2003 Product Innovation Awards

Our look back at the best food products from the past year

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Food Processing staff

Innovation is an elusive concept, as difficult to define as it is to put in practice. Yet you know it when you see it: it's the product that meets consumer expectations precisely because it exceeds them. That's a difficult charge for the food industry, whose product introductions often march behind the shield of past successes, with very little to distinguish them.

With that in mind, the staff of FOOD PROCESSING decided that products with genuine ingenuity should be lauded for their courage, novelty and, yes, success. So on the following pages, we salute those products from the past year that best demonstrate new ways to look at old markets, whether they relate to taste, format, formulation, convenience, safety or any of the myriad combinations thereof.

Because innovation in the food sector so often represents the happy convergence of these and other variables, we've dispensed with classifications on the order of "best packaging" or "most convenient," as well as the hierarchical problems such titles confer. Each of the products presented was selected by FOOD PROCESSING's editorial panel, whose members sought and graciously received outside perspective. In that same spirit, we welcome your observations.

Breath of fresh air

From a 19th Century blend intended to sooth the savage stomach comes one of the most innovative products in decades to improve one's breath. At the very least, Altoids brand Peppermint and Cinnamon Strips put a new spin on the expression "melts in your mouth" and, indeed, the paper-thin strips not only provide quick-dissolve delivery, but impart everything from caffeine to vitamins, depending on the brand. Nonetheless, this is the one that propelled the concept to world popularity in a diminutive, pocket-sized container. Fun company, fun concept.

A tall Tombstone

In the 1960s, a pair of brothers serving pizza and libations in their bar near a Wisconsin cemetery uncovered a great recipe. By the mid-1980s, Tombstone Pizza was in the capable managerial hands of Kraft, which expertly grew the brand by combining interesting flavor combinations with quality production techniques. The latest to join the Tombstone product fold is Deep Dish Pan Pizza, featuring six single-serve pizzas (two cheese, two pepperoni, two supreme) stacked in a freezer-friendly plastic wrap. Each of the pizzas can be prepared in the microwave in as little as 2½ minutes, with the remainder tucked snugly in the freezer under the reclosable wrap. Though the single-serve format is perfect for family snacking and lunching, we suspect that Deep Dish will find its greatest success in the grab-and-go hands of young consumers.

Au naturel

Kudos to PepsiCo's Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay division for making pre-emptive strikes against obesity long before the nation's expanding waist line ballooned into the most pressing public health issue confronting consumers -- and the food industry. Frito-Lay has been at the forefront of developing healthy snacks since the 1960s (Its Lays and Ruffles potato chips, for instance have been prepared in trans fat-free oils for years), and this year the manufacturer launched what is arguably its largest, and riskiest -- assault yet on unhealthy snacking with the release of its Natural Line, which includes Reduced Fat Ruffle Chips; Tostitos Tortilla Chips with Organic Blue Corn; Tostitos Tortilla Chips with Organic Yellow Corn; Tostitos Organic Salsa and Natural Lays Potato Chips. The entire line is cooked in fat-free oils (sunflower oil) and is devoid of cholesterol-raising trans fats. The products also contain less salt than regular brands. But the line's crowning achievement may be that it "Lays" to rest the myth that tasty and healthful are oxymorons in the salty snack category. Come to think of it, Lay's rewards are bound to outweigh any risk the manufacturer has taken.

Chef's special

Grinning, mustachioed Chef Boyardee has presided over kids' lunches for generations, and now he's serving up supper in the form of Deep Dish Meals (DDM), a savvy combination of the Chef's venerable ravioli, macaroni and lasagna brands and his more recent Cheese Pizza Kits. Available in five varieties, including Cheese Lover's Lasagna, 5 Cheese Ravioli and Cheesy Burger Macaroni, the meals each consist of meat, pasta and cheese served atop an oven-baked crunch. The ConAgra-owned DDMs are sure to strike a nostalgic chord with baby boomers, especially those among them who are time challenged. Each variety contains a can pasta and meat sauce, as well as pouches of cheese sauce and crust mix, all of which require only five minutes' preparation time before dinner is popped into the oven. Its almost as simple as the brand's original canned Spaghetti, which brings the Chef -- and consumers -- full circle.

