Seeking everything from packaging to manufacturing solutions, retail confectioners from across the country convened at the 117th Philadelphia National Candy, Gift and Gourmet Show, held at the Atlantic City Convention Center on January 6-8th.

Hosted by the Retail Confectioners Association of Philadelphia, the show drew over 100 exhibitors and thousands of seasoned as well as new buyers.

“I’m just starting out and wanted to talk with someone face-to-face and really take some time and get information,” says first-time showgoer Paul Mosca. “The intimate size of the show was a big benefit to me.”

Mosca, owner of Raleigh, N.C.-based Nahualli Trading Co., was showcasing the company’s new chocolate-covered, peeled whole cocoa beans known as Chocolate Seeds.

Show manager Maureen Walter noted that in addition to the greater opportunity for in-person meetings, many exhibitors offered show specials for buyers.

“Typically, the Philly show in January is where the bulk of orders for first quarter are written,” she explained. “This compressed timeline means orders are placed closer to the actual selling holidays and retailers who attend can be sure they’ll have the newest, hottest trends and products for Valentine’s Day, Spring and Easter, which will come early this year.”

This year’s seminar line-up kicked off on Sunday, January 6th with a new feature dubbed the Soap Box Demonstration Series. Presented by Tammy Shapiro, owner of Talk of the Town Gourmet Gifts in Springfield, Va., the series included four mini packaging demonstrations. Such topics included Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas and Spring Gift Designs to Create Profit.

Held right on the show floor, each Soap Box Demonstration included 20 minutes of hands-on demos with a 10- minute question-and-answer session at the end.

“This year, we wanted to get more information in the hands of our visitors who may not have time to devote to the longer seminars,” Walter noted.

Other Sunday seminars and panel discussions included “Candy 101-A seminar for new business owners in the candy industry.”

The day also included a pair of pastry chef-inspired tutorials. “The Basics of Sugar Artistry,” which was held by Robert W. Bennett, executive chef and director of operations for American Harvest Baking, demonstrated blown and casting sugar right on site. Brian Donaghy, corporate pastry chef for Tomric Systems, Inc. presented a seminar entitled “How to Make Your Chocolate Molds Come to Life with Various Professional Decorating Techniques,” which covered the benefits of adding color and design elements into the moulding process.

The day ended with a presentation on how to effectively brand and label products by Bob Reeder, president, and Matt Leasher, art director of Met Speed Label.

Monday’s seminars focused on ways retail confectioners can bolster business and save money. Tammy Shapiro returned to hold another seminar on tapping into the corporate market through effective marketing and branding.

Similarly, Eric Smith of Smithworks Design also drew on the importance of a solid brand identity by showing the audience examples of successful branding campaigns, including BMW, Starbucks and Hershey’s Kisses.

Moreover, Frank Fletcher, Owner of Woodbury, N.J.-based The Nut Shop, informed seminar attendees how to price products appropriately to maximize profits. And Stephen Erickson, president of EnablePay Direct, closed the seminar program by clearing up the costs associated with accepting debit and credit cards.

The next Philly Candy Show is slated for September 7-9, 2008, at the Atlantic City Convention Center. Online buyer pre-registration will open May 1, 2008.