The End of Candy: How Health Food Threatens Our Sweets

A visit to the Sweets and Snacks Expo—formerly the All Candy Expo—suggests that our beloved pure-sugar treats are dying a slow death

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The Sweets and Snacks Expo blasted into Chicago this week, with three acres of show space, 14,000 attendees, 550 exhibitors, and the debut of more than 2,000 new products. Sponsored by the National Confectioners Association, this is the major U.S. trade show for ... um, I was going to say candy, but in fact that is less and less true. The show used to be called the "All Candy Expo," but last year they changed to the more embracing, and vague, "sweets and snacks." At the time, I mourned the demise of candy (see my post here http://candyprofessor.com /2010/05/24/the-end-of-candy/), and what I've seen at the show doesn't change my impression that candy is risking quite a bit in hitching its star to the "snacks" wagon. There are more and more non-candy items on display, and for someone who comes with candy on the brain, it's a bit disorienting.

You'll find every stripe and color of candy and chocolate here, along with a mind-boggling array of cookies, chips, nuts, popcorns, dried meat, cheese spread, and, ahem, "other." All the familiar names are here, but the real energy at the Expo can be found in the newest products, trends, and innovations. The biggest story of this year's Expo will come as no surprise to anyone following the food scene: snacking is trending "healthy."

3552044608_a6690931fb_b_sized.jpg Many of the newest products featured here tilt heavily toward the sort of stuff you used to see only in health food stores. Lots of new bars and clusters are heavy on seeds and honey and dried fruits. I sampled one such product, Simple Squares Rosemary Nut and Honey Confection, and found it intriguing and sophisticated. Kimberly Dobbins developed the product because she loved desserts, and she couldn't find anything satisfying that adhered to her dietary restrictions. I agree; it isn't fair that allergies or other food avoidances should mean you only get to eat crummy stuff. Simple Squares promises "wheat, gluten, dairy and soy-free, unfired, no refined sugar, kosher." This is a trend, too: A lot of products seem to focus more on what is not in the package—no artificial colors, no GMO, no gelatin.

It is a sort of purging of food-sin. Whatever is left after all the badness has been purged must be good. These whatever-free products radiate an aura of superiority for everyone, not just those with specific food needs. And once they are nestled on the store shelf, such confections are so busy boasting of their virtues that they have little patience for the word "candy." Goody Good Stuffs (a line of gummy candies that determinedly avoids the word "candy" anywhere on the package or marketing material) promises that it is "free" of no fewer than 16 baddies, from fat to lactose to casein. When I come to the Grape Pop Rocks at the next booth at the show, I feel a wave of shame. So fired, so refined, artificial everything up the kazoo. What is the opposite of virtue? When moms can choose "Funky Monkey: Fruit that Crunches! (100% Real Fruit, 100% Fat Free, No Sugar Added, Gluten Free" or American Bounty Foods's "Berries and Cherries Crunch Fiber Enriched (Gluten Free, GMO Free, Vegan)," who would dare offer precious Junior a goodie bag with Super Mario Snerdles or the Face Twisters Ginormous Sour Tower of Taffy?

Presented by

Samira Kawash researches and writes on the cultural and social history of candy in 20th-century America. She is professor emerita, Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ). She blogs on candy history and opinion at CandyProfessor.com.

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