The Most Innovative New Products Awards last week at the Sweets & Snacks Expo 2014 involved new products deemed by a panel of experts as “most likely to succeed,” across nine candy and snack categories. Among the eight most innovative were M&M Mars, which took the Salty Snacks category for its new Salty & Sweet Snack Mix & Peanuts, which teams chocolate chips cookies with roasted peanuts and crunchy pretzels. Sweet & Spicy Nopalitos Dried Snacks, a spicy, dried cactus entry, received the award in the Savory Snacks category. Nutella & Go, from Ferrero, won in the Sweet Snacks category; it features breadsticks for dipping into Nutella chocolate spread. Ellia Kassoff, CEO of LEAF Brands, accepted the coveted Most Innovative Product Award for Novelty candy, after a rigorous contest featuring more than 250 different new products was unveiled at the show last Wednesday.

A total of 45 nominations were given to companies showcasing the most innovative ideas, concepts and products in the confectionery and snacks industry across nine categories. The categories ranged from chocolate, sweet and salty snacks, savory, novelty, seasonal and a new Best in Show Award, among others. The Best in Show winner represents the "People's Choice" as "best of the best" at the 2014 Expo. All attendees were also able to vote for the most innovative new product they found on the show floor.

TV reporter and food marketing expert Phil Lempert guided the collaborative process of the panel to reach an agreement of five nominations in each category. The panel-selected product nominees were displayed in the Most Innovative New Product Awards showcase located within the New Product Showcase. After the initial round of judging by the panel, nearly 6,000 retail and wholesale trade customers got the chance to vote electronically for their favorite items in each category. Award winners were announced on Wednesday during the expo’s keynote session by Lempert.

“These awards showcase how candy and snack brands are meeting the needs of the consumer," Lempert says. "This year’s entries exceeded 2013’s entries by almost 25%, underscoring the innovative culture of this industry.”

The panel of experts comprised retail customers, food industry icons and trend experts that assisted the show sponsor, the National Confectioners Association (NCA), in narrowing the field of more than 200 expected product entries. Industry representatives from some of the nation's leading retail and wholesale companies taking part in the panel were Duff Goldman, chef and owner of Charm City Cakes and food TV personality; Lempert; Harry Balzer, vice president of The NPD Group Inc.; supermarket dietitian Peggy Balboa; Tim Erceg of Hy-Vee stores; Dollar General’s Jennifer Dilts; Joe Grady, vice president of candy and impulse purchasing at Walmart Stores Inc.; and many more.