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May 29, 2009

All Candy Expo: Thoughts and Stuff

This is not going to be anywhere near complete and I might go back and edit it as I think of other things to add, but the idea here is just my general impressions from the show. What was good, what was less than good, what I learned - that sort of thing. Oh, and it might be a bit messy and disjointed.

The Good:

  • A million and one exhibitors. Sooo much to see and try.
  • Cool new products, some before they hit the public.
  • A chance to look in on the industry from the outside which was neat.
  • Some good sessions. The opening session was very cool. Nice info on hot new products and trends and such.
  • The food at the Knipschildt luncheon was tasty good. There was a salad (with nibs of course), a mole chicken sandwich (yum), and I don’t even remember what they did to the beef, but whatever it was paired really well with the cheese lurking in it's sandwich.
  • The caramel given out after the Knipschildt luncheon? Killer. Probably the best thing I had at the show.
  • Nice exhibitors. I met a number of people who I made it clear to that I was part of the press and focused on chocolate, but they were more than happy to have me try a sample of their goods anyway. I really did meet a lot of nice people exhibiting when I took the time to slow down.
  • Had a Firecracker Chocopod with Stone Smoked Porter. I’m rather a fan of both and they made a good pairing. Didn’t get to try the pairing with Ruination which was really disappointing as I’ve been struggling to pair chocolates with double IPAs for a while with no luck and I quite enjoy Ruination. I think it would have been neat to pair something milk chocolate (or white even) with the Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout (which I loved the heck out of), but it was a limited release and is not so easy to find now.
  • The new product showcase was a great thing. It was a great way to start my show after the opening session. They had these little scanner things that you could get so you could scan the companies who had new things you were interested in. They'd then read the scanner and print a list of company info with the booth number. Very nice feature, especially for anybody who might be stuck attending only one day of the show.
  • I could really go on for a while. There are a lot of great things to say about the show.


The Bad:

  • A million and one exhibitors. Yeah, it cuts both ways. So many exhibitors, so little time and all that.
  • Samples for tasting, not bagging – I have a lot of lit on places where I couldn’t take a sample home with me because they weren't wrapped and I didn’t want a giant wad of candy all stuck together in my bag. It does address the issue of people heaping handfuls of samples into their bag, though.
  • The Knipschildt presentation during lunch was interesting, but felt like it maybe had too much on him and his history (not that he’s not interesting or anything) and not enough on the food he’s doing. I loved the presentation from my vantage as a chocolate fiend, but I think the session should have gotten past the history and background and gotten into the concepts and practice of working chocolate into the menu. Some concepts and pairing ideas and maybe some thoughts on matching flavor elements.
  • There’s a dress code and bag policy which were somewhat (I hate to say largely) ignored. The people in front of me in the opening session were in t-shirts. Saw all manner of non-business attire all over the floor. And while the bag policy was that you were allowed the bag they give you, a standard briefcase, and nothing else there were bags of many shapes and sizes all over the place.
  • There was a lot of stuff that I wanted to try that didn't really have a lot to do with chocolate. It was a challenge to not get a bag full of all the other great stuff that was being exhibited, but I've got a bit of a focus going on here. I figured it was a good idea to try and stick to it.


The Ugly:

  • Ridiculous huge show floor. Lots and lots of walking.
  • People who showed up for the Knipschildt luncheon just to eat a free lunch before walking out five minutes into the presentation. That seemed a little rude to me.
  • People who were just the most absurd sample hogs. And I’m not even talking about the people I saw with full bags a half hour into the show (which is really kind of impressive). I’m talking about the people who will try and tear through the tape holding things into a retail display. The people who will lurk at the side of a booth trying to pull a bag of jerky off of a retail display until they pull the entire display down sending jerky everywhere and then go booking it down the aisle rather than offering an “oops” or “sorry” or anything. I don’t recall if he got his bag of jerky or not, but I do know the exhibitor took it in good humor saying something along the lines of “I’d have given him one if he’d asked!” I felt bad I couldn’t help pick up, but my back was a disaster at this point in the show – if I bent down to help clean up I might not have made it back up. But the idea is that if it wasn't glued to the display people were trying to take it - sometimes by the fistful.


