By Deborah Cassell
Editor
Confection & Snack Retailing
casselld@bnpmedia.com

getting fresh: Go, speed dater, go

When I described the format of the Efficient Collaborative Retail Marketing conference to one of my colleagues here at BNP Media last week, she laughed and said it sounded like speed dating. And she’s right. ECRM is not unlike FastDater, a Chicago-area speed-dating service I once tried with a friend, much to the amusement of everyone I know. (I still regale friends and family members with stories of the men I met that night. It was well worth the price of admission in terms of entertainment value.)

Like speed dating, ECRM enables you to sit down and meet with multiple people, albeit potential clients, suppliers, advertisers and editorial contacts, and not future boyfriends or husbands (at least, not to my knowledge). And unlike FastDater, ECRM (thankfully) gives you more than three minutes to get to know one another -- and, in this case, one another’s products and services.

During the ECRM-sponsored 2008 Candy Annual Planning event, held this week in Atlanta, I was given the opportunity to meet with a number of candy and chocolate manufacturers, almost all of whom had new products to share. In many cases, these introductions were a perfect fit for Sweet & Healthy. Offerings ranged from functional gum and mint products to heart-healthy dark chocolates to all-natural and organic items.

If you did not get the chance to fly south for fall and sit down with confectioners and chocolatiers in Atlanta as I did, here’s a quick recap of some new products featured at the most recent edition of ECRM.

--Action Candy Co., the makers of Bonus! brand gum, added a couple new products to its lineup, including two antioxidant-rich flavors: Green Tea and Cranberry. In addition, Action Candy Co. now offers Bonus! Energy Gum containing guarana and taurine.

--Meanwhile, B-Fresh showcased its “amazingly effective, breath freshening” B-Fresh gum in varieties such as Cinnamon and Cool Spearmint. The sugar-free product is sweetened with 100% xylitol and contains 100% RDI Vitamin B12, an “excellent source of water soluble calcium.” It’s also gluten-free and vegan. B Fresh offers a collection of sugar-free energy mints in flavors such as Wintergreen and Lemon. When it comes to energy, the company doesn’t stop there. B-Fresh also makes Solar Energy Gum, an all-natural, caffeine- and sugar-free product containing Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6, amino acid, calcium and antioxidants. The vegan gum is gluten- and soy-free. Varieties include Moon Melon, Satellite Cinnamon, Peppermint Planet, Spectacular Spearmint and Planet Wild Berry. Like B-Fresh’s brand of the same name, Solar Energy Gum is sweetened with 100% xylitol.

--The energy story continued at JoCo Brands, whose VOJO Extreme Energy Mints come in Peppermint, Citrus and Berry. The caffeinated mints contain B Vitamins and taurine for a quick, sugar-free pick-me-up.

--Other organic and sugar-free chocolatiers and confectioners who participated in ECRM in Atlanta included Sorbee with its Crystal Light brand hard candy and Innovative Candy Concepts with its Too Tarts sweet and sour line. Organic chocolate manufacturer Terra Nostra was another exhibitor. In addition, Wolfgang showcased a new change maker for convenience stores featuring its “All Natural & Healthy” Blueberries & Raspberries, which are individually wrapped and covered in chocolate.

The ECRM format is a good one for retailers and manufacturers alike, as well as editors like me who are always after new products, trends and a good story or two. One I’m not likely to forget anytime soon comes from the creator of Brix brand chocolates, a doctor who dreamt of pairing chocolate with wine … and did just that. Check out the upcoming November/December issue of Confection & Snack Retailing for the full scoop.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been on a “date” (with a manufacturer, that is), you might consider attending the next industry event on ECRM’s schedule. The Winter Confectionery conference will take place Feb. 18-22, 2009. Visit www.ecrm-online.com for details.

Mars launches 'What's Inside'

As part of its global initiative, Mars, Inc. has become the first confectionery company in the United States to voluntarily incorporate Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) nutrition labeling on all its chocolate, non-chocolate confectionery and other food products. The new labeling will call for packaging redesigns of all products to feature key nutritional information such as calorie, fat, sugar and sodium totals on both the front and back of packages. The “What’s Inside” labeling will go into effect in December 2008 and begin appearing on Mars US chocolate, non-chocolate confectionery and other food products by the end of 2010.

To further aid consumers with nutritional information, Mars has launched an educational Web site, www.marshealthyliving.com, which will feature tips for weight management and a caloric intake calculator, along with newsletters and advice on healthy living.

For more information, visit www.mars.com.

At the 2006 Next Generation Chocolatier Competition, judges Queenie Fok, head tea taster at SerendipiTea, and Eric Case, Northeast sales director, Guittard Chocolate Co., reviewed tea-infused chocolates.

