Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Just in case you’ve never been to a trade show, this is kinda what my days were like:
I’d get up in the morning about 90 minutes before I was due at the convention center, get showered and dressed and check my internet thingies.
Then I’d walk over to the hotel nearby where the free shuttle would take me to the convention center. I was kinda cheap (it was my dime, after all) and got a nice hotel near the Hilton and saved myself about $45 a night. And by being close enough to the shuttle to walk, I saved myself some taxi fares too. (I did take a taxi on Tuesday morning because it was too early for a shuttle. It cost me $8 with tip.)
Once at the convention center, the first day I had to register. Registration is usually a large ordeal, kind of like checking in at the airport without the metal detectors. Because I was press I had a separate process that meant that I reported to the press room and showed them something to prove that I really was press (a print-out of a blog page with my name on it and a business card I had made).
After I was credentialed, I got a name badge. Mine was green, which meant press. The pink ones meant exhibitor ... white was buyers. I can’t remember the other versions, but some people had “flair” on their badges depending on sponsorships and associations. The green badge was not all access. I could get onto the show floor, the seminars and the shuttles. I wasn’t allowed on the “Very Important Buyers” boat, which was a catered boat that was moored at the edge of the convention center were buyers could go and get sated.
First thing in the morning I usually attended a seminar, usually at 8 AM. They had continental breakfast! Each seminar was sponsored, and to remind you who sponsored them, there’d be a bowl of candy at each table in the small ballroom where they held the lectures that had their candy in it. I picked up some bags of Coffee Rio this way and ate some yummy snack-sized Take 5 another day.
Then there was the show floor. It was huge, as you can imagine. You can see a map of it here. The main exhibit hall is 300,000 square feet. Just walking the perimeter of that space is more than a third of a mile ... now imagine that there are ten rows ... seeing everything is a lot of work. Over 400 exhibitors and two and a half days to do it all.
Next year I’ll wear a pedometer!
After my seminar I’d visit the press room to check my email and blog if I could. There were internet kiosks out on the show floor, but they didn’t have chairs. They also didn’t have free coffee and water.
Out on the floor it was a little overwhelming the first day or so. There were a lot of booths and a lot of stuff being promoted. Things didn’t look like I imagined them and things that were heralded in press releases weren’t always displayed front and center.
The first day I didn’t have a list, per se, of things I wanted to see. I just took it all in. I did have a list of people to connect with though, as this is the most popular day of the show, so I made a point of hooking up with them.
Out on the show floor you’re not supposed to bring your own bags, so they issue you a small gift bag to pack your samples and literature in. I tried to be conservative in actually eating out on the floor, only sampling things that didn’t have take-away samples, and of course taking advantage of any nuts offered for more lasting energy. My bag, however, was usually stuffed to the gills within the first two hours.
Grabbing a bite to eat at the convention center, if you’re not a buyer entitled to the catered boat, was a little tricky. There were a few vendors on site in the “food court” out on the main patio section by Lake Michigan. There were other places to eat, but walking was an issue after a while. Just walking up and down the aisles, to and from the press room and of course to and from the hotel shuttle meant I was probably clocking about 6-8 miles a day.
So I skipped most meals. I did bring along some Lara Bars, which are basically a compressed bar of dates and almonds, which is a pretty good meal replacement for me.
I really didn’t eat that much candy while at the Expo, which is kind of surprising. I was always saving my calories for something better, and then when I’d find something I was really interested in, I’d put it in my bag to bring home.
After the Expo floor closed at 5PM each day, I’d head back to my hotel. The shuttles were absolutely fabulous. Nice busses equipped with little buckets of candy. The Hilton was really close to McCormick, so it was usually about 15 minutes from door to door. What was also great was talking to folks on the bus. Everyone was so friendly and happy to discuss whatever they were there for, it was a great way to make contacts. I got to talk to both brokers and marketing people. I don’t know if I would have made any inroads with Just Born without having a fab chat on the bus with one of their Chicago-based staff.
Back at the hotel I’d put my feet up and do a little blogging and answer some emails and make phone calls. The wireless internet at the hotel made it easy for me to sit on the bed with my laptop and write or sit at the spacious desk with real desk chair (it’s important!). Every night had a different event, most starting after 7PM. Monday was a reception at the Hyatt by the river, Tuesday was the party hosted by Ferrara Pan at Fulton’s and Wednesday was the House of Blues thing. I’d usually have someone to hook up with at those things, which is good because I am kinda shy when I’m solo. I’d try to grab something resembling dinner at these things, but never really succeeded at any of them.