Lessons Learned:

  • I really should have packed some gel insoles in my luggage (don’t try and wear them through the TSA checkpoint – they don’t take kindly to gel). They would have made such a difference in my overall enjoyment of the show. My feet were in bad shape after the first day and the second was just bad from the start. Dr. Scholl could have worked wonders for me.
  • In spite of the stated bag policy I would have been fine taking my laptop bag in with me. I had read the bag policy and, being unsure as to how strict they were about it, I left my laptop and bag at home.
  • Along the same lines of the bag policy, retrospection indicates that the suit was not really necessary (though I did rock it with a nice shirt/tie combo). This is why I ditched the jacket for day two.
  • Apparently the third day at the Expo is kind of similar to the final day of a comic convention in that nobody wants to pay to ship stuff home. At the Expo this means people get a little extra generous with the samples. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. I flew Southwest so I could have had two checked bags with no extra fees so an entire second suitcase filled with an extra fifty pounds of everything the show had to offer may well have been possible. Not that I need it or anything.
  • Cab fare! I didn’t know there was a set fare from Midway to the McCormick Center. Assuming any traffic at all it looks cheaper than standard fare. Bah!
  • Hey, they have a bag check! If I hadn’t been staying at the Hyatt attached to the McCormick I would have been able to make good use of this. As it was I checked my bag with the porter at the hotel before the show.
  • The McCormick center seems well served by Taxis while the show is running so between the taxis and the bag check I think maybe I should have stayed at my first choice of hotel rather than the conveniently located one. It was only one night, but if I return I'll know better.
  • Slow down, take your time. This isn’t quite like the New York Chocolate show where some samples run out really quickly each day. They come to this thing loaded. I suppose if you’re trying to get people to carry your product it really doesn’t pay to not have a sample to give them.
  • The press room is a wonderful place! You can relax in a comfy chair and have a bottle of water and maybe a bagel or something and blog away. Well, you can blog away if you brought your laptop, which, as I previously stated, I did not.


If I Return:
If I return to the show next year I’ll consider driving in and spending a little more time knocking about town. I don’t like driving in the Chicago area, but there are a number of items I can get in Chicago that I can’t here (certain chocolates, certain beers, certain mangas) and it would be nice to load up while there. I really didn’t want to take more than two days off work on short notice, though, and didn’t want to have to dump the rabbit on the sitters (plus it saves the bun the whole ordeal of being forced into a travel box and driven around – she doesn’t seem to like the car). In the end it worked out well, but a little more time for the show and a little regional shopping would be nice so I’d probably take the week off and enjoy myself. And I wouldn't have to worry about luggage weight so I could take all the stuff people wanted to force on me as the show ground to a close.

Thoughts:
There were some interesting things I saw on the show floor including some mini-trends like flax seed and thus omega 3, the return of the cranberry (could we end up going back to the more familiar super foods and away from the ones that don’t hold the same headspace like acai?), puffed soybeans and a nice dose of old fashioned candy and style.

Slowing down to talk to people pays off. I had great conversations with people at some of the big companies booths and some of the small producers booths and nearly every time I stopped to talk I got to find out all sorts of neat stuff and get a view into the industry from my position as press/consumer.

The smaller companies in particular are great to talk to because you usually get to talk to somebody who knows every inch of the operation and you can find out a lot more about a company and their products that way. They have a passion for the product that you only get when one is personally invested in the company, heart and soul, and its fun to talk to them. I have a terrible feeling of guilt when I do so since I’m not going to be selling their products and I’m taking up their time when they could be talking to people who might, with a little convincing, give them a shot. So I would tend to try and not take too much of their time with mixed results. Either way, it’s one of the things I really enjoy at an event like this or even a general chocolate show. Getting to talk to the people who make things happen is a great thing and it personalizes the company and their product in a special way.

In Closing:
Apparently it has been a couple of years since the “All Candy” in All Candy Expo really held true. It’s become more of a general snack show and that is reflected in its new title as of 2010: The Sweets and Snacks Expo. It’s more indicative of what the show is and opens it up to more things at least mentally. It’s still going to be held Tuesday through Thursday at the McCormick center and is largely going to have the same content, just a new name. Whatever it’s called, it’s still the king of the snack food trade shows in the US and an overwhelmingly fun place to just wander and look.

May 27, 2009

Review: Cranberry Raisinets

I've been at a total loss as to where to begin with the pile of goodies I've brought back from the All Candy Expo. There is such a wealth of chocolates that it's hard to pick any single one. So I tossed a few different ones into my bag to take to work with me. When I needed a snack I would pick one of them and run with it. The winner today was Nestlé Cranberry Raisinets. The classic Raisinets remixed with the mighty cranberry instead of the humble raisin. I saw a number of cranberry products on the floor, but this is the only one with the power of the Raisinets brand behind it. I like cranberries so I was excited to give them a try.

