Although I consider myself a morning person, 8 a.m. sessions at conference get-togethers have never been a favorite. But duty calls, so this half-awake editor made it over to McCormick Place West here in Chicago to attend Tuesday’s “Newest Products -- Hottest Trends!” session at the Sweets & Snacks Expo.

Tom Joyce of The Hershey Company, which sponsored the well-attended presentation, introduced moderator Lisa Bodell, ceo of futurethink -- a futurist who specializes in stimulating innovation. Bodell, in turn, asked her team of panelists to tell the audience who they are and what they do, but via images.

Each speaker -- Michele Bowman, co-founder of AndSpace Consulting; Lynn Dornblaser, director of CPG Trend Insights at Mintel; and Kim Moldofsky, blogger and founder of MomImpact.com -- displayed quite a bit of creativity in explaining their psyches and professions, everything from a raw chicken atop a mail box to a toilet snapshot.

The ladies all had interesting takes on what’s driving product development in the confectionery industry, but I liked Dornblaser’s summation of the three key influences in snacking today: value, simplicity and health.

And while that’s nothing new to most of you tracking trends, how candy companies are executing these concepts is what’s interesting.

To wit, all the ladies revealed their favorite new products introduced at the show, which ranged from Pretzel M&M’S and Jim Beam steak strips to Gimbal’s Honey Lovers Fruit Chews and Vitamin Gum.

As our economy struggles to return to normalcy, consumers are looking for products that deliver comfort, convenience and charm. What I’m seeing so far at the show indicates the industry has done its homework and is doing just that.