When the festivities ended, I’d walk back to my hotel. Usually not more than a mile and half and because of the time difference between Chicago and Los Angeles, it was a chance to talk to my husband about our respective days.
Each evening meant that I’d have a new set of contacts to catch up with on the floor the next day or follow up on email when I got home.
If I’ve learned anything from all of this, it’s to travel light on the show floor (which I did, and I’m grateful for) and wear sensible shoes (which I did, for the most part). The one thing I can improve is my sleep. I was really, really tired. Next time I’ll try coming in a day early to get my bearings. And I probably needed to eat more regularly. Well, that’s the constant struggle in my life!
Next year’s Expo will be a little different. They’ve pushed it to September 2007 and it will be larger than ever, this time incorporating snack foods (chips, savory nuts, jerky). They’re still calling it All Candy Expo.
While on the show floor I came across this booth on the first morning, in one of the first aisles I went down:
Real Espresso! Liquid Center!
I was thinking it’d be the American version of Ferrero’s Pocket Coffee from Italy. And we really need those.
There they were, looking so lovely on the silver platter. I had gotten up at 5 AM, so maybe my judgement was a little clouded by 9:30.
I took one and bit into it. No liquid center! Only a shiny, soft and bitter tar. Like that stuff that’s left at the bottom of a coffee pot when you’ve left it on the heating element overnight.
But in order to be fair about them, I took another on the last day to bring home and trash with photographic evidence.
Well, lo and behold the one I brought home had the liquid center!
The texture might have been more satisfying, but the flavor was no better. Still bitter and acrid, syrupy sweet and without as many of the coffee notes that I would have liked. The chocolate was decent, but completely overshadowed by the center. And the production concerns me as well, if one of the samples I got was sub-par, I wouldn’t be terribly confident about a whole box of them being consistent.
I have no idea where they sell these, or much about the company at all. I hope that they can tweak though, because it’s obviously a good idea if Pocket Coffee has been doing so well. The big difference here is that there was no sugar granules in here like I found with the Pocket Coffee, so maybe it’s a completely different process. I’m wondering what their Espresso Secret is ...
Monday, June 12, 2006
Mars hasn’t been nearly as invested in the limited edition game as Hershey’s but I think that when they do come out with an item, though it’s usually just a simple twist on an existing one, they’re pretty good.
Witness the Snickers Xtreme. It’s a Snickers bar without that pesky nougat. What’s odd about this bar is that Snickers has already released this product in miniature.
I smashed my bar in my bag, so the picture isn’t that pretty. (I cut off the smashed part to give the bar the best chance at looking dead sexy. I tried biting the bar to show off the innards, but all you saw was caramel, not the plethora of nuts.)
The label heralds it as having 5 grams of protein, which is pretty good for a candy bar. Nearly all of that protein is from the peanuts with a trace amount, I supposed, from the milk in the chocolate and caramel.
First, let me tell you about my hopes for this bar. I’ve always been a big fan of the Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews because of the density of the nuts but also because the infusion of molasses gave the chew a real pop of flavor. I was hoping that the Snickers Xtreme bar would fill that niche, only with real chocolate.
What this bar does is reveal how uninspiring the caramel of the Snickers (and I’ll wager the Milky Way) actually is. I could taste the peanuts loud and clear and the milk chocolate made a nice appearance (albeit a sweet one), but the caramel only provided a backdrop of sweet chew, no caramelized sugar notes. (And an odd hint of cinnamon but that could be cross contamination with all the other candy I’ve picked up and stored this with ... Atomic Fire Balls were EVERYWHERE!)
My last quarrel I’m going to mention is the name of the bar. If Milky Way put out a caramel-less bar, you wouldn’t call it a Milky Way Xtreme ... you’d call it a 3 Musketeers. If you took out the nuts in a Snickers, well, you’d have a Milky Way ... see where I’m going here? Changing an item to a different version of the same basic foodstuff, such as dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate does qualify. But taking out a whole item does not allow you to keep them name. Period.