The Cranberry Raisinets I have come in a 100 calorie pouch, which is nice for those who want to watch the caloric intake. Opening the pouch it feels like it isn't all that much. The individual pieces are pretty big, but there aren't a whole ton of them (one of the drawbacks of the 100 calorie pouch in general is that you sometimes feel shorted and want more which may lead to opening a second pouch to fill the craving). So how do the little cran bombs taste? The chocolate is nothing remarkable - decent, but it seems a sideshow to the cranberries which take over on the taste front pretty quickly. As soon as the cran flavor kicked in I had to reach for the bag to check the ingredients. I know cran and it's tart. I was hoping for some mouth-twisting tartness (the old sour candy junky in me as well as somebody who actually likes unsweetened cranberries) and what I found was a pleasant sweet tartness. So they've done the standard "make cranberry palatable for the average consumer" move of sweetening it. Well, as much as I do love the sour and tart flavor of a cranberry the sweetened cranberries are quite tasty and will certainly be more to the tastes of most people than unsweetened ones might be. So they deliver a little chocolate and a nice bit of cranberry in a reasonable serving size. I may be crazy, but that seems to be just what they were aiming for.

It's a decent new product in my opinion, but it's lacking a little something at the same time. It's one of those things where I quickly forgot the chocolate. It's like it wasn't able to stand up to the cranberries. But that might just be me and it's not like I didn't like them either. I'm giving it a 7.5 out of 10 - they're good, have some lovely health benefits via the cranberry (albeit with a dose of sat fat along for the ride), but they do have some room for improvement. Quibbles aside, they're good and tasty and I like them enough that I'll give them another shot down the road. Right now I'm a trifle overwhelmed candy-wise.

Coming Up: All Candy Expo: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. It's sort of a jumble of observations and mistakes made and lessons learned. The idea of a whole huge narrative of my time at the show just started feeling boring on the quick so I'm going to go for the Reader's Digest condensed version.

May 23, 2009

All Candy Expo: Inventory

I've been doing some family stuff, but as time allowed I was working on taking pictures of everything and getting a post built. This is sort of a visual inventory of what came home from the All Candy Expo with me. It is missing a couple of items, but has pretty good coverage. Note that there are a lot of places I want to address at some point that did not send me home with samples. A lot of places were handing out unwrapped bits of stuff and I wasn't going to go littering my bag with a giant mass of unwrapped candy - that'd be all messy. The whole affair lurks after the cut.

So, without further ado, we'll begin with Mars. First you will notice a number of Fling bars lurking around with their let's call it controversial advertising campaign (more on that when we get to reviewing it). It was one of the big new items that I saw a lot of, but didn't hear a lot about. Maybe they're embarrassed. Both of the new M&M's - Coconut and the Strawberried Peanut Butter Transformers tie-in - are represented. I got through a good bit of the first day pretty annoyed that I hadn't found either on the floor (was I not looking hard enough or was it just not in sample form at the Mars booth?), but after the press conference they put on they handed out swag bags and both types of M&M's were there. The new Snicker's Fudge was right there in the press room so I had not problem finding it. The Disney M&M's are probably a decent inroad to getting people used to the idea of pictures printed on their M&M's (which is really a neat, but weird kind of thing). The rest of the bits just accumulated over the course of the two days I was there - some from the swag bag and some just handed out to me.


So Much Mars




The next item is one of those new old things (they released a limited version once upon a time) that is kind of exciting. I like it when a picture can speak for itself as this one does. Sadly, I only made away with one little cup.

Larger than life




Next we have the return of the Nestle Crunch Crisp. I gave it a shot when it was a limited edition offering and found it nice, but not amazing and am interested in seeing if it's changed any from it's earlier incarnation.

It has returned!




Next is a bunch of cute little Dove bits that they were pairing up with wine (I think that was Dove - saw so much I could be confused). They're from the new Promises line of theirs and have some interesting flavors like Tiramisu and Bananas Foster going on. More on them later.

Promises promises.




Cran was more popular than I expected this year and Raisinets are getting in on the action. I thought it would have been cool if they would have cross-licensed with Craisins to create Craisinets. That would have been a neat naming synergy (a word I dislike using).

Cranberry Raisinets




If you were around back when ET came out you will remember the big push on Reese's Pieces. It was kind of a legendary piece (heh) of product placement that worked really well for them. Well, this time there isn't a movie tie in, but a new array of Pieces types. I'm interested in the York Pieces the most, but will be happy to try the Special Dark and Almond Joy as well.

Various Pieces




Just a lone Hershey's Bliss that I picked up at the opening session of the show. I need to do a larger piece on Bliss at some point. I took some that mysteriously showed up on my porch home for Christmas and they went over quite well with everybody. I've been impressed so far so it's probably time I address Bliss properly.

