Candy and snack trends to watch—including 'new-stalgia'

A new take on nostalgia was among the hot trends on display at the nation's largest candy show, along with s’mores, split flavors and new textures.

Candy and snack trends to watch—including 'new-stalgia'

S’mores are seemingly everywhere and “new-stalgia”–a fresh take on aging products–is on the rise, according to exhibitions at this week’s Sweets and Snacks Expo.

The expo, which is the candy industry’s biggest annual trade show, returned to Chicago’s McCormick Place with over 700 vendors after two years of COVID disruptions, including moving to Indianapolis last year due to Chicago’s pandemic restrictions.

The candy industry, which was valued at $30.1 billion in the U.S. in 2022 according to IRI, is being shaped by several pandemic and economic forces: Although COVID caused more people to snack at home–45% of U.S. consumers snack more than three times a day–it has also led to supply chain issues causing limited stock, according to Sally Lyons Wyatt, executive VP and practice leader with IRI. Inflation might also lead people to become more hesitant about buying products, although rising prices have not taken a big toll yet, said Lyons Wyatt, who spoke at the expo.

At the expo, hosted by the National Confectioners Association, sweets and snacks marketers showed off a range of new s’mores flavors as well as new packaging meant to be more sustainable. A fondness for the past also permeated this year’s products, seen in new partnerships for brands such as Pop-Tarts and the revamping of legacy brands such as Bazooka.

Below, trends and innovations to keep an eye on, based on a tour of the expo floor.

S’mores are smoking

The campfire food is a big trend. Products on display included two-year-old brand Stuffed Puffs, which markets what can only be described as a condensed s’more: a marshmallow covered in graham crackers and filled with milk chocolate.  

Stuffed Puffs founder Michael Tierney started the company because he felt that s’mores were under-delivering. He ripped the marshmallow in half and experimented with ways to fill it with chocolate. He said that consumers typically aren’t able to name their favorite marshmallow brands—something he wants to change with Stuffed Puffs.

The company came up with ready-to-eat varieties and types for occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Halloween after they heard consumers “never made it to the campfire” and just ate the marshmallows out of the bag, said Tierney.

Other s’mores products seen on the floor included a s’mores bunny featuring graham crackers and marshmallows from R.M. Palmer Company, s’mores-flavored Keebler Fudge Stripe Dip’mmms that allow people to dip the biscuits into marshmallow icing, and a s’mores-variety from One, a brand of protein bars.

‘New-stalgia’ and new packaging 

The NCA coined the phrase “new-stalgia” to describe the rise of a new kind of nostalgia—which was evident across the trade show floor. 

Bazooka, which dates back to post-World War II-era, is revamping its products with a focus on sweet and sour combinations. The brand’s Juicy Drop Gummy Dip 'N Stix, released last year, features a box for consumers to dip sugar-covered gummies into sour gel. The brand has also experimented with its packaging, revealing its Push Pop Gummy Pop-Its at this year’s expo with a box that makes a game out of dispensing a sweet. 

Nerds, created in the 1980s and owned by Ferrara, has also come out with Nerd Gummy Clusters, which won the most innovative new non-chocolate product award this year. Eggo Waffles teamed up with the equally-nostalgic Pop-Tarts to create a limited-edition Eggo-flavored Pop-Tart that’s maple-flavored and yellow. Both brands are owned by Kellogg Co.

Lyons Wyatt said that brands are also making packaging changes to move away from plastic and include resealable pouches. Mars Wrigley eliminated plastic overwrap from its M&Ms theater boxes, making them fully recyclable.

New textures

Brands are also experimenting with textures and ramping up taste intensity. 

Starburst exhibited its Starburst Airs, a soft gummy version of the traditional chew that was a finalist in the NCA’s most innovative products category. This stemmed from the brand’s desire to “provide a wider variety of offerings ... following strong tailwinds in the gummies segment,” said Mars Wrigley U.S.President of Sales Tim LeBel in an email statement to Ad Age. Similarly, Cheez-Its has come out with an aerated Puff’d version of its cracker that includes a scorchin’ hot cheddar flavor. 

Split flavors and plant-based snacks

Split flavors are also rising. Steve Schuster, who owns sour candy brand Face Twisters, decided to experiment with mixing flavors for the brand’s sour taffy for the first time, attributing the change in part to wanting to try something different. Frooze Balls, a plant-based energy brand that started in New Zealand, also features split flavors inside its products such as peanut butter and jelly.

Plant-based snacks also won awards for innovation. That included Trü Frü, which won best in show for its frozen strawberries covered in ruby cacao, a tangy pink variety of chocolate. The brand also won the gourmet/premium snack award with its dried strawberry coated in cream. Lindt’s oat milk chocolate won best chocolate, while smoked “bacon” made from carrots from small business Carrot Bacon won the small business innovator award.