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The Top 5 Candy And Snack Trends Coming In 2024

The 2023 Sweets & Snacks Expo unveiled a wealth of new products to cater to top candy trends.

When I politely turned down a fifth sample of beef jerky in as many minutes, the brand rep at the booth gave me an understanding nod. "We've all got to pace ourselves at the show!" she said brightly. Too bad I had already failed to heed that advice within minutes. After all, the Sweets & Snacks Expo rewards one's endless curiosity and, by extension, a bottomless appetite.

For the uninitiated, the Sweets & Snacks Expo is the biggest annual event for makers of candy and snacks everywhere. The idea is that professionals on both sides (the makers and the retailers) can come together and figure out which products to foist upon the American consumer in the coming year. As such, free samples are the name of the game, and I walked away with a shopping bag full to bursting with them.

This year's Expo features 800 exhibitors (250 of them first-timers) and will see a projected 16,000 attendees, a figure that certainly sounds right, given how often I was squeezing past groups of fellow lanyard-wearers just to snag a sample of cauliflower puffs or candied cashews. Earlier this month, the National Confectioners Association, which hosts the Expo each year, published a list of key trends to look out for at this year's event:

  • Brand Collaborations: Your favorite treats/brands working together to create something new and exciting.
  • Flavor Mashups: Flavor combos that will delight you. Salty, sweet, sour, spicy or savory – there is something for everyone!
  • Social Media Friendly Interactive Treats: These treats give you permission to play with your food and share with your friends on social media!
  • All About Options: Everyone treats and snacks a little differently, which is why confectionery and snack companies are offering a range of package sizes and product types that fit every occasion.

All of the above trends were certainly on display, especially the "range of package sizes" thing: Hostess Kazbars, as we've discussed, will be sold in two different sizes for different snacking occasions, and Christopher's Big Cherry candy bar will now come in a not-so-big Bites bag as well. But we clocked several other emerging trends as we wandered the hall's 210,000 square feet of displays. Here are the top five candy and snack trends you can expect to see in 2024 and beyond.

Licensed characters on all your favorite candy and snacks

Just before I exited the hall, the last sample pressed into my hand was a bag of Transformers: Rise of the Beasts Airheads Bites. This is appropriate, given that just about everything in the exhibition hall was coupled with licensed cinematic IP.

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This is also, of course, nothing new. Disney characters have always graced cereal boxes, and I know I begged my mom to buy Mario Bros. Shasta and Ecto Cooler back in the '90s. Now, however, it isn't tied to the promotion of a specific TV or film release, nor is it just a tactic to stoke children's capitalist desires—the beast of licensing has come for all of us, at every age.

The Palmer Chocolate booth was primarily a display of Christmas staples, in part because the timeline for ordering and stocking products means retailers are already thinking of the winter holidays in May. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, a movie that came out 33.5 years ago, was the focus of Palmer's line of holiday chocolate bars and foil-wrapped minis, an electrocuted Clark Griswold gracing each bag.

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Tellingly, a display labeled "What's Trending In Candy" featured a list not of products, but of IP: The Office, Ted Lasso, The Golden Girls, Bob Ross, A Christmas Story, Pusheen, and Elf were among its mishmash of properties. These licensed products apparently function a lot like themed popup bars, getting in while the nostalgia's good by applying the thinnest veneer of Instagrammability to an existing product. I'm not mad about it, but wouldn't pay an extra cent for the privilege.

Chickpea everything

Crispy chickpeas. Roasted chickpeas. Roasted chocolate-covered chickpeas. Tiramisu chickpeas. Chickpea puffs made from chickpea meal. Chickpea crunchy snacks that resemble Cheetos. These legumes are enjoying the star treatment at this year's Expo, their versatility on full display. I particularly enjoyed these Lebby dry roasted chickpeas in candy coating. The texture in the center was halfway between a malted milk ball and a Lindor truffle, leaving a toasty flavor behind.

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The biggest advantage of chickpea snacks seems to be that vendors can push them as a healthy alternative to other sweet treats. To me, the distinction feels like splitting hairs, but to retailers and manufacturers, it amounts to precious market share.

Pickles and pickle flavoring

We noted as early as last year that pickles are having a moment, and 2023 has only proven that further, with pickle flavored hot sauce, pickle flavored ranch dressing, and even Tangy Pickle Doritos gracing the grocery aisles. In addition to pickle flavoring (dill, mustard seed, etc.), straight-up pickles are being rebranded as a snack rather than a topping.

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For instance, these pouches of so-called Dilly Bites from Oh Snap! are packaged with no excess brine so that customers can enjoy "no mess and no stress when you're snacking on the go." The brand seemed intent on reminding people of pickles' status as a healthy ol' cucumber, not just something that accompanies a greasy burger. (To this I say, why not both?)

But maybe the most exciting is the way pickles are coming for the candy aisle. Sour Punch Pickle Roulette Bites, debuting this fall, are an assortment of all-green candy bites in flavors like lemon lime and watermelon—but occasionally, you might get a sour pickle-flavored one. (Sounds a lot like Jelly Belly's Beanboozled game.) The product was initially an April Fool's release and is returning to shelves by popular demand.

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Chocolate cones

You know that part at the tip of the Drumstick ice cream cone where chocolate fills the inside of the crunchy waffle point? Well, that's the confectionery category's latest obsession. These cone snacks were everywhere at the 2023 Sweets & Snacks Expo, and it's not exactly like one brand can differentiate itself from the others all that much. The quality of the chocolate might vary slightly, but you really can't go wrong with any brand here—it's chocolate encased in a sweet, crispy wafer, engineered to be everything our collective palate wants.

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Brands exhibiting this treat at the Expo included Just The Fun Part, Muddy Bites, Chocconi, and Just The Tip!, among several others.

Jerky

Although plant-based jerky has proven itself an impressive dupe, the meat jerky category still has some tricks up its sleeve, and it's leaning into irresistible flavor combinations to entice shoppers. Country Archer's Mango Habanero jerky was a real standout, with a slow heat that's mild enough to keep you coming back for more bites. Meanwhile, the Sesame Teriyaki jerky from the brand Think is nice and balanced so the teriyaki doesn't taste syrupy; this brand partners with famous chefs to develop its flavors.

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All jerky purveyors on site emphasized the same points: jerky is a lean protein, it can have lots of flavor without lots of salt, and, most importantly, the product has broken free of its gas station reputation to become a gourmet option for those seeking a "healthy" snack on the go. I put "healthy" in quotes because when uttered by 800 different exhibitors in one day, it ceases to mean very much at all. Either way, it's a delicious snack, and one that we might all be buying more often in 2024, if the industry has its way.

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