Favorite Products of 2006

The editors, contributing writers, Editorial Advisory Board and readers of Food Processing collectively picked eight top product of the past year: Dannon Activia, PepsiCo's Diet Pepsi Jazz, Kool Freeze's Kulfi bars, Birds Eye Foods Steamfresh, Campbell V8 V-Fusion, Wish-Bone Salad Spritzers, Nspired Natural Foods - O’Cocos cocoa crisps, and Kellogg Co.'s Special K Protein Meal and Snack Bars and Special K20 Protein Waters.

By Diane Toops, David Feder and Dave Fusaro

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PepsiCo's Diet Pepsi Jazz: Jazzing up cola

(Accepting the award on behalf of all flavored colas and all those sweetened with an aspartame-acesulfame potassium blend)

We've lumped several qualifying ideas into this one award-winner. Diet Pepsi Jazz, launched this past summer, is unique … but only in some ways. It has built upon the work of several predecessors to arrive at a product that refines both pleasantly unusual flavoring in colas and a non-nutritive sweetener blend that we think is the closest to sugar.

The idea of flavoring colas goes back a while, at least to the soda fountains of old that mixed cherry syrup in with the cola. It took the big cola companies a half century or so to catch on, but they did. Since then, we've seen colas flavored with cherry, vanilla, lime, lemon, even coffee (with a nod to another significant introduction this year, Coke Blak). But nothing with the flavor zing of Diet Pepsi Jazz.

Diet Pepsi Jazz comes in two multiflavored varieties: Black Cherry French Vanilla and Strawberries & Cream. It's reminiscent of Dr Pepper Berries & Cream, also launched this summer and which itself has a Cherry Vanilla predecessor. But, frankly, it just tastes better.

The fact that Pepsi Jazz is available only as a diet drink has some Internet bloggers upset, but even non-dieters giving it a taste might not realize this is artificially sweetened. For that angle, thank the aspartame-ace K blend, which also was used by Coca-Cola Co. in launching Coke Zero. These are wonderful times, when diet drinks don't have the dietetic off-taste anymore.

Coke got the sweetener right in Zero. Dr Pepper got the flavor combo right in Berries & Cream. With nods to those two predecessors, we give Pepsi the nod for adding the Jazz.
- Dave Fusaro

Kool Freeze's Kulfi bars: Different yet familiar … on a stick

The best route to success for a new food product is to be at once new and different and familiar. Kulfi bars from Kool Freeze Premium Frozen Products Inc., Ontario, Calif., does exactly that. Few things are more comfort-food primal than ice cream on a stick. Kulfi - Indian-style ice cream - is usually served slightly soft and in a small dish in Indian restaurants.

By making this esoteric treat, introduced last March at the Natural Products Expo West show, in bar form, President Jawaid Motiwala struck a chord on so many levels. It's not just the perfect balance of familiar and novel, but that unfamiliar element - flavors of India - is so trendy right now. And for the trifecta, all the flavors - mango, strawberry, pistachio, saffron, coconut, rose milk, malai ("cream" but it tastes like white chocolate), chikoo (sapote fruit, with a taste reminiscent of fruit and nut and chocolate) - taste divine.

But wait: There's more! While most premium bar ice creams come in at 200 calories or more, Kulfi bars run 160-180 calories.
- David Feder

Birds Eye Foods Steamfresh, Steam & Serve and Herb Garden Collection: Steamy new technology for vegetables

Innovation and creativity are the inspirations for three premium lines - Birds Eye Foods' Steamfresh, Steam & Serve and Herb Garden Collection - which fulfill the needs for convenience, customization and chef-inspired flavors.

Steamfresh heralds hassle-free steam-in-the-bag cooking, a new concept for U.S. consumers, but it should catch on as coooks look for convenience and quick cooking times. Steamed vegetables lock in nutritional benefits of vitamins and minerals, and consumers looking for tasty, wellness options will enjoy the crunchy, tasty and colorful varieties.

Birds Eye, Rochester, N.Y., packages its flash-frozen vegetables in a custom-designed bag that uses a patented steaming technology. Vegetables go from freezer to microwave to table in just five minutes. While microwaving, the bag becomes a steaming vessel as it puffs up under the pressure of the steam. A vent releases some of the pressure. During cooking, a slight whistling/hissing sound may be heard.

Each 12-oz. bag serves about four people (a single-serve version would be super), and is available in nine varieties: Broccoli Cuts; Super Sweet Corn; Cut Green Beans; Mixed Vegetables; Sweet Peas; Broccoli & Cauliflower; Broccoli, Cauliflower & Carrots; Broccoli, Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas & Water Chestnuts; and Sweet Mini Corn on the Cob (four ears).

"With Steamfresh products, consumers will receive perfectly steamed vegetables with such ease and convenience that we believe the Steamfresh portfolio could quickly become a home meal-time staple," says Josh Weinstein, senior product manager of Steamfresh.

Also new this year from Birds Eye, which has been on a rollout roll, is Herb Garden Collection, a premium line of frozen vegetables paired with fresh snipped herb seasonings in extra virgin olive oil, citrus or butter. They were developed by corporate chef Mark Susz, who is based in Birds Eye's R&D facility in Green Bay, Wis. An 8.5-oz. package serves two to three people, and the specially designed microwaveable tray with patented vent allows steam to circulate evenly during cooking. For extra fresh taste, the herbs and light sauce are packaged separately in a convenient packet, allowing consumers to customize the herb seasonings -- a great option for finicky consumers.

Another fruitful entry designed to appeal to more sophisticated palates, Birds Eye Steam & Serve is a regional line of premium frozen vegetable and fruit blends with flavorful sauces. These also were created by Chef Susz for the at-home chef, and they combine unique sauces with elegant vegetable and fruit blends. Each 10-oz. tray with patented vent serves two to three people and can be prepared in less than six minutes.

Varieties include: Asian Vegetables with Roasted Cashews (with pasta in a sesame ginger citrus soy sauce); Beans with a Twist (green and yellow beans, carrots and cranberries in herbed butter); Italian Herb Harvest Vegetables (with roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and herbed butter); Spring Vegetables in Citrus Sauce (carrots, asparagus, sugar snap peas and red bell peppers with cilantro and lime); Lemon Pepper Vegetables (broccoli, carrots and cauliflower in lemon pepper butter); and Carrots and Cranberries (with tarragon in a brown sugar, honey and nutmeg butter sauce). Brand new to the line are Specially Seasoned Southwestern Corn; Garlic Baby Peas and Mushrooms; Asian Medley; and Garlic Cauliflower.

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