2004 Innovation Awards: A pageant of products

The past 12 months may have been a tough timeframe for new product introductions, but there were some real beauties among those that dared to come to market.

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By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief (dfusaro@putman.net),
and Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor
(dtoops@putman.net)

There are a couple of signs that 2004 was a difficult year for product rollouts. That was the conclusion of consulting firm Grant Thornton after its mid-year survey of U.S. food and beverage companies [see Food Processing, September 2004, p. 12]. “Consumer loyalty is much lower than in previous years. This lack of loyalty is motivating food and beverage companies to introduce products faster and sometimes with shorter life cycles,” the business advisory firm wrote.

In our own 33rd annual R&D Survey last month, we detected a small amount of frustration among product developers who had been working the past year or two mostly on safe hits, especially line extensions and low-carb versions, while waiting out the recession. But the R&D executives said they were expecting slightly larger budgets for next year in order to reach corporate goals of truly novel new products. “They are clearly looking for better products that will have longer life cycles, and they believe enhanced technical content staves off immediate competition,” we wrote in summary.

That may have been the broad brushstroke, but 2004 was not a year devoid of innovation. Despite many companies’ preoccupation with carb-cutting, we found seven products that truly broke new ground in the old paradigm of convenience, indulgence and health. Trends come and go, but that triad of consumer demands doesn’t seem to have changed in at least a decade (health being the last item to join that bandwagon). Interestingly, packaging innovation this year was the key to some of these new products.

So we salute this year’s top new food products. And if the product developers in our R&D survey weren’t fibbing, next year is gonna be one dynamite year.

Heart Wise contains plant sterols, which help lower total and LDL cholesterol by inhibiting absorption of cholesterol.
Drink to your health!


For some time, the pages of this and our sister magazine, Wellness Foods, have predicted and chronicled the evolution of food products from potentially harmful (in terms of obesity and cardiovascular diseases) to benign to curative. It’s a slow evolution, but with cardiovascular diseases becoming the largest overall burden on the health of the world’s population, food products have a huge opportunity to become a part of the solution rather than of the problem. Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise, an orange juice proven to lower cholesterol, is a huge step in that direction.

Heart Wise contains plant sterols, naturally sourced plant extracts clinically proven to help lower total and LDL cholesterol by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol. This product uses the CoroWise plant sterols from Cargill Inc. The Heart Wise package carries the FDA-authorized claim: “Foods containing at least 0.4 g per serving of plant sterols, consumed twice a day with meals for a daily total intake of at least 0.8 g, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. A serving of Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise contains 1 gram of plant sterols.”

“We’ve known for sometime plant sterols are proven to help reduce cholesterol levels,” said Kim Galeaz, a registered dietitian cited in Minute Maid promotions. “Adding plant sterols to a naturally fat-free product such as orange juice makes sense because it’s a good-for-you drink that many adults are already consuming daily.” And it helps that, after tasting both, consumers said they liked Heart Wise as much as they did regular Minute Maid orange juice.

In a recent clinical study conducted at a major medical center, participants significantly lowered their LDL cholesterol by drinking two 8-oz. servings of Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise orange juice daily with meals for eight weeks. Benefits of Heart Wise were demonstrated in both men and women with normal to borderline high total cholesterol.

“It’s been very successful. Heart Wise is one our top 10 SKUs in chilled,” says a spokesman for the company. “We feel it will definitely be around for quite a while.”

Minute Maid also devotes one entire panel of the carton to Mayoclinic.com tips to keeping your heart healthy. It’s also worth noting Minute Maid was the first company to launch nationally an orange juice fortified with calcium plus vitamin D and then one with vitamins C, E and zinc.

The slow-cooker (left) is back! This appliance allows consumers to have a home-cooked dinner waiting for them. However, those unable or unwilling to do the prep work can achieve a reasonable facsimile with these products from Banquet (above left) and Betty Crocker (above).
Return of the Crock-Pot


2004 saw the debut of at least two food products aimed at that 1970s icon of two-income households, the slow-cooker. Last spring, ConAgra’s Banquet unit debuted Crock-Pot Classics, frozen components in a stand-up pouch that cook all day in the slow-cooker and are hot and ready when everyone gets home in the evening. For its response, General Mills turned to a ’70s icon of its own. It tapped the long-running Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper line for Slow Cooker Helper.

ConAgra’s product takes 5 minutes of preparation time. Returning home at the end of the day, all the taste-testers for our monthly Product Spotlight (credit to Jacqueline Beckley and Hollis Ashman and their Understanding and Insight Group) commented on the pleasant aroma that filled their homes. At the very end, they added the rice (easy to fit in their lifestyles) and, by the time they got the table ready, the meal was ready, too.

Banquet Crock-Pot Classics come in six varieties: beef stew; chicken and dumpling; chicken with redskin potatoes and vegetables; creamy chicken with pasta; herb chicken and rice; and beef with noodles.

Betty Crocker Slow Cooker Helper also claims just five minutes of preparation time in the morning “for a hearty, home-cooked meal at night.” General Mills officials say they took a cue from consumer requests for recipes in devising this product. “Our slow cooker recipe magazines have been best-sellers in the past two years, so we began development of a slow cooker dinner kit that saves moms time, yet still tastes homemade,” says Helen Kurtz, marketing manager for the Family Dinners division.

