Three days before attending the All Candy Expo, I went to the dentist for a filling. (Okay, make that two fillings.) After nearly 30 years with nary a cavity, I wondered why I had, in recent months, fallen victim to more than one. I asked if this might somehow be related to my new gig as the editor of a certain confectionery magazine. Surprisingly, my hygienist informed me that candy was not the culprit. Turns out heredity is to blame. (Darn you, genetics!) In fact, she actually encouraged me to chew gum after meals in order to stimulate saliva production and sent me out the door with a sample of sugar-free breath mints containing xylitol.

It was with these reassurances (and weapons of plaque destruction) that I headed to my first-ever ACE, where I eagerly taste-tested fruity lollipop after dark chocolaty truffle after chewy caramel, among other confectionery delights. Some of the more memorable sweet treats I encountered:
  • Brown & Haley’s ROCA Buttercrunch Thins. Thanks to COO John Melin for giving me a press kit containing this latest innovation from the company that brought us ALMOND ROCA. ROCA Buttercrunch Thins are available in four rich varieties: Dark Toffee, Milk Toffee, Dark Truffle and Caramel Truffle. Note: The packaging of this new product is as enticing as the toffee itself.

  • Au’some Inc.’s Wii Klik-On Candy Dispenser. This novel twist on today’s most popular gaming system is a safer way to have fun for those of us who have gotten hurt playing Wii Sports Boxing. (Don’t ask.) Users simply insert Smarties into the back of the faux remote and then press a button to dispense (i.e. shoot out) the candy, one piece at a time. (Thanks to sales and marketing manager Keane Tsu for letting me have a remote; I’m the envy of all my Wii-obsessed friends!)

  • Fairhaven Candy’s Crumblz! in Chocolate Peanut. A cross between Butterfinger and homemade peanut butter cookies drizzled in chocolate, this “soft, flakey peanut butter treat” literally melts in your mouth. (I’m eating them as I write this.) Crumblz! also are available in Original Peanut, Chocolate Almond and Chocolate Macadamia Coconut. (My dad gives the last variety two thumbs up.)

  • Dove Desserts. This new line of decadent, individually wrapped chocolates comes in flavors such as Bananas Foster, one of my brother’s favorite treats. He is going to love the tasty combination of bananas, caramel and rich milk chocolate. (I know I do.)
Sweets aside, savory products were well-represented at the May show, where potato chip, popcorn, tortilla chip, pretzel and other salty snack producers mingled with confectionery manufacturers. For example, it was hard to miss the Beer Chips booth, where models wore dresses that resembled the brand’s shiny packaging. (Speaking of marketing moxie, see company founder Brett Stern grow his very own Beer Chips tree at www.youtube.com/beerchips.com.) Well-known chip manufacturers such as Herr’s, Utz and Snyder’s of Hanover also were on hand.

Meanwhile, meat snacks ran rampant at the ACE, where at least 15 exhibitors showcased beef jerky, pork rinds and meat sticks. They included popular brands such as Jack Link’s, Bridgford, Old Trapper and Slim Jim, as well as innovators such as Thanasi Foods (maker of the spicy-good Frank’s REDHOT brand), Trail Steaks Premium Steak Snacks (whose cherry maple-flavored smoked turkey is delish), and Mr. Z (tasty product; cool name). As a jerky connoisseur, I was pleased with the array of protein-packed options on display at the Expo.

In between sampling sweet and savory treats, my colleagues and I took the time to tour the New Product Showcase, gawk at some of the impressive creations in the Gourmet Marketplace and sit in on several educational sessions, including a well-attended presentation and chocolate tasting by master chef and dean of pastry arts Jacques Torres. (Candy Industry editor Bernie Pacyniak was right: Torres is charming. He won me over with his anecdotal definition of “premium” … and his photos of the French countryside.)

My staff members and I also filed news stories for The Daily, the All Candy Expo’s official newspaper, which was distributed each morning of the show. In case you missed any of our coverage, turn to page 12 for a recap of noteworthy trends spotted at Chicago’s McCormick Place, including caffeinated gum, charitable chocolates, innovative mints and political products.

I’ll of course be sharing some of the samples I picked up at the Expo with my dental hygienist, who did not refuse when I offered to donate candy (including some of the sugar-free items featured in this issue) to the office upon my next visit ... but only if I’m declared cavity-free. Seems like a fair trade to me.