Editors' Picks for Top New Food Products of 2009

Oct. 29, 2009
Fit, fast and fun were new product themes for the year; here are nine products that caught our fancy…and land in our shopping carts.

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple streudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of [our] favorite things...

One of the annual stories we look forward to writing is our favorite new food & beverage products of the year. Unlike Information Resources Inc., which compiles its list based on consumer sales, we like to pick based on our personal preferences.

“We” is a combination of our editorial staff, editorial advisory board, contributing writers and a smattering of votes on our web site. Our Putman Media colleagues help too … indirectly. They scout the top of our file cabinets for new products sent to us. Not exactly scientific, but when everyone fights for the samples, we know the manufacturer is right on trend; and when products sit there, odds are they are not going to make it in this competitive marketplace.

Since we don’t choose products based on a theme ahead of time, we never know what commonalities we will find. This year, our products fit into two buckets – fitness or fast and fun. Fitness and wellness are the overriding themes for manufacturers, and they are doing a marvelous job of making those foods taste better and better. Dannon Activia Yogurt Drinks, Progresso High Fiber Soup, Wells’ Blue Bunny Aspen and Sodona ice cream novelties and Boost Kids Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink (which has a cool straw that carries the probiotics) all taste mighty fine, no matter what your age.

Convenience, of course, is one of the three most important attributes of a successful new product today, along with taste and improved nutrition. Value has moved up the list. So Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash, DiGiorno Flatbread Melts, and Healthy Choice Mixers save you time and give a great return for your hard-earned cash.

Speaking of cash, this has been another tough year economically for most Americans, who are eating out less. To battle the stress, what could be more fun than sharing some Giant Cheetos or a family appetizer night made up of Tyson Any’tizers? The good thing to come out of this recession is that mom and dad are spending more time at home, preparing meals and interacting with their kids.

Now that most of the economic pundits believe that the “Great Recession” is over, we look forward to your products next year. We know there will be super surprises and innovative ideas in store.

You can find a slide show of our favorite products above; however, if you really want to understand why or how these became our favorite products, then you'll want to click through to the next page.


Giant CheetosQuirky Chester Cheetah grows upCheetos, which were introduced in 1948 by the Frito Co., continue to be one of the most successful brands for the Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay division of Pepsico. There are many varieties and worldwide sales of $3 billion-plus.

Rolled out on April 1 this year, Giant Cheetos are anything but an April Fool’s Day joke. Roughly the size of golf balls, they are the perfect expression of the brand’s playful personality and brand spokesperson, Chester Cheetah, one of the most recognized and beloved pop icons, who became the brand’s mascot in 1986.

“Over the last 20 years I’ve watched Chester Cheetah’s personality evolve; he used to be the cool kitty who was always trying to get some Cheetos, but never succeeding -- something that appealed to kids,” wrote Chief Blogger Dave Philips, part of the Frito-Lay team for 30 years. (Although he retired earlier this year, Philips can’t imagine life without Frito-Lay, so he still blogs for fun.) “Today, Cheetos targets adults -- especially 30-year-old men -- and so Chester has grown up. He’s now associating with adults, acting as the catalyst that brings out their innermost mischievous feelings.”

In keeping with its target demographic, ads for Giant Cheetos were positioned on late-night programs and networks, including Comedy Central, TBS, FX and VH1, since these channels are the preferred venues for young adults after the kids go to bed.

Ann Mukherjee, vice president of marketing for Frito-Lay North America, told USA Today the company hired cultural anthropologists who watched stressed workers fiddle with stuff on their desks -- including stress balls. That gave them the inspiration for Giant Cheetos. “It’s a ball you can eat,” Mukherjee said, adding that at one point the development team even considered (but junked) the idea of Cheetos the size of tennis balls.

Cheetos product developers have accommodated those who prefer their snack in a two-bite experience, as do most consumers, and more evolved snackers, or “big mouths,” who need to devour their Giant Cheetos in one humungous bite. Philips prefers the two-bite option, although most men like the one bite alternative.

Giant Cheetos are available in Cheese and Flamin Hot flavors -- in a 7.75-oz. bag ($2.89) and a single-serve sleeve of five balls (0.635 oz. and only 80 calories) for 59 cents. Since I have to eat the whole container, the single-serve Cheese sleeve is my choice. I tend to eat each one in two bites, sometimes three, so my inner kid can savor the cheesiness, neon orange color and pixie dust, which gets all over my fingers. And it’s only 150 calories for eight Giant Cheetos.

- Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

Progresso High-Fiber Soup Warm, delicious, healthy comfort food I went on a major soup boycott the summer I turned 16. I wasn’t protesting the treatment of tomatoes but rather the fact that soup was my primary source of nourishment during a six-week stint of having my jaw wired shut as a high school sophomore. I swore off soup for a good 10 years.

Then I met Progresso from General Mills, Minneapolis. I was 26, living alone and in need of some warm comfort food. Over the years, Progresso’s tomato soups have earned their place in my pantry as my soup of choice. When I saw Progresso was unveiling a line of high-fiber soups, all with no added MSG and no artificial flavors – Chicken Tuscany, Hearty Vegetable and Noodles, Homestyle Minestrone and a Creamy Tomato Basil (no less!) it was one of the first soups I picked up this fall. And do I love it.

Whether sprinkled with Parmesan or left alone with a cracker, the Creamy Tomato Basil tastes exactly like what I’ve eaten in some of the best restaurants.

Progresso High-Fiber Soup retails at $2.69 for a 19-oz. can, a great value. Add to that the fact the soup is loaded with fiber (7g of fiber, 28 percent of the DV) per serving, and you’ve got a happy – and healthier – woman.
- Erin Erickson, Senior Digital Editor

Wells’ Blue Bunny Aspen and Sedona ice cream novelties
The trifecta: Low in fat, probiotic and tasty I was leaving my health club in mid-summer when I noticed a stack of discount coupons on the counter: $1 off some new novelties from Wells’ Blue Bunny. On closer examination, these looked like truly novel novelties: lowfat frozen yogurt – with probiotic cultures – rolled in granola. Like hitting the trifecta!

The Blue Bunny (that’s Wells’ brand) Aspen Snack Bar and Sedona Sandwich debuted this past March. “A fusion of frozen yogurt, granola, and either fresh fruit or rich chocolate, these treats balance great taste and key nutrition helping consumers maintain a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing tasty snacks,” the company says. No wonder the coupon was in my health club.

The Aspen Snack Bars are smaller, eight to a pack, weighing in at 2.4 oz. each and 150 calories. They resemble candy bars. They appear to be ice cream covered in white chocolate but they’re really frozen yogurt covered with more yogurt.

The lowfat yogurt – raspberry or strawberry – is topped with a layer of the same fruit filling. On top of that are crunchy granola crumbles, then the whole bar is enrobed in a white, vanilla-flavored yogurt coating. The two varieties are Raspberry Vanilla and Double Strawberry. Each bar is a good source of calcium, fiber and probiotics.

The Sedona Sandwiches are similarly deceptive. Instead of chocolate or strawberry ice cream you again get the probiotic frozen yogurt, this time with thick swirls of fruit or fudge, sandwiched between two chewy, honey-oat granola wafers. They’re available in Double Strawberry or Double Chocolate.

Sedona Sandwiches are a bit bigger, 3.75 oz. each and packed six to a box. They carry 180 calories and 190 calories per sandwich, respectively, and also are good sources of calcium, fiber and probiotics.

I thought both a little pricey: $4.29 for the Aspen bars and $4.99 for the Sedonas. But the $1 off coupon made he happy. The artful blend of indulgence and healthfulness made them worth the price.

I’ve always been fond of Wells’ Dairy. The family-run company claims to make “the most ice cream by one company in one place” – I guess that means it can no longer claim the world’s largest ice cream plant, in hometown LeMars, Iowa. But it’s a big one. The company has had a hard time cracking and maintaining shelf space in competitive markets like my Chicago, but not for lack of imaginative products. I still recall one of the best and most innovative products I’ve ever tasted: a tart, green apple water-ice filled with soft caramel. It was like a caramel apple in the ice cream case. I don’t know how they made the thing, but they stopped making it … much to my chagrin.
- Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash
Frozen mashed potatoes good as homemade
I’m a traditionalist and love mashed potatoes with lots of butter and whole milk. I used to make them from scratch, not only for my family during the holidays, but even for myself when I felt in the mood. Now I don’t have to, thanks to the rollout of Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash potatoes from Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co. Yea!

Brilliant minds at Ore-Ida, a Heinz brand since 1963 and the leading brand of frozen potatoes in the U.S., figured out that the only part of making mashed potatoes that’s fun is the mashing. So the ready-to-steam, frozen russet potatoes are already scrubbed, peeled and cubed before you begin. After microwaving the unopened bag for 10 minutes, you let them stand for 2 minutes, open the bag and transfer the potatoes to a bowl. Then add milk, butter, seasonings along with anything else that strikes your fancy, and mash.

