The annual Sweets & Snacks Expo is like Disneyland for snack lovers like me. Held every May at McCormick Place in Chicago, this three-day event draws more than 18,000 candy and snack professionals from around the country to connect with exhibitors purveying the latest and greatest in these categories. I attended this year, armed with lots of hand sanitizer (for use in between handshakes and sampling) and a giant tote bag to collect the latest products to take home for tasting. While major sponsors, like M&M Mars and Hershey, are a hit every year (and who can resist a sample of white chocolate peanut M&Ms or dark chocolate Butterfingers?), I was more interested in the healthier snack options debuting at the show. Studies show that venues are offering healthier F&B options for attendees (a 2017 report by IACC says 87 percent of venues have made changes or additions to their menus based on health and wellness), and meeting planners, too, would do well to follow this trend. To help you out, here are five new healthy snack ideas to add to your breakout menus this year.
We’re not talking about the fruit-flavored Gushers and juicy “fruit” snacks you used to get in your school lunch box. Today’s fruit snacks are all about using real fruit, from plain dried fruit (no sugar or oil added) to grab-and-go items like BEAR’s Real Fruit Yoyos Snacks (made with only fruit and vegetables). Another fruit-forward favorite at the show was RayZyns, dried wine grapes that taste like crunchy raisins. With more antioxidants in a small pack than an entire bottle of wine, they’re sure to create a happy hour during a networking break.
From muffins to chips to popcorn to Grenade’s Carb Killa protein spreads, protein was ubiquitous at the show. It’s a side effect of the extreme popularity of high-protein diets and the keto diet, perhaps. While protein-packed snacks can help attendees keep focus and stay full longer, it’s important to be mindful of carb and fat counts as well (for example, After a few years of perfecting their formula, protein ice creams like those from Enlightened now taste as good as the full-fat kind, rendering it worthy of serving at an event.
This high-protein legume has increased in popularity ten-fold in the last few years, due to food bloggers discovering its magic powers as a substitute for flour and butter in baked goods (like these flourless chocolate chip chickpea blondies). But they’re also a perfectly portable option when roasted, as companies like Hippeas and Biena Snacks (which debuted a chocolate-covered Girl Scouts Thin Mint chickpea snack at the show), have discovered. Try incorporating these in a build-your-own trail mix bar to let attendees try them out.
Fungi as finger food? Believe it—mushrooms are the latest healthier alternative to regular chips. Shrooms Snacks has a variety of mushroom products including chips (in flavors like pizza and white cheddar), granola-like clusters and jerky, and Purely Elizabeth has created superfood bars made with reishi, a mushroom known for its healing qualities. While the notion of mushrooms as a snack sounds odd at first, tasters at the show really, ahem, ate up the idea—and are sure to get your attendees talking, too.
Smooth, creamy squares called Coffee Thins are a fun way to shake up a morning java break. Made from 100-percent ground coffee beans (no chocolate), each square has about 60 calories and offers a little caffeine boost, too. While the company debuted these at last year’s show, they’re sure to make a bigger splash with consumers this year though its Dunkin’ Donuts-branded squares. As a bonus for planners accommodating attendees with food allergies (and who doesn’t, these days?), these treats are naturally free of gluten, dairy and soy.