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What we'll nosh next: Trends from Sweets and Snacks Expo

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The trendiest treats for snacking and dessert are being previewed at the 18th annual Sweets & Snacks Expo at McCormick Place in Chicago this week. The 650 booths at the convention hall are off-limits to the public. But reporters tasted and sampled on your behalf to share what's coming up that's new and irresistible.

Crain's ChicagoBusiness noted meat-flavored potato chips are all the rage, including bacon-cheeseburger-slider- and rib-flavored varieties from Rosville-based Old Dutch Foods.

"The line of Larry the Cable Guy Chips, made by Perham, Minnesota-based KLN Family Brands, was the most blatantly meaty, with flavors including biscuits and gravy, chili cheese fries and cheeseburger," the story added, noting that chip-loving vegetarians could indulge in the Perham company's fried dill pickle or “tater salad" varieties.

Plenty of non-potato chips also showed up, "made from every plant, grain or seed that could be ground up and extruded in a triangle shape," as the reporter from the Chicago Sun Times put it. It sounds like a variation on the shrimp shtick from Forrest Gump: there were kale chips, chia chips, quinoa chips, hummus chips, bean chips, chickpea chips, parsnip chips, coconut chips, seaweed chips, flax chips and lentil chips. The reporter who tasted his way across the expo floor preferred "a seaweed chip that comes in flavors like Korean BBQ, and the kale/chia chips."

It was much the same with popcorn varieties. More than 50 exhibitors had new flavors (French butter, Brazilian coconut, sweet habanero) and varieties of the old standby, with GMO-free, zero-trans-fat offerings as well. The expo featured four brands of Sriracha-flavored popcorn, and the spicy red rooster sauce is also being used to flavor snacks like pretzel bites and sunflower seeds.

Marshmallow snacks were everywhere; included in the top sweet treats picked by website CandyIndustry are mini-sized Peeps in strawberry, sour watermelon and chocolate crème flavors that will be sold all year, and Ice Breakers Cool Blasts, which is chewed like gum for about 15 seconds before it dissolves and can be swallowed like candy.

Other snack and sweet trends: alternative meat jerkies, including bacon, turkey, elk, bison, salmon and chicken; healthy treats that are gluten-free, non-GMO, vegan, and preservative-free; and booze-inspired snacks like the Guinness dark chocolate truffle bar and non-alcoholic freezer pops flavored in pina colada, strawberry daiquiri and margarita.

The reporter for Chicago's FOX 32 concluded that the best new product was, yes, a draft beer-flavored jelly bean, which won the Most Innovative Product Award for candy. Jelly Belly promoters note that it tastes like a freshly poured draft beer, but contains no alcohol. So no worries about a Jelly beer Belly.

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