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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.