Take Me to Your Feeder: Welcome to the world's largest candy convention. Be advised: Resistance is futile.

Take Me to Your Feeder: Welcome to the world's largest candy convention. Be advised: Resistance is futile.
William Rice
More than 550 candy and snack companies came to this year's Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago.

For a trade show that's supposed to be promoting the sale of happiness, the scene at the National Confectioners Association's annual Sweets & Snacks Expo at Chicago's McCormick Place is, well, grim. It's true that excessive cheerfulness is hard to come by at 8 a.m., even when there's free coffee, but the crowd in the grand ballroom, comprised mostly of grocery buyers and distributors, appears nearly lifeless. They sit silently in the ranks of long tables, each row punctuated by tiny plates of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey's Kisses, York Peppermint Patties and miniature Kit Kats. Every now and then, someone will absentmindedly grab a piece of candy, but mostly the freebies go ignored.

Everyone is listening, some more intently than others, to Steve Matthesen, an executive at the Nielsen Company who has been brought in to deliver a keynote speech on "The State of the Confectionery and Snack Industry." Matthesen has never actually worked in the confectionery and snack industry, mind you (though he did serve in the U.S. space program); his twin areas of expertise are marketing and statistics.

"It's pretty ugly out there," Matthesen informs his drowsy audience. He will use the word "ugly" at least five more times during his fifteen-minute talk. Retail sales in 2010, he points out, were down from the prior year. And 2011's shaping up even worse.

Professor Sauernoggin works the Toxic Waste Candy booth at the recent Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago.
William Rice
Professor Sauernoggin works the Toxic Waste Candy booth at the recent Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago.
Jill Robbins developed HomeFree cookies so that her son, who has multiple food allergies, would be able to enjoy snacks with his friends.
William Rice
Jill Robbins developed HomeFree cookies so that her son, who has multiple food allergies, would be able to enjoy snacks with his friends.

This comes as news to precisely no one. But, hey, it could be worse! They could be selling cars. Or yachts. Or private islands. In comparison, pushing buck-fifty candy bars doesn't seem so bad.

"You sell indulgences," Matthesen soothes. "Sweets and snacks are inexpensive, and they make you feel good." Also news to no one; "inexpensive indulgence" is one of the bywords of the candy and snack industry.

Even amid the overall downturn, there have been rays of sweet and/or salty sunshine. Chocolate and potato chips were two of the biggest-growing categories in all of food retail last year, showing an improvement of 4 percent over 2009. But when you're used to growing 10 percent every year, 4 percent ain't so hot. In fact, it's downright lousy.

Above Matthesen's head, on the ballroom ceiling, magenta and white lights swirl in an endless pattern. They resemble nothing so much as Good & Plenty, those medicinal-looking capsules of candy-coated black licorice that for a time were manufactured in St. Louis (they're now part of the Hershey Company). This does nothing to lift the mood of despair: Is there anyone alive who actually likes Good & Plenty?

But wait! Matthesen has some good news!

People are still shopping at Whole Foods Markets, and they will pay a premium, provided they think a product is good for them.

Take Greek yogurt. It costs twice as much as regular yogurt. In the past year, its market share has grown by more than 10 percent, and its revenues have doubled, while sales of non-Greek yogurt have pretty much stagnated.

And that can happen for candy manufacturers, too!

Right now, says Matthesen, the average retail price of premium candy — you know, like the stuff made from high-quality cacao beans handpicked in the Amazon jungle and guaranteed to reduce your blood pressure, melt off body fat and make your hair shiny — is 83 percent higher than a regular old Hershey bar.

What's that got to do with Greek yogurt? Matthesen's glad you asked! "Asians are eating more yogurt," he says. "You should try to combine candy with yogurt."

Unfortunately, not a single candy manufacturer — the "vendors," in Expo parlance — is in the room to receive this pearl of wisdom. They're all out on the convention floor putting the finishing touches on their booths before the big ribbon cutting at 10 a.m. Doesn't matter, though; they know all about Whole Paycheck and its fabulous markups on healthy, wholesome food. That's where a large percentage of them are aiming their sales efforts — never mind that the very source of candy's appeal is that it's not supposed to be healthy.

