Super crunchy snack satisfaction
Some people have a preference for salty and others for sweet; I tend to crave the sweet things in life. So I was surprised when I developed an addiction to Nabisco Wheat Thins Stix, medium-sized pretzel-shaped versions of Wheat Thins, from Kraft Foods Inc.
It’s not only the shape of the Stix that I like. The outside packaging, a hexagon reminiscent of Chinese-food container -- wide mouth at the top and narrow at the bottom -- is really cool and innovative for a snack. It invites grab and go consumption of a handful of Stix, while preventing your hand from getting stuck or tearing the usual messy inside bag. You don’t need a bowl or a plate, so there is nothing to clean up, and it also makes sharing a snap if you feel charitable (ha, my family hasn’t yet found my stash).
These baked versions of Wheat Thins contain 11g of whole grains per serving, have a super crunchy mouthfeel (delivering the attribute most important to a cracker snacker) and mildly salty flavor, which is very satisfying. Available in two varieties, trendy Fire Roasted Tomato and Honey Wheat (my favorite), the serving size is generous at 14 Stix (130 calories) and the package contains 14 servings.
Granted, you can’t put a slice of cheese on a Stix, as you can with a Wheat Thins cracker, but if you are a die-hard cheese fanatic, you can dunk them into a cheese dip. At $3.49 for an 8-oz package, the cost of one serving is about 43 cents.
- Diane Toops
P.F. Chang’s Home Menu
Who needs the restaurant chain?
I think the bagged, high-end frozen dinners of the past couple of years have been fabulous. The first ones I noticed were Unilever’s Bertolli Skillet Dinner for Two, which was one of our favorite products of 2005. And Nestle did a great job with its Buitoni Riserva products. Both of those lines focused on Italian entrees.
So why not try the other obvious ethnic choice, Asian? And what better name to co-brand with than P.F. Chang’s China Bistro? That’s what Unilever did for a Bertolli encore, and the results are delightful.
P.F. Chang’s Home Menu was created cooperatively by the chefs at the restaurant chain and those at Unilever North America. In fact, I sampled them first in Unilever’s Englewood Cliffs, N.J., test kitchen, just as they were launching this summer. Most, if not all, of the line comes off the P.F. Chang’s menu: Orange Chicken, Shanghai Style Beef, Sweet & Sour Chicken, General Chang’s Chicken, Ginger Chicken & Broccoli, Beef with Broccoli, Shrimp in a Garlic Sauce and Shrimp Lo Mein.
Beef with Broccoli -- my wife’s favorite take-out order-- was the first to make it into our freezer and then kitchen, quickly followed by Orange Chicken and Shanghai Style Beef. We’ll eventually work our way through the whole catalog. All were wonderful, and we appreciated the risks the product developers took in making the flavors a little bolder than you might expect from a multinational food marketer – but well in line with what you’d get at a P.F. Chang’s.
The two-serving entrées are convenient and easy to prepare, going from skillet to a succulent high-quality meal at home in just minutes (I think they promise 13 minutes). A patented packaging technology keeps the food fresh-tasting for a premium dining experience. “Whether they’re dining at one of our nearly 200 Bistro restaurants nationwide or spending an evening at home, fans of the P.F. Chang’s brand can now enjoy our vibrant, flavorful food whenever the craving strikes,” said Michael Welborn, president of global brand development for P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc.
They’re a little pricey, but we’re empty nesters. Sorry to say, Mike, but these are so good I may not go to your restaurants anymore.
- Dave Fusaro
M&M’s Pretzel Chocolate Candies
Pretzels abducted by M&Ms
There’s always a danger of innovating too far on a brand extension, particularly one as popular as the 69-year-old candy classic M&Ms. But the R&D team at Mars Chocolate North America really scored big with M&M’s Pretzel Chocolate Candies.
These colored, candy coated, milk chocolate covered, salted twisted pretzels combine both sweet and salty in every piece.
The candies, which vary slightly in size, are crunchy, salty and sweet at the same time. And the launch was perfectly timed as well, since salty snack sales reached an estimated $17.7 billion last year, increasing more than 15 percent from 2007 to 2009. These M&M’s also contain 30 percent less fat on average than other leading chocolate snacks, providing an inexpensive treat at 79 cents for a single-serve, 1.14-oz. bag. At a sensible 150-calories per serving, this is a good snacking treat for perpetual dieters.
