Favorite Products of 2006

Oct. 30, 2006
The editors, contributing writers, Editorial Advisory Board and readers of Food Processing collectively picked eight top product of the past year: Dannon Activia, PepsiCo's Diet Pepsi Jazz, Kool Freeze's Kulfi bars, Birds Eye Foods Steamfresh, Campbell V8 V-Fusion, Wish-Bone Salad Spritzers, Nspired Natural Foods - O’Cocos cocoa crisps, and Kellogg Co.'s Special K Protein Meal and Snack Bars and Special K20 Protein Waters.

Even though the food industry faced tremendous challenges from food safety scares, the feds, watchdog groups blaming the industry for obesity, shareholder demands for instant gratification and consumer attrition to foodservice, this was a very good year for new product introductions.

Health benefits beyond nutrition, innovative new technologies for veggies and salad dressing, bold/creative flavor combinations and calorie reduction through portion control were attributes of Food Processing's favorite new products of the past 12 months. And, of course, good taste.

These eight new products were suggested by the editors, contributing writers, Editorial Advisory Board and readers of Food Processing. We must confess, it was a more difficult decision this year because participants were passionate about their suggestions. Happily, we are all speaking to and taste-testing new products with each other again.

Dannon Activia: Teaching gut instinct

Dannon nails the three most important trends today - convenience, portion control and wellness - in its new yogurt product Activia.

Led by younger consumers, U.S. sales of yogurt have grown 10 percent annually for the past three decades, meaning consumption has doubled every 7.2 years, reports Time. "Give it a few more generations, and this could be the No. 1 food," says Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group. "This is where the country is heading."

Early this year, The Dannon Co., White Plains, N.Y., a subsidiary of France's Group Danone, launched low-fat Dannon Activia, the first yogurt in the U.S. to use probiotics that are clinically proven to help regulate the digestive system "in two weeks when eaten daily as part of a healthy and balanced diet," as the promotions say. Each 4-oz. serving of Activia contains billions of beneficial probiotic cultures, including its trademarked Bifidus regularis.

Danone Canada Inc.'s Danino

DHA for growing children

Danone Canada Inc. launched Danino, a yogurt for children containing DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), an essential fatty acid important for children's growth and development. Many studies have shown DHA plays an essential role in optimal brain and eye development and, when available in sufficient quantities, it helps improve learning, memory and concentration.

Flavors include Strawberry, Banana, Raspberry and Peach. "In addition to consuming fish, Danino is an easy and delicious way to help kids contribute to their daily need for DHA," says Tom Pugh, director of marketing with Danone Canada Inc. Danino contains the Meg-3 DHA brand provided by Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd.
- Diane Toops

Probiotic yogurt and dairy drinks sell to the tune of $10 billion worldwide and the market is growing. Activia has been one of Groupe Danone's best selling yogurt products globally, generating some 650 million Euros in 2004 sales in more than 20 countries, primarily in Europe and Asia. Finns eat 50 lbs. of yogurt, the French consume 49.1 lbs. and the Saudis eat 46.6 lbs. a year on average. Americans, who have been slow to get on the yogurt bandwagon, average 7 lbs.

Although Danone has been in the U.S. marketplace since 1942, this is its first major push to promote the health benefits of its yogurts. The company is cranking up production capacity and targeting niches such as the Hispanic community, reports MarketWatch. In 1980, U.S. sales of yogurt were a measly $300 million, but in 2005, they registered $3.5 billion.

Probiotics, which literally means "for life," are living microorganisms, "friendly" bacteria. Elie Metchnikoff, a Russian physiologist and Nobel-prize winner, suggested in 1907 that consuming friendly bacteria could have a beneficial effect. He named one strain Lactobacillus bulgaricus, based on the long life span and good health of the yogurt-consuming Bulgarian people.

