Trends Editor Steuer Identifies Innovation In Confections, Snacks


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Washington — This year is all about new. New technologies to solve global issues, new manufacturing processes to lock in nutrients, new flavors and forms, new ways to communicate key benefits, new choices emerging from the surge in popular retro treats and nostalgic comforting classics, and dozens of new product spins on old favorites — a trend dubbed “newstalgia.”

1. Newstalgia

Who knew a new take on a classic favorite like taffy would include a hot & spicy version? Yet, hot and sweet has become as popular as sweet and salty. Taffy Town’s Sweet Heat Taffy includes Mild Chili Mango, Medium Xtreme Hot Cinnamon, and Hot Pineapple Ghost Pepper. It turns out the chewy texture creates a nuanced flavor delivery with spicy heat revealing itself in layers. Voilá, a newstalgia experience as well.  

Several twists on traditional sweet treats focus on America’s favorite dessert – ice cream. First up are bite-sized ice cream cones filled with chocolate aka “the bottom part of a sundae cone.” This unique original waffle cone snack was created by the two cofounders of Muddy Bites, Inc. in 2018. The newest Girl Scout Thin Mints flavor is a double nostalgic treat in a fun form with all non-GMO ingredients. Six mini cones per serving yield a perfect light snack or dessert.  

Raaka Chocolate has a line of three gluten-free, dairy-free waffle cone chocolate bars. Imagine a homemade, gluten-free, crispy waffle-cone-type flat cookie pressed into one side of each chocolate bar.  

Tried and true is fresh and new again in UNiTE Foods’ protein bar format of the iconic hot fudge sundae first introduced in the U.S. 98 years ago. Launching nationally, the hot fudge sundae-flavored bar is like chewy vanilla ice cream with protein crispies inside and a chocolate fudge drizzle on top. 

On the savory side, plant-based continues to thrive and new nutrient-dense snacks offer classic flavor favorites in different forms. Dr. in the Kitchen’s Flackers offer cheese lovers and heat seekers clean label snack crackers in new multi-seed cheezy Cheeze-Pleaze and Chili Lime flavors. Flax, sunflower, pepitas, chia, and hemp seeds boost protein and fiber, too. 

2. Some Like It (Very) Hot

Sizzling, Fiery, Scorching, Screamin’ Hot, Smoky, Picante . . . There are a lot of intensely hot new snacks, and heat is showing up on some of the least likely traditional sweet snacks as well. 

Grupo Bimbo’s Takis, the first widely known rolled tortilla chips, were invented in 1999, and launched in the U.S. in 2004. Fuego, the fiery hot chili-flavored Takis, with the “extreme” rating on the packaging, is considered the best seller. Ironically, the newest Takis flavor in a world of intense heat is a non-spicy cool Buckin’ Ranch. 

Meanwhile, other brands have rolled into the category and gained traction. Disruptor Zack’s Mighty features the first certified regenerative corn-based rolled tortilla chips. Zack’s Mighty Rolled Tortilla Chips are also the only Non-GMO Project Certified products in this segment. Current flavors include Chile Lime and Fiery Nacho.  

Other spicy snack brands with unique flavors and/or forms that feature sweet options too include Nemi Snacks’ cactus sticks — skinny crunchy sticks made from ground nopales (prickly pear cactus pads) with added protein and gut-friendly prebiotic fiber. Pickled Jalapeño, Mexican Lime, Smoky Chipotle, and Chile Turmeric round out the savory flavors and a sweet crunchy Churro Cinnamon is dusted with cinnamon and dried ground dates instead of sugar. 

Offering a little heat, a little sweet, Mi Niña Jalapeño Agave tortilla chips from New England Tortilla Inc., made from volcanic stoneground corn, have a balanced sweet heat and a thick, hearty crunch. 

Mike’s Hot Honey drizzled on pizza quickly became a viral sensation, building a huge fanbase. Last year, Utz experienced unprecedented success launching Mike’s Hot Honey potato chips. In 2024, multiple other brands have come up with hot honey snacks including Naturally Home Grown Foods’ new Hardbite Spicy Honey Dijon handcrafted potato chips and hot honey mustard Doritos’ Dinamita sticks.

3. Fruit Snacking Takes On New Forms, Flavors; Whole Fruit May Boost Per-Serving Benefits Too 

Tropical is trending with new product entries that span the globe in flavors and unique forms.

Better Sour Co’s globally inspired sour gummies feature two mixed-bag skus, with tropical fruit flavor favorites in the Asia-Pacific in one and tart stone fruits and pomegranate, popular in the Middle East, in the other. The guava, calamansi lime, ume, pomegranate, plum, and apricot gummies yield a bright, pucker-powered tang in each gummi chew. Plant-based and sweetened with tapioca fiber syrup, allulose, and apple juice concentrate, each 51 gram bag has only three grams of sugar.

GoodSam Small Farms is currently rolling out its line of crispy crunchy fruits including its award-winning crispy crunchy Pineapple Slice, paper-thin round pineapple chips and plantain chips. All fruit is slow baked to lock in flavor and maintain a crisp texture, and regeneratively grown on small farms in Colombia.  

Rind Snacks, known for its skin-on dried fruit, is now mixing thin-cut slices of tropical coconut and all-American watermelon in its Coco-Melon blend. Its Cocoa Berry Remix fruit and nut snack mix with antioxidant-rich dried blueberries, dark cocoa almonds, and dried strawberries is one of the company’s fastest-growing snack mixes and rolling into major distribution this year. 

