The swell success of sweets


It was a chocoholic's delight, a trade show for those with a serious sweet tooth.

Satiny amaretto truffles, triangles of dark chocolate with the bright crunch of dried raspberries, and pretzels triple-dipped in chocolate, caramel and roasted almonds beckoned candy buyers at the Naron Candy Co.'s seventh annual All Star Candy Festival at Camden Yards on Sunday and Monday.

But there were many other confections at the show, from sugarless candies to novelties like neon-colored liquid gook packaged in a glue bottle. Buyers for gourmet food, specialty and candy stores tasted their way through 35 booths in the Pastimes banquet room trying to predict the hot sellers of the fall and winter holiday season.

"Truffles are big," said Murph Scherr, president of Naron, a Baltimore-based manufacturer of upscale chocolates. The company also is the mid-Atlantic distributor for all the candy lines at the show, including Lindt, Ghiradelli and Perugina.

Though consumers are more health-conscious nowadays, inquiries about fat content haven't hurt Naron's sales. "They ask the questions, but they buy the candy," said Mr. Scherr. "It's an affordable luxury."

While dietary caution wasn't on the minds of most people at the show, finding the new best seller was.

"People are always looking for something new," said Judy Potter, owner of Chocolates from the Heart in Severna Park. "For me, when I come to the show, that's what I'm looking for."

Hot and tangy Jelly Bellies in the new Bloody Mary flavor caught her fancy. "I just love these," said Ms. Potter, who sells 24 varieties of the jelly bean that Ronald Reagan made famous. "Not a day goes by that I don't sell Jelly Bellies."

For Barbara Inman, of Gourmet's Cup in Annapolis, it was the mint truffle ball from Lindt. Biting into the dark chocolate shell and smooth center was like tasting a tablespoon of minted butter.

But sampling at the show was not without high-calorie consequences. "I'll probably go on a big time sugar high shortly," said Cissie Lester of the Sweetery in Rockville. She and her husband Walt favored the new chocolate-covered coffee beans in flavors like hazelnut and amaretto from Chocolate Rainbow.

Telemar Inc., the sales representative firm for the coffee beans, did some research into the chocolate-covered bean industry before taking on Chocolate Rainbow's line. In 1993, typical sales were at 40 cases a month. By 1994, they were up to 400 cases.

Telemar also handles the new Malto Bella candies, old-fashioned malted milk balls covered in milk chocolate and rolled in bits of roasted almonds and English toffee. These were dangerously good, the kind of updated classic that would appeal to the baby boom generation.

For the younger crowd, Zeebs Enterprises Inc. has a new product to compete with its successful Ka-Bluey. The latter is a big candy gum ball that's a hit with the 4-to-12-year-old crowd for its remarkable ability to dye an entire mouth Ninja Turtle blue. The newest Day-Glo offerings from Zeebs is Gobble D Gook, a sticky liquid candy in a small glue bottle, with sticky names to match, like Adhesive Apple and Bonded Banana.

On the other end of the candy spectrum are the Cloud Nine gourmet chocolate bars in flavors such as Oregon Red Raspberry and Espresso Bean Crunch. Wrapped in vegetable-dyed recycled paper, these are socially correct candy bars: 10 percent of the company's profits support rain-forest conservation.

Taste alone is enough reason to buy a Cloud Nine bar, however. They are intensely flavored and rich, a domestic chocolate that is par with the best of Belgium and Switzerland. The same company makes Tropical Source bars, containing no dairy or refined sugars, which are marketed to health food stores.

Picking a favorite candy wasn't hard for 7-year-old Daniel Kamenetz. "Mostly I like the chocolate-covered Oreo cookies," said the nephew of Naron's president. How many more would he consume? "Like about one more," he said, already holding two in his hand. "I'm leaving soon."

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