Food Industry Experts Rate New Products of 2008

Our annual unscientific picks for the best new products of the past year.

By Diane Toops, Dave Fusaro and David Feder

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Yes, one can upload photos on one side of M&M’s chocolate candies and a message on the other side of the candy shell, creating your own powerful and personal story for special occasions such as birthdays, birth announcements, weddings, graduations and other occasions -- or market your brand with your logo and a message. And it’s an extraordinary way to enhance the M&M’s brand as well.\

Available online at www.mymms.com or by calling 888-696-6788, you can choose up to three of 22 M&M’s colors, upload your photo, type in your personalized message and select from a variety of packaging options. An online cropping tool allows you to zoom in on photos to select the faces you wish to print, and a preview displays what the face will look like on the chocolate candies.

Suggested retail price is $14.95 for a 7-oz. bag (minimum order three bags), $162.50 for a 5-lb. bulk box, $312.50 for a 10-lb bulk box, or a variety of 1.6- to 1.75-oz party favors (minimum order 20 bags), priced at $4.99 - $6.19 per bag, based on variety. Once ordered, My M&M’s Faces are delivered right to your door.
Mars is a master when it comes to having fun with candy. In late 2004, it began an R&D project to print personalized messages on M&M’s. After only six months, orders grew so quickly Mars had to add more manufacturing capacity and the company has sold more than 1 million bags. As we become a more and more cocooned society, sending your photo and message via a tasty treat (rather than a dull e-mail) is a delightful and delicious way to connect with each other.

- Diane Toops

TrueNorth snacks

Raising the profile of nuts

One usually refers to true north as magnetic north, the direction of the North Pole on a compass, but the term also can mean an all-consuming passion. Product developers at PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay unit, Plano, Texas, found their true north in creating TrueNorth, a contemporary line of novel, heart-healthy nut snacks that contain 5g of protein in every 1-oz. serving.

These crispy, crunchy snacks are natural, vegan and certified kosher. They contain no preservatives, artificial flavors, added colors, trans fats or GMOs, and most are gluten- and wheat-free. Even more important, they taste great and are a perfect adult snack.

Varieties include: Nut Clusters, available in Roasted Peanut, Toasted Almond and Pecan-Almond-Peanut combined with an unexpected hint of sweetness; Nut Crunchies with an outer crunchy coating and available in Honey Wheat Peanut and Toasted Sesame Peanut; and Nut Crisps, available in Roasted Peanut, Toasted Almond and Pistachio nuts baked in a thin flat texture.

Every TrueNorth product starts with nutritious American-grown almonds, peanuts, pistachios, pecans or walnuts. Nut Clusters are bite-sized nutty nuggets with a hint of sweetness, ideal when you want a tiny sweet fix. Nut Crunches are gently coated oven baked whole nuts for a heartier treat. Both are excellent, but my favorites are the peanut, almond, and pistachio nut crisps. These chip-crackers come in uneven shapes and have a slight puff to them. Both the peanut cracker and the almond cracker have an intense flavor, and you can see and taste the bits of pistachio in the pistachio chips, probably because pistachio is the first ingredient in the ingredient list.

Consumers will probably like the packaging – a beige background that is clean, simple and promises healthy contents inside. It also hints this is a snack for adults, not kids.

Each package, which retails at $3.29, contains six servings, according to Frito-Lay. But they are addictive, so you might not be able to put the bag down until it’s empty. Truly innovative, healthy and delicious – just what we want in our snacks.
- Diane Toops

Peas of Mind Nanna’s Banana Puffets

These are too good for toddlers

A puffet is a word made up by Peas of Mind owner Jill Litwin. “The word ‘casserole’ just sounded hideous when applied to children’s food,” she says. But that’s what these are: little casseroles, warm and just the right size and texture for toddler hands, “made of the four food groups and organic ingredients,” Litwin continues.

They may be marketed to toddlers, but I could easily blow though an entire package of these delights in a sitting. The San Francisco company (www.peasofmind.com) is one of the best of the new boutique operations rewriting the rule book for starter foods. Puffets are real food, comforting and tasty, striking a perfect balance between flavorful and overpowering (why do so many kid foods overwhelm with garlic powder?) and with textures that work for the two-tooth crowd without feeling modified beyond identifiable.

Puffets are nutritionally balanced for their primary audience of the primary years, with not only protein and fiber but vitamins and minerals, especially iron. Some varieties are gluten- and/or dairy-free. They’re for “health-conscious parents who want to feed their growing kids delicious meals with organic ingredients, but don’t have the time to make them from scratch,” says Litwin.

I’m not the only adult to get hooked on these made-for-munchkin munchies. Litwin says lots of parents now toss some into their own backpacks and briefcases as a healthy snack to perk up the mid-day grind.

Peas of Mind also makes five other varieties: Mamma’s Pasta, Dalai Lentil, Black Bean Polenta, Eat Your Greens and Carrot Risotto. All are delicious, but the banana fritter-like ones are stunning. They’re frozen and can be made in a microwave or conventional oven.

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