Solely Inc. burst onto the fruit snack scene and currently is one of the fasting growing natural fruit snack brands in the U.S. Featuring all-organic tropical fruit, tiny soft chew gummy squares have only two or three ingredients — fruit plus vitamin C. Solely also uses a patented cold-pressing process to create its fruit jerky strips, each made from whole organic fruit.  

Our craving for exotic and authentic product experiences is also only getting stronger. One example in the snack aisle are plantains. Sourced from Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, the Philippines, and other locales, whether baked, fried, savory, sweet, sweet with heat, lots of heat, chocolate-drizzled, or called by different names including chifles and tostones, plantain chips seem to be proliferating.

On the homefront, PIM Brands, Inc. is committed to using whole fruit as the first ingredient in its Welch’s fruit snack products, and is walking the walk by using all edible parts of the fruit including peel, skin, and pulp. “Made with whole fruit” stickers are used to creatively reflect grocery produce sections. 

4. The Sweet Life of Chocolate Without Added Sugar

Honeymoon Chocolates, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker in St. Louis, is a perfect global-meets-local business, sourcing cacao from Uganda and Tanzania, and sweetening its craft chocolate with Missouri wildflower and clover honey. The 70% dark raspberry bar is made from Tanzanian cacao, with a deep crimson dried red raspberry powder on one side, for a slightly sweet, tart bold fruit flavor. With a nod to the exponential growth in alcohol-free beverages, their 75% Dark Chocolate + Rye Whiskey features local Switchgrass Spirits barrel-proof whiskey that is reduced to remove all alcohol. Locally grown freeze-dried apple bits add a unique flavor. A percentage of all proceeds is donated to honeybee research, and entering “your” bar number online or scanning the QR code on the label enables each purchaser to see their donation in action. 

Wild West Chocolate LLC’s organic chocolate bars and moulded fruit and nut Bear Claws clusters are sweetened only with fruit and no added sugar. The fruit blend is made from powdered dates, mulberry, peach, and mango for just six grams of sugar per serving. 

Oobli, a biotech company, is commercializing the first fermented sweet proteins as a sugar replacement in dark and milk chocolate bars. Named for the West African oubli fruit, also grown in Southeast Asia, it adds significant fiber to each serving derived from chicory root and tapioca fiber, which also are used as bulking agents to replace that functional benefit of sugar. Worthy of note is that oubli does not add significant protein to the chocolate bars. 

5. Innovation Abounds In Protein Snacks

Wilde Brands Inc.’s breakthrough Wilde Protein Chips have gained a huge fan following and mainstream traction since its launch in 2018. With a business that has doubled for the third year in a row, products are now available in more than 20,000 doors nationally. Founder and childhood chips lover Jason Wright had a dream that seemed impossible. He conceived the idea of replacing empty calorie potatoes with chicken breast to create a protein-powered, nutrient-dense chip. He did it. Now, each large four-ounce bag of high-protein low-carb chips includes antibiotic-free chicken breast, egg whites, and chicken bone broth with native (chemical-free) tapioca starch. In addition to more basic flavors, bold new Spicy Queso joins Buffalo Style, Barbeque, Nashville Hot, and fun Chicken & Waffles with a touch of maple sugar for real deal taste. Made in Wilde’s own USDA manufacturing facility, every serving of 20 chips yields 10 grams of protein, about eight grams carbs, two grams of fiber, and zero to one gram of sugar.  

If crispy chicken skin is your jam, join the flock. Flock Foods, LLC’s Flock Chicken Skin Crisps are chicken’s answer to pork rind love. Beyond a unique snack format, the folks behind Flock have turned to some of the biggest names in barbecue for flavor options, including Hattie B’s with a Hot Nashville and Terry Black’s Barbecue. The crisps, often dubbed chips, have 13 grams of protein per serving, one gram of carbs, and less than one gram of sugar. 

Legendary Foods, LLC is not a newcomer to the protein snack scene, as its founders had unprecedented success with their former business, Quest Nutrition. What’s new now are pizza-flavored popped protein chips that might just satisfy that urge for a pizza and chips guilty pleasure. With 20 grams of protein and only four grams of net carbs per serving, you can skip the guilt, and eat the whole single-serving bag. 

FUTURE FORECAST: Spotlight on Ancient Grain — Fonio  

Fonio is a nutrient-packed ancient West African grain that is also surprisingly gluten-free, with a low glycemic index and a good source of fiber. Grown for almost 5,000 years, considered “the seed of the universe,” and so revered it has even been found entombed in Egyptian pyramids, fonio is sustainably grown and climate-smart (farming practices sustainably increase productivity yet reduce greenhouse gases). 

Light and crispy Yolélé fonio chips represent a new format for this tiny superfood grain sourced from smallholder farms. Featuring West African ingredients, bold West African flavors include Yassa! Chili with Onion and Lime for a spicy, citrusy taste honoring one of Senegal’s favorite dishes, and Tangy Baobab with Moringa and Onion, in addition to Sea Salt. 

Yolélé roughly means “Let the Good Times Roll.” Aren’t we all ready for that!

For more insights on innovation opportunities in confectionery and snacks, contact Joan Steuer at [email protected].