It’s funny how much things can change.
Four months ago, I was a small-town newspaper journalist covering city council meetings and community events in rural West-Central Illinois, never dreaming my work would send me beyond the fringes of Northeast Missouri.
I never thought I’d see the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula or even the Middle East. Experiencing the over-the-top opulence that’s characteristic of parts of Dubai wasn’t on my radar, either.
But last Wednesday I found myself riding a tram out to the edge of the Palm Jumeirah, a man-made island that fans out from Dubai’s shoreline into the Gulf. As the monorail glided past island residences and the city’s ultra-modern skyline, I couldn’t help being in awe.
And that was before I got to the end of the line. The monorail lets off next to the Atlantis resort, a looming, sand-pink palace at the northernmost point of the round breaker surrounding the palm-shaped island. I walked past the resort, crossed a service road and climbed onto a walkway overlooking the Gulf.
I don’t know how long I watched the sea lap against the rock-lined breaker, but it was long enough for me to appreciate how and why I got there.
What took me to Dubai, a real-life Tomorrowland with glittering skyscrapers and unparalleled urbanity? It was Yummex Middle East, formerly known as Sweets and Snacks Middle East.
The show’s 10th edition, organized by Koelnmesse Group and the Dubai World Trade Center, brought together 364 exhibitors from 47 countries. More than 8,100 attendees walked the show’s bright pink carpets. And mirroring Dubai’s international status, Yummex had 20 national and regional pavilions, including those representing the United States, Germany, Italy, Egypt and Turkey. 
Having never covered a traditional trade show until my arrival at Yummex, I was in for a surprise. But once the shock wore off, I realized the vibrant, sweet-loving Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) markets seek unique flavors and experiences.
Take, for example, Mastika gum, created by Lebanon-based Master Chewing Gum & Candies Sal. Flavored with mastic, the gum has a unique taste and texture. It’s also packaged in gold-and-white metal tins.
These elements pushed Mastika to the front of the pack, earning it the 2016 Yummex Middle East Innovation Award for Best Hard or Soft Candy. Meanwhile, Baron Chocolatier’s White Chocolate Coconut Sticks took Best Chocolate Product, and Van der Meulen’s Say Yes to No! Crispy Bread Chips earned Best Snack Product.
Yummex continues to grow and serve as an outlet for showcasing innovation. It has become an ideal meeting place for established and entrepreneurial companies seeking to expand their confectionery sales in the MENA region.
The trip drove home that confections are a global business, with opportunities stretching from Illinois to Dubai.