- Diane Toops
Now you can be a smooth(ie) operator
Seven of 10 Americans do not consume the recommended amount of fruit, but now it’s easy to get plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits into your diet. Yogurt smoothies with fruit are a great way to fit in essential vitamins and minerals, but commercial smoothies are often calorie- and sugar-laden, not to mention expensive. Making a smoothie at home can be a real chore, but General Mills’ Yoplait brand comes to the rescue with Yoplait Frozen Fruit and Yogurt Smoothies, a revolutionary frozen smoothie kit that goes from freezer to fabulous in seconds.
A good source of calcium, each Yoplait smoothie (110 calories per serving) contains a full serving of fruit as well as real Yoplait yogurt pieces with Live & Active cultures, and contains an excellent source of vitamin C. They are available in three flavors -- Triple Berry (strawberries, blueberries and raspberries), Strawberry Banana, and tropical tasting Strawberry Mango Pineapple. Retailing at $3.29, each freezer package contains two 8-oz. servings. Just add 1 cup of milk and blend and you become a smoothie operator in seconds.
- Diane Toops
Nabisco Mint Oreo Fudge Cremes
Like a Thin Mint … only better
I regret not making it to this year’s Food Marketing Institute Show in Las Vegas. Its forerunner, FMI’s Supermarket Show, was my favorite show of every year. At this year’s show, Kraft Foods introduced a new Oreo product that I didn’t discover till recently, but it knocked the socks off my tongue.
Mint Oreo Fudge Cremes start with a crispy, thin Oreo-like cookie with mint flavor baked in. That’s topped with a layer of traditional Oreo crème, then covered with chocolate fudge. The net result is much like a Girl Scout Thin Mint, but the fund-raiser doesn’t have the classic Oreo cream in the middle – and that makes all the difference.
A few months earlier, I some got ahold of some Limited Edition Mint Fudge Covered Oreos, which, to my memory, also were very similar to these Mint Oreo Fudge Cremes – but I think the earlier ones had a whole, regular Oreo cookie covered in mint fudge. Whatever, they didn’t leave me running to the store for more, as did with this new version.
Admittedly, these Mint Oreo Fudge Cremes have some calories (170 for only three cookies) and saturated fat (5g, or 25 percent of your daily value); but, hey, they’re a cookie treat, not a vegetable side dish. (They do have 1g each of fiber and protein!)
Kraft has done a couple of interesting things this year with the iconic Oreo. We’ve also written about Oreo Fun Stix, and the company also tried limited edition Oreo DQ Blizzard Crème and Strawberry Milkshake-flavored cookies plus a limited-run NASCAR Oreo with custom graphics and fun racing design.
- Dave Fusaro
Fresh-tasting frozen options delight the palate
Marie Callender’s, a brand of ConAgra Foods, continues the evolution of its proprietary SteamCooker tray-in-tray steaming technology, which separates the sauce from the rest of the ingredients during microwave cooking. This is the same technology used in Healthy Choice Café Steamers, recognized as the best-selling new food product in 2008 by SymphonyIRI Group. A second iteration, Pasta Al Dente meals, were so successful (particularly at lunch in the workplace) that ConAgra saw an opportunity to include new recipes from around the globe with broader consumer appeal.
So Marie Callender’s Fresh Flavor Steamers arrived this summer. They include recipes such as: Asian-inspired Sesame Chicken; Chicken Teriyaki and Chicken Stir Fry with Vegetables; classic American recipes Smoky Cheddar Mac & Uncured Bacon; Creamy Chicken & Portobello Risotto; and a Mexican-inspired Chicken Fajita Bowl. These fresh-tasting frozen entrées retail for about $2.99, are ready in 5 minutes or less and are a perfect dinner or lunch option. As the sauce heats up, it steams the ingredients for the fresh flavors and textures consumers get from a homemade meal.
- Diane Toops
Good things come in small clusters
Building on the launch of Cheetos Giants last year, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America division switched gears and zeroed in on tiny. Cheetos Mighty Zingers, the tiniest Cheetos snacks ever made, tempt Cheetos aficionados with a duo of small, bite-sized pieces that pack extreme flavors only Chester Cheetah could concoct. Mighty Zingers captures the mischievous, fun-loving personality of Chester and promises a zinger of flavor.