Bliss




I remember having some milk flavoring straws as a kid and they seem to be back again. There were at least a couple of different places with them, but the one that caught my interest the most was this Oreo Sipahh. There was another (Chip's Ahoy?) that didn't sound as good to me so I stuck with the Oreo. If I like it I might seek out the other.

Sipahh!




When I think of raisins Sun Maid is the first name that comes to mind (though not the brand I buy strangely enough) so it's no surprise that they should want to take the strength of their brand and stand it up against Raisinets and the lesser brands of chocolate covered raisins.

Sunmaid




Now these were one of the hits of the show for me, though I'm sure they aren't quite for everybody. They're Flax SuperSnax - they take flax seeds and add some flavoring and make it a neat little snack or food topper loaded with Omega 3. The chocolate version was just the sort of thing I love. The omega 3 via flax was a minor trend I saw at the show and will pop up again.

Flaxalicious




And here we go with more flax seed! NEWTREE, who I wasn't enthralled with the first time I tried them, have a new batch of chocolate with the flax action for that big omega three hit. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the Thym variety really piqued my curiosity and I was forced to try it. Upon tasting I was suddenly interested in the other two varieties as well. I'll take a further look at these in the days to come.

Omega 3 Baby!




Ooh, a new Lindor Truffle! Lindor Truffles are a great gateway chocolate for a lot of people. They're good and cheap and offer a glimpse of the greater world of chocolate that lies beyond a person's experience. They open doors. This one does it with white chocolate, though that's all I'm sure of right now. I'm sure I'll know more once I eat the little critter.

Lindor




Is there a better combination than chocolate and pretzels? Well, I suppose that's a matter of opinion, but I sure like them together and they offered me some samples at the Painted Pretzel booth and I just could not say no. Turns out that they have this neat thing going on where they first coat the pretzel with chocolate and then add toppings (and they have a heck of a list of available toppings). So it's looking like I'll need to give them a little more attention at some point.

Painted Pretzel




And the king of pretzels was not absent from the show. Snyder's of Hanover, as I see it, is the best there is at the pretzel game (the Sourdough Hards are my favorite), but up until now I've never seen them dabble in chocolate. But they do! Somehow they slipped this Fudge Pretzel past out without my noticing it. And it's not like it just hit stores last week either. I guess I just wasn't paying close enough attention. But now I get to try it, so it's all good.

Snyder's




This is one of those items that I don't recall ever seeing before, but can't imagine it would take them this long to make it happen: chocolate Pez. And I'm not entirely sure what to think about it. Not that I won't try it, it's just that I'm used to normal Pez and am not sure how or how well chocolate will translate into the Pez world.

OMG PEZ!




Cary's Toffee knocked my socks off with a surprising toffee: Dark Chocolate Espresso. It's the first time I can remember having an espresso toffee and I really liked it. So they're one of those companies I'm going to have to take a further look at.

Cary's Toffee




Some random Chew-ets action. I don't have a lot to say about these just yet, so enjoy the picture.

Chew-ets




Next up a a couple of little rock styled chocolates. I've always been a fan of candy that looks like rocks so I was happy to see these. The venerable Koppers have rock style chocolates as well, but that's a topic for another post.

ChocoRocks


ChocoRocks Dark




I don't have much to say about these three pieces from Dilettante just yet. I haven't tried them, but did grab some literature on the company and plan to look further into them.

Dilettante




These are just some little sample packs I got from Ferrara Pan. One is mixed nuts, which I'm excited about (I love mixed nuts and adding chocolate to the mix is just win). I don't know what the other is off the top of my head, but we'll figure that out soon enough.

Ferrara Pan




I really am not sure what I've got here. Sure, it says "Georgia's Choice" on the package, but that doesn't necessarily tell me what it is, just who it's from. Whatever it is I'm sure it will become clear in the next few days.

Georgia's Choice




Just a few little bits of Green & Black's chocolate. I don't even know how I ended up with them, but here they are.

Green & Blacks




Ooh, marshmallows with cute packaging? That is so up my alley, even when it isn't chocolate. But GüdFüd have a chocolate variety so I could feel free to try some. I was just going to take the chocolate one, but they wanted me to take more so I grabbed the orange one. They look tasty.

GÜDFÜD




And here we go with some more Marshmallow! This is an old school marshmallow piece from Hammond's Candies. They've been at the game since 1920 and have that cool old fashioned vibe with a layer of cool drizzled on top. I spent a few minutes talking to them about the different things they do and found that they locally source as much as they can - which I think is wonderful - and they hand make their amazing candy canes (one look an you will be amazed - also, since these are old fashioned candy canes they have flavor all the way through unlike a lot of the modern ones). They even make a candy cane with a chocolate core! How cool is that? I have a feeling I'm going to be ordering something from them this fall.

