After four long days working with the Upton’s Naturals team at the National Restaurant Association Show what better way to relax and unwind than walking across the street and attending another trade show? OK I would not recommend that exact use of time, but in reality the moment my friend Nicole from The Very Vegan Sweet Shop and I walked into the Sweets & Snacks Expo, we were happy.

Colorful cutouts of pretzels, hard candies, cookies, and other sweets dangled from the ceiling, gigantic ads for new Tik Tac flavors and sour gummies towered over us, and everywhere you looked: there was candy. I’ve exhibited at this show with a few brands, and I covered vegan finds in 2017 and 2018, but I took a few years off so I was excited to see what everyone was up to this year.

The Trends

Before I cover the things I thought were most exciting, let’s talk trends. In non-vegan news, beef jerky is still going strong. It’s hard to believe that in 2023 anyone is saying, “You know what the world needs? More beef jerky.” But in addition to all of the legacy brands, we saw a handful of startups all with their own take on beef jerky. Sadly, we only saw two or three plant-based jerkies, including BeLeaf, and a few mushroom jerkies.

In vegan news, we saw so many gummies! It seemed like tons of vegan gummies were coming in from Europe, and even conventional brands had a vegan gummy on the table. We also saw a few marshmallows including Dandies, of course, but also a few brands from the U.K. and Belgium. Another big trend in savory plant-based snacks was protein chips. We saw at least three brands, and probably missed a few others. They were all the same puffed rice chip format, with pea protein mixed into the chip as well as the powdery flavoring. Everyone seemed to have a nacho or cheese flavor, and weirdly, two had a birthday cake flavor. Finally, low-sugar, low-carb, and plant-based + keto was a big trend this year. In past years, those are all things that I would have majorly rolled my eyes about, but I’ve been on quite a fitness journey since 2020 and actually really appreciated all of the new options from familiar brands as well as new ones.

My Five Faves

Ritter Sport Vegan Bars
  1. Ritter Sport Vegan – Old vegans such as myself probably remember hunting down “accidentally” vegan varieties of this German chocolate brand over the years. Now they have five “on purpose” vegan varieties including Roasted Peanut, Crunchy Whole Hazelnuts, Salted Caramel, Smooth Chocolate and Crunchy Almonds. The bars are exactly what you expect from Ritter Sport (delicious) and they didn’t try to make them “healthy” by adding quinoa or something. They’re straight forward, great chocolate that vegans and non-vegans can all enjoy.
  2. Bon Bon Swedish Candy Co. Swedish Fish – This brand is new to me, but apparently has been in business since 2018 and only some of the Swedish Fish flavors we saw were new. But I thought they had the perfect texture and really fun flavors like peach, elderflower, wild strawberry (sour or sweet) and sour blackberry. Plus the packaging was so pretty it really felt like a fancy experience eating these.
  3. Ocho Plant-Based Caramels – If you gravitate toward natural candies, you’ve absolutely had Ocho before. They have several plant-based options, and these chocolate-covered caramels made with Miyoko’s Creamery butter are brand new. The brand was nice enough to send me a preview of the Classic flavor, which my son promptly made disappear. So I’m excited to see if he loves the Coffee, Chocolate, and Cinnamon ones as much. (Spoiler: he will.)
  4. Lakanto Coffee Cups – Monk fruit and other sugar alternatives aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK. But I do opt for monk fruit when I’m training, and Lakanto makes lots of products I use every day. I didn’t realize they made so many chocolate truffles and other treats, though, and when the brand rep at this show told me the Coffee Cups have the caffeine equivalent to one cup of coffee I was sold.
  5. Smart Sweets Caramels – These too were new-to-me, chewy coconut cream-based caramels with only 1g of sugar per serving. People who don’t fare well with sugar alternatives might also like that there are no sugar alcohols added.

Thanks to the Sweets & Snacks Expo for inviting me back – looking forward to next year!

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