Tuesday, June 13, 2006
My husband happened to be in Chicago at the same time I was (it’s a long story) and stayed at the Hyatt at McCormick place.
What was cool about it was that all the keys cards looked like this: Hershey’s Special Dark bars.
I don’t know if the other hotels had other candy-themed key cards. But I’d love to have a Lemonhead hotel key!
It’s the little touches, right?
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).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.