Activia is packaged in 4-oz. cups in four- and eight-packs and is available in six flavors: Strawberry, Vanilla, Blueberry, Peach, Prune and Mixed Berry. It works by helping to reduce long intestinal transit time for food to pass through the digestive system. Studies show this reduction has reached up to 40 percent, depending on levels consumed and demographic profile. For individuals whose digestive system is functioning regularly, Activia has no adverse effects and provides all the benefits expected of a traditional yogurt.

"Irregularity is a source of true discomfort for many people who experience feelings of being heavy and bloated - a person's entire day can be ruined by even a mild digestive problem," says Michael Roizen, MD, professor of medicine and chair of the Division of Anesthesiology, Critical Care Medicine and Comprehensive Pain Management at the Cleveland Clinic. He also authored two bestselling books: "RealAge: Are You As Young As You Can Be?" and "You: The Owner's Manual."

"Those who experience irregularity can take several measures to help get their digestive system back on track, like drinking more water, consuming more high fiber foods, such as fruits and vegetables, exercising more often and eating Activia daily for two weeks," says Dr. Roizen. "Activia, with its probiotic cultures, provides an innovative and good-tasting new way to help address this all too-common problem."

"Americans are increasingly looking to food for benefits beyond basic nutrition, and probiotics, such as Activia, and our other great-tasting wellness products, including DanActive, do just this while accelerating growth in the already expanding yogurt category," says Juan Carlos Dalto, president and CEO. "As a new product, Activia is unique in how it combines great taste and a clinically demonstrated benefit."
- Diane Toops

PepsiCo's Diet Pepsi Jazz: Jazzing up cola

(Accepting the award on behalf of all flavored colas and all those sweetened with an aspartame-acesulfame potassium blend)

We've lumped several qualifying ideas into this one award-winner. Diet Pepsi Jazz, launched this past summer, is unique … but only in some ways. It has built upon the work of several predecessors to arrive at a product that refines both pleasantly unusual flavoring in colas and a non-nutritive sweetener blend that we think is the closest to sugar.

The idea of flavoring colas goes back a while, at least to the soda fountains of old that mixed cherry syrup in with the cola. It took the big cola companies a half century or so to catch on, but they did. Since then, we've seen colas flavored with cherry, vanilla, lime, lemon, even coffee (with a nod to another significant introduction this year, Coke Blak). But nothing with the flavor zing of Diet Pepsi Jazz.

Diet Pepsi Jazz comes in two multiflavored varieties: Black Cherry French Vanilla and Strawberries & Cream. It's reminiscent of Dr Pepper Berries & Cream, also launched this summer and which itself has a Cherry Vanilla predecessor. But, frankly, it just tastes better.

The fact that Pepsi Jazz is available only as a diet drink has some Internet bloggers upset, but even non-dieters giving it a taste might not realize this is artificially sweetened. For that angle, thank the aspartame-ace K blend, which also was used by Coca-Cola Co. in launching Coke Zero. These are wonderful times, when diet drinks don't have the dietetic off-taste anymore.

Coke got the sweetener right in Zero. Dr Pepper got the flavor combo right in Berries & Cream. With nods to those two predecessors, we give Pepsi the nod for adding the Jazz.
- Dave Fusaro

Kool Freeze's Kulfi bars: Different yet familiar … on a stick

The best route to success for a new food product is to be at once new and different and familiar. Kulfi bars from Kool Freeze Premium Frozen Products Inc., Ontario, Calif., does exactly that. Few things are more comfort-food primal than ice cream on a stick. Kulfi - Indian-style ice cream - is usually served slightly soft and in a small dish in Indian restaurants.

By making this esoteric treat, introduced last March at the Natural Products Expo West show, in bar form, President Jawaid Motiwala struck a chord on so many levels. It's not just the perfect balance of familiar and novel, but that unfamiliar element - flavors of India - is so trendy right now. And for the trifecta, all the flavors - mango, strawberry, pistachio, saffron, coconut, rose milk, malai ("cream" but it tastes like white chocolate), chikoo (sapote fruit, with a taste reminiscent of fruit and nut and chocolate) - taste divine.