Out in the hallway, a crowd begins to gather. Whoever invited the keynoters neglected to inform the ribbon-cutting logisticians that they'd be staging a rousing welcome for a crowd that looks like it just walked out of a funeral. Emerging from the ballroom is like being jolted into consciousness after a brutal Friday-night bender and staggering smack into the blinding (and commercially inspired!) world of a Saturday-morning cartoon.

Sunlight streams in through the skylights, illuminating a chorus line of dancing Peeps, Lemonheads, Oreos, M&M's, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, GooGoo Clusters and Hershey's Kisses. Not to mention Mr. Jelly Belly himself, along with several dozen badge-wearing conventioneers, including a few in business suits, twirling and stomping and fist-pumping in unison (more or less).

The message is clear: Even in the pit of a bitter recession, candy continues to represent happiness in a little foil package! Not only that; happiness also comes in sealed bags of salty potato chips, pistachios and beef jerky! With 551 exhibitors occupying the three-acre convention floor just on the other side of the plastic ribbon — which will, in just a moment, be sliced asunder by the presidents of the National Confectioners Association and Chicago-based Jelly Belly (and Mr. Jelly Belly, the red and puffy mascot of honor) — there should be more than enough happiness to go around.

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9 comments
Basti Auser
Basti Auser

YES , WE CAN...YES , WE CAN...WE WILL WIN IN WAR ON TERROR (30 whities or what are terrorists will never come back alive...thank you lord....aaamen).

What do you mean tragedy! It was just a birthday present for planet apes president !!! That's all ! Feels great to flip hamburgers and hip hop atop of good news...makes you feel vibrant and energized !!!

ARIZONA = UTOYA = GOVERNMENT‘S "AFTERLIFE" CASH & $$ FLASH MOB (there was no shooting in Utoya or Arizona, but tear gas and theater instead on faces of multiculturalism maniacs..your guilt or blame and shame weapon against us and our families in our own countries atop of forceful unemployment during so called "ECONOMIC CRISES" during which third world foreigners are allowed to rape, kill, and still is nothing else but fast way to early retirements for government related criminals/ terrorists...$$$ extra bonuses, and newly issued state identities while calling you a terrorists) !!! http://stateofterror.blogspot.... or http://stateofterror.wordpress...

OBAMA = STALIN = BUSH or USA = SOVIET UNION http://avsecbostjan.blogspot.c... or http://avsecbostjan.wordpress.... Whitie is fighting war on terrorism just to come home and be pronounced as terrorist...turned in Timothy, jobless, homeless ...YESSS, WE CAN...YESSS, WE CAN...GABBY OPENED HER EYES (Obaminator’s psychotic speech in Tucson = failed “Apocalypse Now“)

WAKE-UP !!! WAKE UP PEOPLE BEFORE IT GETS ALL TO LATE ON PLANET APES !!! TEARS WON'T DO YOU ANY GOOD !!! AS BUSH STATED "THAT'S WHAT THEY ARE PAID FOR"(to die ) !!

EVEN IF IRAQ WOULD HAVE BEEN WAR FOR OIL ONLY, VETERANS WOULDN'T NEVER EVER HAVE TO BE HOMELESS PEOPLE THE WAY THEY ARE AND NOR WOULD OUR PEOPLE HAVE TO DIE ALLOVER THE PLACE THE WAY THEY DO TO VERY TODAY(never ending “war on terror” story). BECAUSE EVEN IF WAR WAS FOR THE SAKE OF MONEY, MONEY SHOULD BE USED FOR AMERICAN CITIZENS AND NOT WHAT THE CASE IS OR AGAINST WHITES(to destroy us allover the world) !!! You don't really proof for 911, just put your sht together in your heads...THIS IS PLENTY ENOUGH TO HAVE O(B)SAMA INDICTED FOR CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST WHITE AMERICAN HUMANITY TOGETHER WITH HIS ZIONIST MASTERS) !!!