Marshmallow




I have some mixed feelings about this next offering. Caffeine for caffeine's sake is something that amuses me, but isn't the sort of thing I look for in a product. But these products are chocolate covered coffee beans with a candy shell! For something like that I can forgive a little extra caffeine. I'm not sure I can forgive a product name like Crackheads, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt right now. The Jitterbeans, though, have an absurd amount of caffeine. One box is equal to 6 cups of coffee, 7.5 cans of Red Bull, or 11 cans of Mountain Dew. That's more caffeine than I think I can handle. Luckily I only have a few of these little beasties to try.

Jitterbeans




This is just another little piece from the people who make those ChocoRocks I showed you earlier. It's got orange and dark chocolate and I like that combo a lot when it isn't overpoweringly orange so I snagged a bag to try.

Fusion?




I really have no clue what I've got here. Sorry. Maybe I'll figure it out, maybe not.

What am I?




This is another one of those things that I picked up along the way and don't know thing one about it. All I can really say is it's from Rausch Schokoladen.

Noumea




Somewhere along the line I got a Seeds of Change bar. I've enjoyed the bars of theirs that I've tried in the past so I can see no reason I won't like this. Quite the contrary - this has cashews and I love me some cashews. Not too sure about mango, but cashews are awesome.

Seeds of Change




These are some little soy critters I picked up somewhere. I'm going to try to figure that out over the next few days. Anyway, they roast up their soybeans (as opposed to frying or something less lovely) and give them a nice coating of chocolate and they are quite nice. Seems a good source of soy to me for those that need it.

??? soy




There were a few protein bars running around the floor and I tend to ignore them as they tend to be less about the chocolate and more about the protein bar. Well, this one is Rocky Road and the promise of some marshmallow action stirred me to grab a sample. Can we have a good marshmallowy protein bar?

Rocky Road?




Hey, more cran action! A nice big bag of chocolate covered cranberry action from Terri Lynn Inc. They do milk, dark and white chocolate covered cranberries and I'm curious to see how theirs stack up.

Yummy Cran




Somewhere or other I picked up a Twix. I'm not a huge Twix fan so I'm not even sure where why or how I got it. Oh, it's a Mars brand, isn't it? I suppose it could have been lurking in the Mars swag bag. Anyway, it's just normal everyday Twix.

Twix




Ooh la la! It's the Waferatto! It's from Landrin and I don't know a lot beyond that. I have some lit to read about them, though, so in theory I'll know more soon. This is their Choco variety which is part of their 2010 Collection. There is some wafer and almond action going on here so I'm probably going to be digging it.

Waferatto




Ah, Werther's Original. The classic turns things up with milk and dark chocolate caramels going on. Seems they're chocolates with little bits of the classic Werther's action sprinkled throughout. I'm really liking the sound of these.

Werther's




Oh there was so much stuff lurking in the depths of the press bag (very nice bag - I was pretty stunned). Whats shown here is not all of it, either. There was some gum and such from Cadbury and three huge, heavy bags of Saltwater Taffy. My back thanked me when I removed those from the bag.

Stuff




This is one of my weak moments. I have never had a Cow Tale. I was curious. I was weak. I took a sample of something non-chocolate.

Cow Tales




And it didn't stop there. The Trident was part of the Cadbury pack in the press bag (I think) and they virtually forced me to take the Man Bait (maple bacon lollipop). The others... well, I was weak. My first love is SweeTarts so the cool display where you could buy Pucker Pieces in bulk had me all curious and I had to take a sample (only one - we'll talk about sample hogs later). The Chewy Lemonhead & Friends was really just me being a fan of the classic and eager to try something I had not yet tried. Beyond this there wasn't much else to feel guilt over, though. I tried to be good. And I mostly was.

Not Chocolate?




Sorry it took so long to get this up, but I've been busy with family stuff and, well, look at this post. It's friggin' huge. I've been sitting here drinking a nice beer (Brooklyn Local 2) and typing for, I don't know, two and a half hours? Yeah, that seems about right. And that doesn't take into account all of the time taking the pictures (which are weak because I largely used macro mode - which in the future will be awesome with the light box) or uploading them all. And it's not like this is my job - this is a personal passion I'm chasing here so the blog tends to come after my day job, my rabbit, and my family. But I've managed to get my act together and get this posted. The next big post should be a semi-stream-of-consciousness piece on the show in general and my thoughts on what is good, bad, and awesome about the show.

G'night y'all!

