Thursday, June 10, 2021

Sweets & Snacks Expo to Take Place in June, National Candy Month


Photo: 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo by Virginia Lee

Did you know that June is National Candy Month? This year, the Sweets & Snacks Expo (aka, The Candy Show) will be held in June in Indianapolis, Indiana instead of its traditional May date in Chicago. Show owner National Confectioners Association unveiled its most popular summer candy flavors (strawberry, watermelon, and cherry) and candy types (chocolate, gummies, and hard candy). Candy is frequently consumed during summer activities. 94% of Americans will bring chocolate or candy with them when they go camping according to the National Confectioners Association. Campfire smores please! For those taking road trips, 93% of Americans will take candy with them. Looking for inspiration on what candy to enjoy this summer? Here’s my take on the most popular summer candy types and flavors based on the products I saw at the 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo that is open to the trade only.


Pocky Crunchy Strawberry from Ezaki Glico USA Corporation combines a chocolate biscuit stick and strawberry cream with real strawberry bites. Pocky is a popular treat in Japan where it originated and comes in multiple flavor varieties including chocolate, cookies & cream, strawberry, and chocolate banana. There is even a strawberry Pocky flavored donut being offered by a newly opened mochi doughnut shop - Dochi - in Denver. The founders of Dochi were inspired by the classic mochi doughnuts found in Japanese street markets to create a cross between mochi (a Japanese rice dessert) and a traditional American fried doughnut.

SweeTARTS Tangy Strawberry Soft & Chewy Ropes from Ferrara Candy Company offers bendable fun by combining fruity licorice and SweeTARTS into one soft and chewy candy with a tangy strawberry flavored filling.


Watermelon is an iconic summertime fruit as it’s associated with hot dogs, picnics, and family fun. Candy makers use watermelon flavors to tap into childhood nostalgia.

HARIBO featured a gorgeous display with watermelons carved by Chef Chanse at the 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo to promote its new HARIBO Watermelon Gummi Candy. Its three layers of color and flavor are aimed to “send your taste buds on a journey back to summer days spent in the sun”.

Jolly Rancher Misfits 2in1 Gummies from The Hershey Company includes three varieties of dual-flavored gummy candy: blue raspberry + watermelon, strawberry + lemon, and green apple + cherry.


I’m happy to see that cherries are a popular summer time candy flavor as cherries are my favorite fruit. I’ve been known to eat a whole pound of cherries in one sitting since they are only available during the summer months. 

Jelly Belly Very Cherry Sugar Free Gum from Ford Gum, Inc. offers the “Jelly Belly flavors you love!” in a gum format. I was excited to try all four varieties – Very Cherry, Berry Blue, Island Punch, and Watermelon – at the 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Photo: Tru Fru, LLC

Tru Fru Nature’s Cherries from Tru Fru, LLC are hyper-chilled cherries sold in the freezer case that have been picked ripe and frozen fresh in white & dark chocolate. In addition to other frozen fruits (bananas, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries) that have been immersed in chocolate, the company also offers shelf-stable fruits (bananas, mangos, raspberries, strawberries) that have been frozen fresh and then freeze-dried before being immersed in dark chocolate.


At the Mars Wrigley booth, I got to see their new M&Ms’ Bars and Snickers Creamy Bars. The M&Ms Bars embed M&Ms Minis into a milk chocolate tablet bar for a multi-sensory taste experience. The five varieties are Peanut, Milk Chocolate, Crispy, Almond, and Crispy Mint.  The Creamy Snickers line adds a creamy nut butter filling (Almond Butter, Peanut Butter) to the caramel and milk chocolate coating to the Snickers bar.

The Hershey Company showcased their Hershey’s Emoji Bars and Kit Kat Duos at the 2019 show. The Hershey’s Emoji Bars were designed to appeal to parents of Gen Z by serving as a fun ice breaker for children as they head back to school. The Kit Kat Duos combine Mint + Dark Chocolate Candies for a minty and crispy experience. 

Jacques Torres by Chocolate Orchard was launched by Nature’s Garden at the 2019 show. The Fruit & Nut Clusters combine the Nature’s Garden’s premium fruits and nuts with Belgian chocolate from the host of the Netflix cooking show, “Nailed It”, Master Chocolatier and Pastry Chef Jacques Torres. I was excited to meet Jacques at the show after seeing his chocolate artistry on “Nailed It”.


