It’s good to be back in Candyland.

Of course, every day is a blast when you’re working in — or writing about — the candy industry. But there’s something special about seeing McCormick Place transform into a brightly-colored wonderland full of tried-and-true brands and upstarts seeking to carve out their niche.

This is only my second Sweets & Snacks Expo, but it already feels like old hat. Getting around was a breeze, and it was wonderful to catch up with manufacturers, suppliers, sales people and marketers I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the last couple years.

Those feelings were amplified by having our newest intern, Christian Metzger, accompany me to some of my appointments. Yesterday was his first day on the job — what a way to start! — and being able to show him the ropes was fun and rewarding. You’ll hear more from him in the next couple weeks.

And, as is tradition, Candy Industry and the Kettle Committee awarded the 73rd Kettle Award to Mitchell Goetze of Goetze’s Candy Co. All nominees — Chris Reid of Piedmont Candy Co.; Chris Leva of Arway Confections/Long Grove Confectionery; and Jean Thompson of Seattle Chocolate Co. — represent some of the most talented and hardest working leaders the confectionery industry has to offer. It’s an honor to have even a small part in recognizing their efforts.

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) also announced the winners of the 2018 Most Innovative Product Awards. A panel of judges sampled and scored entries on taste, packaging, innovation and go-to-market feasibility. Hostess earned Best In Show with its two-bite Bakery Petites Double Chocolate cake product, while Vosges Haut-Chocolat -- a Chicago-based company -- took home the Small Business Innovator Award.

Before returning to the showfloor today, here are a few more notable tidbits:

  • Ruby chocolate tasting: Barry Callebaut offered tastings of its naturally rosy Ruby chocolate, long-awaited in the U.S. I didn’t get a chance to try it yesterday, but I heard it has a fruity flavor. Though Barry Callebaut is still working through chocolate standard of identity procedures in North America, the NCA awarded the company the inaugural Ruby Award for the innovation.

  • White chocolate abounds: Several of the products debuting at the show feature white chocolate. Among them were Mars Wrigley Confectionery’s White Chocolate Twix and M&M’S. Justin’s Organic White Chocolate Mini Peanut Butter Cups also took home the Most Innovative New Product Award in Sweet Snacks category.

  • Serving up snacks: Speaking of snacks, it appeared the presence of small, better-for-you snacking companies has expanded. It reflects the growing popularity of snacking in general, as well as consumer demand for “healthier” choices alongside their traditional treats.

Editor-in-Chief Bernie Pacyniak and I will continue to make the rounds at the Expo today and tomorrow. If you see us, flag us down and say hello! Or, feel free to drop by our booth (5008) in the Skyline Hall.

Here’s to a great show for all.