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Sweets & Snacks Expo mixes indulgent and healthful
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times

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On May 23-25, the 20th annual National Confectioners Associations' ( NCA's ) Sweets & Snacks Expo managed to simultaneously accomplish two antithetical items: display the latest in trends and give attendees a sense of nostalgia. ( Thanks for the latter, World's Finest Chocolate! )

The event ( covering four acres ) also managed to show a mix of the healthful and/or indulgent. In fact, regarding the former, NCA unveiled a new initiative to provide consumers with info, options and support. Said initiative was announced in connection with the Partnership for a Healthier America.

That being said, here were a few of the standouts at this year's expo:

—Cassie's Gourmet Popcorn: Embodying a trend seen with several popcorn companies, Cassies's employs several sweet and savory mixes—as well as its Sea Salt Caramel item.

—Zitner Candy Corp.: This vendor probably had the most addictive items I tasted—the chocolate-covered pretzel varieties are absolutely sinful. There are also various chocolate eggs ( and, yes, they're sold year-round and not just around Easter ).

—Shred Pop: One of the most healthful popcorn varieties ( as endorsed by telegenic founder Dr. Ian Smith ), the Chicago-based company offers flavors such as White Cheddar, Honey BBQ, Sea Salt and Kettle.

—MySuperFoods: With many organic, non-GMO and gluten-free snacks, MySuperFoods ( an organic kids'-food company ) integrates superfoods like chia, coconut oil and real fruit into each product.

—Green Mustache: This year, the company debuted Mustache Munchies, Goldfish-inspired baked crackers that are also organic, gluten-free, vegan and made with clean, healthy ingredients such as chickpea flour, kale and chia. ( I see a trend here. )

—ONE Brands: Birthday cake-flavored protein bars? That's just one of the varieties from ONE, a company whose bars contain 22 grams of protein, one gram of sugar and 10 grans of fiber—and are certified gluten-free.

—Hippeas: Hippeas ( with the slogan "Give peas a chance" ) are organic chickpea puffs—and, in case one might think these are bland items, there are flavors such as Sriracha Sunshine and Pepper Power.

—Amy's Kitchen Inc.: Of course, a lot of us know Amy's from those delicious vegetarian/vegan dishes found in grocery stores. However, at the expo, Amy's showed Andy's Dandy Candy, chewy bars made with chocolate and caramel.

—Big Little Fudge: One of this writer's favorite stops, Big Little Fudge offers individually wrapped fudge that tastes great—and, for me, the wrapping makes sure I don't consume too many.

—OMG! Bites: My second-favorite booth was this Canadian company that offers peanut-butter preztel and popcorn chunks in varieties like Dark Chocolaty Almond and Vanilla Almond.

—Funky Chunky, LLC: Popcorn and pretzels are drizzled in a combination of dark, milk and white chocolate. Say no more.

—Blue Planet Chocolate: The name alone indicates something that's potentially good for consumers—and Earth. Just try the Baobab Superfruit Bites.

—Wenzel's Farm: Not everything at the expo was sweet. For example, several vendors exhibited meats—including Wenzel's, with offerings such as Taco Sticks and Nick's Sticks Free-Range Turkey Snack Sticks.

The expo celebrated its 20th anniversary with more than 800 exhibiting companies and 17,000 industry professionals from 90 countries, according to the NCA. It will take place next year on May 22-24.

Photos and text by Andrew Davis

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