Fire up the grill!

You might expect that McCormick & Co.'s new line of Grill Mates Grilling Sauces would include Teriyaki and Mesquite varieties, but not that the Hunt Valley, Md., manufacturer would seemingly create a sauce for every season, and reason, with varieties that include Roasted Garlic and Herb, Dijon Mustard and Montreal Steak, which contains a robust blend of coarsely ground peppers, garlic and spices that enhance the natural flavor of steak, hamburgers and ribs. Depending on the variety, the sauces provide the perfect complement to chicken, pork, burgers, seafood, even vegetables. And they can be brushed on during the last few minutes of grilling, though these mouthwatering sauces hardly taste like an afterthought. If the grill is standing under six inches of snow, they're also perfect as a dipping sauces at the table. "People are craving bolder flavors and brush-and-go simplicity," Laurie Harrsen, McCormick director of public relations told FOOD PROCESSING last summer. "These new sauces are just what they've been searching for."

Polly wants a huh?

Polly may wonder what happened to her beloved Ritz crackers, but consumers have to love the brand extension Ritz Chips from Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft Foods'/Nabisco Ritz. Produced in a free-style shape, the product savvily combines the buttery, savory flavor of Ritz Crackers with crunchy bite of a potato chip. The oven-toasted Ritz Chips contain 150 calories and 6 grams of fat per 14 chips, and are available in three flavors: Original, Cheddar and Sour Cream & Onion. Packaged in an eye-catching foil stand-up bag with a peel-off-tab for reclosing, Ritz Chips are innovative to be sure, but even more important they taste great.

Udderly delightful

Almost a century after it began selling soda, Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper/Seven Up Inc., a division of Cadbury Schweppes, expanded into the fledgling flavored milk category with Raging Cow. Packaged in single-serve plastic bottles, Raging Cow is targeted toward young adults who have left their milk-drinking years behind them. In addition to placing the beverage in the dairy section of supermarkets, Dr Pepper made certain it was available in venues frequented by young adults, college campuses, concerts, vending machines and on the Internet. Available in five cool varieties -- Pina Colada Chaos, Jamocha Frenzy, Berry Mixed Up, Chocolate Caramel Craze and Chocolate Insanity, the product contains about 60 percent milk. Although the name Raging Cow is an oxymoron, it's so catchy and edgy that we asked Dr Pepper for the skinny. "Having escaped from a dairy where milk was the only option, Raging Cow's unpredictable and mischievous mascot symbolizes the independence and enthusiasm of the brand's target consumers," says director of brand marketing Andrew Springate. And he adds, "Raging Cow's only utterance is an occasional,'primal moo,' which is tantamount to a bovine scream."

A shapely innovation

There's no doubt that 18- to 24-year-olds have an insatiable desire for convenience, portability and innovation. Hershey, Pa.-based Hershey Foods launched Hershey's Swoops, slices of curve-shaped solid chocolate, that meet just those needs. Shaped like canister chips, Swoops are packaged in a circular enclosure and contain three-on-the go cups, each containing six slices of chocolates. Swoops are available in four popular Hershey flavors, Hershey's milk chocolate, Reese's peanut butter, Almond Joy and York peppermint candies. If Hershey's Swoops is one iota as popular as Hershey's Kisses, the manufacturer's last shapely chocolate innovation, the candy will be a winner in the supermarket sweeps.

Breaking the time barrier

Nine in 10 respondents to "What America Eats," Parade's ninth biennial survey, only eat dessert once a week. The problem for most home cooks is lack of time. Minneapolis-based General Mills Inc. has solved the problem with Betty Crocker Complete Desserts Mixes, which are available in three varieties: Southern-Style Peach Cobbler, Classic Cherry Cobbler and Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp. It takes four minutes from box to oven. Each package includes Comstock real fruit and a pouch of dessert topping mix. Just spread the fruit in the pan, add water and spoon or sprinkle the topping on. Baking time is approximately 30 minutes.