But wait: There's more! While most premium bar ice creams come in at 200 calories or more, Kulfi bars run 160-180 calories.
- David Feder

Birds Eye Foods Steamfresh, Steam & Serve and Herb Garden Collection: Steamy new technology for vegetables

Innovation and creativity are the inspirations for three premium lines - Birds Eye Foods' Steamfresh, Steam & Serve and Herb Garden Collection - which fulfill the needs for convenience, customization and chef-inspired flavors.

Steamfresh heralds hassle-free steam-in-the-bag cooking, a new concept for U.S. consumers, but it should catch on as coooks look for convenience and quick cooking times. Steamed vegetables lock in nutritional benefits of vitamins and minerals, and consumers looking for tasty, wellness options will enjoy the crunchy, tasty and colorful varieties.

Birds Eye, Rochester, N.Y., packages its flash-frozen vegetables in a custom-designed bag that uses a patented steaming technology. Vegetables go from freezer to microwave to table in just five minutes. While microwaving, the bag becomes a steaming vessel as it puffs up under the pressure of the steam. A vent releases some of the pressure. During cooking, a slight whistling/hissing sound may be heard.

Each 12-oz. bag serves about four people (a single-serve version would be super), and is available in nine varieties: Broccoli Cuts; Super Sweet Corn; Cut Green Beans; Mixed Vegetables; Sweet Peas; Broccoli & Cauliflower; Broccoli, Cauliflower & Carrots; Broccoli, Carrots, Sugar Snap Peas & Water Chestnuts; and Sweet Mini Corn on the Cob (four ears).

"With Steamfresh products, consumers will receive perfectly steamed vegetables with such ease and convenience that we believe the Steamfresh portfolio could quickly become a home meal-time staple," says Josh Weinstein, senior product manager of Steamfresh.

Also new this year from Birds Eye, which has been on a rollout roll, is Herb Garden Collection, a premium line of frozen vegetables paired with fresh snipped herb seasonings in extra virgin olive oil, citrus or butter. They were developed by corporate chef Mark Susz, who is based in Birds Eye's R&D facility in Green Bay, Wis. An 8.5-oz. package serves two to three people, and the specially designed microwaveable tray with patented vent allows steam to circulate evenly during cooking. For extra fresh taste, the herbs and light sauce are packaged separately in a convenient packet, allowing consumers to customize the herb seasonings -- a great option for finicky consumers.

Another fruitful entry designed to appeal to more sophisticated palates, Birds Eye Steam & Serve is a regional line of premium frozen vegetable and fruit blends with flavorful sauces. These also were created by Chef Susz for the at-home chef, and they combine unique sauces with elegant vegetable and fruit blends. Each 10-oz. tray with patented vent serves two to three people and can be prepared in less than six minutes.

Varieties include: Asian Vegetables with Roasted Cashews (with pasta in a sesame ginger citrus soy sauce); Beans with a Twist (green and yellow beans, carrots and cranberries in herbed butter); Italian Herb Harvest Vegetables (with roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and herbed butter); Spring Vegetables in Citrus Sauce (carrots, asparagus, sugar snap peas and red bell peppers with cilantro and lime); Lemon Pepper Vegetables (broccoli, carrots and cauliflower in lemon pepper butter); and Carrots and Cranberries (with tarragon in a brown sugar, honey and nutmeg butter sauce). Brand new to the line are Specially Seasoned Southwestern Corn; Garlic Baby Peas and Mushrooms; Asian Medley; and Garlic Cauliflower.
- Diane Toops

Campbell V8 V-Fusion: Drink a full serving of veggies and fruits

Most consumers still think it's tough to get the dozen or so servings of all the healthy items in the 2005 My Pyramid food guide. How about getting a full serving of fruit and a serving of vegetables in one glass? Two servings in one glass? How'd they do that?

