CHICAGO, July 3 (UPI) -- Exploding Peeps in the microwave could get even messier: Just Born is dipping the marshmallow confection in chocolate for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine's Day -- one of the sweet innovations unveiled at the recent candy industry trade show in Chicago.
The 2011 Sweets & Snacks Expo saw numerous various on old favorites during its annual cavity-inducing conclave little more than a month ago.
Just Born of Bethlehem, Pa., one of more than 37,000 makers and sellers of candy, is just following a trend -- chocolate-covered everything, a National Confectioners Association survey indicates. More than 2,000 candy and snack products from more than 170 of the 550 exhibitors made their debut at the show.
Chocolate candy and potato chips are the top sellers in the 7.7 billion industry and both are showing substantial gains this year compared to 2010.
"Candy and snacks continue to represent an affordable indulgence for consumers in a slow economy, demonstrated by industry sales growth over the past two years," NCA said in a release, noting consumers are trying to maximize their snacking dollar by buying in bulk from discount and club stores.
But the candy of our youth doesn't cut it anymore.
"Trends in confectionery and snacks for 2011 reflect the larger patterns seen across the food industry -- Americans are more interested in what they are eating, and are looking for new flavors to satisfy increasingly complex palates," NCA President Larry Graham said. "Consumers look for value, exciting flavors and nutrition when seeking new sweets and snacks."
Larry Johns, owner and president of McJak Candy Co. of Medina, Ohio, which manufactures Original Gourmet candies in such flavors as apple pie and cotton candy, told Candy Industry magazine, he thinks cocoa prices are going to shift the emphasis.
"I know chocolate has remained strong, but with the current cocoa prices, I think hard candy still has a good niche," he said. "It's a little bit less expensive."
Compared with last year, hard candy sales are up nearly 4.5 percent, SymphonyIRI Group reported.
The NCA said consumers are looking for multiple layers of flavor and unique blends. Witness the new popcorn flavors by Oogie's Gourmet Popcorn of Denver: spicy chipotle and lime, sun-dried tomato and Parmesan, and cracked pepper and asiago.
And so people don't feel they're blowing their diets, more snacks are fortifying with vitamin C, fiber and other ingredients. An NCA survey indicates people more than 45 years of age are eating more dark chocolate because they think it's healthier, with the average American eating something with chocolate 107 times a year, and parents claiming kids who eat chocolate daily exercise nearly twice as much as children who only get a chocolate treat once a week.
Among the new products:
-- Gummies aren't just for worms or bears anymore. Wrigley introduced Life Savers Gummies in cherry-watermelon, raspberry-lemonade and pineapple-fruit punch.
-- Mars Chocolate North America is adding savory flavors to its Snickers line. The company also is offering Marathon Smart Stuff bars fortified with vitamins and minerals.
-- Biscomerica introduced its Sun-Maid Oatmeal Raisin Apple cookie with fiber and no transfats.
-- Live Smart Manufacturing's Natural Bubbie's Soft Biscotti are sweetened with goji berries, cranberries, dates and raisins, and also is offering flax bars (chocolate coated and plain) that contain antioxidants and 100 percent of the recommended Omega-3 fatty acids.
-- Also for the diet conscious, Nestle Confections has a line of 110-120 Skinny Cow candies.
-- For those having trouble sleeping, forget the Ambien and pop a Slumberland Sleep Square.
-- Simply 7 Snacks introduced Hummus Chips and Lentil Chips.
-- Verve Inc.'s Sugar-Free Glee gum is harvested from rainforest chicle and sweetened with xylitol from birch.
-- With Harry Potter still popular, Jelly Belly Candy Co. is expanding its jelly bean offerings to include grass, black pepper and rotten egg, among others (did the Weasley twins have a hand in that?). The company is also dipping more traditional flavors -- very cherry, coconut, strawberry, raspberry orange and mint -- in dark chocolate.