When my friend’s 15-year-old son, Jake, was diagnosed with Celiac Disease just recently, she e-mailed me to ask for recommended wheat- and gluten-free snacks. Having exhausted the aisles at her local Whole Foods Market (and later, Trader Joe’s), Kathy wondered if I had any additional information or brand names to share. Ironically, I had just begun noticing a steady influx of gluten-free items at my office, including those shared with me by Confection & Snack Retailing sister publication Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery. I gathered up a number of these chip, cookie and cracker samples, and delivered them to Kathy’s house, asking only that Jake give me feedback on the good, the bad and the just plain inedible.
As the aunt of a 7-year-old who is allergic to peanuts (imagine a childhood without PB&J), I felt Kathy’s pain as she began dealing with her son’s food allergy. I also appreciated her efforts to find him snacks he not only could but would eat. Gluten-free foods have long been criticized for their taste. However, newer offerings on the market shun past stereotypes with their flavorful profiles. Furthermore, gluten-free manufacturers are starting to realize the need for packaging that not only conveys what the product does or does not contain, but that appeals to consumers - including kids and their parents - shopping the snack aisle.
Retailers are catching onto increased demand for gluten-free, too. While some stores offer health and wellness aisles, others boast dedicated gluten-free sections. Still others see the value in placing such products alongside conventional snacks so that all shoppers, and not just those seeking gluten-free, can find and perhaps try them.
Some gluten-free manufacturers have been so well-received by the public that they’ve developed cult-like followings. Take Mary’s Gone Crackers, whose fan mail is well-documented and proves the brand’s popularity among not just Celiacs, but mainstream snackers who were intrigued by its unique varieties and whole grain attributes. (Turn to page 18 for details.)
Working on “The Chocolate Report” for this month’s issue of Confection & Snack Retailing did not bring the sharp content contrast I at first expected. Certainly, gluten-free products are to health what chocolate is to indulgence … right? Not so. In many cases, today’s chocolate introductions offer more than just a momentary escape from reality after a long day at work. (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about.) Dark chocolates containing heart-healthy antioxidants as well as certified organic offerings are among the trends leading the category. In addition, new sustainability and fair trade practices between farmers and top chocolatiers are transforming the industry. (Turn to page 12 for details.)
Functionality is a subject of interest to all confection and snack producers as of late. Take breath fresheners. As evidenced at the 2008 All Candy Expo, an increasing number of sugar-free gum and mint manufacturers have begun taking fresh breath to the next level by fortifying their products with vitamins, calcium, antioxidants, amino acids and even caffeine. And as I mentioned in my July/August Editor’s Note, xylitol is becoming a popular sweetener in this category, thanks to its cavity-fighting properties. But it is impossible to talk about new gum and mint introductions without mentioning the super-cool packaging manufacturers are using to catch consumers’ eyes in stores. An array of new pocket packs and flip tops are turning up, as well as in-your-face graphics and colors to accompany new fruit-laden flavors, which have almost begun replacing mint varieties at retail. Innovations such as these are turning the breath freshener category into somewhat of a novelty, albeit a highly functional one. (Turn to page 21 for details.)
Whether it’s allergen-free snacks, chocolate or breath fresheners you’re buying, selling or reading about this month, there is one trait all three categories have in common: They’re changing. Every category in the confection and snack industry is undergoing a makeover. Between concerns over a slow economy (which affect shopping habits and spending), environmental concerns (which affect shopping habits and spending) and health concerns (which affect shopping habits and spending), the market as we once knew it will never again be the same.
Not that that’s a bad thing. In the long run (perhaps under a new presidential administration, one that strives for change), shoppers will continue to spend their dollars, but differently. How differently? That remains to be seen, as well. But I’ve always been taught to embrace change, and like the gluten-free manufacturers, chocolatiers, and gum and mint makers who are innovating our industry, I will continue to do just that … starting in 2009, when Confection & Snack Retailing unveils a new logo and a new look. Check out our January/February issue, and let me know if it’s a change you can believe in.