In this case, you have to add both water and the meat – beef or chicken – to one of the four varieties: pot roast, beef stew, chicken & dumplings or beef stroganoff.

Recent signs indicate home meal preparation is becoming important again, that time around the dinner table, as rare as that may be, is golden. True scratch cooking probably never will return to the norm, but products such as these are bringing meal preparers closer to home.

Stand-up (and quick) meal ideas

Quick and easy-to-prepare meals and side dishes are top priority for consumers, especially since Mom often decides what’s for dinner between 4 and 6 p.m. Rice dishes have long been a good part of the solution, but at 15 minutes steaming time, they tend to slow things down. Even “instant” rice takes 5 minutes.

At least two processors this year came to the rescue with fully precooked rice with savory ingredients in stand-up pouches. How about red beans and rice ready in 60 seconds … and cooked right in the pouch to save you a dirty pot? Or roasted chicken-flavored rice ready in 90 seconds (also cooked in the pouch)?

The term "instant rice" takes on a whole new meaning when it comes in a flavorful, microwavable form like these shelf-stable pouches from Uncle Ben's (left) and Zatarain's (right).

The latter solution, Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice from Hackettstown, N.J.-based Masterfoods USA, debuted early in the year. Uncle Ben pre-measures the rice, seasonings and water and then steam-cooks them in a microwavable, retortable, bottom-gusseted pouch. This steam-cooking process and special packaging lock in freshness and shelf-stability, making it possible to offer Ready Rice in the rice aisle. Just pop the pouch directly into the microwave (which eliminates the need for pots, pans, utensils and even boiling water) and, after 90 seconds, it’s ready for the dinner plate. Varieties include Original Long Grain Rice, Original Brown Rice, Long Grain and Wild Rice, Spanish Rice and Roasted Chicken Flavored Rice.

“Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice is the result of years of research into the ready-to-heat process,” says Tom Novak, Uncle Ben’s director of research and development.

Meanwhile, Zatarain’s, a New Orleans tradition since 1889, also brought a heap of flavor and convenience to consumers with its line of New Orleans Style Ready-to-Serve! microwavable side dishes in a retort pouch. Ready in 60 seconds, the 8.8-oz varieties include Jambalaya Rice, Red Beans & Rice, Yellow Rice, Long Grain & Wild Rice, Chicken & Herb Rice and Perfect White.

“We’ve taken some of the most authentic New Orleans flavors and turned them into ultra-convenient side dishes so people can enjoy them anytime, anywhere,” says Laurie Harrsen, spokesperson for Zatarain’s, now owned by McCormick & Co.

One-of-a-kind munchable: the M-Azing Bar turns snacking into entertainment.
A-mazing graze


After more than 75 years of producing many of America’s best-selling chocolate candies, Masterfoods USA, Hackettstown, N.J., turned its attention to the tablet (non-filled) category and created the M-Azing Bar, a color and taste sensation. It’s the first candy bar to infuse color in a milk chocolate bar that pops with bursts of bright green, blue, red, yellow and orange, courtesy of M&M’s Minis Chocolate Candies. Varieties include Peanut Butter and Crunchy.

Breaking new ground, the M-Azing Bar is a molded bar embossed with a different M&M’S Brand Character on each of the eight segments.

“We wanted to bring fun into the tablet chocolate bar category by creating a chocolate bar that would deliver a delicious, entertaining and uniquely one-of-a-kind snacking experience,” says Mark Mattia, vice president of marketing.

Special sauces in special jars

As pasta and sauce companies go, Italian food company Barilla is a latecomer to the U.S.

Barilla Restaurant Creations requires dual compartments to keep its delicate ingredients separate until the moment of meal preparation.
In the third quarter, Barilla unveiled a true novelty. Barilla Restaurant Creations pasta sauce is so high-end a product it requires dual compartments to maintain the integrity of each delicate ingredient, thereby keeping them separate until the exact moment of meal preparation.


The distinctive, hourglass-shaped package has two 17-oz. jars within it. The top jar is the “chef’s recipe” made with ingredients including olive oil, cheeses, herbs and wine. The bottom jar is the base sauce, made with tomatoes and olive oil. A home chef gets to create the pasta sauce by pouring the two jars in a pan, heating, and then mixing in a pound of pasta.

Each Restaurant Creations sugo (which means “sauce” in Italian) recipe was inspired by the distinctive and authentic Italian flavors and tastes of a particular region. They include: Sugo alla Romana, made with Romano and Ricotta cheeses, olive oil and herbs – inspired by the cooking of the Lazio region affiliated with Roman cuisine; Sugo alla Genovese, made with basil, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and nuts – inspired by Genova in the Liguria region, famous for its small-leafed basil; and Sugo alla Napoletana, a combination of tomatoes, onions, red wine, garlic and herbs – inspired by Naples in the Campania region, known for the prized tomatoes grown in its fertile volcanic soil.

“We strive to bring superior-quality, authentic Italian products to our consumers by merging culinary and technological excellence,” says Judy Glass, manager of product development at Barilla America Inc., Bannockburn, Ill.

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