From smaller to shareable to cleaner to spicier to handier, innovation was in full view at this past week’s Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago, a festival of sweet to salty and everything in between.
A couple of days hiking the show, hosted by the National Confectioners Association, by the Progressive Grocer team is barely enough time to absorb the avalanche of new products that are increasingly embracing wellness as well as indulgence, as daily snacking occasions widen among consumers and reshape traditional mealtime habits.
Dark chocolate, artisan salt, spicy flavors, protein from plants and animals, mini sizes, sharing portions and flavor mashups were all among the trends in evidence at this week’s show in Chicago.
Many of these important trends were reflected in the winners of NCA’s annual Most Innovative New Product Awards, sponsored by data analytics heavyweight IRI. Winners were selected from more than 300 new product award entries across nine candy and snack categories and judged for taste, packaging, innovation and go-to market feasibility
“Innovation and new products are key drivers of treating and snacking,” said John Downs, NCA’s president and CEO. “Competition is fierce, and the companies that have been recognized should be very proud of the contributions they make to advancing the fun and enjoyment of the category."
Larry Levin, IRi’s EVP of consumer and shopper marketing, concurred: “Historically, innovation has driven about 7 percent of the growth in confections. New products spark excitement for the consumer and generate more opportunities for treating.”
This year’s Best in Show award was presented to Hostess Brands for its Double Chocolate Cake Delights, mini crème-filled cakes in a recloseable pouch. Judges presented the Small Business Innovator award to Vosges Haut-Chocolate for its Hazelnut Cocoa Toast.
Among category winners, The Hershey Co. scored in the chocolate category for its Gold Standard Bar, while Nestle USA/Ferrara Candy Co. took top non-chocolate honors for its Big Chewy Nerds.
Sweet Snacks winner was Justin's Organic White Chocolate Mini Peanut Butter Cups, while judges chose Sahale Snacks Tangerine Vanilla Cashew-Macadamia Glazed Mix as their favorite salty snack. The winner among Savory Snacks was Alli & Rose’s Trail Mix Crackers.
The Novelty/Licensed winner was Impact Confections Inc. for its Warheads Dippin’ Ring. Seasonal winner was Ferrero USA Inc. for its Golden Heart for You & Me. Gourmet Winner was That's How We Roll Trios/Original. Gum & Mints winner was Ferrero USA for its Cool Tropical Tic Tac Gum.