Crunchy fruit? The top trends at the 2021 Sweets & Snacks Expo

Plus, the prettiest chocolate truffles, and the real-life inspiration for Harry Potter treats.

On the Sweets & Snacks Expo floor
On the Sweets & Snacks Expo floor
Photo: National Confectioners Association (NCA)

First, to answer reader questions from last week, when I detailed all the new candy and snacks about to hit the market: the Savor Street Grain-Free Pretzels, made from cassava, taste like real pretzels. Or maybe it’s just that the taste of salt can mask anything. Either way, if you’re avoiding gluten for whatever reason, these are a good substitute for Rold Gold and their ilk. On the candy side, the Trolli Sour Bursting Crawlers are very sour. The bursting effect was not as dramatic as I’d hoped, though. And here are even more products you can expect to find at the grocery store later this year and beyond.

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Another new snack trend: crunchy fruit

Tomato Jerky, Crispy Fruit, and Trü Frü
Photo: Aimee Levitt

It’s no longer news that everything is gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, and kosher, though a lot of snack companies still brag that they are all of these things. (The representative from Dandies Vegan Marshmallows described touring the factory with a rabbi to determine sufficient kosher-ness.) Nut-free treats are still more of a challenge, as several commenters pointed out on a previous post, but for some reason, snack-makers are less eager to stake out that territory, maybe because it’s much harder to find a nut-free facility.

But this year at the Sweets and Snacks Expo, there was a proliferation of crunchy fruit snacks. Trü Frü, which launched four years ago and was displayed prominently in the Expo’s Innovation Showcase, was definitely the star of that category, I suspect because the freeze-dried Trü Frü fruit is coated in two layers of chocolate, one white, the other brown (dark or milk), and then frozen at -300 degrees Fahrenheit to make it shelf-stable. A spokesman—who possessed the uncanny ability to carry on three separate conversations at once, all the while handing out samples—said that Trü Frü is successful because of its “permissability.”

“We take a natural approach,” he explained, “that makes people feel good. It’s a no-sacrifice indulgence.” I think by that, he meant that the fruit counteracts the effects of the chocolate, though for me, personally, it was the reverse. Anyway, Trü Frü is making a big push now: when I visited a Target after I got home, I saw both the frozen and room-temperature products everywhere.

But there were at least two other companies that also bragged about their healthy, indulgent crunchy fruit: Crispy Green and Sow Good. Salespeople for both claimed that the snack was made with absolutely nothing besides fresh fruit and sugar. “The funny thing about freeze-dried fruit,” one of them told me, “is that people assume that it’s chewy.” Which, I guess, is the effect of years and years of Fruit Roll-Ups and Welch’s Fruit Snacks.

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An outlier in the unusual fruit category was Bella Sun Luci’s Plant-Based Tomato Jerky. It is not crunchy but chewy. It actually tastes like sun-dried tomatoes spiced up with teriyaki and cracked pepper, but it’s more shelf-stable. The inventor, Jeff Noble, told me that he’d hoped to launch at last year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, but of course the expo had been canceled. But he was very, very happy with how things were going and didn’t bother to hold back a grin as he handed out bags of jerky.

Best in show: Hand-painted chocolate

Moonshine Chocolate Co.’s truffle bars
Moonshine Chocolate Co.’s truffle bars
Photo: Aimee Levitt
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The most beautiful candy on the Expo floor was, without a doubt, the truffle bars made by the Chocolate Moonshine Co. out of Grove City, Pennsylvania. They come in rolls like cigars and each one is hand-painted. They are almost too exquisite to eat, but they taste as good as they look. The chocolate coating is rich, the interior ganache is smooth, and they come in the expected flavors like dark chocolate, raspberry, and salted caramel, and the less expected, like black cherry bourbon, chipotle/cayenne, and apple.

Chocolate Moonshine also makes fudge, which was surprisingly delicious, and I say this as a person who usually hates fudge. It wasn’t overly sweet, and it was smooth like the truffles, which a salesman attributed to the way the candymakers mix everything by hand.

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I must also admit, I was charmed by two of the salesmen, who were pros in the old-fashioned style, able to talk to anybody about anything. One even appeared to be giving a client some serious life advice, but I felt like it was probably disrespectful to eavesdrop.

