Sweets & Snacks 2015: Eight brands to watch

In a challenging time for the consumer packaged goods industry, candy and snacks are alive and well. The categories last year posted 1.9% and 2.7% growth in U.S. sales, respectively, according to Information Resources, Inc. (I.R.I.).

“We know growth is difficult in the C.P.G. world,” said Larry Levin, executive vice-president of insights and thought leadership at I.R.I., during a presentation at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 19-21 in Chicago. “The C.P.G. industry is growing at about 2.5% year-on-year. The center of the store, where we architect our opportunities, is growing at an even slower rate.”

Innovation is a critical factor in driving continued growth in the future, he said.

“In the $64 billion business that is sweets and snacks, $3 billion was driven by innovation,” Mr. Levin said. “As you walk the floor, look at the innovation that’s happening with our big partners, but also look at what’s happening from the small companies because consumers don’t buy products because they are manufactured by a large company or a small company.”

Consumers are driven to buy products that provide value, he added.

“Value for the money doesn’t mean cheap; value for the money means ‘make my life better,’” Mr. Levin said. “The innovations (featured at the show) are really playing into great value.”

Contributing a significant amount of growth in the candy and snack categories last year were smaller, more nimble manufacturers, “who are getting their innovations to the marketplace in a more agile style,” Mr. Levin said.

Of the 630 companies exhibiting at Sweets & Snacks this year, more than 115 were newcomers to the annual show. A designated section dubbed Innovation Alley highlights startup brands with uniquely creative products. The National Confectioners Association, which hosts the expo, identified eight up and coming entrepreneurs with cutting-edge confections and snacks.

Newfangled Confections/Frittle Candy

Combining the buttery sweetness of brittle with soft peanut fudge, the decadent hybrid has a crispy, creamy texture with a touch of salt. Frittle Candy from Indianapolis-based Newfangled Confections is gluten-free and vegan.

Brittle Bliss Gourmet Brittles

With such unusual flavors as chipotle, banana walnut, pumpkin, and espresso, Brittle Bliss was developed in 2012 by a Gilbert, Ariz., mom-and-pop team and is made to order with high-quality ingredients, including pure cane sugar, Madagascar vanilla, and coconut and cocoa beans. All 11 varieties are gluten-free.

Diamond K Sweets

Fudge O’Bits from Diamond K Sweets, Spencer, Ind., are chocolate-coated bites of fudge in four varieties: chocolate-covered semi-sweet fudge, chocolate-covered peanut butter fudge, white chocolate-covered peanut butter fudge, and white chocolate-covered vanilla fudge studded with toffee bits and pecan chips.

Phoney Baloney’s

Invented in a tiny sandwich shop, Coconut Bacon from Tustin, Calif.-based Phoney Baloney’s is a vegan, gluten-free bacon substitute made from organic coconut. Varieties include original, chipotle barbecue, candied, apple fennel, and soy-free reduced-sodium.

Softer Than Brittle, L.L.C.

Softer Than Brittle is gentler on the teeth than traditional varieties. Developed using a recipe from the Clermont, Fla., founder’s great-grandmother, this vegan treat is free of gluten, dairy, preservatives and cholesterol. Options include peanut, almond, cashew and pecan.

The Athletic Kitchen

Developed to deliver performance-enhancing nutrition, Sweet Fuel Protein Bites from The Athletic Kitchen, Washington, are low in carbs, high in protein and gluten-free.

BumbleBerry Farms LLC

Karen Mosholder, a Somerset, Pa., beekeeper, created her line of honey-based spreads in four flavors: sticky buns cinnamon, maple, sea salt caramel, and spiced chocolate. The honey creams are made in small batches with ingredients from a local dairy and maple sugar camp.

Fruits in Chocolate

Inwood, N.Y.-based Fruits in Chocolate specializes in dark chocolate-covered California prunes, Pacific Northwest cherries, Mediterranean apricots and more. Products feature heat protection packaging to maintain the ingredient quality.