Sweets & Snacks Expo Marks 25 Years of Fun Occasions

Posted May 26, 2022 by Alyssa Stahr

There’s no doubt that the buzzword of the 25th anniversary of the National Confectioners Association Sweets & Snacks Expo was “occasion.” IRI’s Sally Lyons Wyatt kicked off the party with the first eye-opener session of the trade show: “State of Snacking.” Within it, she opened up an unbeknownst metaphor. Today’s savvy consumers are going online first — whether it’s to shop for the right product, to comparison shop prices or to take advantage of convenience. But then they’re venturing back into stores, emerging from their dwellings from the past two years to make the ultimate purchase. I felt like this year’s show was the same. Sure, we had Sweets & Snacks Expo last year, but with that still held a lot of uncertainty. This year seemed like so much more: more booths, more attendees, more innovation, more freedom and a ton more fun.

The Occasional Valley

More than one speaker on both the sweets and snacks sides conveyed the importance of the occasion. The story last year was snacking late at night, Lyons noted, and even though that number has declined, she recommended that sweets and snacks marketers still make that occasion a target. But, more importantly, she used that late-night moment to expand on other not-so-momentous events. Consumers are snacking more than ever. In fact, PepsiCo’s Mike Gervasio said in his presentation that in the company’s most extensive consumer research study ever that there are 300 billion snacking occasions amounting to three-and-a-half snacking occasions per day per person. That means that Valentine’s Day, Christmas and the other mountain holidays aren’t the only focus. There are “valley occasion” holidays, that — let’s be honest — we’ve made up in the United States: even National Candy Month. Those can and should be capitalized on in 2022 and beyond.

Snackification Packification

Euromonitor International Research Analyst Anne Scott Livingston said in her “Snackification: The Future of Occasions in a Post-Pandemic Normal” harkened back to the occasion, however she took a deeper dive into why consumers are choosing what they are when it comes to sweet versus savory. Salty snacks have a higher content of fat and sugar than staple foods, so their marketing teams have to work harder to communicate health claims. Opportunities here not only include packaging ingredient verbiage, but also size. More manufacturers on the show floor created new formats for new snacking occasions, which include working from home. Scott Livington said that health and wellness are the biggest influence on snacking sales, so portion control is paramount in consumers’ minds.

Snacks as Medicine

Products on the show floor — even gum and chocolate — that marketed ingredients that are functional were booming. The shift from treatment to function was clear, and gum, which has taken a hit during the pandemic, is marketing benefits like never before. 

We also saw tons of keto and plant-based chocolate designed to key in on a trend of the last couple of years: permissible indulgence.

Putting the ‘You’ Back in Fun

The unsung heroes of the show were the mascots, in my humble opinion. They represented a return to seeing smiling faces once again — in person — and after all, no one sulks around a giant Oreo or Tony the Tiger! 

Mental health is a huge topic of late, and consumers are increasingly looking for foods that are “better-for-you.” But, as Mintel’s Marcia Mogelonsky so eloquently put it in her “Trends in Better-For-You Confectionery and Snack” presentation, defining BFY depends on the Y: you. It’s everything; it’s customized; it’s how you personally define it. “When you’re positioning better-for-you, don’t forget the fun, the mental health aspect,” she said. 

I think the 25th year of Sweets & Snacks Expo did exactly just that.

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