. His business is thriving, and includes a number of dairy-free, dairy flavors, including cheddar cheese, and sour cream and onion. 

9. Poppable and Portable. Cup-holder packs were all over the expo floor. We revolutionized the fluid milk industry with Dean’s portable and resealable Milk Chugs in 1997. It’s time to do more in this space. 

10. Caffeine From Coffee. It was everywhere. It came crunchy, salty, chewy and chocolatey. 

As we enter a long holiday week in the U.S., I challenge you to think about these trends and come back refreshed for some serious product innovation. The time is now to get new products into supermarkets. 

“There is a return to the normalization of shopping,” said Anne-Marie. “People are shopping the aisles and welcoming innovation, again.”

P.S. I just had to share my character photos. Hope they made you smile! 

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