Reese's Pieces Cup - Hershey
Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup from the Hershey Co. is slated to hit shelves this summer.

CHICAGO — Winning the “best in show” award for most innovative new product at the Sweets & Snacks Expo was the Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup from the Hershey Co. Slated to hit shelves this summer, the product combines the brand’s signature peanut butter cup with miniature Reese’s Pieces candies.

Anna Lingeris, Hershey
Anna Lingeris, senior manager of communications for Hershey

“We’re dubbing it an ‘equity explosion,’” said Anna Lingeris, senior manager of communications for Hershey, in an interview with Food Business News at the show. “For us, it’s a new way to combine the tastes and textures that people know and love together in a way that just makes sense. It’s a completely new experience from two things that have been iconic favorites for years. Reese’s has been around since 1928.”

Inspiration for the product struck during a train ride, as Ryan Riess, the senior marketing manager of Reese’s, and his marketing colleagues returned to Hershey, Pa., from working sessions with partner agencies in New York.

“By the end of a three-hour train ride, the idea was born and initial conversations with R.&D. confirmed that the idea was possible,” Mr. Riess wrote in a post on Hershey’s corporate blog. “Fast forward eight or so months to the idea becoming a reality. The speedy timeline did not allow for the traditional consumer testing, but rather relied on the deep understanding of the Reese’s (and Reese’s Pieces) consumers and trusting in the brand team’s knowledge.”

#Cupfusion - Hershey's Reese's social media marketing campaign
Hershey's #cupfusion marketing campaign spoke directly to consumers but neither confirmed nor denied the existence of the Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup.

After a consumer Facebook page leaked information about the product, garnering nearly 40,000 page views, Hershey scrapped its original marketing plans, Mr. Riess said.

“Similar to the innovation approach, we listened and enabled the team to act fast and deliver consumers what they wanted,” he said. “And what they wanted to talk about was this potential new product. The result was #cupfusion, a week-long, real-time marketing campaign, speaking directly to consumers but neither confirming nor denying the product.”

After a week of building anticipation, the brand officially announced the product on social media.

Lancaster Coffee & Caramel Cremes, Hershey's Simply 5 Syrup
Hershey also unveiled new Lancaster coffee and caramel soft cremes and Hershey’s Simply Five chocolate syrup.

The Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup headlined Hershey’s range of innovation on display at the Sweets & Snacks Expo, held May 24-26 in Chicago. The company also unveiled new Lancaster coffee and caramel soft cremes, a caramel and chocolate variety of Hershey’s Spreads, and Hershey’s Simply Five chocolate syrup made with five simple ingredients. New products from the Brookside brand include premium tablet bars made with dark chocolate in three flavor varieties: blueberry almond with acai, cranberry almond with blood orange, and mango coconut crisp; and a line of yogurt flavored fruit and nuts bars, which are gluten-free and contain no bioengineered ingredients or artificial flavors.

“We’re looking consistently at the consumer, and that’s where the innovation starts,” Ms. Lingeris said. “What do they want, how are they eating differently, and how can our products and our brand play a role? We’re trying to figure out new ways to take those iconic brands, those products that everybody knows and loves, and bring them in different shapes and different forms.”

Brookside premium dark chocolate tablet bars
New products from the Brookside brand include premium tablet bars made with dark chocolate in three flavor varieties.

Beyond flavor and format innovation, a key driver of Hershey’s product development is seasonal and occasion-based consumption. The company is introducing a line of birthday-themed products, including Hershey’s Kisses, Reese’s and Kit Kat wrapped in brightly colored foils and merchandised among party supplies in retail outlets, Ms. Lingeris said.

“If you think about what may be one of the largest seasons or occasions, it’s your birthday; everybody has one,” Ms. Lingeris said. “So we’ve actually taken a lot of the iconic products and placed a birthday thematic to it, and we were looking for new places in the store to sell them, specifically in the birthday aisle. How can we make lives easier for moms and dads? We’re taking the products you know and love and placing an occasions twist based on our seasonal insights and knowledge.”

Another piece of Hershey’s innovation strategy is the concept of “snackfection,” combining the company’s popular confection brands with salty flavors and crunchy textures in convenient, on-the-go formats. The company last year unveiled snack mixes and bites featuring Hershey’s, Reese’s and Payday candies, and plans to debut “an upcoming generation of our evolution of snack mixes” in the future, Ms. Lingeris said.

Hershey party packaging for Kit-Kat and Jolly Ranchers
Hershey is introducing a line of birthday-themed products.

She added, “We’ll have to wait and see what the teams in R.&D. and innovation come up with, but I think the launch of the Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup is a good proof point that ideas can come from anywhere, and speed can be changed based on the knowledge and insights that already exist.”

And the award goes to…

Other winners of the 2016 Most Innovative New Product Awards at Sweets & Snacks include:

Chocolate: Ferrero Grand Rocher, Ferrero USA, Inc.

Non-chocolate: Starburst Gummies Originals, Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co.

Seasonal: Turtles Eggs, DeMet’s Candy Co.

Novelty/licensed: Dippin’ Dots Redberry Sherbet with Sour Patch Kids, Dippin’ Dots, L.L.C.

Salty snacks: Hardbite 18 Carrot Gold carrot chips, Naturally Homegrown Foods Ltd.

Savory snacks: Hungry Buddha Smokin’ Sriracha Coconut Chips, Buddha Brands Co.

Sweet snacks: Half Dips Dark Chocolate Mango, Alli & Rose, L.L.C.

Gourmet and premium: Organic Jelly Beans, Jelly Belly Candy Co.

Gum and mints: Bazooka Sugar-Free To Go Cup, Bazooka Candy Brands