The 2016 Sweets and Snacks Expo in Chicago, Illinois featured more than four acres of innovative snack products and confectionary goods from 750 companies, both domestic and international. While attending the 2016 Sweets and Snacks Expo, we gathered five key takeaways.

1. Healthy snacks are booming

Take a walk around a grocery store and it is easy to see that healthy snacks are on the rise. Consumers are increasingly interested in health and wellness. The U.S. government has also grown more concerned about the healthiness of food. Throughout the Sweets & Snacks show, companies large and small featured their healthier or clean label snacks — a likely prediction of the future of the industry and consumer demand.

2. Candy companies are going natural

Familiar confectionary enterprises, like Mars, Hershey, and Nestle, dedicated major sections of their booths to newer, more entrepreneurial healthy brands. Like many other companies, these major brands are starting to see the possibilities in healthy snacking. There is always more room in the food industry for all-natural or organic options.

3. Fruits, veggies, and proteins are primed for innovation

The snack industry is starting to take a simpler approach and returning to humble fruits and vegetables as packaged snacks. New and innovative brands were making fruits and veggies the main focus.

Proteins are booming too. Many startups are experimenting with new ways of doing jerky and paleo snacks that feature meat as a prominent ingredient. Meat-alternative protein options are also becoming more popular. Whether in a bag or a bar, protein is shifting in an interesting direction.

4. Dark chocolate rules

Dark chocolate was featured in approximately two-thirds of the available products at the show. The delicious dark confection has health benefits too, appearing in different shapes, textures, formulas, and combinations. The popularity of dark chocolate as a healthier alternative to milk chocolate means it is probably not going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

5. Candy is still a powerhouse

Though there were plenty of healthy alternatives on display, the expo is still called Sweets and Snacks. Aisles upon aisles of candies in a cornucopia of gummies, sour flavors, florescent colors, and sugary concoctions. There were sticks, ropes, balls, swirls, big drops, and little beads of candy — bags of it, boxes of it, pallets of it. Dietitians and nutritionists tell us to reduce candy and added sugar in the diet, but at this show, candy was still king.

Inspired by all the health-conscious innovation at the expo? Mercer’s research and development department can help you create a freeze-dried product that meets any need you might have, whether snack or produce. If you were at Sweets and Snacks Expo 2016, tell us about your favorite booths or best new treats on Twitter and Facebook.