Photo: Mondelez Global

Sour Patch Kids Heads from Mondelez Global offer 2 flavors in 1 soft & chewy candy that is 2x bigger than original Sour Patch Kids. The 2 in 1 flavor combos are pink lemonade + blue raspberry, pineapple + redberry, and peach + orange.

SMARTSWEETS INC promoted its Kick Sugar, Keep Candy! Message at the show with its stevia leaf extract-sweetened SMARTSWEETS Gummy Bears and Peach Rings that contain only 3g of sugar per 1.8 oz bag. The SMARTSWEETS are also high in fiber, with 28g of dietary fiber from prebiotic soluble fiber from tapioca and chicory root fiber. 

Fini Sweets, Spain’s #1 candy manufacturer, celebrated the creativity of candy by partnering with Chicago teenagers and candy artists. The company showcased original Fini Creations Hooplas, Kollisions, Shock Tongues and Sour Tornadoes made for the U.S. market in collaboration with a focus group of Chicago teenagers. For the 2019 expo, Fini Sweets worked with American candy artists Jim Victor and Marie Pelton to create artwork that pays tribute to Chicago using Fini candy.

Hard Candy

I got to meet Smarties Candy Company’s Co-President Liz Dee at the 2019 expo. Did you know that each classic roll of Smarties is only 25 calories? I did not know that until I started writing this article. In case you were curious, the six classic Smarties flavors are White (Orange/Cream), Yellow (Pineapple), Pink (Cherry), Green (Strawberry), Purple (Grape), and Orange (Orange). Smarties are also gluten-free and vegan.

Check out my recap of the 2019 Sweets & Snacks Expo where I observed trends in nut butters, keto friendly, flavor duos, superfoods, and low sugar.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

National Restaurant Association Show’s 2021 Food and Beverage Winners: Part 2


Photo: National Restaurant Association Show

In part 1 of my coverage of the National Restaurant Association Show’s 2021 Food and Beverage (FABI) Awards program, I took at look at the winners for beverages. In part 2, I will look at some of the FABI award winners in food. Although this year’s Restaurant Show was cancelled, the FABI Awards program still took place in May 2021. The FABI Awards program recognizes food and beverage products that provide innovations in taste, creativity, packaging, and profit potential. Common themes among this year’s 24 winning foodservice products are plant-based foods, clean labels, gluten-free options, and grab-and-go formats.

Rising Demand for Plant-based Meats

Consumer demand for plant-based foods continues to rise so it’s not a surprise that five of the 24 winners were for plant-based meat analogues. Retail sales of plant-based meat increased by 45%in 2020 to reach $1.4 billion according to SPINS data commissioned by The GoodFood Institute and Plant Based Foods Association.

Incogmeato Homestyle Chik’n Tenders

Photo: Virginia Lee

Kellogg’s Incogmeato Homestyle Chik’n Tenders, Italian Sausage, and Original Bratwurst are meatless products that are 100% plant-based and can be used in place of traditional meats. Incogmeato is part of Kellogg’s vegetarian MorningStar Farms brand. Incogmeato is geared towards flexitarians who would like to reduce meat consumption without giving up flavor. You may have seen Incogmeato’s TV commercials that ask, “Afraid you might like it?”. At the 2019 show, I had the chance to taste MorningStar Farms Chorizo and meet chef Paul Kahan when the company and three-time James Beard Award-winning chef collaborated to bring a LTO (limited-time offer) menu item – MorningStar Farms Chorizo Taco – to Kahan’s Big Star restaurants and samples to the show.

Beyond Chicken Tenders

Photo: Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat won a FABI award for its Beyond Chicken Tenders. The company was one of the first to introduce a plant-based chicken analogue when it launched its Chicken-Free Strips into limited distribution in 2012 and into Whole Foods Market stores in 2013. Although vegetarian hot dogs have been around since 1949, the concept of plant-based foods that mimic the taste and texture of meat gaining popularity among non-vegetarians was new in 2014 when I talked about Beyond Meat’s Chicken-Free Strips in a video for Euromonitor International and asked the question, “Can vegan food products succeed in the US and beyond”. By July 2019, Beyond Meat had garnered a lot of press attention for signing deals for its products to be served in multiple restaurant chains including Denny’s, Hardees, Dunkin’ Brands, McDonald’s Canada, Carl’s Jr, and Subway. We can definitely say in 2021 that vegan food products can indeed succeed in the U.S. if they replicate the taste, texture, and aroma of meat and are called plant-based instead of vegan or vegetarian. In the photo from the 2019 show, you can see the huge crowds waiting for the samples of Beyond Meat sliders and walking tacos.