Each vibrant, metallic 9.5-oz bag, retailing for $2.99, packs a visual punch, and inside two unique flavors are combined into tiny but mighty snack clusters that are great on their own, but even better together. Varieties include Ragin' Cajun & Tangy Ranch, combining the heat of Cajun with the coolness of ranch flavor; and Sharp Cheddar & Salsa Picante, a balance of sharp cheddar and mild salsa. There's even a playful perforated "pouring tab" top, making it easier than ever to pop a delicious handful of Mighty Zingers straight into your mouth, which is a good idea if you want to avoid red fingertips.
- Diane Toops
Nutty unnutty combinations
John B. Sanfillipo & Son Inc. – better known as Fisher Nuts – introduced its novel Fusions line four years ago, and they’ve caught my eye before but never made this list. This year, the line expanded with two new versions that were deserving of at least my Favorite New Products designation.
Fusions Spicy Tortilla Crunch and Cookies and Crème Fusions Mix show how the Fisher people are not afraid to mix their nuts with other ingredients, some of which you might not naturally connect with nuts. The former banks on America’s love for Mexican food, blending chili bits, pepitas and Cajun corn sticks with and hot and spicy almonds and peanuts. The latter, Cookies and Crème Fusions Mix, conjures up warm memories of milk and cookies. This time, chocolate chunks, peanuts, chocolate cookies and caramel balls join the peanuts and white chocolate-coated peanuts.
Each offers a unique twist on combinations that appeal to consumers who want more than a traditional trail mix. “There’s never a dull moment; each handful offers something different because you never grab the same ingredients twice,” says Julie Nargang, director of marketing-national brands.
These new Fusions mixes are part of a lineup that includes Fusions Ice Cream Sundae Mix, Cinnamon Roll Mix, Fusions Energy Blend, Asian Spice, Cheddar Crunch, Trail Blazer, Sweet Harvest and Tropical Twist. Those are some very nutty combinations. Fusions Mixes are available in 4.5-6 oz. stand-up bags at a suggested retail price of $2.49.
- Dave Fusaro
Stride Shift Chewing Gum
Why settle for one flavor when you can have two?
Kraft Foods’ amazing Stride Shift (initially developed by Cadbury) is the latest entry in the sugarless gum category, a market worth more than $2 billion. It’s unique in that it changes flavor as you chew it and retains its shape-shifting flavor throughout the chewing time.
Available in two flavors (Berry > Mint and Citrus > Mint), it really is fun, particularly for Gen Z consumers. Berry > Mint initially tastes like strawberry and blueberry, changes to a tart mint, and ends up with a milder mint taste. Citrus > Mint tastes at first like orange with hints of tropical fruit, and then changes to mint.
- Diane Toops
Dippers, squeezers and health-minded consumers rejoice
I’m a Heinz ketchup aficionado but hate using those foodservice packets, which I invariably tear open and squeeze all over my clothes and everyone near me instead of on my french fries. So thank you H.J. Heinz for listening to our gripes and figuring out a safer and easier way to use the condiment in a restaurant or take out place.
It took 42 years, but Heinz Dip & Squeeze was worth the wait. It’s a dual-function ketchup package. Tear off the generous tip to squeeze on your burger, or peel back the lid of the package, which is shaped like a cup, to create a neater and safer container for dipping your fries. An added bonus is the new package holds three times more ketchup than the traditional packet. So instead of fighting to tear open multiple packets and making a mess, you only need one perfect tear.
On the health front, Heinz also is lowering sodium by 15 percent in its ketchup varieties, making Heinz the lowest-sodium, nationally available ketchup in the U.S. Heinz also launched ketchup made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn sweetener, extending its range of lifestyle-driven products available to retail consumers.
-- Diane Toops
The good fatty acids come to breakfast cereal
We all know omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in helping to maintain a healthy body. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found mostly in grains and vegetables, is an essential nutrient, but also important are the other types of omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), mainly found in fatty fish. More than 50 percent of American adults don't get the recommended amount of ALA (1.6g DV).
