I was fortunate to attend the 2015 Sweets & Snacks expo, one of the world’s largest food trade shows. Over the next several posts I’ll share some of my findings on snack food trends, focusing around potato chips.

In this first post I’m going to discuss the show setup and some snacks that are somewhat related to chips. I promise I’ll get to the chips in the next post.

About the show

The expo took place at McCormick Place, the gargantuan exposition hall in Chicago, Ill. Every major expo in Chicago takes place there; often, several happen at once.

The National Confectioners Association puts on the show. It’s evident, as candy is front and center. Most of the major sponsors are the mammoth candy brands, and the interior floorspace was dedicated to them as well. A big Hershey sign greets you on the way into the expo. The snacks part of the equation have enough space so as to not give it short shrift, but this is a candy show first and foremost.

The chips are scattered around the perimeter. There’s definitely a range of booth sizes, from the large (Lays, Snyder-Lance) to the small (Open Road Snacks, makers of Diego’s Chips).

Sweets AND snacks, literally

This isn’t news, but the marriage of sweet and salty can be delicious. It’s also not news that confectioners have been pairing chocolate and potato chips for a while. This continues to be the case.

I saw multiple examples at the expo, but there are two that caught my eye.

sweet nibblers potato chip cookie balls

Sweet Nibblers Potato Chip Cookie Balls are a newer product featuring Nestle milk chocolate. Imagine a craft project at a third grader’s birthday party, but then put into snazzy bags and sold on shelves. It’s a hybrid of the often-done potato chip cookie and chocolate-covered potato chip.

 

chuao potato chip chocoloate

Chuao is becoming the most well-known chocolate-chip (?) candy bar. I’m a fan of their packaging: front and center is the potato chip engulfed in chocolate, and there’s really no need upfront to say more. You’re getting potato chips in a chocolate bar, because you know what a rectangle like that in a foil pouch like that connotes. Their product is available in specialty food shops across the country.

New alt-chipper categories storming the castle

I didn’t anticipate the volume of vendors ready to persuade you away from potato chips toward “better for you” alternatives. It’s a longstanding trend, but it took a national show for that trend to sink in mentally.

Popcorn, corn chips, and tortilla chips are established competitors to potato chips. I won’t focus on those here, aside from saying this: chip companies should pay attention to the innovative flavors coming from smaller popcorn brands (479 degrees popcorn is a great example – there’s little reason some of these flavors could not work on potato chips).

I saw two new categories looking to infringe on potato chips’ snack kingdom.

pasta chips

Pasta Chips are the brainchild of Veggie Straws founder Jerry Bello. His story behind the genesis of Pasta Chips is interesting, and his snack was not bad. Using traditional sauces as flavors is an interesting bend that’s true to the brand as well. For example, they offer Marinara and Alfredo.

say yes to no chips

The other was Holland’s Say Yes to No, a new spin on bread chips (think bagel chips. or something like a flat crouton). One difference was that both the dough and the exterior were seasoned.

A fantastic name and unique packaging could lead to some traction for this Dutch brand. They’re new, but this is a trend that could have some legs.

Everyone I spoke to was enthusiastic and professional, albeit eager to play up the differences between their snacks and potato chips. The irony of “better for you” snacks focusing their venom on potato chips at the Sweets & Snacks expo isn’t lost on this site. I suggest casting a wider net if you’re at an event where there’s literally every major candy producer on the floor. If you ate too much of any of the stuff at the expo, it probably wouldn’t be good for you.

The good news for food lovers is there are plenty of choices on the shelves. In our next post I’ll move on to some of the trends I noticed with the major (and upcoming) potato chip brands present at the expo.