UNCUT Plant-Based Taco Ground

Photo: Before the Butcher
Another plant-based meat FABI award winner is Before the Butcher’s UNCUT Plant-Based Taco Ground. The UNCUT Plant-Based Taco Ground is a vegan substitute for tacos and burrito and comes pre-seasoned with Mexican-style spices. Before the Butcher aims to improve human health, the environment, and animal welfare by producing products that are gluten-free, non-GMO Project verified, and cholesterol-free with less water and less land than required to make similar animal-based products.

Grab-and-Go Formats

Photo: Tyson Foods Inc.

In the grab-and-go category, Tyson Food Inc’s Jimmy Dean Sausage Tots combine two American favorites – sausage and tater tots - into a unique on-the-go snack option. The Sausage Tots offers restaurant operators speed (The tots can be fried in about three minutes.) and easy preparation. The handheld item offers versatility as it can be served as a snack, a side, center-of-plate, or combined with scrambled eggs and vegetables in a Mega Breakfast Burrito.

Photo: Eli's Cheesecake

A sweet grab-and-go option is Eli’s Cheesecake Co.’s Mini Dulce De Leche Pie with the taste of creamy dulce de leche caramel in an all-butter shortbread crust, topped with sprinkled sugar. The mini size allows it to be served as a small bite, a component of a composed dessert, or as a decadent beverage garnish. For the National Restaurant Association’s Show’s centennial in May 2019, the family-owned company created a showstopping, 23-feet high, 1,200-pound cheesecake to celebrate the #100YearsOfWow. I look forward to seeing Eli’s Cheesecake owners Marc and Maureen Schulman at next year’s National Restaurant Association Show.

Photo: 2019 National Restaurant Association Show by Virginia Lee

Gluten-free Options 

Photo: ItalCrust

A new gluten-free option for pizza is ItalCrust's Gluten Free Pizza Crust, with the company stating that it "is the first and only pre-made, gluten free pizza crust made from wheat available in the US". The crust has been made in a completely controlled environment to ensure safety for customers with celiac disease. I'm intrigued by this pizza crust because it is made from deglutinated wheat flour while the gluten-free pizza crusts I have previously eaten had replaced wheat with ingredients such as cauliflower, brown rice flour, and tapioca. 

Photo: Tribe 9 Foods

Another gluten-free product is Tribe 9 Foods' Taste Republic Pre-Cooked Gluten-Free Cauliflower Gnocchi which offers a gluten-free alternative to traditional gnocchi made with potatoes and wheat flour. The Cauliflower Gnocchi contains nearly one full serving of cauliflower and 5 grams of protein per serving. The pasta is certified gluten-free, grain-free, kosher, and non-GMO. The gnocchi have been frozen to extend shelf life to a year. On the retail end, the company's products are now available at Target. Tribe 9 Foods has extensive experience in pasta with its RPs Pasta Company and Carla's Pasta brands. 

You can read my coverage of the FABI beverage winners in part 1 and see all 24 FABI Award winners through the National Restaurant Association Show's Show To Go

Monday, May 31, 2021

National Restaurant Association Show’s 2021 Food and Beverage Awards Part 1


Photo: 2019 Restaurant Show by Virginia Lee

I’m back to blogging again after taking a break in 2020 when in-person trade shows were cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak. Although the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is prompting the return of in-person trade shows, the National Restaurant Association was unable to hold its annual Restaurant Show at Chicago’s McCormick Place this year. Though the National Restaurant Association shifted to a digital marketplace for 2021 with The Show To Go, the association continued with its annual Food and Beverage (FABI Awards) in May 2021. One of my favorite activities at the show has been attending the FABI Awards tasting events. At the last show I attended in 2019, the FABI Awards Tastings allowed me a chance to try many of the award-winning food and beverages and learn about the product from the company representatives. Common themes among the 24 winning foodservice products are plant-based foods, clean labels, gluten-free options, and grab-and-go formats. In this post, I will look at some of the FABI Award winners in beverages and cover the food winners in part 2.

