Food Processing Picks Favorite Food and Beverage Products for 2014

Nov. 5, 2014
The Food Processing staff unveils its list of the top 10 products we can't -- or don't want to -- put down in 2014.

We may be the editors, contributing writers and even publisher of Food Processing, but we’re consumers, too. Like everybody else, we have families. We go to the grocery store every week, and we know a great new product when we taste it. And if it’s truly great, we stick with it throughout the year. And beyond.

So we put our heads together and came up with our annual list of Our Favorite New Products. By new, we mean it’s less than 18 months old. And while we strive to find products with national distribution, sometimes a great regional product (like Prairie Farms’ flavored milks or Sam’s Club-exclusive Panera mac & cheese) is just too good to pass up.

This year’s list of favorites:

  • Chobani Greek Yogurt Oats
  • Coleman Natural’s Chipotle with Asadero Cheese Sausage
  • Hain Celestial Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Chips
  • HalfPops
  • M&M’s Candy Bar
  • Leinenkugel Canoe Paddler beer
  • Panera Bread Mac & Cheese
  • Prairie Farms Limited-Edition Flavored Milks
  • Reese’s Peanut Spread
  • Sargento Tastings

It’s hard to come up with a label explaining all our choices. There’s a little bit of health in there, but less than we found in our lists from previous years. Ditto for convenience. There’s a certain amount of indulgence. Bold and otherwise novel flavors maybe stand out the most. There’s something in here for everyone. Sample these for yourself and enjoy.

Reese’s Spreads, Hershey Co.

A Peanut Butter Cup in a jar

I jumped the gun a little on this one. At the May Sweets & Snacks Expo (my favorite annual show), Hershey media relations people gave me a prototype jar of Reese’s Spreads. Can you just imagine smashing up a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and spreading that delightful mixture on just about anything you can get your hands on? I can, and have.

I certainly thought the product would be out by the time we created this report; the other chocolate-based Hershey spreads were. But we’ll have to wait for a Nov. 1 launch date (that’s probably already passed) to get our hands on the new Reese’s Spreads. So there were no technical or formulation details to be found. We were lucky to get this photo. But what more do you need to know? It’s a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in a jar, ready for spreading (or, I’m embarrassed to say, eating with a spoon). Nutella should retreat to Italy and set up European defenses. This one’s a conqueror.
- Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Leinenkugel Canoe Paddler beer

Top-drawer German copy

In Köln, trinken die Kölsch bier. In fact, there are very few options besides Koelsch beer when ordering a draft in Cologne, Germany. The word means “of Cologne,” and the Koelsch Convention of 1985 stipulates any beer that bears the name must be brewed within 50km of this city on the Rhine.

American drinkers are broadening their horizons, and a number of craft brewers now produce their own Koelsch-style beers. Somewhat surprisingly, the best comes from the Leinenkugel division of MillersCoors, which introduced Canoe Paddler as a spring and summer seasonal. Pale, crisp and slightly fruity, Koelsch is an ale that thinks it’s a lager. A handful of Cologne breweries still produce this top-fermented brew, but aficionados no longer have to visit Cologne to enjoy it – it will be back in U.S. distribution when the warm weather returns. Probst!

- Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor (and home brewer)

Panera Bread Mac & Cheese

Better than mom’s

Macaroni and cheese is an all-time children’s favorite and now a popular adult side dish at restaurants. But Panera Bread raises the ante for store-bought mac & cheese with a frozen product offered via Sam’s Club. This Mac & Cheese will make the entire family happy.

The Vermont white cheddar cheese sauce is distinguishable from its orange-yellow counterparts, not only by color, but more importantly, by its fresh taste. The cheese is creamy, one of the product’s great attributes. The shell pasta is thicker than most other mac & cheese products, and is in harmony with the cheese sauce. The neighborhood kids have called it the “best mac & cheese in the whole wide world.” More discerning adults will appreciate its grown-up taste.

Panera Bread is known for providing quality and speedy food, and this mac & cheese hits both marks.
- Larry Bagan, Publisher

Hain Celestial Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Chips

Chip snacking made healthy

As a single woman who loves her snacks, I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy a very new product from Hain Celestial: Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Chips in a can. The stackable chips are available in four flavors: BBQ, Cheddar Cheese, Sour Cream & Onion, and Sea Salt. They come in a 5-oz. canister, which is perfect for tailgating, to throw in a bag for on-the-go snacking or to have around the house for a quick nosh.

The chips are made from a scrumptious blend of vegetables that contain no artificial colors or flavors. Featuring three colorful vegetable blends that include red (tomato, red pepper, beet), green (spinach, pea, broccoli) and yellow (sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin), snacking on these wholesome chips feels decadent, yet healthy. According to a release, Sensible Portions Garden Veggie Chips can be found in the healthy snacks aisle in most Walmart locations nationwide just starting last month with a suggested retail price of $1.98.

- Erin Hallstrom Erickson, Digital Development Manager

M&M’s Candy Bar, Mars Inc.

M&M’s become a candy bar

M&M’s is one of world’s most successful food brands, so Mars Inc. expects big things from the M&M’s Candy Bar. Rolled out in 2013, the M&M’s bar is standard-sized milk chocolate bar impregnated with M&M’s Minis. “The Bar has been raised,” Mars says in its marketing. For my money, the tiny candies add color and crunch to the sweet, creamy chocolate bar, and it’s very good looking. The imprint on the chocolate divides the flat, thin bar into eight segments, and it features an image of the anthropomorphic M&M’s man, while the colorful candies peek out from under the chocolate. It might be a bit too sweet for some, but it’s just right for most M&M fans. There is room for extensions here, so I am looking forward to an M&M’s with Peanuts version, or a dark chocolate spin.