Now, getting this nutrient is as simple as enjoying a bowl of cereal from General Mills Inc. Total Plus Omega-3s, the latest variety in the Total cereal line, combines all the nutritional attributes of Total with the overall health benefit of ALA omega-3 fatty acids sourced from naturally ground flax (160mg per serving or 10 percent of the DV). The cereal is a yummy combination of crunchy whole grain flakes, flax clusters and honey-sweetened almonds.
In addition to the omega -3s, this cereal has 100 percent of the DV of 12 essential vitamins and minerals and at least 16g of whole grain in every serving ily); plus no leading cereal offers more calcium and vitamin D. General Mills is savvy to fortify food with the one nutrient Americans don’t get enough of, and this is a mighty good investment in your health at $3.89 a box.
- Diane Toops
Another way to drink your veggies
Say Ocean Spray and everyone’s first reaction is cranberries for Thanksgiving or cranberry juice. But the cooperative lifted itself out of the bog this year with two tasty varieties of its Ocean Spray Fruit & Veggie Juice. It’s 100 percent juice with two full servings of fruits and vegetables plus the antioxidant vitamins A, C and E in every 8-oz glass. With no added sugar, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, these drinks are a perfect combination for anyone looking for refreshing fruit taste with veggie benefits without tasting them.
Varieties include Fruit & Veggie Tropical Citrus (grapefruit, mango, pineapple, grape, carrot, apple, sweet potato, with some cranberry extract), and Fruit & Veggie Cranberry Strawberry Banana (grape, apple, carrot, cranberry, sweet potato, strawberry, beet and banana). At $3.99 for a 64-oz. bottle, families can now drink their vegetables and the veggie-averse won’t even know it. Both varieties also come in a light version.
- Diane Toops
Three-fer of healthy benefits
Adults and children should consume 14g of fiber for every 1,000 calories of food they eat each day, according to the Institute of Medicine. That means a person who eats 2,500 calories each day should get at least 35g of fiber daily. Although fiber-containing foods lately have flooded the market, Americans still struggle to meet those recommendations. But adding fiber alone is not enough, and consumers are also attempting to add more antioxidants and other nutrients to their diets.
Along comes Kellogg's FiberPlus Antioxidants Cereal, an extension of last year’s successful Kellogg's FiberPlus Antioxidants Bars. It contains both fiber and antioxidant vitamins C and E, and is available in two flavor varieties -- Berry Yogurt Crunch and Cinnamon Oat Crunch – in what you could call a three-fer of benefits. At about 210 calories with milk, the Cinnamon Oat Crunch cereal contains 9g of fiber per 32-g serving (35 percent DV), and Berry Yogurt Crunch mixes whole-grain wheat and rice flakes with crunchy berry- and yogurt-flavored clusters and supplies 25g of whole grains per serving.
Some critics claim the cereal contains too many ingredients (83), but I say the more the merrier, and hopefully any preservatives will preserve my youth. At around $5 a box, the cereal is a good value. You don’t need to add sugar (the flakes taste sweet), they don’t get soggy in milk, are flavorful and keep you full – preventing snack cravings and extra calories throughout the day.
- Diane Toops
V8 goes green
I love V8 juice and V8 V-Fusion drinks as well, but as far as I’m concerned, tea should be black or white – never green, no matter how many antioxidants I can imbibe from it. In fact, for me to drink green tea requires stealth health on the part of the manufacturer. So a tip of my tam to Campbell Soup Co., which expanded its innovative billion dollar brand of V8 V-Fusion beverages with very tasty V8 V-Fusion +Tea (green).
These refreshing juice varieties, which meet the American Heart Assn.'s criteria to display its heart-check mark, include: Raspberry Green Tea, Pomegranate Green Tea and Pineapple Mango Green Tea, and contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. They provide a combined serving of vegetables and fruit in each 8-oz. glass (¼ cup vegetables and ¼ cup of fruit), along with the highly-touted antioxidants of green tea (undetectable taste-wise), all for 50 calories per serving.
Using social media, the launch included a giveaway of 1,000 samples, which were gone in the first 24 hours. Pretty impressive response, and at $3.99 for a 46-oz. bottle, a great value for a healthy beverage option. One of the recipients of the giveaway, our Sr. Digital Editor Erin Erickson, gave it and all the new V-8 Fusion options of the year an enthusiastic thumbs up in our own social media.