Actually, I liked the bar. Probably more than the regular Snickers bar, because it isn’t quite as sweet (because of the nuts) and if it’s possible, it’s more satisfying that way. It’s a calorie laden bar - 290 to be exact and at over 2 ounces, it’s no wonder it satisfies (that’s only 10 more calories than the regular Snickers bar and one more gram of protein). Now if they decided to make the Snickers Almond bar into an Xtreme, I am so there!
Here’s something I learned last week: The Snickers bar was named after one of the Mars family horses. You can read more about the Snickers history (which is pretty interesting) at the Snickers site.
Sunday, June 11, 2006
So yesterday was purely organizational. I spent quite a bit of time finessing my little baggies of different product samples and then I input them all into a spreadsheet.
Here are the results:
1. Adams Brooks: Coffee Rio (original roast)
Obviously it’s going to take me a while to get through these, and not all will warrant full reviews. Most are products I’ve never had before (or at least flavors).
These are in alphabetical order by company, I don’t really have a plan yet. As I was putting the list together, I was noticing trends of things, like real-fruit-juice gummis and new delivery devices for candy. If you have something that you’re curious about and want me to move to the top of the list, speak up.
As for my plan, I’m going to do as much chocolate now, since the weather is getting warmer and I fear the loss of much of it because of the heat in SoCal (I don’t have air conditioning).
Friday, June 9, 2006
I just spent about an hour sorting through the candy samples I picked up at the Expo.
What was especially frustrating is figuring out what some of it is. It’s not in the final packaging, so some doesn’t have labeling or names or even a brand.
I took a bunch of little ziploc baggies and did the best I could to group everything back together.
Some things got smashed in transit, especially chocolate things, which bums me out. My Lindt tuffles are a little dented and so was my new milk chocolate Chocovic bar. I also bent one of my Ghirardelli caramel filled dark chocolate squares, I can’t imagine that’s going to make a nice photo.
Some things I apparently picked up over and over again, as I found that I had about ten of these little Cote d’Or Mignonnette Belgian chocolate bars and I still have no idea where I got them.
As I was sifting through everything I realized that I’m not going to do a single post about everything I picked up (that would take me until the next Expo!). I might group them into rating numbers, so I’ll post one day with the superb items and maybe another day with unappetizing things.
Many of the items aren’t new introductions, just products they’re pushing, which is cool. I tried not to pick up stuff I’d had before but there was a small box of “eat this anytime” stuff that I can at least give away to folks who stop by instead of letting them look at my candy and not get any.
Sorry for the radio silence yesterday. I thought I would be able to connect to the wi-fi network at the Chicago Airport and update here on every little thing, but it was not to be.
So, the promised coverage will just trickle out through the weekend and I’ll get back to the candy reviews on Monday.
The last day of the show was very productive for me. I had a hit-list of the booths that I wanted to make sure that I check out, but I still missed two on my list as I got distracted over at Just Born (the Peeps people!) and sat down and gabbed with the team there as they were wrapping up the show.
I did hit the following:
ChocoRocks by Kimmie - little chocolatey morsels shaped like rocks. Sadly they’re not real chocolate, but cute as can be.
I also checked back with my buddies at Bubble Chocolate. I’ve been following along on their journey since January when I first saw their product announcement on JunkFoodBlog.com and I’ll keep up with them as they make their way into stores.
The show floor closed at noon (well, technically at noon) and I had to check out of my hotel anyway. So I said goodbye to the super-helpful team in charge of the press room and grabbed a shuttle back to my neighborhood.
The most surprising thing was that my luggage was not over the weight limits when I checked in. My big bag was 48.5 pounds ... just under the 50 lb limit! I did pack a small carry on bag on the way out that I used on the way back to put candy in to make sure that my load was fully balanced.
The one thing that kept happening though, is when I’d chit chat with folks and they’d ask me what my favorite candy from the show is, I’d have nothing to say. Half of the stuff I saw, I haven’t even tasted yet! I was trying to pace myself and keep from eating too much, I ate barely at all. My first full meal of the week was lunch on Thursday after I checked out of the hotel I wandered over to Panera (I know, so many good restaurants in Chicago and I went to a chain) and had a bowl of soup and a half a sandwich.
The scariest part was last night when I waited and waited at baggage claim and my bag didn’t come off. Turns out it made it onto an earlier flight (I was on standby in an effort to get home earlier) and was waiting in the storage/claim room. Phew! There’s no way I could replace all that candy!