Chocolate competition picks finalists

This year’s Next Generation Chocolatier Competition, which received more than 36 entries from across the country, has narrowed the contest to six finalists. Founded in 2004, the competition is held every two years and is open to U.S.-based chocolate makers who use artisan production methods, whether they are emerging professionals or student aspirants.

After an initial culling of contestants to 20 by head judge and noted chocolate educator and author Clay Gordon, the competition’s panel of judges reduced the number to the following participants: Gail Ambrosius (Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier -- Madison, Wis.), William Brown (William Dean Chocolates -- Largo, Fla.), Joanne Hansen (Bon Bon Bakery & Chocolates -- San Diego), Sarah Hart (Alma Chocolate -- Portland), Stephanie Marcon (CoCo-Luxe Confections -- Sausalito, Calif.) and Maria Valente (Chocolations -- Mamaroneck, N.Y.).

This year’s theme, “Salty Sweets,” draws upon the growing popularity of salt to extend the flavor and texture of chocolate confections. Contestants could enter work in two categories: Bonbon and bar, the latter of which is new for 2008. Awards for Best Bonbon and Best Bar, in addition to the Rising Star award -- is reserved for a student or chocolatier who has been in business for less than five years or is under 30 years of age -- will be presented at an awards ceremony to be held Nov. 5, 2008, at 6 p.m. at the 3 West Club in New York City. A fourth award, People’s Choice, also will be presented at that time.

In addition to Clay, judges consisted of a team of six experts drawn from chocolate manufacturers, established chocolatiers and corporate buyers. They included Laura Tornichio-Vidal (Guittard Chocolate), Rose Potts (Blommer Chocolate), Fritz Knipschildt (Knipschildt Chocolatier), Kee Ling Tong (Kee’s Chocolates), Steven Millard (Dean & Deluca) and Linda Sturges (Bloomingdales). 

“The contestants’ entries were judged on a variety of technical factors that covered their skills as chocolatiers,” Gordon explained. “However, the main judging criteria related to taste and mouthfeel. The flavors and textures of a piece not only had to work well together, the judges also considered how well a piece reflected this year’s theme of Salty Sweets. What impressed me most was the incredible creativity the contestants’ displayed in exploring flavor combinations that would not only be enhanced by the addition of salt, but that made the unique tastes and textures of the salt they used an integral part of the piece, not just an afterthought.”

The Next Generation Chocolatier, which is managed by Vreeland and Associates, features the following corporate sponsors: Valrhona, Callebaut, E. Guittard, Blommer, SaltWorks and Chef Rubber. In addition to Candy Industry magazine, media sponsors include Dessert Professional and www.TheChocolateLife.com.

For more information, e-mail cvreeland@vreelandassociates.com.

OTA receives $750,000 grant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) has granted $750,000 to the Organic Trade Association (OTA) in partnership with Sustainable Strategies. The amount is meant to aid in Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) funding over three years to better understand U.S. organic trade barriers.

Sustainable Strategies plans to conduct various GAP analyses of international markets for U.S. organic products to determine barriers in exporting U.S. organic products to certain international specialty markets.

In Sustainable Strategies’ and OTA’s project proposal to FAS, the two groups state that U.S. organic producers have an unfair trade disadvantage due to certifiers and producers in some foreign countries having full access to the U.S. market, while U.S. organic producers have little to access to theirs.

“As organic production and trade expand around the world, requests from countries for recognition and equivalence of standards grow, as does the need to compare standards,” says Kelly Strzelecki, agricultural economist with the Processed Products and Technical Regulations Division within FAS. “OTA’s previous work on side-by-side comparisons of organic standards and strategic analyses to support trade policy using TASC funds has provided vital information for USDA in negotiations with other countries and in determining when trade in organic products will be affected.”

For more information, visit www.ota.com.

Route 29 offers 'Truffles of Honor'

Minneapolis-based caramel and chocolate manufacturer Route 29 is supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month with its “Truffles of Honor.” The company’s nine raspberry truffle offerings are covered in white chocolate, topped with iced pink ribbons and packaged in a gift boxes tied with pink ribbons. To aid breast cancer awareness, Route 29 will donate 10% of its profits to the Minnesota Chapter of the Susan B. Komen Foundation throughout October.

For more information, visit www.route29.com.

sweet of the week: theo caramel collection

Just in time for the holidays, Seattle-based Theo Chocolate has introduces the Inspired, Infused Caramel Collection. The organic and Fair Trade-certified caramels feature six of the company’s best-selling caramel flavors, packaged together in one box. The 2.8-oz. package contains one piece of each flavor: Lavender-Jalapeño, Orange-Thyme, Earl Grey Tea, Vanilla, Sage and Cardamom. The caramels retail for $12.99 per box. For more information, visit www.theochocolate.com.