One, two, three

Given that increasing numbers of Americans are watching portions for weight control, that singles comprise 26 percent of the U.S. adult population, and that family members eat dinner at different times, portion-control packaging provides a great opportunity for food manufacturers to extend their brands. Accordingly, Minneapolis-based General Mills' Pillsbury brand has rolled out three new products in its Home Baked Classics line , Soft White Dinner Rolls, Crusty Sourdough Dinner Rolls and Extra Large Easy Split Biscuits. Packaged in resealable bags, the rolls and biscuits go straight from the freezer to the oven, with no thawing or proofing required. Just pop out the number you need and freeze the rest.

They'rrree great!

Tony the Tiger, spokestiger for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, is the No. 1 cereal character with an 88 percent awareness rating, and no one wants to disappoint icon admirers. So Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg's, took its time -- 51 years -- developing a second cereal that Tony could proudly add to his portfolio. Kellogg's Tony's Cinnamon Krunchers are rice-based rather than corn-based, as Frosted Flakes are, which makes the product more than a mere extension. Crispy flakes are coated in cinnamon, the fastest-growing kids cereal flavor, up 39 percent in the past four years and a staple in Hispanic kitchens. "America's taste buds are broadening. Citron and cinnamon are very Mexican and Caribbean," says Stephen Phillips, director of Expo Comida Latina, the Hispanic food and beverage trade show, reports the New York Daily News. "Tangy flavors are hitting the marketplace now because of the increasing population and influence of Hispanics in the U.S."

In a snap

"In a country of over-consumption and super-sizing, meal replacements are a wonderful way to manage portion control, especially for people who just don't have the time to prepare or sit down to a balanced meal." So said a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for the January launch of the Snapple Beverage Group's Snapple-a-Day. It isn't the first meal replacement nor is it the first smoothie, but Snapple-a-Day strikes a smart balance among flavor, nutrition and healthfulness. Available in three flavors -- Strawberry Banana, Peach and Tropical Blend -- Snapple-a-Day is high in calcium and dietary fiber, contains 7 grams of Solae soy protein, and is a good source of 24 essential vitamins and minerals, including folic acid, thiamin, pantothenic acid, niacin, manganese, biotin, magnesium, selenium, chromium, potassium, zinc, phosphorous, iron and vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, B12, and D. It has 210 calories per serving, no saturated fat or cholesterol, and is dairy-free. Individual 11.5-oz. bottles are plastic, thus ridding consumers of the medicinal and metallic taste associated with meal replacements in cans. The bottles are resealable and nicely portable.

More ways to five a day

Raisins may well have been the first shelf-stable fruit snack. The minimal processing (drying) of grapes created a delicious and different product. No one's more familiar with raisons than the folks at Sun-Maid Growers of California, an agricultural cooperative headquartered in Kingsburg, Calif., in the heart of California's fertile San Joaquin Valley. Why stop there? Product, packaging and processing advances this past year brought a handful of additional fruit products to grocery shelves , and healthful lunchboxes ,under the name of Sun-Maid Fast Fruit. Available in 5- to 7-oz. resealable zipper pouches are Washington Apples, California Peaches, both Calimyrna and Mission Figs, California and Mediterranean Apricots, and Cranberries,as well as (mixed) Fruit Bits and Tropical Medley. One-quarter cup (about 1.5 ounces) equals a complete serving of fruit, with all the nutrients and associated health benefits. Whatever else changes on the Food Pyramid, as well in consumers' minds, the emphasis on fruit should remain high. Sun-Maid Fast Fruit is a great way to get Five a Day.

Gourmet goes mainstream

Retail and foodservice continue to overlap, as evidenced by Montvale, N.J.-based Reckitt Benckiser's French's brand, which spiced up the condiment category this year with GourMayo -- mayonnaise with gourmet flavors that are difficult to replicate at home, including Sun Dried Tomato, Chipotle Chili and Wasabi Horseradish. These sophisticated flavors elevate everyday foods to a new level, while providing French's with a lofty berth in the $1 billion mayonnaise category. Containing just half the fat and half the calories of regular mayonnaise, GourMayo is a super alternative for the more health-conscious consumer. A versatile product that can be used as a condiment, ingredient or coating for baked meats, GourMayo adds an ethnic flair to the most basic of recipes. Since restaurants inspired the flavors, GourMayo has uncovered a new market -- foodservice and restaurant operators who want to save time back of the house.

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