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The Rise of Spice in the Candy World

This week, more than 17,000 candy and snack professionals from over 90 different countries will head to Chicago for the 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo. There will be literal tons of sugar and figurative tons of new ideas about how to package it, but it seems likely the most significant new trend emerging from the event will be the rise of spicy candy. Spicy candy is hardly new, but the combination of sweet and heat has never been as popular as it is now–or, to put a finer point on it, as it is about to be. Loads of new candies that feature spicy flavors will debut at the expo then hit the checkout aisle.

In the past, spicy candies were difficult to find. Other than the classic (and fairly mild) Hot Tamales, there were not a lot of pre-package options for those looking for a tangier option. Now, everyone is trying to get in on the spice trend. Starburst and Skittles, which share a parent company, are leading the charge with “sweet heat” flavors of their iconic fruit candy. Those will hit stores in winter. Warheads, the legendary sour and sweet candy, is also being getting a spice-themed facelift with Hotheads Extreme Heat Worms, which will be available in both original and tropical flavors.

starburst weet heat and hotheads extreme heat worms

Even chocolates are throwing their hat in the spice ring. Butterfinger is rumored to be releasing the Smokin’ Hot Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups sometime this year. Chocolate fans believe the new stick will feature cayenne pepper. Hawaiian Host’s Mauna Loa has released two new flavors of their beloved macadamia nuts: mango chipotle and honey sriracha.

In truth, the rise of spicy candies has been a trend for the last few years, but now what was a niche product is entering the mainstream. As with any trend, this one can be credited to any number of sources–the internet virality of sriracha, the buying power of younger generations more accustomed to eating spicier “ethnic” foods–but the point is ultimately novelty. Spicy foods generally have an “I’ll try that!” appeal and represent the closest thing the food industry has to selling an experience, which as many market observers have repeated ad nauseum, is what Millennials generally wish to purchase.

That said, the spicy candy trend is a bit of a mixed bag for parents. Spicy candy may teach kids to branch out and be less picky eaters, but it has the potential to be dangerous. For kids, too much spicy food can result in severe abdominal pain as well as gastritis. So if you’re kid can’t stand the heat, get them out of the candy store.