May 21, 2009

All Candy Expo Quick Wrapup

After the rush of the first day of the All Candy Expo I decided to kick things down a gear for the second day. My feet and shoulders were killing me so I really wanted to take things easier. And with my press bag emptied out it was a lot easier. There was a lot of candy in that thing and I had pushed along at a good clip on day one to make sure I got in at least one full pass of the show floor in addition to the four sessions I attended. Day two was for filling in the blanks. And it seemed to be a good time to do so. I don’t know if I was just used to the madness by then, but things seemed a little slower on Wednesday. Given the leisurely pace I was setting and the feeling that things in general were going slower (possibly an illusion since I had slowed down) I took some time to stop and talk to people I had skipped by the day before for one reason or another and had some nice conversations with a number of the exhibitors. As the day wore on I found my curiosity slipping from chocolate into my old loves of sour candies and meat snacks. That was when I knew I should pack it in. I was there for the chocolate and it would be rude to leave with one suitcase stuffed with chocolate and another stuffed with jerky and sour bombs. But people were so nice about it. Even when I told people I was reporting on chocolate and felt they should save their samples for people who would potentially be selling for them they were still happy to offer my some mammoth meat log or the newest candy on the block. People were very friendly and I only felt an attitude from a couple of booths which was nice. It really was a fun time and it had a fun atmosphere.

You will notice that this post is very short on details. This is intentional. I have a lot of stuff to sort and try and I’m going to break things up into a series of posts. The first will be a sort of general inventory of what I’ve got in hand. There will be a few posts dedicated to a number of items that will get full reviews at this time. The new varieties of M&M’s will get their own post for certain as will the Snickers Fudge bar. A number of items will get a little paragraph of detail since I only have a few moments conversation and a small sample to go on, but a lot of these items will later be brought back in for full reviews. And somewhere in there I’m going to do a general trip report with my thoughts on the show, the direction, what I loved, what was irritating, lessons learned (like don’t leave your business cards in your suitcase) and what I might do different if I go back next year. So I have a lot of stuff I want to write about and there is going to be a disgusting amount of candy consumed over the next few days. Luckily it’s a long weekend so I’ll have some time to address it all (I should have taken the entire week off so I could handle it all at a leisurely pace, but that’s really something to be shoved off to the “lessons learned” post).

So, to cap this bloated post of generalities, I had a great time, learned a lot, tried some great chocolates, brought home some great chocolates, met some cool people and came out with a better understanding of how to make the most of the show.

May 19, 2009

All Candy Expo Day One Quick Notes

I'm not going to do real posts about the All Candy Expo until I get home and get some of my stuff sorted. I can't even begin to figure out what to talk about at this point so I'll just throw some of the neat bits.

  • Coconut M&M's in the Mars swag bag!
  • Strawberried Peanut Butter M&M's in the Mars swag bag!
  • Snickers Fudge Bars in the press room!
  • Chuao chocolate and beer tasting! Stone beer!
  • Cranberry Raisinets!
  • Talking to some of the people behind some cool products
  • Dark Chocolate M&M's Premiums
  • Tasty chocolate from Liberty Orchards (details forthcoming)
  • Conversation with Brightspot and Pure Origin (who i'm excited to learn more about)
  • Flax SuperSnax (yum!)
  • Hanging out and chatting with Cathy from CocoBon (locally sourced ingredients = win)
  • Dark Chocolate With Espresso Toffee from Cary's of Oregon
  • Jitterbeans (they scare me)
  • Fried chicken and waffles with my sister

That isn't near all and I've got some more places to look in on tomorrow. If my feet hold out. They hurt.

Arrived!

I've landed at the All Candy Expo and have found my way to the press room for some registration and water and have made my way down to the opening session.

Two things:
BIG!
Coconut M&M's!

More later!

May 13, 2009

Travel Time!

Once a year the candy industry descends upon Chicago for the All Candy Expo. It's the "largest confectionary, cookie and snack show in the Americas" and it's a pretty big deal. It is the king of candy trade shows and each year I sit back and live vicariously through the power of the interwebs and wish I could be there.

Well not this year!

I am not going to sit back and dream of all the wonderful candy just a few hundred miles away. I simply refuse to. Anyway, I'll be too busy attending the All Candy Expo instead. Yay for me! There's only like a billion and a half exhibitors (over 450) and I'm quite excited to see what all neat new stuff is coming down the pipe (and of course report my findings). No sitting on the sidelines for me this year. I get to get out and in the thick of it all.

There is one drawback, though. Got an email today. It contained the following terrible phrase:

The dress code for all Expo activities is business attire.
Business attire? Really?