I’m pretty much exhausted (got up at 7 AM yesterday, Chicago time and didn’t get to bed until 2 AM Los Angeles time). It’s gonna take me a couple of days to recover from that!
Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Tonight’s party was a huge bash at the House of Blues. For extra fun I decided to take the bus to the party. It was only about a mile away and it seemed silly to hail a cab but a little far to walk through unknown territory. So I just asked a fellow at the bus stop if he knew how far this bus that said “Broadway” that was approaching went up Dearborn. As long as it didn’t turn before the river, we were golden! Two bucks is way better than the six or so it would have cost for a cab.
At the door I surrendered my ticket and was rewarded with a big smiley faced stamp on the back of my hand.
It was co-hosted by a host of companies and organizations and I’d tell you who they all were, except that they took away my ticket at the door. I do know that Hershey was one of the primaries along with Cadbury Adams & Sunkist, some trade magazines, but many of the big sugar candy manufacturers also had “boxes” up on the opera level of the club where the clients, brokers and companies could hobnob.
I got there just in time to snag some quasi-edible jambalaya. It was an open bar but I opted for a cranerry juice until I met up with some folks. There wasn’t a band on the stage, so people were hanging out on the lower level. (The house of blues is stacked rather high, with a lower level with a bar and lots of tables, an upper level where the stage is and then a series of balconies and boxes on the opera level.) There were young women handing out IceBreakers gum and handfuls of mints. If it were anything other than a candy convention, I’d think they were trying to tell me something about my breath.
Just as a the new band came on stage (a Stones cover band) my buds from CandyWarehouse.com showed up (they got me the ticket). We scouted for some food, which was long gone and ran into a broker (Darryl? it was hard to hear) who fixed us up with some opera level passes where Chris and Dave were able to score not one, but two leftover dinner rolls that hadn’t been cleared from the buffet.
After they quelled their rumbly tumblies, we headed over to one of the private boxes. This one was hosted by Atkinson, who make the super cool Chick-O-Stick. It was basically right over the stage - which was kind of cool to watch, except for my lack of fondness for Rolling Stones cover bands. It was kind of funny because the lead singer, the Mick, was doing all the moves and reminded me of the Simpsons episode where Homer goes to Rock & Roll camp and Mick Jagger tries to teach the guys how to strut and do the school marm finger wag.
The party wasn’t too crowded, so there was room to move around. Unfortunately it was very loud and I think I had a couple of conversations. I’m not sure. I was introduced to some folks, possibly brokers, possibly candy manufacturers. If there’s anyplace that needs name badges, it’s a loud club.
I did have a great talk with Chris in the lobby about all the things he’d seen out on the floor and all the things I’d seen out on the floor. Of course what’s cool to me as a consumer and what’s cool to him as an internet candy store are two different things ... well, not always.
As a parting gift, of course, I got a little bag of candy to take back to the hotel. I walked back to the hotel (having looked at the neighborhood pretty well on the bus and found it acceptable for late evening walking.) I’m actually pretty eager to eat the nut mix on the plane tomorrow.
The Food Network has been here all week, but today the talent arrived.
I saw George Duran of Ham on the Street several times out on the show floor shooting and ended up catching a few photos of him as he appeared to be taping either his teaser or intro.
You can’t tell on TV, but in real life he’s a very blurry man. I took 19 photos of him and only one was in focus!
He was wearing a super-cute tee - it was olive colored and simple and had an orange lolly right in the center.
Later on, as the show floor was closing down for the day, I saw him walking out and I walked up to him and gushed and introduced myself.
I gave him a card and whatnot, but really I was just happy to see that he was there covering the show because he’s one of the best personalities from the Food Network to get the assignment. He’s totally down-to-earth and I feel like he’ll really get into it. So keep your eye on the Food Network schedule!
I felt just like I was in Los Angeles, being stopped in my tracks and waiting while a crew shoots something!
The other crew from the Food Network was working their B-Roll footage for The Secret Life Of .... with Jim O’Connor who is also a natural fit. He’s supposed to be there taping his segments tomorrow. Of course I would love, love, love to be on the show but I’m not sure that I’ve got what it takes to compete with the candy on the show floor.
(What was really funny was that everyone kept asking where Rachael Ray was.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.