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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We never set a predetermined theme when we choose our favorite products every year. The process is intended to be open, freewheeling and … well … fun. But often themes emerge. This year, in hindsight, we see two.

One is the role technology played in half of these products. Despite current trends toward organic and natural products and minimal ingredients, there is some fascinating magic behind many of these foods. How do you get a customer’s unique message and even his or her face onto a product that’s normally produced by the billions (My M&M’s Faces)? How can you store beef tips and mashed potatoes at room temperature for weeks (Hormel Compleats)? How can chewing gum recalcify teeth (Trident Xtra Care)?

There’s also some nifty technology in Kraft’s Bagel-fuls. Maybe less, but still some in creating chips out of pistachios and other nuts. That latter one, Pepsico/Frito-Lay’s True North line, also provides the segue into the other theme for this year: really well done products.

We recognized in this 2005 feature Unilever’s Bertolli line when it was relatively new. Unilever cut no corners in making those initial Bertolli Dinner for Two entrees, and was rewarded when consumers forked over nearly $8 for them. The company has kept the line “the restaurant experience you create at home” with subsequent launches, including this year’s Premium Pasta Sauces. Imagine champignon and portobello sauce … coming out of your microwave.

Ditto for Campbell’s V8 soups, Peas of Mind baby foods, Greek Gods yogurt and even Kellogg/Keebler’s Town House Flipsides pretzel-crackers.

For better or worse, there’s no scientific or quantitative analysis that goes into this list. Our editors, contributing writers, editorial advisory board and visitors to our web site are simply asked for the products that most impressed them in the past year, the ones they buy for themselves and their families. What better way to define “best”?


Kraft Bagel-fuls

The schmear is on the inside

I’m the kind of person who eats breakfast on his drive to work every morning (I hope no Highway Police read this). There’s just no time at home or in the office.

In the past, the obvious choices were cereals bars – cold, uninteresting but filling and reasonably healthy, and some of them were even tasty. A welcome change was the Breakfast Cookie from Quaker (PepsiCo) which, while essentially a cereal bar, at least looked different and could be microwaved. The idea of a hot item in the car was especially comforting.

But earlier this year I discovered a real treat. Kraft Bagel-fuls roll a golden bagel around Philadelphia cream cheese, providing a neat and easily hand-held bagel that I can set down on my center arm rest (in its wrapper) to negotiate some tricky traffic situation. They can be eaten right out of the refrigerator but are much better heated in the toaster or microwave – in the latter, it takes just 10 seconds.

Kraft introduced them in April of this year and, according to various reports, they’re doing well: $12 million in sales (not including Wal-Mart) in their first four months, according to Information Resources Inc. (But Kraft also spent a reported $7.6 million promoting them.) They wear the Kraft brand but also prominently display the Philadelphia cream cheese logo. How many new mediums for cream cheese have been introduced lately?

Bagel-fuls come in five varieties: Original (plain bagel with plain cream cheese), Cinnamon (cinnamon and brown sugar bagel with cinnamon cream cheese), Whole Grain (whole-grain bagel with plain cream cheese), Strawberry (plain bagel with strawberry cream cheese) and Chive (plain bagel with chive cream cheese).

Even the most decadent version has at most 200 calories, 6g of fat, 220mg of sodium and zero trans fat – some have quite a bit less. But there is about 2.5g of saturated fat in them. Nevertheless, they meet Kraft’s Sensible Solution criteria and wear that logo.

Since becoming chairman/CEO in mid-2006, Irene Rosenfeld has promised lots of new products and innovation. “Bagel-fuls are one example of how we are reframing our categories,” according to spokespeople. “Part of this strategy includes making our products more relevant by understanding key consumer trends, like quick meals, and their impact on our business.”

Speaking of reframing categories, one of my favorite products last year was the Oreo Cakester (a former breakfast-in-the-car item). It’s still doing well, the company reports, and this year saw a Nilla Wafer Cakester.

For a short story on the Florida company that launched a similar product in 2003 and licensed its technology to Kraft, see
- Dave Fusaro

My M&M’s Faces

Personal connection with consumers

From personalized TV programming to music, “make it yourself” content has been named one of most significant consumer trends of 2008, according to Leading the way in chocolate personalization, Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Direct Inc., a division of Mars Snackfood US, drove the trend even further with My M&M’s Faces, launched at All Candy Expo to the delight of attendees.

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