Beans, beans, the magical fruit

three flavors of Bush's Bean Chips
Photo: Aimee Levitt
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I was lured to the Bush’s Beans booth by the little packets of mints wrapped up to look like miniature cans of Bush’s Baked Beans. I asked if Bush’s was making bean-flavored mints now and how that worked, exactly, but the guy manning the booth quickly set me straight: The bean mints were a promotional gimmick. Bush’s was actually selling bean chips, which are like tortilla chips, only made with beans.

They were pretty good, but what impressed me even more was the spiel about Bush’s the company. The process of canning beans produces lots of waste-water, which Bush’s tries to recycle. The company sends it to a bio treatment facility to clean it up. Then some of it gets used to fill the boilers in the plants, and some of it gets poured into the fields. This makes grass grow, so Bush’s also has a herd of cattle to keep the grass short. The herd has won awards from people in the state of Tennessee who care about such things for being the most healthy cattle.

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Claims like this tend to make a person skeptical, especially if that person is a journalist (identified by a media badge), but the Bush’s team assured me they were sincere. “It’s just smart business, not greenwashing,” the man who told me about the water recycling said. “The water treatment plant has also won awards,” his coworker chimed in.

A quick internet search did not turn up any exposes about evildoings at Bush’s water treatment plant, so I’m going to believe them.

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Jelly Belly and the Russian roulette of jelly beans

Mr. Jelly Belly and a businessman on a cell phone
Photo: Aimee Levitt
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Jelly Belly had one of the largest booths of the Expo floor, and I was escorted around by Rob Swaigen, the VP of global marketing, who showed me all of Jelly Belly’s latest offerings. There were some new Harry Potter–themed products (Gringotts Galleons, Golden Snitches), as well as Belly Buttons, Scottie Dogs, and the Fiery Five, jelly bean flavors that taste like peppers and get progressively hotter, from sriracha to Carolina Reaper.

He was, however, most enthusiastic about Bean Boozled, which packages 20 flavors of jelly beans in pairs. The beans look identical, but one is a good flavor and one is a bad flavor, and there is no way to tell whether you’re getting cappuccino or liver and onions, Swaigen’s personal worst. “It’s the Russian roulette of jelly beans,” he told me proudly. Another pairing is pomegranate and old bandage. How did they figure out the flavor of an old bandage, I wondered. “You can get a lot from a scent,” he told me.

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The British are coming

shortbread, Ginger Ring, YummyComb, and Custard Creams
Photo: Aimee Levitt
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The first time I walked past the UK Imports booth, I noticed a packet of Custard Creams sandwich cookies. “Oh, like in Harry Potter!” I said. The elderly British man minding the booth looked confused. “Except they’re Canary Creams,” I clarified. “Eh,” he said. “The last British book I read was James Bond.”

The second time I walked past the UK Imports booth, I got into a conversation with a younger Brit who had read Harry Potter and was tolerant of Americans’ obsession with it, especially since it helped make us more familiar with British snack foods. Nonetheless, the most popular UK imports were not Harry Potter-related. Aside from Duncan’s Shortbread, one of the most popular offerings is YummyComb, chocolate-covered honeycomb. Honeycomb sometimes shows up on The Great British Baking Show, which is where I first heard of it. It’s sweet and crunchy with air holes, hence its name.

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“I’m British, so I grew up on it,” the saleswoman told me. “But when I moved to the U.S., I realized there’s nothing like it.” YummyComb, she told me, is now being sold at EPCOT. “Americans really take to it.”

I tried some when I got home, and I discovered she was right on both counts. Fortunately, I know from GBBS that I can make it at home, and I plan to investigate as soon as possible.

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DISCUSSION

By
Archaeyopterix Majorus

Please, oh please, make my day and say you not only have a photo, but post one? I am dying to see a miniature Bush’s baked beans replica can serving as a mint tin, it is the tickle I need today.

I have no grudge against Bush’s, in general as people may against ‘big bean’ lol, but I don’t choose them often for my baked bean needs; I like posh store brand premiums like Kroger’s Private Selection, almost everything PS is at least ‘posh-adjacent’ and I haven’t had a comparative sampling yet in which the PS wasn’t the superior to vastly superior offering of a given product type. I am so addicted to the balsamic vinegar and black pepper ridged kettle chips, they’re like ‘all-dressed’ but with a sharper vinegar note, and a deeper, richer complexity of sweet-ish flavors of the fermented years old raisin in old ass birch barrel (or what wood have you, depending on the Italian producer practices; I tell you what, that $150 brand that’s famous with a Framboise-type label is AMAZENUTS).