If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the snack aisle. Or at least proceed with caution, because spicy treats are staging a comeback—and the latest varieties might just make you tear up. They’ve been one of the most surprising candy trends to emerge from this year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo, a trade show that where more than 450 exhibitors (including juggernauts like Hershey’s and Mars) show off their latest and greatest treats to buyers, who will place orders and stock them in stores nationwide in the months to come.
So, what exactly will be heading to a grocery store near you, and what other patterns are emerging? We got the scoop straight from Christopher Gindlesperger, senior vice president of public affairs and communications for the National Candy Association. (Spoiler: They’re all kind of an homage to the Before Times.)
1. MASH-UP TREATS
What Glee did for combining two pop songs into a whole new kind of earworm, candymakers are applying to sweets. Whether it’s manufacturers teaming up—like Sheila G’s and Hershey’s launching Reese’s Pieces Brownie Brittle—or simply the combination of two popular flavors and textures (ahem, Kit Kat Duos and crunchy-yet-chewy Nerds Candy Corn), the end result is a multifaceted treat that delivers a few flavors as you chew. This can be sweet and salty, fruity yet tart—anything goes. These pairings make for a more interesting snack, and they fall in line with the overall food trend Pinterest noticed back in December: “Bland is banned.”
2. SPICY SNACKS
Pinterest specifically referred to a rising interest in spicy (and sweet-yet-spicy) foods in its “bland is banned” prediction, citing rising interest in recipes for hot honey and jalapeño jelly. Companies have noticed this too, it seems, with many brands at the Sweets & Snacks Expo infusing traditional snacks with a little heat. And, before you dismiss this as sriracha everything 2.0, Gindlesperger says this time around, the heat comes from a variety of peppers. Think habanero-flavored walnuts and chili lime-dusted avocado chips.
3. TROPICAL FLAVORS
In honor of all the vacations we didn’t take last year, the latest chocolates and gummies feature flavors reminiscent of an island getaway: Coconut, pineapple, mango and banana. To that end, Sweets & Snacks Expo organizers have also noticed a rise in “delicately dried” tropical fruits as snacks, like BranchOut’s Banana Bites and Trü Frü’s chocolate-covered mangoes, bananas and coconut melts.
4. “PANTRY RESTOCK” PACKS
Remember when M&M’s started rebranding king size packages as “sharing size,” and 100-calorie packs became all the rage? Well, interest in portion control seems to be on the rise, but less as a dieting measure, and more as a way to enjoy a treat on the go…or prevent yourself from mindlessly downing a whole bag while you binge Silver Skates. Expect to see more of your favorite sweets offered in smaller pack sizes, or as a bunch of small packs within a larger box—something Gindlesperger referred to as a “pantry restock” option. (This falls in line with the National Confectioners Association’s finding that 41 percent of people bought more value packs with individually wrapped treats during the pandemic.) But if you down the whole box in one sitting, we won’t judge. Because, honestly, same.