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?
So candy sits uneasily among the virtuous sweets. Meanwhile, an emphasis on wholesome snacking also leaves real, bad-for-you candy on the sidelines. Such goods as lentil chips and protein bars insist that if you must snack, your snack of choice should be food (or, let's say, food-ish). Check out two of the new products featured in my media sample bag: Crispy Natural brand Crunchy Apple Chips, and Simply brand Hummus Chips. If you can get avowedly wholesome foods like hummus and apples in chip form for snacking, snacking doesn't seem so much snacking as eating your fruits and veggies on the go. Funky Monkey Fruit that Crunches says it right on the package: "1 serving of fruit in this bag!" How does that new Peanut Squared Snickers square up against the Live Smart Chocolate Flax Bar? Snickers, we are forced to conclude, is not living so smart. And the Focus Food Protein EnerGI Bar in "Chocolate Fudge Brownie" flavor is no match for, well, a chocolate fudge brownie. At the end of the day, these so-called healthy snacks are actually arguments against eating any candy at all.