That gives you total control, ideal if you prefer skim milk or margarine, or want to add carrots for your toddlers. They are perfectly cooked, have a wonderful texture and mash very easily and quickly with a potato masher (or even a large serving spoon if you are kitchen tools-impaired). The convenience is great; but even more importantly, they taste exactly the same as homemade (from scratch).

TV ads used a before-and-after approach. The old way, which was portrayed by an exasperated woman peeling a mound of potatoes, was contrasted with the new way: microwave, steam and mash. A print ad showed a peeler off in a corner with the headline, “Give your potato peeler a time-out,” and the tagline: “We peel and chop, you steam and mash.”

They’re available in four varieties: Cut Russet (80 calories per serving), Cut Red (70 calories per serving) Garlic Seasoned (110 calories per serving) and Sweet Potatoes (90 calories per serving). Steam n’ Mash potatoes retail for $3.69 for a 24-oz. bag. The bag will serve seven normal side dish eaters, but I could eat the whole thing myself and forget the rest of the meal.

I’m probably not alone, since the average American eats more than 130 lbs. of potatoes a year,and Ore-Ida sells one billion pounds of potatoes in the U.S. alone. The Steam n’ Mash line garnered $7.8 million in sales during just the first three months -- not counting Wal-Mart and convenience stores.

“The launch of Ore-Idea Steam n’ Mash potatoes was one of the most successful Heinz North America new product launches and almost entirely incremental to the Ore-Ida business,” says Wendy Joyce, vice president of marketing for Ore-Ida. “The product, which launched nationally in September 2008, contributed $14 million in sales during the first three months of distribution.”

As an added bonus, Ore-Ida Steam n’ Mash potatoes can be used in any recipe that calls for cubed or mashed potatoes. Russet potato cubes are perfect for potato salad; the sweet potato cubes give you a head start on a sweet potato pie or soufflé.
- Diane Toops

Tyson Any’tizersA collective “Yum”My son Matt fancies himself a chicken nugget connoisseur. He’s this close to starting a rating scale of his favorites, which include Tyson Any’tizer Popcorn Chicken Bites, as well as new varieties Stuffed Chicken Cordon Bleu Minis and Stuffed Chicken Pepperoni Minis, all from Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods.

I bought these little nuggets in a large-portion bag for $7.48 shortly after posting the product announcement on and served them for one of our Sunday evening appetizer-dinners. I believe the immediate response from the whole table was a collective “yum.”

Coming from my family of picky eaters, that’s as good as it gets. The kids enjoyed the taste while I enjoyed the easy-to-store package and quick and painless preparation. I have yet to serve these gems at a party, but I’m fairly certain they'd be met with a forks-up approval rating.
- Erin Erickson

Healthy Choice MixersToss them in your desk drawer for a ready-to-go lunchOmaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods takes the Healthy Choice brand in another new direction with Fresh Mixers, great-tasting shelf-stable, healthy lunch options for the office-bound. Its own cooker separates the starch and the sauce, maintaining the distinct flavor and texture of each. You prepare the rice or pasta fresh in the microwave, and mix it together with the sauce and meat to create a complete, healthful meal all in about five minutes. It’s the same technology used in Healthy Choice Café Steamers, which debuted last year.

Strapped for time and cash, many working Americans are compromising on the nutrition and quality of their lunches or skipping the meal entirely. Because these office workers are attached to their computers, half of them eat something less healthful than they would like, according to an Omnibus survey of 2,181 adults conducted by Opinion Research Corp. Top reasons cited include convenience (57 percent), price (39 percent) and taste (35 percent).

When ConAgra launched Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers, there were six varieties including Sweet & Sour Chicken, Sesame Teriyaki Chicken, Ziti & Meat Sauce, Rotini & Zesty Marinara Sauce, Southwestern Style Chicken and Szechwan Beef with Asian Style Noodles. They were so successful; four new varieties have been added since: Chicken Cacciatore, Steak Portobello, Tuscan Style Chicken, and Sweet Hickory BBQ Chicken.

Healthy Choice Fresh Mixers, which retail for $3.49, are made from premium ingredients, such as extra virgin olive oil, wine reductions and fire-roasted vegetables. Meals containing pasta are made with Ultragrain flour, a ConAgra whole-wheat flour that combines the nutritional benefits of whole grains with the finished recipe qualities of traditional refined flour.
- Diane Toops

Dannon Activia Yogurt DrinksNutrition and convenience – a two-ferI’m an on-the-go type of mom, so when I find a food or beverage that is both nutritious and convenient I'll pick one up and give it a try. Dannon’s Activia yogurt drinks, from White Plains, N.Y.-based Dannon Co., have become a favorite in my house.

