Sweets & Snacks Expo Enhances Most Innovative New Product Awards

NCA's 2014 program will feature celebrity chef, retail dietician, more

Peggy Balboa, Homaro Cantu, Claire Crenshaw NCS Sweets & Snacks Expo (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores)

Peggy Balboa (left), Homaro Cantu, Claire Crenshaw

WASHINGTON -- The National Confectioners Association (NCA) has announced enhancements to its 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo Most Innovative New Product Awards program, which showcases the most innovative ideas, concepts and products in two of the fast-growing marketplace categories: candy and snacks.

The event will take place May 20-22 in Chicago.

This year the expert tasting panel of judges includes Peggy Balboa, registered dietician for Mariano's Fresh Market, who will provide a valued perspective on the special place that new confectionery and snack items hold in the diet. The panel will also welcome back Homaro Cantu, renowned chef, author and entrepreneur, known for the artistic experience he brings to food. His executive pastry chef from Moto restaurant, Claire Crenshaw, will also join as a judge in 2014.

"As we continue to focus on health and wellness and the role of candy as a treat in the diet, we are thrilled to gain the perspective of a supermarket dietician in our esteemed awards program," said Tim Quinn, Expo chairman and vice president of trade development at Mars Chocolate North America.

"And of course anyone who has dined at one of Chef Cantu's restaurants or seen him perform on the Food Network's Iron Chef knows that his perspective on unique flavors and radical innovation is unparalleled in the food industry," added Quinn.

The elite panel of judges comprises retail customers, food industry icons and trend experts who will analyze more than 250 new confectionery and snack products based on an enhanced grading scale that accounts for packaging, innovation, go-to-market potential and taste.

"These awards showcase how candy and snack brands are meeting the needs of the consumer," said Phil Lempert, food trends editor for NBC's Today Show, industry trends analyst and panel moderator. "This year's entries exceeded 2013's entries by almost 25%, underscoring the innovative culture of this industry."

For the first time, all products entered will receive written comments from judges to provide companies with concrete and constructive commentary.

NCA is introducing an additional category, gum and mints, in 2014 to better segment the variety of innovative products submitted. NCA is also excited to award the inaugural Best in Show prize given to the product that show attendees nominate as the best-of-the-best at the Expo.

"Our program celebrates innovation, so we want to continue to be innovative in the way that we structure the program itself," said Quinn. "While the gum segment overall has struggled in recent years, the top SKUs have seen significant growth proving that the category is ripe for both sales and innovation. Further, we believe having one overall 'people's choice' award provides attendees a clear view of what the hottest all-around item is on the show floor this year."

After the initial round of judging by the panel, nearly 6,000 retail and wholesale trade customers have the opportunity to vote electronically for their favorite items in each category. NCA will announce sward winners on May 21 during the Expo's keynote session by Phil Lempert.