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Sex and candy: The A.V. Club visits The National Association Of Convenience Stores convention

It’s not often that A.V. Clubbers find themselves in situations where bikini-clad models are sliding into hot tubs filled with water and numbered balls while onlookers cheer and gulp energy drinks. (It happens, at most, six or seven times a week.) But the National Association Of Convenience Stores convention—NACS for short—isn’t your everyday situation. It’s a controlled bacchanal of electronic cigarettes, regular cigarettes, candy, snacks, shelving units, guys in Tony The Tiger outfits, instant ice cream, self-heating cans of soup, a “robot store,” and yes, a plethora of so-called “booth babes.” 

Monster Energy Drink is clearly the biggest supporter of boobs at the NACS. We attended the convention last time it was in Chicago, in 2008, and their presence was strong there as well. With the addition of water (and bikinis) to the equation, it was a very popular attraction.

The same might be said for 50 Cent, who was at the convention to promote his new Street King energy shot. Allow me to quote from the package, which promises six hours of energy: “This shot will bring you greater focus and energy. I believe if you improve your energy, you gain the power to change bigger things. Every time you purchase a Street King energy shot, you feed a child in need. That’s positive energy. That’s what Street King is all about.” And then it’s signed “50 Cent.” We actually missed Mr. Cent’s appearance at his booth, but we didn’t miss the cognitive dissonance caused by juxtaposing TV screens featuring starving children and a golden DJ booth populated by, you guessed it, babes. 

Another celebrity was available for photos during the entire convention: Elsie the Borden cow. She did not take breaks.

Anyway—products! We’re here for the products, some just to tell you about, and some perhaps to Taste Test in the future. As they frequently do during the National Confectioners Association Expo (which we go to religiously), the folks at Mars provided a huge candy cocktease here: The lanyards given to each attendee touted a new Twix flavor, Twix S’Mores. Though we inquired at the big ol’ Mars/M&M display (and enjoyed a new Dove Mint Swirl Ice Cream With Dark Chocolate bar), we were not able to check out the S’Mores. Or the new Snickers 3X Chocolate 2 Go Bar. Alas, next year. Mars did have the new Starburst Flavor Morph package, which touts a magical ability to change flavors (“with flavor changing beads!”).

Elsewhere in candy-tease land, Nestle had a big display of its new Girl Scout Cookie-inspired candy bars, which are basically those Nestle Crunch Crisp bars but in three (exciting!) new flavors, matching Thin Mint, Samoas, and Tagalong. Boxes were present, the guy at the booth told us how awesome they are… But they weren’t ready to taste. We hate you Nestle! (P.S. Nestle, we love you, please send us some when they’re ready.)

In other new candy news: Jolly Rancher Crunch ’N Chew (blech), Ice Breakers Duo Fruit & Cool (too much information), and mini Rolos that come in a bag so you can eat a handful. Fair enough.

But sometimes the most interesting stuff at the convention is too big to take home (like booth babes, for example). A company called Shop24 was displaying a “robot store,” which is really just a fancy name for a massive vending machine. It was pretty impressive, but also a little scary.

We were allowed only a small taste of Blk water, which is exactly what it sounds like: black water. It’s water mixed with something called fulvic acid, which is apparently “mined from a 70-million-year-old source deep within the earth.” It has 77 trace minerals, which may be more or less than tap water. We do know one thing: It’s really weird drinking black water. It looks like coffee but tastes like Poland Spring. We’re reminded only of Crystal Pepsi.

A company called Moo Bella has created a giant ice-cream/mixins maker that seems like a winner for college campuses: A touch-screen allows you to select your ice cream flavor and toppings, and then the ice cream is actually made right there in front of you, in 40 seconds. It was tasty, though texturally a little too smooth. Their slogan: “Changing ice cream, one scoop at a time.”

Seeing as he was apparently a little weirded out seeing his face on T-shirts and bobbleheads, we wonder how Zach Galifianakis feels about officially licensed Hangover recovery shots, featuring his mug (and the mugs of his co-stars). Collect ’em all! (Except Doug, who wants that one?)

Unlike the candy show, there’s plenty of “adult” stuff at the NACS show (in addition to the booth babes). We’re still slightly confused about the proliferation of electronic cigarettes—there were many sexy booths trying to pimp them. And there seem to be almost as many “relaxation” drinks (and chews) this year as there are stimulants. You could also just grab a beer at the PBR booth, and Colt 45 was sampling its new Snoop Dogg-approved Blast malt beverage. We’ll be Taste Testing that one soon.

Four Loko was also in full effect with its new caffeine-free but heavy-on-the-alcohol formula. We played a dice game with a top possible prize of $50,000 at the booth, but won exactly nothing except a shot of mango-flavored Four Loko. Alas. 

Other random things we should mention: This convention and this organization are MASSIVE. This is the NACS’ 50th year in existence, and the stores affiliated with the organization do hundreds of billions of dollars in business every year. This convention takes up 400,000 square feet of Chicago’s McCormick Place. (It rotates every third year with two other, lesser cities.)

And finally: There is a soup that heats itself up. We will be Taste Testing it soon, and hopefully it will be prepared by a robot butler.