Don't worry O(s)bama, you have just saved USA what is lots of Dollars in your DEBT DEALS as those best of America or Navy Seals would also grew older and then you already know how it goes...DEAD & ILL = DEBT DEAL !!!

HOW MUCH FURTHER ARE WE WILLING TO GO IN ORDER TO PLEASE VERY SAME PEOPLE WHO DENY US EVEN THE RIGHT TO EXISTENCE(what is to you country without laws or lawless country in respect to your personal rights, but the one that in contrast to your denied basic human rights recognizes you extremely liable when payments are due) !!?

IS IT INDEPENDENCE THAT WE CELEBRATE OR DEPENDENCE (what are your credit card bills or alimony saying about it) !!? HOW IS YOUR DIABETES AND LOST MARRIAGES !!? FORECLOSURES AND JOB SEARCH !!? THAT IS THE QUESTION TO BE OR NOT TO BE !!! IS IT LAND OF THE FREE OR STATE OF TERROR AGAINST OWN POPULATION !!? IT IS TIME TO LET THEM KNOW WHAT COLOR ARE THE STRIPES ON OUR STAR SPANGLED BANNER !!! TIME TO DETERMINE WHOSE INDEPENDENCE/AMERICA, WE CELEBRATE TODAY(who wants to erase us and denies us the right to exist) !!! IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW WHOM WE ADDRESS WITH "PRESIDENT" (STOP HUMILIATING YOURSELF) !!!

VOTING POLL:

DO WE NEED MORE PROOFS TO INDICT OBAMA AND BUSH ADMINISTRATION FOR CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST WHITE HUMANITY !!?

1)NO, THEY ARE CLEARLY GUILTY AS OIL WAR NEVER EVER WAS REAL ISSUE IN GENOCIDE AGAINST WHITES. REAL ISSUE ARE FACTS OR WHAT WE WITNESS TODAY WHEN VETERANS ARE HOMELESS, JOBLESS, KILLED, ETC.

2)NO, AS 911 ALONE AS WELL AS ACTIONS IMPOSED AGAINST WHITES IN USA (as well worldwide) ARE CLEARLY INDICATING ACTS OF GENOCIDE AGAINST WHITE HUMANITY

3)YESS AS JUST YESTERDAY(for over 15 years to very yesterday), WE (news/media = vacuum world of lies) WERE TELLING YOU THAT UNEMPLOYMENT WAS AT 10% WHILE TODAY ONE IS AT 50% (HOW COME NO ONE QUESTION JOURNALISM LIKE THIS OR WHAT IS WORLD OF LIES AND DEMENTIA)!

4)I AGREE WITH FIRST TWO ANSWERS ABOVE. IT IS TIME TO PRESS CRIMINAL CHARGES AGAINST BOTH ADMINISTRATIONS DUE TO ACTS OF GENOCIDE AGAINST WHITE HUMANITY FOR THE SAKE(SAFETY) OF US AND OUR CHILDREN(DO NOT TURN THEM IN WHITE REFUGEES ON PLANET APES OR WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE WHEN VISITING ABOVE PAGES) !!!

Jkenah
Jkenah

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AaronL
AaronL

I liked the fact that sources for this article included a professor named Nestle and an author named Almond.

Richard
Richard

Can I bring a hollowed out wheel chair?

will there be a gummy Venus De Milo?

Kel
Kel

I can't believe I just sat here and read a 7 page article on a candy convention in Chicago. But it was well-written and interesting. Which is more than I can say for most AP articles these days. Good story.

James Hodges
James Hodges

What ever happened to Chocolate Babbies?

David Klein
David Klein

One of the biggest hits at this trade show if not the biggest hit was a candy product called "farts." The headlines in a Chicago newspaper said "farts to be released in Chicago."

David Klein
David Klein

This is the best article I have read about the 2011 candy and snack convention. I too was in Chicago as an exhibitor. In fact I have written a whole chapter on the 2011 trade show for my upcoming book A Man and his Beans--the David Klein Story which will be a companion for our documentary Candyman:the David Klein Story.. Keep up the great writing style. Thank you.......

 
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