My daughter Ana and I can’t get enough of the smooth texture and not-too-sweet taste of the Vanilla drink. The Strawberry flavor takes a bit more getting used, thanks to the strawberry chunks (there's just something about drinking something with chunks in it that doesn’t seem right). Other varieties you might want to try include Peach and Mixed Berry.

Regardless of its promises to aid in digestion, Activia yogurt drinks, which retail at $3.99 for a four-pack, win rave reviews in my house as being a delicious treat we can all drink whenever – or wherever – we want.
- Erin Erickson

DiGiorno Flatbread Melts Increasingly, the world is flatFrozen hand-held entree options continue to proliferate, fueled primarily by on-the-go consumers looking for a quick fix and as convenient snack options for kids. In 2008, sales for non-breakfast portable entrees were $1.4 billion (excluding Wal-Mart), according to Chicago-based Information Resources Inc., relatively flat from the year before.

“I can tell you that Kraft Pizza Co. holds the No. 1 share position overall in the frozen pizza category,” says Shivika Jamison, senior associate brand manager, DiGiorno Pizza. “We continue to focus on new product innovation at Kraft Pizza Co. to provide consumers with great-tasting options and DiGiorno Flatbread Melts are a good example of this. Flatbread Melts mark the first time DiGiorno has brought fresh-baked taste to a food category other than pizza.  As consumers are eating out less at restaurants, we wanted to provide them with more sophisticated, restaurant-quality options to enjoy at home or on the go, and Flatbread Melts consumers are adults who enjoy restaurant-quality meals but who desire quick and tasty mealtime options.”

You see flatbread sandwiches everywhere in foodservice. But an increasing number of frugalistas are “brown bagging” it. So why not fill those bags with frozen flatbread melts? They take just a few minutes to prepare, are a warm, filling lunch alternative, come in lots of flavorful varieties, contain between 300 and 400 calories on average and are available at a very reasonable price point – around $3.50. Like a regular sandwich, you can hold them while you do e-mail.

Similar to pizza dough, which is made with yeast, flatbread is made with flour, water and salt, and then rolled into flattened dough. Many flatbreads are unleavened — made without yeast or sourdough culture.

Superstars in the frozen flatbread sandwich category include Kraft’s Oscar Mayer Deli Creations Flatbread Sandwiches, Weight Watchers Smart Ones Artisan Creations Grilled Flatbreads and Nestle Lean Cuisine's Flatbread Melts, to name a few. Most recently, Kraft Foods rolled out two new wonderful options: California Pizza Kitchen’s Flatbread Melts and DiGiorno’s Flatbread Melts, both in four flavors weighing in at 5.9 to 6 oz. each.

Tasty Italian-inspired flavored DiGiorno Flatbread Melts are available in four varieties: Chicken Parmesan, Italian-Style Meatball & Four Cheese, Chicken & Bacon Ranch and Steak & Fire Roasted Vegetables. All retail for $3.19. The flatbread is crispy, ingredients are plentiful and the cheese has a nice melt. By the way, they work fine as a breakfast too – especially for kids.

So keep your Blackberry in one hand and your DiGiorno Flatbread Melts in the other and you might be able to finish your work by 5:00.
- Diane Toops

Boost Kid Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink
Sipping nutrition for picky kids

If you have a child (1-13) who hides healthy foods under a napkin or manages to drop them on the floor when you aren’t looking, has trouble gaining weight, is below or slightly below growth percentiles or needs extra nutrition to maintain an active lifestyle, you have a problem.

Fortunately, Nestlé HealthCare Nutrition, Minnetonka, Minn., one of the four businesses of Nestlé Nutrition, rolled out Boost Kid Essentials Nutritionally Complete Drink early this year. Available in three kid-approved flavors -- chocolate, vanilla and strawberry – and containing probiotics, they’re a great option for filling in nutritional gaps and supporting the healthy immune system every child needs.

Packaged in a shelf-stable Tetra Prisma, spill-resistant, easy-to-grip container, the drink, which retails for $11.89 for a six-pack, is lactose-free and gluten-free and has no high-fructose corn syrup. It does contain 25 essential vitamins and minerals, 7g of muscle-building protein, key antioxidants and 244 energy-packed calories.

What’s really clever is that the probiotics are delivered through the patented straw and consumed with the drink. The straw holds 100 million lactobacillus reuteri protectis cells contained in an oil droplet released when the child takes a drink. It’s not a new technology. Developed by Swedish biotechnology company BioGaia, it has been used for beverages in Spain and Japan. We’re glad it’s here; after all, what kid doesn’t like sipping a drink through a straw?
- Diane Toops