- David Phillips, Technical Editor


Half is more

Remember CornNuts, those toasted hominy snacks that are super salty and tooth-cracking hard? A true love-hate, they satisfied a salty-savory craving and a serious need for crunch, at least until the oil overwhelmed your digestive system and your dental work gave way. HalfPops Inc.’s ( “curiously crunchy” partially popped popcorn kernels resemble CornNuts in flavor but, while quite satisfyingly crunchy, don’t oversaturate you with oil.

Mind you, these aren’t the tooth-breaking duds you find in the bottom of the bag of your regular popcorn. A more descriptive name might have been “Almost Fully Popped But Still Nutty-Crunchy” but that would have been hard to fit on the package. The ingeniously uniform kernels are gluten-free, nut-free, and trans fat-free, without hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors or preservatives and boast no corn syrup or “negativity,” as well. Luckily, they come in single-serving, 100-calorie portion-controlled packages because yes, they really are addictive.

Chobani Greek Yogurt Oats

Even heartier Greek yogurt

What do you do next if you’re Chobani and you’ve built a billion-dollar company on one product line … indeed a niche of one product line? The company answered in a number of ways this past year, stretching Greek yogurt into indulgent desserts, squeezable tubes for kids and seasonal flavors, like watermelon during the summer. But my favorite new product is Chobani Greek Yogurt Oats, a hearty and satisfying quick breakfast that bridges the gap between yogurt and grain products, both of which I like.

It starts with Chobani’s strained Greek yogurt and mixes in both fruit and whole-grain steel-cut oats. It comes in four flavors: Apple Cinnamon, Banana Maple, Blueberry and Cranberry. As the marketing people promised, the oats were “al dente,” not mushy. And with 10g of protein, 8g of whole grains and as much fiber as a packet of instant oatmeal, there’s a nutritious and filling breakfast in every cup. The typical cup of yogurt, even Greek style, leaves me a little hungry in the morning; but with the oats inside, this one tides me over till lunch.

I’m still waiting for Chobani to really stretch itself. For instance, we’ve carried new product introductions from other marketers of Greek yogurt in salad dressings, sour cream, dips and frozen desserts. Chobani did promise to introduce savory dips late this year.

- Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Sargento Tastings

Cheeses around the world

Anyone who loves cheese will love this new sampling line from Sargento aptly named Sargento Tastings. These specialty snack chunk cheeses come in 3.25-3.95-oz. packs. These are not necessarily single-serve portions, but each cheese could easily be consumed by an individual with the right bottle of wine and bread or crackers. Trust me, I know.

Specialty cheeses once were only to be found in the premium cheese department, which means they come with a premium price tag. And they often come in packs closer to 8 oz. Unless you are hosting a party or really want to indulge, there could be waste. All of that is eliminated with Sargento Tastings, which give everyday consumers the chance to explore a variety of specialty cheeses without a huge financial commitment. Some of the cheeses are familiar, while others are completely new. They are: Aged Wisconsin Cheddar, Aged Vermont White Cheddar, Bruschetta Jack, Creamy Havarti, Fiesta Pepper Jack, Medium Asiago, New Zealander and Parmentino.

- Donna Berry, Dairy & Food Communications

Prairie Farms Limited-Edition Flavored Milks

Indulgent, nutritious milk

After writing for and about the dairy industry for more than 20 years, I’m passionate about all things dairy, in particular fluid milk. But milk sales have been declining for longer than I have been writing about it. Anything any marketer does to add life to the category deserves accolades. Prairie Farms Dairy has been the most impressive innovator this past year. And my family and I cannot get enough of their limited-edition flavored milks.

A year ago the company introduced seasonal flavored milk for the winter holidays. Whereas most dairies are limited to eggnog, Prairie Farms offered Chocolate Mint, Pumpkin Spice, Red Velvet and Snickerdoodle. For the spring, we could not get enough of Jelly Bean, a low-fat milk delicately sweetened with a sugar and monk fruit juice combination. Who would think they could outdo that, but ‘lo and behold, this past summer the company debuted the Cupcake Classic series. The one super indulgent flavor was Chocolate Truffle. The other two – Strawberry Banana and Very Vanilla – were lower-sugar offerings. Right now my family and I have been enjoying Peanut Butter Chocolate Reduced Fat Milk and Spooktacular Egg Nog, both intended to celebrate the Halloween holiday. We cannot wait to see what’s next.

- Donna Berry, Dairy & Food Communications

Coleman Natural’s Chipotle with Asadero Cheese Sausage

Sausage with a spicy cluck

Usually pigs and cows get stuffed into a casing to make a sausage. The chicken is the odd-species out, so finding a well-made sausage made from poultry can be a frustrating search. I found a spicy winner this summer at Costco, where the Saturday samplers were serving up Coleman Natural’s Chipotle with Asadero Cheese chicken sausage. For once, I circled back to grab a 48-oz. pack of this line extension from Coleman Natural Foods, now a division of Perdue Farms.

The package of this fully cooked product hits all the right notes for hipster foodies – gluten free, no nitrates or nitrites, no antibiotics, vegetarian fed, etc. – but forget all that: This link is just a well-ground, spicy delight. Didn’t really notice the Asadero, the third listed ingredient, right behind “Parmesan-type cheese,” and Chipotle peppers don’t rate an ingredient mention until the bottom of the list. For a bit player, they really deliver.
Gotta renew the Costco membership.

- Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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