2005 Innovation Awards: Works of Art

Our editors, readers and advisors pick the masterpieces of 2005 (and a couple of potboilers) with an eye toward healthier eating.

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By the editors of Food Processing

Healthier eating seemed to be the theme for most new food product introductions of the past year. We, the editors of Food Processing, try not only to chronicle this trend but to practice it at home. It doesn’t always work.

Some of us tried Atkins. Some tried South Beach. Most of us just try to use good judgment. And good judgment includes healthy doses of good taste and convenience. Without them, any better-for-you product is doomed to fail.

Every year, when we begin looking back on our favorite new products of the past year, innovation plays a key role. We look for products that create new categories, that incorporate new ingredients, that use new packaging. But mostly we look for products that we buy ourselves, ones with a sufficient level of innovation but a heaping helping of good taste.

Following are our picks from 2005. The list was created by the editors of Food Processing, along with our stable of regular correspondents, our Editorial Advisory Board and some votes on our web poll (always at the lower left of every page at www.foodprocessing.com).

Barilla Plus
Pastas with fiber and omega-3 oils

Just as low-carb dieting was on the decline, the new Dietary Guidelines arrived, bringing with them increased emphasis on grains, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids for heart health. Barilla America Inc., the Bannockburn, Ill.-based division of Italy’s Barilla Group, leapt on the opportunity with Barilla Plus. Its six forms of macaroni with multi-grains, fiber, protein and omega-3s should be plenty to entice carbohydrate-starved consumers to consider pasta again.

While pasta traditionally has been considered an affordable belly filler — and noodle-makers have suffered from a commodity image — these product clearly were something more. They contain a legume flour blend (lentils, chickpeas, oats, spelt, barley, flaxseed and wheat fiber) as well as the fortifications.

The box’s side panel features an interesting table comparing this product to chicken breast, ground beef, milk, egg, spinach, broccoli, salmon and shrimp on the basis of protein, fat, fiber and omega-3s. It clearly shows the high nutritional value of this pasta against those other foods. The back panel links the multi-grains to fiber, legumes to protein and fiber and ground flaxseed to omega-3s, along with the structure function claims each of these ingredients can offer.

At $1.69-1.99, they’re only a little pricier than commodity macaroni — a good thing for processors yet still affordable, especially for all they deliver. They also require a slightly longer cook time than traditional pasta due to their ingredients, but that’s insignificant.

It’s worth noting that last year we recognized Barilla America for its Restaurant Creations pasta sauces in two-part jars. With ingredients so delicate they need separate compartments, the resulting sauces truly seemed unique and restaurant-quality — yet all they required was heating and stirring in a saucepan. –Dave Fusaro

Sara Lee Soft & Smooth bread
Your kids will never know it’s
whole grain

Adding whole grains is a challenge for all consumers, but it’s especially difficult for parents with finicky kids. Sara Lee Food & Beverage, Chicago, gave white bread an almost invisible whole-grain makeover with the launch of Sara Lee Soft & Smooth, whole grain bread that looks, smells and feels like white bread. Now, consumers who love white bread can get the health benefits of whole grains but don’t have to eschew the taste and texture they love.

Made with a blend of enriched flour and whole grain, Sara Lee Soft & Smooth contains 8g of whole grains per two-slice serving; 3g of fiber per serving, the same amount as 100 percent whole-wheat bread; and is a good source of vitamin D, calcium and folic acid — all without trans fats or artificial colors or flavors.

"With the USDA's recent recommendation for Americans to make half their grains whole, many consumers are searching for a way to do just that, but without sacrificing great taste,” says Frances Coletta, director of product nutrition at Sara Lee Food & Beverage. “Consumers are used to thinking about transitional products in the dairy aisle — moving from whole milk to 2 percent milk to skim milk,” she adds. “Sara Lee Soft & Smooth can help many consumers make the transition to whole grains without shocking their taste expectations." Your kids will never know the difference. –Diane Toops

Bertolli Dinner for Two
Convenient, delicious, maybe even romantic

Unilever claims to have spent two years developing this product, and the care shows. Bertolli Dinner for Two, a line of eight frozen, chef-inspired, restaurant-quality, authentic Italian dinners in a bag, garnered raves from everybody on our staff who tried them. They also were named top product in the “Entrees/Meal Solutions” category by attendees at May's Food Marketing Institute Show.

Ingredients are individually quick frozen, and the sauce is frozen in cubes or chunks. Since the herbs are not precooked, the aromas are released when you cook them. The entire meal goes directly from the freezer to a single skillet to the table in 10 minutes. All you need to add is a bottle of wine and some candles.

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