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Benjamin Miraski/Medill

The All Candy Expo  in Chicago gives snack manufacturers a chance to show off new products and network within the industry. Companies from Mars Snackfoods US LLC to Dan's Chocolates unveiled new items.

All Candy Expo a sweet time to introduce new products

by Benjamin Miraski
May 20, 2008

Homer Simpson wouldn’t know what to do with himself.

The non-stop sugar rush that is the All Candy Expo opened Tuesday at McCormick Place in Chicago.  The largest candy and snack show in North America offers 430 manufacturers a chance to show off new products, 2000 of them, and interact with retailers to get their products on the market.

Open only to the trade, the show features a non-stop sensory experience, both for the eyes and the taste buds.  Samples crowd the aisles as both established and new manufacturers attempt to get noticed for the “next great product.” Manufacturers try everything from scantily-clad women to giant mascot-like creatures. Mars Snackfoods US LLC brought along two life-size M&Ms to help pitch its new products.

Chicago-based William Wrigley Jr. Co. which recently agreed to be purchased by New Jersey-based Mars, uses the opportunity to catch up with its retailers, said Customer Marketing Manager Logan McDougal. Wrigley is touting the American Dental Association certification it received for its Orbit, Eclipse and Extra gum brands.

“It’s a chance to see smaller manufacturers and the latest technology,” McDougal said.

New technology was very much the name of the game for Mars’s new products. The company is expecting to further increase its premium brand presence, dominated by its Dove chocolate, by changing the formula on its M&Ms for the first time and offering five new flavors that will retail for $3.99 for a six-ounce package. The price is $1.19 more than a comparable amount of the traditional candy. The new product features an hour glass shaped box and a speckled candy shell.

“We are bringing fun and bringing color to the premium market,” said Michele Kessler, vice president of marketing, in response to a question of whether customers would actually pay more for M&Ms. She added that initial product research proved positive.

The company is also expanding its personalization trend begun in 2005 with MY M&Ms that allowed consumers to place their own logos and messages on the M&M candy line instead of the “m”. Customers will now be able to add their own face to the candy along with up to three unique messages.

Among major company representatives, industry icon Ellen Gordon, president of Chicago-based Tootsie Roll Industries Inc., drew the biggest crowd despite presenting no new product innovations.

While the major manufacturers are focused primarily on relationship-building, some smaller companies are looking to just get noticed.

Vincent James of Buffalo Nickel Food Co., in Boonton, N.J., was displaying a new snack food idea debuted in Anaheim, Calif., earlier this year, proving that the All Candy Expo isn’t only about chocolate.  James’s Wingers are potato-based wing-shaped snacks coming in five different heat levels, targeted at the college market.

“No one takes any risks anymore,” James said. He has worked in the snack industry for more than 20 years at companies like Kraft Foods Inc. and Nabisco, which is now a part of Kraft.

James said he received his first order at the Anaheim show and his company is now trying to just gain traction.

Other smaller manufacturers like Dan’s Chocolates are trying to expand a smaller retail presence. Dan Cunningham, the chief chokolada of the company, said he is presenting to retailers for the first time.  The Burlington, Vt.-based company currently has its chocolates and truffles in a few stores and coffee shops, but this is its chance to be truly noticed, he said.

While the show floor of manufacturers and their samples is the main attraction, the Expo also features educational sessions led by industry leaders.  The sessions cover topics from highlighting industry trends to the commodity outlook and sustainability. The event runs through Thursday.