5/26/11 Sugar Shack: The Sweets and Snacks Expo 2011

Thank god I had my cavities filled in March, in preparation for sugar season, a.k.a. the Sweets and Snacks Expo, which was in town May 23-25. I spent all morning there, along with my friend Amy Hansen, who is opening her new store, Amy’s Candy Bar (4704 N. Damen) in Lincoln Square in the next two weeks. Amy was shopping for candy to sell. I was sniffing out stories, and looking for candy to eat.

Last year, I covered the convention and was seeking only healthy treats for a story I wrote for Parents.com. This year, I was happy to focus my energies on the less-than-healthy varieties. After about an hour and a half, I had filled my bag, and was beginning to wonder if I’d be safe with all that candy on the El (I was also a little embarrassed about the excessive 20-pound haul). As I was leaving, a security guard asked for my bag so he could punch a hole in it. “That’s all you got?” he asked. “That’s all I could fit,” I said. Then he told me I was allowed to dump it out and go fill it again, two more times.

I’m proud to say that I promptly left the premises with only that single hole punch.

Here’s what I found:

-Jesus Seeds. I saw a sign for Scripture Candy when I entered the conference and knew I couldn’t leave until I found out the story behind it. I spoke with a nice gentleman named B.E. Atkins, who shared with me the history behind his religious candy company: Six years ago, he was driving through his home state of Alabama. Focus on the Family was on the radio. It was October, and he got to thinking that October wasn’t exactly the best month for Christians. There’s Halloween. Day of the Dead. Seances. Thin veils to other worlds. That kind of stuff. Then his mind wandered to the candy that people pass out for Halloween, and he realized that that very candy could be an inroads of sorts. “I thought we could turn the holiday into something to glorify god,” he said, and proceeded to make a candy accompanied by scripture. He started out selling his Jesus Harvest Seeds, Promise Seeds and Jelly Bean Prayers in religious book stores, but has since expanded into more main stream venues, such as Rite Aid. The products sell across the U.S. and in 19 other countries.

Pickle Palooza. There were two pickle vendors, along with dill-pickle-flavored cashews and dill-pickled flavored sunflower seeds. The representative with Van Holten pickles said that the pickle biz is anything but, yes, sour. The last two years have been the best in the company’s 113-year history. He attributes that to the many new flavors (like chipotle) the company is creating, and also thinks that the public is turning to the pickle as a healthy snack.

Good God, Gummies. Gummies are taking over the world. At this point, if it has a shape, it has a gummy counterpart. I saw gummy pizza, gummy hot dogs, gummy hamburgers, gummy jalapenos, gummy cheesecake (with a harder gummy crust), gummy octopus, gummy sharks, gummy flowers, gummy snakes, giant gummy bears (as big as your head), and on and on and on. All of those make sense. I mean, why not? The one that really pushed the bounds of decency, though? Gummy military heroes. Red, white and blue edible soldiers. Does our candy really have to be patriotic?

Aerate This. At last year’s show, many of the high end chocolates were touting the fact that they are aerated. This year, Hershey’s jumped into the fray and is selling an aerated chocolate bar.

Tongue tattoos. You stain your body, why not your tongue? Actually, these tatts are temporary (they disappear after five to 10 minutes). Kids (or adults. What?) simply lick the sweet substance off of its paper backing, and voila! Gross tongue ensues.

As they may or may not say in the candy biz, that’s a wrap for now. As I dig into the stash and sample more of the booty, I will keep you posted on any late breaking news.

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