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CHICAGO — More suppliers, retailers and industry experts than ever before are gathered at the National Confectioners Association's (NCA) 2016 Sweets & Snacks Expo, which kicked off Tuesday at Chicago's McCormick Place West.
More than 720 exhibitors are at this year's show, which now spans two expo halls: the main show floor and Skyline Hall's Innovation Avenue, which showcases companies that are just beginning their candy and snack businesses.
The NCA also added a second theater for its lineup of education sessions, which span nearly the full operating hours of the show this year — something that is a direct result of the wide variety of experts who were interested in sharing insights and guidelines, according to Larry Wilson, vice president of industry affairs for NCA.
The first day of the expo featured the presentation of the Most Innovative New Product Awards. Unlike in previous years, both the category finalists and the winners were determined by a judging panel that tested and evaluated more than 320 submissions. Points were awarded for taste, innovation, packaging and go-to-market ability.
"With more competition than ever before, each of the Most Innovative Product Award finalists and winners represent the upper echelon of candy and snack innovation," said Barry Rosenbaum, Sweets & Snacks Expo chairman and president of Nassau Candy Distributors Inc.
The 2016 winners are:
- Chocolate: Grand Ferrero Rocher, Ferrero U.S.A. Inc.
- Non-Chocolate: Starburst Gummies, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.
- Sweet Snacks: Half Dips Dark Chocolate Mango, Alli & Rose LLC
- Salty Snacks: Hardbite "18 CARROT GOLD" Carrot Chips, Naturally Homegrown Foods Ltd.
- Savory Snacks: Hungry Buddha Smokin' Sriracha Coconut Chips, Temple Lifestyle
- Novelty/Licensed: Dippin' Dots Redberry Sherbet with Sour Patch Kids, Dippin' Dots Ice-Cream
- Seasonal: Turtles Eggs, DeMet's Candy Co.
- Gourmet/Premium: Organic Jelly Beans, Jelly Belly Candy Co.
- Gum & Mints: Bazooka Sugar-Free To Go Cup, Bazooka Candy Brands
- Best in Show: Reese's Pieces Peanut Butter Cups, The Hershey Co.
"With the use of unique ingredients and flavor combinations, the tastes of 2016 are bigger, bolder and more groundbreaking than ever before," said NCA President and CEO John Downs. "The Expo is a showcase of the ways in which our industry is working hard to provide consumers with choices, information and the support they need to make decisions that are right for them."
On the show floor, notable candy trends include the rise of products with "pure" ingredients. While consumers may not enter the candy aisle in search of a healthy product, they are more interested these days in items with non-artificial ingredients, or simply fewer ingredients. Featured new products tapping into this trend include Jelly Belly's Organic Jelly Beans, Hershey's Simply 5 Syrup, and the Lorissa's Kitchen jerky brand.
Variations on already-popular brands both in and outside the confectionery market are also prevalent on the show floor, such as Krispy Kreme Coffee Thins and Reese's Pieces Peanut Butter Cups, which were first conceived during a train ride when Hershey employees wondered "What if?", according to a company representative.
Other new product trends on display at the show are bold or spicy flavors, premium chocolate items, and barks and thins.