At last month’s Sweets & Snacks Expo 2021, our first in-person food show in over a year, it was impossible to ignore how often the aspect of “personal” arose. The importance of getting personal resonated throughout several merchandising disciplines. Its influence was felt in product creation, brand development and targeted market spending.
Intimate Brand Storytelling
Several companies openly promoted stories about how their brand idea evolved from a personal encounter. For example, Jesse Osher, founder of Jesse’s Wake Up! Bar, recalled how he once fell asleep while driving, nearly causing a collision. His harrowing experience inspired him to create WakeUp! This naturally caffeinated chocolate rice crisp bar was designed to quickly minimize drowsiness. Others reminisced about family farms. They told of their pride in bringing favorite recipes, passed down through the generations, to a broader market. The folks at Colorado Jack popcorn described working with local farmers in Colorado and Nebraska to grow corn, which is popped at a small plant in North Dakota. Building on consumer interest in traceability, the company highlights a farm-to-shelf philosophy while supporting non-profits.
Catering to Personal Health and Happiness
A plethora of labels pursued a goal of personal physical health. They touted low sugar, no sugar, keto, oat-infused, vegan and gut-friendly prebiotic and probiotic products. This slew of snack introductions seemed perfectly timed for those struggling to shed their Quarantine15. The clean-label concept, representing minimal ingredients, was another marker on the path to healthy living. Crispygreen and Wicked Crisps offered some of the best examples of this.
Emotional self-care got nearly as much attention as physical wellbeing. There were notable functional products designed to improve your head space. Included were sweets that influence mood and chewable tablets to improve mental clarity.
Mood enhancement was a hot topic. The Expo provided three separate educational sessions on how to navigate the burgeoning cannabis-related snacks marketplace. The Future of Cannabis & CBD in Confectionery Products addressed regulatory issues. What’s Next? Cannabis & Confectionery Trends summed up the state of the candy and gum market. Considering Cannabis? What You Need to Know Before Entering the Industry explored opportunities, challenges, and solutions to building a cannabis brand.
Perhaps the most popular way to get up close and personal with treat-eaters fell under the umbrella of “permissible indulgence.” In pre-pandemic times, this term often referred to decadent food products that had been fortified with some type of beneficial nutritional component. Think high-protein ice cream, or matcha glazed donuts. Lately, however, it has become clear that while the healthy part of the equation is still important, it can be optional. For one delicious example, look no further than to Trü Frü, winner of the Most Innovative New Product Award in Sweet Snacks, for its flash frozen fruit slathered in rich chocolate.
Stacks of sweet/salty/chocolate/caramel-encrusted carbohydrates provided more confirmation (SNAX-Sational Brands extended their line of candy and cookie popcorn with new configurations, flavors and packaging). So did an abundance of tantalizing alcohol-inspired treats, including an introduction by Enstrom’s in collaboration with fellow Colorado maker New Belgium Brewing. If still unconvinced, check out the brand decree posted by Couch Mix, a snack line created by Bruce Julian Heritage Foods. In addition to fun new graphics and retro favorites, they reinforced the idea with their décor; The Trend Curve team loved the description (and the permission it grants) to let loose.
And just in case you need to combat a mood with humor, or subtly telegraph your frame of mind to unsuspecting friends and family, Astor’s diverse line of dark and milk chocolate bars are there to help. The expressive eyes, nose and mouth shown on each wrapper, along with the bar’s name (hungover, whatever, tired, happy, etc.) instantly communicates your state of mind.
Personal Preferences and Choices
There were hope-filled discussions about how easing pandemic-based restrictions would soon allow retailers to reset stores with a wider assortment of goods. Presenting choices to shoppers is one way to help skittish customers feel secure, says retail/consumer psychologist Kate Nightingale. After the past 18 months of restrictions and limitations, many businesses are optimistic that an improved variety of merchandise will lure shoppers who have a pent-up demand for craving-satiating snacks. Opening keynotes from IRI and 210 Analytics both talked about variety and offering choices as an opportunity for business growth, acknowledging that consumers want to decide for themselves when to self-care with nutrition or indulgence.
Playing With Food Gets Personal
A few companies capitalized on products intended to be assembled and/or played with at home during the great lockdown. Cookie decorating kits are one example. These established products provide hands-on, fun activities that the family can experience together. At Sweets & Snacks, CandyRific took the play-with-your-food concept a step farther with The Elf on the Shelf “Candy Hunt,” a bag of little plastic presents filled with fruit-flavored dextrose candy. The idea that family members of all ages can create an at-home, hands-on game by hiding the candy (think scavenger hunt) is an even stronger example of a manufacturer offering tools to create fun, cherished memories within the intimate surroundings of home.
Personalizing Market Efforts to One Specific Generation
Darren Seifer, Food and Beverage Industry Analyst, The NPD Group, spoke at the Expo about the oft-neglected Gen-X consumer. The time is right, he suggested, to put 49 – 56 year-old consumers on our radars.
Why reprioritize Gen-X when Boomers are the biggest and most enthusiastic snackers of all? Because Boomer numbers will inevitably decline as their average age rises. Concurrently, Gen-X is reaching a life stage for increased snack consumption. As Gen-Xers hit their 50s and feel the effects of empty nest syndrome, this previously ignored group will become the next big consumers of snacks. By contrast, younger millennials and Gen Z’s are just settling down and establishing life as adults. They are too busy with those priorities and their families to indulge in serious snacking just yet. In no way was Seifer suggesting other consumer segments be ignored. Instead, he pointed out that the ONLY generation that is expected to have increasing snacking activity is Gen-X.
It was delightful to see 8,000 industry friends gather and catch up. Personal relationships are still a hallmark of business. There was an undercurrent of optimism and delight that while smaller than in prior years, the show was larger and had more attendees than many expected. We look forward to next year!