"Bah!" and "Boo!" say I. I was planning on wearing a jacket, but I don't like wearing ties. They're really uncomfortable. But not cost is too high for candy.

So, the pain of horrible ties aside, I will be happily flying off to Chicago and checking out all of the fun myself this time around.

Um.... whee!

May 12, 2009

Review: MOBY Crunchy Chocolate

Every so often I take these little trips down to Jungle Jim’s to look for wonderful foodstuffs, most importantly chocolate (and beer and wine and hot sauce and salsa and bbq sauce and soda and… well lotsa stuff). Recently I took one of those trips with the added bonus of having a beer trade set up for the day. Well, I really didn’t find a whole lot of exciting chocolate this time around. I ended up grabbing a Galaxy Ripple bar and a bag of MOBY Crunchy Chocolate Flavored Snack. The Ripple was pretty good, but not earth-shakingly amazing or anything. The Moby…

Well the MOBY is interesting. It’s from the Philippines and it’s like some sort of crazy corn puff covered in some kind of cocoa glaze. That’s really the best I can describe it. It’s got a good bit in common with the corn pop style of breakfast cereal but a bit puffier/airier. The smell is kind of a slightly burnt sugary cocoa kinda thing. Taste-wise it’s got a nice hit of chocolate to it, but isn’t overly sweet since it’s mostly a giant corn puff with a bit of glaze. It has just enough sweet and cocoa to be something special without being sickening sweet and nasty. Honestly, if it were a cereal I’d eat it. Overall it’s a wonderful surprise - different in a good way. And it’s all fortified with vitamin A!

This is one of those fun little things that I pick up from time to time out of a sense of curiosity and it really paid off for me. I really enjoyed these little puffy things and am happy to give them an 8.5 out of 10. Now I need to try the Caramel version.

May 7, 2009

Mars Real Chocolate Relief Act

Economy got you down? Looking for a little relief? How about some free chocolate? Sound good? Well Mars has got your hookup. They have instituted their Real Chocolate Relief Act. What the heck is that you ask? Well, it's this thing where through the end of September they're giving away 250,000 "single-sized packages" of chocolate every Friday. If you visit the Real Chocolate site at 9:00am EST (6:00am PST) on Friday you can try to get your hands on one of them. They get passed out on a first-come-first-served basis so the earlier you try the better. The only catch is they mail you the coupon (well, you also can't win more than once per Friday and no more than four weeks in the period and it says to allow approximately six weeks to get your coupon). But we all know what they say about gift horses right? Oh, and you're not supposed to look them in the mouth, either.

So forget the economic mess and get your free choccie on!

**UPDATE**
It would appear that there was some underestimation of the fervor for free chocolate. I hit them at 9:03am EST and their site was down. I suppose millions of people wanting free chocolate is a lot to expect your servers to handle. Ah, they'll get it back together and I'll bet next week they'll be ready for the crush. We've got many weeks left to try for our freebies.

Happy Friday anyway!

**UPDATE 2**
Hey, I just checked and it's working now! Yay for free chocolate! All indications are that I actually got there in time to get my a coupon. So if you were frustrated with the non-functioning status of the site this morning things seem better now. Or, if it ends up being too late there's always next Friday - and a whole slew of Fridays after that.

May 6, 2009

Review: Amano Jembrana

I’m an Amano fan and the reason is simple: Art Pollard makes good chocolate. And when I say he “makes” good chocolate I do mean exactly that. For the unfamiliar, Amano is a bean-to-bar artisan chocolate maker. This particular bar, the Jembrana 70% cacao dark chocolate bar, is the first single-origin bar to use Balinese cacao beans which had me interested from the outset. I was quick to order some to try and they arrived, I believe, on the same day as some sample bars did (oh what a painful wealth of chocolate).

The bar comes in one of Amano’s great little boxes and, being a sucker for good packaging, I fell in love before I even opened it. But open it I did! And I’m glad I did - it’s an interesting bar. The bar itself comes wrapped in gold foil and is well formed (as expected) with a hint of red to the color. I didn’t find anything terribly exotic about the aroma - just some fresh cut wood/sawdust, leather, and a hint of some fruit I can't place - but my sinuses have been having problems and I think that I just can’t smell chocolate as well after wine. The taste has a good full dark chocolate flavor but it's also full of light nuts and blooms into a nice honey-nutty-buttery climax which fades – dryly – to a non-lingering mellow cocoa and honey. It’s really a gentle and accessible dark chocoloate bar with the slight dryness being the only possible issue I can see in winning others over to it. It’s very good and nicely different and I’m going to call it an 8.75 out of 10.

