In addition to the trends currently dominating the sweets and snacks category - such as organic, gluten-free and clean labels - the event also offered evidence of the surge in bean-to-bar, plant-based ingredients and products inspired by regional culture, including chicharrones and seaweed.
“These trends are creating new opportunities for natural and organic brands and retailer,” said a spokesman for Expo East.
Winners of last year's Best of the East awards included Chosen Foods, California, for its Avocado Oil Mayo; Tio Gazpacho, Connecticut, for its Gazpacho de Sol; and Savannah Bee Company, Georgia, for its Royal Jelly Body Butter.
Winners of the 2016 Best of East Awards will be announced on Friday September 23, but here is a sneak peek at 12 of the sweets and snack items among the natural products that are competing:
4050 Chicharrones were created by former chef and butcher Ryan Farr while working in San Francisco, as a solution to waste in the meat industry. The chicharrones are sourced from sustainably raised hogs, and are packed with protein and are gluten-free. The products are designed to target craft beer drinkers and athletes.
Madecasse Sea Salt and Nibs dark chocolate
The founders of Madecasse began the company as Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar. They are hoping to provide a different flavor from most single-origin chocolate in the market. At the Expo East this year, Madecasse is showcasing its 63% sea salt and nibs flavored dark chocolate.
Aloha’s chocolate fudge brownie flavored protein bar
Aloha launched in around 5,000 stores throughout the US in spring 2016. Its products include snack bars, protein bars, protein powders, supplements, chocolate bars and tea. All the Aloha products are organic and without artificial ingredients.
The Unique Pretzels bakery is owned by the sixth generation of the Spannuth family, Bill and Justin Spannuth. The brand is featuring sprouted 100% whole grain pretzel shells and 'Splits' in the Best of East awards. They are made with four organic ingredients, and are non-GMO.
Plant Snacks’ Cassava chips
Cassava Crunch uses the naturally gluten free root vegetable Cassava. In addition to chips, the brand is available in four other varieties: Cheddar, Seeds, Sea Salt and Kale. All are non-GMO, gluten-free, and paleo friendly.
Golden Valley Natural’s Ascend beef jerky
Ascend beef jerky is crafted in Idaho, and is described as the first all-natural, certified non-GMO beef and turkey jerky featuring artisanal flavor profile.
Pure Growth Organics animal crackers
Designed as a children's snack, Pure Growth offers organic chocolate crackers without added chemicals or artificial ingredients. The brand also featured in Snack Attack event this year in New York City.
Hippeas’ organic chickpea puffs
Hippeas is a new range of organic chickpea puffs from Green Park Brands. The products are low-calorie, certified organic, gluten-free, vegan, kosher, and non-GMO. Each one-ounce bag contains three grams of fiber and four grams of protein.
JC’s pie pops, nudies and pie bites
JC's is new truffle product that is coated in a meringue, key lime and graham cracker crust. All its ingredients are non-GMO.
Quinn Snacks’ classic sea salt pretzels
Quinn Snacks claims its pretzels are the first gluten-free pretzels that are non-GMO verified, ancient grain, whole grain, corn-free and soy-free. The company also runs a farm-to-bag total ingredient transparency program.
Justin’s peanut butter with banana chips Snack Pack
Justin's new Snack Pack extension, peanut butter with banana chips, is packaged in 100% recyclable trays. The new item is gluten-free, non-GMO, and pairs two high-growth and trending categories: nut butter and dried fruit.
Seaweed snack brand Sea Snax is organic, gluten-free and paleo-certified, vegan, kosher, low sodium, and contains only 15 calories per serving.