On the way to the airport recently, my friend Angelique, who drove me, stopped at a gas station and bought her three children some Laffy Taffy for the trip. The kids, who until that point had been babbling on nonstop (“Debbie, look at this! Debbie, look at that!”), went silent once the sticky ropes were in their eager hands. Angelique grew kind of quiet, too, having gotten some candy for herself (and for me; I declined).
“It’s my favorite,” she said with a smile, adding that she has a bit of a “taffy problem.”
Confectionery favorites were one topic of a conversation between Marc Summers and media types like myself at the recent Sweets & Snacks Expo. The day before addressing attendees at the Expo, Summers met privately with us, revealing how he became host of the Food Network’s popular program “Unwrapped” (loved by my 8-year-old nephew, who once described to me in some detail how lollipops are made after having seen a particular episode). He also discussed the new product introductions and reintroductions he was most excited about.
Summers is the latest in a line of celebrities I’ve met over the years, from Charlie’s “angel” Jaclyn Smith to supermodel Kathy Ireland to novelist Judy Blume. I’ve also lived vicariously through my mother’s tales of airport run-ins with the likes of soulstress Jill Scott (Mom approached her in baggage claim) and entertainer Davy Jones (who was traveling with his band; Mom asked if they were “the real Monkees”).
At last month’s Expo, I added two other celebs to my list: the author of “True Confections” (Katharine Weber) and a fat cat with a penchant for lasagna (Garfield).
Weber was on hand to meet and greet visitors to the Candy Industry/Retail Confectioner booth as well as autograph copies of her new book. Meanwhile, Garfield (er, someone dressed as him) came to Chicago to introduce a line of hot cocoa from Fireside Coffee in his name.
Both drove traffic to their respective booths - one with her literary talent (I am in awe of anyone who’s written a book; Weber has penned five), the other with his famous face (which I have been drawing since elementary school).
I did not get the chance to meet 23-year-old cage fighter Jessica Eye at the Atkinson Candy Co. booth. (I am in awe of any woman with muscles such as hers.) In 2009, Eye won the National Amateur Women’s Championship for the North American Allied Fight Series (NAAFS). She is sponsored by Atkinson, maker of her favorite candy: Chick-O-Sticks.
The Sweets & Snacks Expo was followed just a couple weeks later by ECRM’s Spring Confectionery event, held at the beautiful Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort (complete with two pools, tennis courts, a golf course overlooked by a waterfall and one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever stayed in). The meeting brought together manufacturers and retailers to look at new products for Valentine’s Day and Easter 2011.
Although no celebrities attended the event (at least not to my knowledge), I did spy what could become new favorites for this candy editor. They include Just Born’s new Peepsters - chocolate candies filled with marshmallow-flavored crème, available in milk or dark.
Then there are Haviland Malted Milk Pearl Eggs from NECCO - a decorative take on a traditional product that will complement any candy dish.
I’ve been a fan of Gimbal’s Cherry Lovers. New Gimbal’s Honey Lovers are an equally tasty treat. What flavor is next for the line? Gimbal’s isn’t talking, but something tells me it’s already in the works. And that’s good news for allergy-sufferers who enjoy jelly beans from the brand, all of which are free from the eight most common food allergens.
Another cool introduction: Extreme Creations’ Gummy Bandz, which harness the collectability of Silly Bandz (the brand of tradable plastic bracelets that’s taking pre-teen America by storm), but in an edible form. Gummy Bandz come in a variety of colors, flavors and styles, including seasonal shapes - perfect for kids who not only like to play with but wear their food.
I’m sure Angelique’s children will enjoy the product. So will she, as it’s certain to keep them occupied while she drives. While on the plane, I had a flashback of Cullen, Paige and Libby, their happy mouths full of taffy. It was followed by the memory of Angelique stowing the piece I’d turned down in a “secret” compartment under the dashboard.
“I have to hide it,” she said. From herself or the kids, I don’t know. Maybe both.