Ingredient and flavor-focused messaging spotted at Sweets & Snacks

By Kristine Sherred

- Last updated on GMT

Alt-grains and pulses showed up in many forms at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, such as these penne-shaped crisped puffs from Vintage Italia.
Alt-grains and pulses showed up in many forms at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, such as these penne-shaped crisped puffs from Vintage Italia.

Related tags trendspotting Trends Snacks Gluten-free Popcorn Fruit Natural ingredients Vegetables Product development New product launches

From ‘real fruit’ and ‘gently dried’ to ‘no artificial preservatives,’ these natural call-outs permeated the floor at the annual packaged foods exposition in Chicago, sponsored by the National Confectioners Association.

Up-and-coming startups showcased their take on the next frontier of snacking, while established names introduced new products to compete in today’s competitive snacking landscape. BakeryandSnacks headed onto the floor to find out more.


Nestlé featured its gluten-free line, Gratify, which lies under the Osem USA banner.

Nestlé had been investing in the Israeli food producer since the 1990s, but bought it outright for $840m in 2016. Today, Osem operates as a subsidiary of Nestlé Global, reporting to the Swiss headquarters, Brian Stuckleman, national sales manager for Osem USA, told BakeryandSnacks.

In addition to a variety of gluten-free pretzels and crackers, the Gratify line now includes Bamba, the popular Israeli peanut butter puff. Stuckleman said Target stores across the US will begin stocking Bamba, a win for the brand that has purportedly nearly eradicated peanut allergies in Israel.

Hot & spicy

Deep River tortilla chips
Deep River's spicy tortilla chips

Established brands showed a penchant for old-school flavors, albeit in better-for-you recipes.

For instance, Deep River - which is known for its kettle chips – used this tradeshow to highlight its Honchos line of tortilla chips dusted with flavors like Nacho Cheese and Ranch.

On the Border also upped the ante on its spicy flavors, cross-promoting with Tajin, a popular seasoning brand in the US.

An informal consumer survey revealed that customers chose On the Border’s cleaner label corn-based version than Takis with their Tajin-spiced chip.

In addition to spicy flavors, ranch and dill stood out, in chips especially.

Popcorn still popping

It might seem like the popcorn category has reached saturation – following Conagra’s $250m acquisition of Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop and Hershey’s $921m Amplify Snacks deal, which brought SkinnyPop and Pirate’s Booty under its wing – yet both sweet and savory popcorn brands were spotted all over the show floor.

Differentiating factors abounded though, leaning into alternative oils or unique flavor combinations.

For example, Pop Art Snacks, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, uses avocado oil and combines flavors such as Rosemary & Truffle, Coconut & Curry and Nori (seaweed) & Sesame.

Real fruit ingredients

Peeled Snacks, for instance, promotes its line of dried fruit as ‘gently dried,’ relaying a more true-to-from fruit taste. The resulting fruit bites omit the toughness typically associated with dried fruit and instead offer a bite that is slightly crisp on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Flavors include Apple, Mango and Chili Mango, as well as three blends.Consumers are flocking in droves to get ‘back-to-basics’, according to Jared Koerten, head of packaged foods at Euromonitor, noting that fruit was a central theme here.

Ekoa makes fruit bars using minimal, natural ingredients, with no added sugar, artificial flavorings, preservatives or soy. The 1.23oz bars come in three flavors: Banana, Mango, and Pineapple & Coconut.

Fruit also found its way into baked goods. Smart Tarts is banking on an 8g protein, 180-calorie bill to position itself as an on-the-go alternative.

The baked bar, just under 2oz, sources its protein content primarily through the addition of whey protein. Its 6g of sugar alcohol content originates from the fruits themselves, as well as from erythritol and invert sugar.

Veggies and nuts have not lost their way

Seaweed snacks
Seaweed rice crisps from Kim's Magic Pop

Snacking remains a hotspot for vegetable flours and pulses, and seaweed is emerging as a base ingredient.

Power brands in the better-for-you space, such as Pop Chips, featured their innovations in Yes Peas and Nutter Puffs.

From the Ground Up sampled its pretzels, puffs and tortilla chips made with cauliflower and cassava flour. Its Cauliflower Crackers come in flavors such as Cheddar and Nacho, resembling a product like Cheez-Its, but with 2g of protein and 2g of dietary fiber per serving.

Even veggie-based pasta has become a chip, thanks to Vintage Italia’s Pasta Chips. The company makes semolina flour crackers flavored with herbs and spices. At the show, it featured Penne Straws, a penne-shaped lentil and white-bean chip in flavors like Sweet Pepper and Cinnamon Churro.

Chickpea, pea and other pulse-based chips and puffs have permeated the better-for-you snack sphere, however, entrepreneurs are finding new base ingredients for innovative creations.

For example, A’Mond produces a puffed snack made from almond flour, plus rice, quinoa and sorghum.

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