June 17, 2010

Sweets & Snacks Expo 2010

For the first time in my life, I'm involved in a line of work that has conventions! I loved going to them with my dad as a kid.  He was a surgeon, and so I'd end up wandering around these medical convention expos with him, grabbing free socks and backpacks, emblazoned with some medical research or drug company's name. We always had a bevy of pharmaceutical company pens and Post-It notes in our house, along with our fair share of t-shirts bearing fungal cell structures and other medical oddities you wouldn't even be caught mowing the lawn in!

But now I'm in a field where I get to attend things like the Sweets & Snacks Expo, which was held at McCormick Place in Chicago on May 24-27. This is the candy and snacks industry's chance to justify the purpose of high fructose corn syrup, monosodium glutamate, and maltodextrose in your diet. I think I acquired diabetes by just walking in the door! Nonetheless, I had a great time and learned a lot about the snack industry, like how Frito-Lay is becoming one of the greenest snack producers in the world, with compostable packaging and by using recycled water and solar power in its plants. Or that there will now be a line of Fancy Nancy Sweethearts candy and that Pringles has gone multi-grain.

We are not big snackers in our house and tend toward simple tortilla chips and a good homemade salsa or a bowl of cereal to tie us over between meals, but it was fun to see all these vendors in one place and to bring home everything from chocolate-covered Peeps to chewy Lemonheads. As a cupcake baker always looking for the right topper, it was heaven on Earth! I also experienced yet another celebrity sighting, at least in the cupcake-baking world. Authors Karen Tack and Alan Richardson, of Hello Cupcake! fame, were in full cupcake-demo swing, showing conference goers how to make cupcake toppers out of anything from Kraft caramels to Nutter Butters. They are just as jovial in person as they come across in their books, and like the big cookbook nerd that I am, I returned the next day with both my Hello Cupcake books for them to sign. I also saw the mayor, who I've heard is not even really an eater, much less a snacker, but that was good PR for the city for him to show up, even if he doesn't so much as pop a Hershey Kiss in his mouth. More people attended this year's show than any other Sweet & Snacks Expo in history and there are more candies, sweets, and snacks being produced worldwide now than ever before. (So much for healthy eating!) In fact, at one time, Chicago was the biggest candy producer in the world; now it's Denmark. Not sure how that transition happened--maybe Denmark wanted to be known for more than just a breakfast pastry.

Take a look at my photos on the Spoonfoolery Photostream. You'll see some general high-fructose insanity, like the Native American headdress made entirely out of candy and a Mona Lisa mosaic constructed with Jelly Bellys. And then maybe you'll want to go eat a big salad because your blood sugar will have spiked just looking at this stuff!

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