La Colombe Draft Chocolate Milk

Photo: Virginia Lee

Although I was only able to try one of this year’s FABI beverage winners, the La Colombe Draft Chocolate Milk, I look forward to trying to many of the other winners during restaurant visits or at next year’s National Restaurant Association Show. I was able to find the La Colombe Draft Chocolate Milk at a Target. This is chocolate milk for adults as it combines the same high quality cocoa served in La Colombe’s cafes with lactose-free, nonfat milk and nitrous oxide in a patented InnoValve can to offer a frothy, creamy drink similar to nitro coffees served at coffee shops. The beverage with no added caffeine contains 10 grams of protein, 130 calories, 4 grams of added sugars, and 18 grams of total sugars in a 9 oz. can. La Colombe Coffee Roasters, based in Philadelphia, has 30 cafes nationwide and has been offering canned draft latte products since 2016. I remember talking to La Colombe CEO and co-founder Todd Carmichael back in 2016 as he was beginning to launch the canned draft latte coffees beyond the cafes.

RISE Original Oat Milk

Photo: 2019 Restaurant Show by Virginia Lee

Consumers are looking for plant-based alternatives with a short list of ingredients that they recognize and can pronounce. RISE Brewing Co.'s RISE Original Oat Milk addresses the clean label and the plant-based milk alternative trend by using only four ingredients: organic oats, organic sunflower oil, water, and a dash of salt.  Sales of plant-based milk alternatives have been growing steadily while that of dairy milk has declined. Retail value sales of plant-based milks grew by 20% in 2020 to reach $2.5 billion according to SPINS data. Oat milk was the fastest grower among the plant-based milks, more than tripling its sales in 2020. 

Moshi Yuzu Sparkling Water Unsweetened White Peach

Photo: Brooklyn Food & Beverage

Brooklyn Food & Beverage's Moshi Yuzu Sparkling Water Unsweetened White Peach offers consumers a clean label beverage with no added sugar. This unsweetened variety in the Moshi Sparkling Water line contains carbonated water, yuzu juice, white peach juice concentrate, and natural flavors, with 20 calories in a 12 oz. bottle. Yuzu fruit is native to Japan and offers an aromatic citrusy flavor. The company's co-founder Bruce Cost popularized the craft ginger ale category through the launch of his Bruce Cost Ginger Ales. I have been a big fan of Bruce Cost's ginger ales ever since Cost introduced his fresh, unfiltered ginger ales into Lettuce Entertain You's Big Bowl and Wow Bao restaurants in Chicago. 

Sarah's Homegrown Agua Frescas 

Photo: Frey Farms, LLC

Frey Farms' Sarah's Homegrown Agua Frescas are another clean label beverage with a short list of ingredients. The three Agua Frescas in Mango, Strawberry, and Watermelon varieties contain water, fruit purees, fruit and vegetable juices, cane sugar, and natural flavors. Each 12 oz. bottle contains 60 calories and 14 to 15 grams of sugar. Founded in 1992 by Sarah Frey, Frey Farms is based in Keenes, Illinois and uses sustainable farming practices including using imperfect "ugly fruits" in its beverages to reduce food waste. Frey is not only an entrepreneur and the United Fresh Produce Association's 2020 Women in Produce honoree but an author. She writes about growing as the youngest of 21 children on a struggling farm in southern Illinois, taking over the family farm when it faced foreclosure, and becoming one of America's largest fresh produce growers and shippers in her autobiography, The Growing Season: How I Built a New Life -- and Saved an American Farm

Natalie's Pineapple, Kale, Zinc & Vitamin D Juice

Photo: Natalie's Orchid Island Juice Co.

Natalie's Orchid Island Juice Co.'s Natalie's Pineapple, Kale, Zinc & Vitamin D Juice targets consumers who are increasingly looking to build immunity through its use of multiple ingredients associated with immunity - vitamin C-rich pineapples, zinc, and vitamin D. The clean label juice also offers an antioxidant-rich blend of spinach and kale along with celery. COVID-19 has led to growing demand for immunity-boosting foods and beverages, with the global immunity-strengthening food products market expected to grow from $16.31 billion in 2019 to $22.76 billion in 2020 according to The Business Research Company

For a look at all 24 FABI Award winners, check out Restaurant Business's article on the FABI Awards and a webinar where two 2021 FABI Awards judges discuss today's top food & beverage trends. In part 2, I will cover some of the FABI Award winners in food.