About a month ago, I attended the Sweets & Snacks Expo, an annual conference for gut-busting treats held in Chicago. I’ve since had quite a bit of difficulty processing the entire thing, not to mention several pounds of candy, jerky, and odds ‘n’ ends snacks I swooped up at the event. Though this had been my second time attending the event, I still remained unprepared for the rows upon rows upon rows of sugary and salty concoctions primed to puree my insides.
There’s the fantasy I’ve had about candy conventions, one I suppose many folks my age have dreamed up, too. It’s a mixture of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (yes, the movie and not the book) and a Simpsons episode that sees Homer and Marge attend a candy industry gathering. In my head, there would be nothing but rivers of chocolate, Gummy Venus de Milos, and pure sugar and joy.
Well, I got one thing right: There sure is a lot of candy. But the Sweets & Snacks Expo is an industry event first and foremost, and walking into the McCormick Place convention center I caught snippets of conversations of how many units of candy can move during the convention, how little stores can stand out against the big companies attending, and other insider business savvy floating around. Fortunately, the site of several acres—yes, acres—brought it all back to my immediate focus: Candy. Out stretched rows and rows of familiar candies, strange new creations, and enough sugar to last until Halloween.
It took at least 15 minutes to focus, and by that point I had grabbed a handy candy convention bag and began scoping out things to try. Why go for the usual, boring M&Ms when I can try out a wad of caramel-covered popcorn in the shape of an ear of corn? Why settle for regular jellybeans when I can test out Jelly Belly’s new brand of jellied candies in the shape of peas and carrots, or ones covered in chocolate? Why try plain ole’ shrink-wrap encased jerky when I can taste a lean brand made from alpaca raised and slaughtered in Montana?
The expo had everything and then some; Marshmallows with a jelly center, pizza-flavored trail mix style snack made for video gamers, jerky measured in feet, a Nerds rip-off called Farts, and a chocolate-flavored treat that apparently helps you rest called Sleep Squares. (Though I took a package of Sleep Squares, the concept kept me from trying the product.)
The experience was everything my sweet tooth desired, and yet it became too much. A couple hours in, my stomach began to turn into knots, and I pushed my bag of treats on a companion so I could dash to the restroom. Reality had set in, and reality is the mortal enemy of a candy convention. I felt nauseous, dehydrated, and weak. Clearly, my body was telling me to cool off and I had been a little trigger-happy during the convention, but my curiosity compelled me to push it just a little more to try one last bite of candy.
So, needless to say the experienced turned me off of sugary snacks for a little while. The week following the convention saw me peddling the mounds of candy I took home to friends while trying to devour it all. Morbid curiosity, a need to rid all the leftovers from my life, and a lack of groceries due to an impending move kept me eating until the last Wonka sample disappeared.
And yet, despite the pain I put my body through, I can’t help but count down the days until next year’s Sweets & Snacks Expo.