Welcome to the real-life version of Candy Land.
Over here sits a giant chocolate replica of the Bean, decorated with colorful jelly beans in the shape of the Chicago skyline. Over there, sour gummy worms. There's licorice in one corner, and rich Belgian chocolate in another.
This is the international Sweets and Snacks Expo, where hundreds of vendors take over three football field's worth of space at McCormick Place to show off a wide range of snacks—from chips and suckers to pickled eggs and flavored tongue tattoos. The show, organized by the National Confectioners Association, is the largest of its kind, according to Susan Whiteside, association vice president of communications. It opened Tuesday and runs through Thursday.
Nearly 570 exhibitors covering three acres of floor space have rolled out thousands of products. Their treats are sweet, salty, sour and everything in between.
Candy shop owners and representatives from various national and international grocery and convenience stores will be there to scope out the goods and see what will appeal to customers. While the showcase isn't open to the public, some of the new items could make their way to a store shelf near you soon.
Consider this: The sweet and snack food market makes $80 billion a year in sales in the U.S. and $357 billion a year worldwide, Whiteside said. Roughly 30 percent of annual sales can be attributed to products that came out within the last two years, she said. Last year alone, 4,600 products launched and nearly half made their mass debut at the expo.
With all those goodies right here in Chicago, RedEye stepped to the plate (pun intended) to get a taste. Here's a look at the newest and most unusual snacks that caught our attention.
Jelly Belly's Snapple Mango Madness flavored jelly beans
The mango flavor of a thirst-quenching Snapple is poured into jelly beans and packaged in cute mini-plastic Snapple bottles. It's chewy like jelly beans, and the mango flavor isn't too strong. Still, a new twist on the best stuff on earth.
Hot Tamales 3 Alarm
There are three levels of color-coded hotness: orange is for hot, pink is for hotter and red is for hottest! Beware: Your mouth may feel like it's on fire if you don't have a high threshold for spice. One piece has an intense cinnamon flavor like a mouthful of Red Hots.
Toxic Waste Sour Smogball
Sour candy lovers will want to taste it, but the word smog can be a turnoff. Besides, there's nothing in there that tastes like pollution. The tiny round bites are protected by a hard shell like a jawbreaker and aren't very sour at all.
Kimmie Candy Company Choco Rocks
They look like real rocks and pebbles that might actually break your teeth. Filled with milk chocolate, the chunks are covered in a wafer-like shell in earthy, brown and green tones.
Sanders Potato Chip Chocolate Bar
People who crave the combo of saltiness and sweetness might go for this, but they might be disappointed. The chocolate overpowers the chip. The crunch and sprinkle of salt are the only clue that it's more than just a chocolate bar.
Trail's Best Bacon Jerky Hickory Smoked flavor
You had us at bacon. This isn't flavored beef jerky. It's actually bite-sized bacon bits that taste as fresh as the stuff cooked for breakfast this morning.
Smart Fries Garlic & Rosemary
The makers claim the air-popped potato sticks have 80 percent less fat than regular potato chips and only 2 grams of fat. These sticks are crunchy, light and airy, not fried or greasy like fast food fries, with a kick of garlic and rosemary spices.
Hannah's Pickled Egg
The egg color is Bozo nose red and looks like a rubber ball instead of a delicious snack. It actually tastes better than expected. One bite is like chomping into a hard boiled egg soaked in vinegar.
Got Milk? Cotton Candy Magic Milk Flavoring Straws
Cotton candy is a nice treat, and milk does do a body good. But the two together? These straws filled with little beads of cotton candy are supposed flavor the milk, but the taste of the cotton candy is so faint it's not as bad as you might think.
Fizzies Instant Sparkling Drink Tabs Cherry Cola flavored
Kind of like Alka-Seltzer for kids, the flavored tablets fizz when dropped in water. It really just tastes like flavored water, not pop.
Van Holten's Big Papa Dill Pickle Flavor Lip Balm
Who's going to want to kiss someone smelling like pickles? While the lip balm is moisturizing, the hint of dill right under your nose is unpleasant.
A flavored temporary tattoo for your tongue. Yes, your tongue. It goes on in a matter of seconds and tastes tangy when applied.