Caffeinated gum, charitable partnerships, customizable confections, campaign-worthy candy and mega-mints were among the sights seen at the 2008 All Candy Expo. And the trends continue post-show ...



Saving Face

Admit it: You’ve always wanted to see yourself on an M&M. Well, now you can, thanks to Mars.

During a press conference held on opening day at the All Candy Expo, the company unveiled its latest confection in a lengthy portfolio of customizable items: M&M’S Faces. Yes, Mars is actually allowing consumers to put pictures of themselves, their friends and their loved ones on the popular chocolate candy. The end product features a photo on one side and a personalized message on the other.

M&M’S Faces can be ordered via www.mymms.com or by calling 1-888-696-6788. They’re available in 7-oz. bags for $14.95 each (minimum order: 3 bags), in party favor form, or in 5- or 10-lb. bags for $162.50 and $312.50, respectively. As if that weren’t enough customization, consumers can choose three colors from Mars’ palette of 22 M&M’S colors.



Successful in Seattle

While at the All Candy Expo, I met with Seattle Chocolate Co. CEO (and fellow curly-haired girl) Jean Thompson, who shared with me some truffles and bars from her company’s redesigned Seattle Chocolates line. Not only do Seattle Chocolates exemplify “what happiness tastes like,” but its new packaging suggests what happiness looks like, too. Bold colors, geometric shapes and other playful graphics adorn each box of Espresso and Toffee, Espresso and Mint, and Dark Chocolate Mint truffles, as well as 2.5-oz. bars in new varieties such as Coconut Macaroon and Perfect Peanut Butter.

I should add that Seattle Chocolates are all-natural, just like Thompson’s and my curly locks.

I should also mention that Thompson recently was named one of five finalists in the 2008 Nellie Cashman Woman Business Owner of the Year Awards Competition by the Woman Business Owners, a Seattle-area professional organization. The award recognizes female business owners who have enhanced the status of women entrepreneurs through their vision, perseverance and fearless, relentless leadership in business and the community. The winner of the competition will be announced in October. Good luck, Jean!



E = Energy … Gum, That Is

Now it’s even easier to walk and chew gum at the same time. Caffeinated snacks and confections - from potato chips (Golden Flake’s NRG brand) to lollipops (Maxxed Energy Pops from TRI Sales Co.’s Charms Division) to jelly beans (Jelly Belly Extreme Sport Beans) to gummies (Loud Truck brand) to mints (Breath Savers Energy Mint Caffeine) and now chewing gum - are piggybacking on the energy bar and beverage movement.

For example, All Candy Expo exhibitors included VE2 Laboratories LLC, whose VE2 Energy Gum is said to increase energy, alertness and stamina. Two pieces of the sugarless gum - which contains caffeine, guarana and ginseng - are about equal to one 8-oz. energy drink or a cup of coffee. The suggested retail price for a 10-piece package of VE2 Energy Gum is $1.69. That’s cheaper than a trip to Starbucks, folks.

But VE2 isn’t the only confectioner interested in stimulating the masses. Take BDI Marketing’s cinnamon-flavored Mini Thin Rush Energy Gum, a sister product to the company’s energy drink shots and capsules. Then there’s Energy Brands’ Mad-Croc Energy Gum, which is made with 100% xlitol and contains caffeine, taurine and Vitamins B3, B5, B6 and B12 for a dental hygienic energy boost.

In addition, a simple Google search for “energy gum” revealed Web sites featuring the following products: Jolt Energy Gum (www.joltgum.com), Penguin Energy Gum (www.energygum.net) and Pepp Energy Gum (www. peppenergygum.com). Visitors to www.thinkgeek.com can purchase Blitz Caffeine Energy Gum. And at www.chemicalevolution.com, consumers can buy many of the aforementioned products, as well as Black Black - a caffeine- and Vitamin B3-infused gum that comes “straight from Japan” (and is actually grey, not black).



Political Confections

Turns out there’s more than one more way to get out the vote. Certain confectioners and snack producers are taking full advantage of this being an election year through mascots, signage and even product.

Take All Candy Expo exhibitor Lesser Evil, which passed out patriotic buttons encouraging constituents to “Vote for the Lesser Evil.” Lesser Evil has started a blog, www.voteforlesserevil.com, featuring campaign rhetoric. The company also used the Expo as platform for introducing a Zesty Pizza variety in its Krinkle Sticks line.

Meanwhile, Bonus Gum Co. brought Uncle Sam (on stilts) to Chicago to promote its new product, which also was inspired by the presidential election. Bonus Gum is available in Democrat and Republican varieties (both of which are actually peppermint-flavored). Not only does the brand encourage consumers to chew its gum, but it also reminds them to hit the polls. Visit www.bonusgum.com for more information and political humor.