- Diane Toops
A natural boost of energy
Americans usually start their day with hot coffee to obtain their caffeine fix, but in South America, the morning and afternoon beverage of choice is yerba mate. The drink is brewed from the dried leaves of an evergreen tree native to Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Known as the national drink of these countries, this beverage has the ability to wake up the mind without the nervousness and jitters associated with coffee.
Deemed "The Drink of the Gods" by many indigenous groups in South America, yerba mate possesses a multitude of health benefits that have begun to attract the attention of American scientists and consumers. Houston-based Minute Maid, a unit of Coca-Cola Co., launched Minute Maid Enhanced Strawberry Kiwi with Yerba Mate, a flavored juice drink combining an extract from yerba mate plus fruit juice to provide a delicious and natural energy boost.
The Minute Maid Enhanced Juice line contains several varieties of enhanced juices in single-serve bottles retailing for $1.59. They include Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored 100% Juice Blend of 5 Juices, with DHA omega-3 and four other nutrients to help nourish the brain and body; Pomegranate Lemonade, an excellent source of vitamins C and E; Strawberry Kiwi Flavored Juice Drink; Pomegranate Flavored Tea, an excellent source of vitamins C and E now reformulated with only 40 calories per serving; and Minute Maid Heart Wise Orange Juice, with plant sterols to help lower cholesterol.
Yerba mate has a long history of acceptance in South America and Europe, and seems a perfect fit for those who have “coffee jitters.”
- Diane Toops
Help for the seriously stressed
With Americans worried about the economy, their jobs and families, it's no wonder anxiety levels are through the roof. And with our 24/7 mentality fueled by regular downings of high-sugar, high-caffeine energy drinks, it's not surprising we can't sleep either.
The American Psychological Assn. reports 43 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress, and it’s linked to the six leading causes of death (heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide). Studies indicate lack of sleep is exacerbating these problems by heightening the risk of major illnesses, according to the Harvard-run Nurses Health Study.
To help the sleepless, New York-based Vitila Brands LLC introduced Tranquila, a calm-inducing drink developed for a seriously stressed, ridiculously over-amped and perpetually under-pressure society. This 2-oz. alternative beverage shot, which retails for $2.99, can help consumers simmer down and even get a good night's sleep. Tranquila is available in two varieties: Original, expressly developed for daytime to help balance your mood but not make you sluggish; and PM, which includes the hormone melatonin -- in a molecular form identical to the melatonin found in the body -- mixed in a potent formula to aid in getting and staying asleep but without any morning grogginess and designed to send you off to dreamland without habit-forming side effects.
Or, if you are tired of being wired Memphis, Tenn.-based Frontier Beverage Co. introduced Unwind, a low-calorie, high-antioxidant relaxation beverage in three lightly-carbonated flavors -- Goji Grape, Pom Berry, and Citrus Orange -- containing a mere 40 calories and only 10g of sugar each, which retail at $1.99 to $2.49. Used by herbalists for years to cope with anxiety and insomnia, melatonin, valerian root, rose hips and passion flower provide Unwind with its calming properties.
More than 600 million gallons of Kool-Aid are consumed annually. Now kids can enjoy an innovative twist with Kool-Aid Fun Fizz (drops that fit into the opening of a standard water bottle) from Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Kool-Aid, a Kraft Foods brand. Kool-Aid Fun Fizz drops dissolve in water, transforming it into the beloved Kool-Aid flavors --Partyin' Punch, Gigglin' Grape and Laughin' Lemonade. Convenient and mess free, all you do is put one drink drop into an 8-oz. glass of water, and your kids will watch with amazement as their water quickly changes into a colorful, bubbly, beverage that will put a smile on their faces. Mom and dad will smile too, knowing the beverage is non-carbonated, sugar-free, and contains only five-calories. Suggested retail price for a bag of eight drops is $1.99.
- Diane Toops
Norwalk, Conn.-based Pepperidge Farm Inc., a part of Campbell Soup Co., rolled out Goldfish Colors crackers, revamped with fun colors from natural ingredients and even brighter Goldfish Colors Neon, using yellow, orange and purple colors also made from natural ingredients. Baked with real cheese, Goldfish Colors and Goldfish Colors Neon offer the same great cheddar taste as before, but contain no artificial coloring. At $2.19, this low-cholesterol snack contains 0g of trans fat per serving.
- Diane Toops