At this month's SWEETS & SNACKS EXPO held in Chicago, IL, the National Confectioners Association awarded 40 Most Innovative New Product nominations to companies showcasing the most innovative ideas, concepts and products in two of the fastest growing categories in the marketplace confectionery and snacks. Retail and wholesale trade customers then selected one winner in each of eight categories that help make up the $80 billion sweets and snacks industry in the US.

A panel of experts made up of retail customers, food industry icons and trend experts, helped NCA narrow down the field of entrants. Nearly 200 products were submitted for consideration. The panel analyzed
packaging, concepts and salability of each entry and had the opportunity to taste the products in their effort to select the top 40 items among eight categories. On the first day of the SWEETS & SNACKS EXPO, retail and wholesale trade customers had the final vote to select the best in each category.

"The EXPO's new product tasting session has been not only one of the most unique and diverse as far as product submissions, but also one of the most fun and flavorful events to collaborate on," says Phil
Lempert, food trends editor for NBC's TODAY Show and panel moderator. "Where else but at the SWEETS & SNACKS EXPO will you find cocoa-flavored freezer pops up against habanero corn nuggets, bacon and chocolate-flavored popcorn and sour gel-filled pens? All of the EXPO's panel participants were true professionals who were not afraid to infuse a little fun in the process."

Announced at a keynote session during the EXPO, the nominees and winners in each category are as follows:

Most Innovative New Product Winner: Hammond's Candies Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich MilkChocolate Bar

Non chocolate:
Most Innovative New Product Winner: Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, Skittles Riddles

Sweet snacks:
Most Innovative New Product Winner: Ferrero U.S.A., Inc., Nutella & Go!

Most Innovative New Product Winner:

Mars Chocolate North America, M&M'S Brand Snack Mix

Most Innovative New Product Winner: Nopal Bros., Nopal Bros. Sweet & Spicy Dried Cactus Snack

Most Innovative New Product Winner: Jelly Belly Candy Company, Jelly Belly UNO Game Box

Most Innovative New Product Winner: Mars Chocolate North America -- M&M'S Brand Candy CornWhite Chocolate Candies

Nominees:Brown & Haley -- Dark Chocolate Peppermint ROCAJust Born, Inc., 3 ct. Milk Chocolate Dipped Caramel Flavored PEEPS ChicksJust Born, Inc., 4 ct. Package PEEPS Chicks Rainbow POP Praim Group, Choxcard

Most Innovative New Product Winner: Brown & Haley, Dark ROCA

"The Awards nomination really did drive traffic to our booth," says Margie Walter about Haribo's nominated Lemon-Ginger Gummi Candy. "Attendees were coming up saying, 'I want to try that new product.' It was really valuable for us."

Meanwhile, Brown & Haley's new Dark Roca won top honors in the gourmet category. "Being recognized by our peers speaks volumes about our commitment to quality and our desire to delight consumers throughout the world," Pierson Clair, Brown and Haley CEO says.

NCA President Larry Graham noted that that in any given year about 30% of all confectionery sales are attributed to products launched in the previous 24 months. "Innovation is an essential part of the confectionery and snacks industry," Graham says. "Last year there were nearly 4,800 new candy and snack items launched in the US, many of them making their debut at the SWEET & SNACKS EXPO.