What Took 'Best in Show' at Sweets & Snacks Expo?

NCA announces 2014 category winners, trends

York Minis candy (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores)

CHICAGO -- York Minis from The Hershey Co. won the inaugural Best in Show Award, part of the 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo's Most Innovative New Product Awards program.

The National Confectioners Association (NCA) gives its Best in Show distinction to the product that received the most scans in the New Product Showcase and ranked in the top 10 of its category during the tasting panel. Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert moderated the showcase, and judges included chefs, registered dieticians as well as leaders from the retail world.

Category winners included:

  • Chocolate: Tabasco Dark Spicy Chocolate Wedges, from The Chocolate Traveler.
  • Non-Chocolate: Jelly Belly Draft Beer Beans, from Jelly Belly Candy Co.
  • Seasonal: Doodle Eggs, from Vigneri Natural Chocolate.
  • Novelty/Licensed: Sour Farts Flow Packs, from Leaf Brands, Astro Pop LLC.
  • Salty Snacks: Slim Chips Aged White Cheddar, from Gourmet Basics.
  • Sweet Snacks: Show Me The Honey Coconut Chips, from Bare Snacks.
  • Gourmet/Premium: Bark Thins Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut with Almonds, from Ripple Brands Collective.
  • Gum & Mints: Project 7 Coconut Lime gum, from Project 7.
  • Savory Snacks: Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce Popcorn, from POP! Gourmet Popcorn.

Meanwhile, the candy and snack industries this year saw broader food industry trends--including ancient grains, power foods, herbs and spices--and a resurgence of classic flavors like peanut butter and coconut.

Top candy and snack trends from the 2014 Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago:

  • Seeds, grains and power foods. From quinoa to kale and from chia to chai, the candy and snack categories are no exceptions when it comes to the influence of the ancient grains, seeds and super food movements. According to IRI Worldwide, 53% of consumers try to eat foods that help prevent or manage health challenges and 45% seek snacks that offer benefits beyond basic nutrition. The industry has happily complied with these demands. Attendees saw an influx of products with pumpkin seeds, chick peas, pomegranate, seaweed, sesame, parsnips and peabutter (a spread made from brown peas).
  • Comeback kids. Peabutter might be a radical new concept for most Americans, but they are sure to be better acquainted with its distant cousin, peanut butter, which is popping up alongside other beloved ingredients like bacon, marshmallow fluff and banana. Coconut is also experiencing resurgence in popularity with entries into NCA's Most Innovative New Product Awards in the sweet, salty, savory, chocolate and gourmet categories. Other "comeback kids" include almonds, cashews and chocolate with hazelnuts, the latter of which grew 16% in sales in 2013. Caramels are also making a comeback in big way--both on their own and as an inclusion in other products.
  • Herbs and spice, twice as nice. As taste palates and demographics continue to shift, food manufacturers are increasingly adding more flavorful and exotic herbs and spices to a variety of products, including candy and snacks. Last year's unexpected sriracha shortage seems not to have had a lasting impact as snack makers continue to experiment with the red chili and garlic condiment. Similarly, tabasco is popping up in a variety of products, often paired with chocolate. Other herbs and spices highlighted by NCA's Most Innovative New Product Awards nomination process included ginger, rosemary, wasabi, sage, sea salt and cracked pepper.
  • Deliciously decadent. Truffle oil, imported salts and browned butter add taste and texture to a wide variety of decadent candy and snacks introduced at the expo this year. Indulgent categories like premium chocolates, chocolate-covered salty snacks, bakery snacks, and dried meats and fruits have been on the rise for a few years, fueled in large part by the innovation snack makers have applied to new product launches. Look for more all-natural products in store aisles, as well.
  • Have your cake and chocolate, too. From whoopie pie to banana crème pie, this year candy and snack makers found inspiration from dinner's sweet, final course. For those who prefer to drink their desserts, attendees found a variety ranging from beer-themed chocolate and chewy candies to cherry cola, macchiato and crème de menthe flavored treats.