Recently, B.T. McElrathChocolatier followed suit with its Campaign Buttons: Artisan Chocolates for the Politically Minded. The all-natural, 60% dark cacao chocolate melt-a-ways come in two different motifs. One features an image of a Democrat donkey with the words “Vote DEM.” The other features a Republican elephant with the words “Vote GOP.” The suggested retail price for a five-piece package of Campaign Buttons is $10.75. Visit www.mcelrath.com for details.



Candy for a Cause

In addition to showcasing innovative products, All Candy Expo exhibitors also talked up and advertised their innovative partnerships with various charitable organizations.

For example, Dove Chocolate recently partnered with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Dove Promises of Hope features individually wrapped chocolates, each containing a special message written by a breast cancer survivor who attended the Susan G. Komen Affiliate Conference. Each message includes the survivor’s name, city and state. Dove Promises of Hope will be available in milk and dark chocolate, and sold in laydown bags for $3.69 each. Dove goes one step further by letting consumers create their own Personal Promises of Hope at www.mydovechocolate.com. My Dove Chocolate will donate 10% of all orders to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In addition, My M&M’S will donate 10% of the sales of its Promise Blend of pink-and-white M&Ms milk chocolate candies, which are pre-printed with the new Susan G. Komen for the Cure “Moving Ribbon” logo and a “for the CURE” message.

In addition, The Hershey Co. will turn pink this fall in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In October, the manufacturer’s most popular brands - including Hershey’s Kisses, Hershey’s Nuggets, York Peppermint Patties and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures - will feature pink packaging. In addition, the company will host a four-day charity bike race called Hershey’s Tour de Pink for the Young Survival Coalition, which addresses the concerns and issues unique to young women with breast cancer. Consumers can get involved online through a virtual version of the charity ride at www.hersheyspledge.com.

Other confectioners showing charitable support for breast cancer awareness include Seattle Chocolate Co. Packages of the manufacturer’s Extreme Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar now feature pink ribbons to signify its involvement with breast cancer charities. All profits from sales of the bars fund breast cancer research through an association with Athena Partners (www.athenapartners.org).

Likewise, Aura Clip’n’Go Mints from New Era Brands now offer a pink-packaged variety, proceeds of which go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Then there’s All Candy Expo exhibitor Hint Mint, which displayed its new Hint Mint Awareness Series featuring the universally recognized pink and red ribbons in support of the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and Youth AIDS. Proceeds from the sales of these items go to the respective charities. For more information, visit www.hintmint.com.

Meanwhile, Bella’s Confections is packaging bite-size versions of its classic fudge in tins colored to coordinate with Pink October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month); 50% of the proceeds from sales of Bella’s Bites are donated to breast cancer research and awareness. Visit www.bellasconfections.com for details.

In addition, Just Born, Inc.and its MIKE AND IKE candy brand recently presented Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation with a $100,000 donation - the first in a multiyear commitment to the group, which raises money for cancer research. MIKE AND IKE Lemonade Blends candy was created in partnership with the foundation. For more information, visit www.alexslemonade.org.



Mint Conditions

After purveying the pirate’s booty of candy I collected at the All Candy Expo, one category stood out from the rest in number: mints. They were everywhere at the 2008 show. A quick inventory of my bag revealed samples of new products from the following brands.

  • Wrench Mints: “When you’re breath is broke … Fix it!” with this clever sugar-free product. Available in three varieties, these wrench-shaped mints are packaged in wrench-shaped tins - perfect for pockets and pocketbooks.

  • Great Bite: Shark tooth-shaped mints in tins that look like Jaws took a bite out of ‘em. “The Mint with an Attitude.”

  • Irony Mints from Hint Mint: Available in Peppermint, Cinnamon and Chocolate flavors, this sugar-free mint considers itself “a gesture of kindness.”

  • VerMints: These gluten- and nut-free mints from Vermont are all-natural and “absolutely first-rate,” according to the colorful tin. They also contain organic crystallized cane juice, organic tapioca syrup, organic Vermont maple syrup and organic mint leaves.

  • Altoids: Now in Crème de Menthe and Dark Chocolate Dipped Crème de Menthe.

  • Tic Tac Chill: Available in Paradise Mint and Exotic Cherry flavors, this sugar-free mint also contains xylitol, which fights plaque.

  • Ricola: Best known for its cough drops, Ricola also offers sugar-free breath mints such as this new chewy variety.

  • Breath Savers: Menthol gives the new Strong Mint variety its peppermint vapor.

  • Aura Clip’n’Go Mints: Now there’s no need to search your purse for a breath mint … and no excuse for bad breath. These sugar-free mints come in a plastic container designed to hang from your keychain. The brand also offers a variety that whitens teeth and helps prevent stains.

  • Icebreakers Burn Mints: Peach-Mango-flavored and full of B complex vitamins thiamin, niacin, B5 and B6.

  • BinacaFastBlast Breath Spray: Now in Chocolate Mint. Okay, so it’s not a mint. But my American Lit prof from college, a frequent spritzer, would love it, so I think it deserves special mention here.