In other Amano news, they’ve started making milk chocolate versions of their Jembrana and Ocumare bars, they sell an array of nibs (and I’m working on finding the right recipe to try them in), and they have a new limited edition bar called Montanya featuring beans from the mountains of Venezuela. Which means, of course, that it’s time for me to order more chocolate.

On a final note, Kitchen Girl Jo made hot chocolate with the Jembrana and it sounds tasty to me (it uses heavy cream which I find makes a killer hot chocolate). Check it out!

Mini-Reviews: Berkshire Bark Bars

On my way through the checkout line at the store I noticed a new arrival to the local scene (or at least new to me – I don’t recall seeing them before locally) - Berkshire Bark. I’ve been getting a taste of them at the New York Chocolate Show, but have never brought any home with me (there’s a lot of stuff there and it’s hard to pick and choose). But since they’re conveniently placed for that impulse buy I’ve been picking them up as I go. Thus far I’ve hit two varieties: Pretzelogical and Midnight Harvest.

The Pretzelogical I grabbed because my brain misread it as Pretzelcoatl (the Aztec god of pretzels?) and I just loved it. Pretzelogical is still good, but the geek in my likes it the way my brain painted it. The bar itself was good, but not amazing. It had the right stuff: dark and milk chocolate, pretzels, sea salt caramel, and peanut butter. It’s a winning formula, but I liked it a lot more when I first opened it than I did when I went back to finish it. So it’s a 7.5 I suppose and I really need to go back and revisit to be sure that nothing bad happened to the bar between taste one and taste two.

The Midnight Harvest has dark chocolate, almonds, hazelnuts, cranberries, and orange zest and it hit the spot for me. I’ve been snacking on it at work (to avoid the wine/chocolate guilt) and it’s quite nice for a mid-afternoon snack. The nuts are big as are the cranberries and it’s a nice mix. Not much to say except “it’s good” and I recommend it. A strong 8.5 out of 10 and one I’ll definitely repeat on.

So the bits I've had in passing at the Chocolate Show have been good and these two bars I've tried have been good. They've got four more varieties for me to try and I'm thinking I'm going to have to give them a shot.

Mini-Review: Peeps Chocolate Mousse Bunnies

I love Peeps (LINK WARNING: JOLLY MUSIC). It’s a sickness. And when I got the announcement about the Chocolate Mousse flavored Peeps I set out to find me some. It took a few trips to find what I was after, but my favorite place for Easter candy, The Andersons (fabulous source for good food, beer, and wine), did not let me down. And I eagerly sampled my hard won Peepage. The long and short of it is this: if you don’t like Peeps you can stop reading here. I don’t have any gory pictures of melted Peeps this time around, just a brief description of the snackage. If you do like Peeps feel free to read on.

There isn’t a lot to say about them that I didn’t say when I reviewed and tormented the Peeps Cocoa Cats. They have a nice cocoa aroma and a nice cocoa + marshmallow taste thing going on. It’s simple, but that’s not to say it isn’t tasty and welcome. If I’m doing the Peeps Brulée thing then I really prefer the Chocolate Mousse/Cocoa version of the Peeps. Good and tasty if you like Peeps (and everybody has their stance on Peeps – some to a near religious fervor). But they hit the spot with me and I’m giving them a nice solid score of… hey, I never scored the Cocoa Cats. I just made messy Brulée with them and didn’t bother with a score. Oh, well. I’ll call them both a good 8.5 out of 10 (9.25 if they’re toasted/Bruléed). If you like Peeps they're worth a try.

On a related note I finished my last normal Peep of the Easter season just tonight and I’m trying to figure out when I’m going to be able to get my next fix. Maybe the closeout store will have some.

Also: what is with the colors? There are orange and green Peeps now and they bother me. It just feels wrong. It may be my childhood talking, but them ain't no proper colors for no Peeps. At least in my opinion. And my opinion probably doesn't count for much.

Meanwhile...

Well… it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been busy trying to teach myself how to do iPhone programming (got a good idea for an app that should sell reasonably well) and dealing with the rabbit and planning beer trades and a trip to Dark Lord Day (a big beer event) and trying to get my head around a mental block regarding wine and chocolate. If I have wine with dinner (and I often do now) I feel guilty having chocolate after. So I’ve been busy and had this guilt complex and, as a result, I’ve not been eating a whole lot of chocolate.

But “not a whole lot” isn’t quite the same as “none at all” and in my daily life there is one absolute certainty and it is chocolate. I've had a little bit here and there and recorded my thoughts as I went. So tonight I’m catching up. I’m taking the semi-formal mini-reviews I've written over the course of the month and tonight I’m adding a little spit-polish to them and publishing.

Chocolate ahoy!