That small miracle was pulled off early this year by Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., when it launched V8 V-Fusion. The newest offering in the venerable V8 beverages line, it builds on the nutritious equity of V8 100 percent vegetable juice by providing a full serving (a half cup) of vegetables plus a full serving of fruit in each 8-oz. glass.

"V8 V-Fusion is a new juice that gives you the nutrition of vegetables blended with just the right amount of select fruit juices for a light, sweet taste and texture," the loudly colorful packaging states. Although it also touts "no added sugar," there are 28g of naturally occurring sugar in there, and the calories come in at 120 - both fair enough. An "Antioxidant Plus" banner notes the presence of vitamins A (45 percent of the recommended daily allowance), C (100 percent) and E (10 percent).

It's 100 percent juice and is available in three flavors (Strawberry Banana, Peach Mango and Tropical Orange) and two sizes (12 oz. and 46 oz.) "Color swirls are a natural occurrence" is a warning that's actually enticing.

Campbell marketers say the light, sweet taste and texture is aimed at a younger crowd than what normally embraces the V8 line. That's a key reach-out for a brand that has been around for 70 years and may be most identified with senior citizens.

"I am a huge fan of V8 Splash Juice Drink but not a big fan of V8 Vegetable Juice," writes one Internet blogger. "By combining the two, Campbell's, which make V8 juices, managed to get the best of both worlds." And, more importantly, to get it right.
- Dave Fusaro

Wish-Bone Salad Spritzers: Puttin' on the low-calorie spritz

One spritz, one calorie - now that's a portion control formula every salad lover can understand and easily incorporate into her diet.

Wish-Bone Salad Spritzers, from Unilever USA, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., were designed for diet-conscious consumers. Packaged in a 7-oz. non-breakable plastic bottles, they fit perfectly into a woman's hand (and handbag), yet can dress more salads (26) than a 16-oz. bottle of liquid dressing. Suggested serving size is 10 sprays per cup of salad.

"Formulas were developed specifically for the Spritzer; we didn't take our regular dressing and put it in the bottle," says Franck Valas, Wishbone brand manager. "We're the same company with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray, so we started from there."

Bottles are equipped with a nozzle that allows users to spray a one-calorie-per-spritz of the liquid onto their salads, vegetables or even sandwiches for a zesty flavor kick.

"Getting the pump to work the way we wanted was the most challenging," Valas continues. "We didn't want the dressing to shoot out; we wanted it to mist. Then we had to develop a formula that worked with the pump. Our regular Italian salad dressing contains particulates, little pieces of vegetables and other ingredients, which our consumers like. But you can't have particulates in a spray application."

These light-tasting vinaigrette dressings are available in three varieties: Italian Vinaigrette Dressing, a blend of white wine vinegar and flavorings; Balsamic Breeze Vinaigrette Dressing, a blend of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and garlic flavor; and Red Wine Mist Vinaigrette Dressing, blending cabernet sauvignon with red wine vinegar and oil.

Cooking sprays in general are proliferating, with sales in food, drug and mass merchandise stores (excluding Wal-Mart) topping the quarter-billion-dollar mark for the first time during the 52 weeks ended Sept. 9, according to ACNielsen Strategic Planner. We expect that halo to extend to spray-on salad dressings, and Spritzers are doing extremely well in the marketplace.

"We've positioned Spritzers as perfect portion control; you can have exactly the amount of dressing you want, rather than an accumulation of dressing on your plate," adds Valas. "It's for the control freak in all of us."
- Diane Toops

Nspired Natural Foods - O'Cocos cocoa crisps: Lotsa chocolate, few calories

The most important accomplishment of O'Cocos organic cocoa crisps is the deep chocolate flavor. This was no mean feat for creator Nspired Natural Foods Inc., San Leandro, Calif., as the crisps fall among the popular wave of portion-controlled, 100 calories or fewer snacks.

These sweet snacks the size and weight of a thick potato chip satisfy on a number of levels. O'Cocos fulfill the oft-dichotomous cravings for chocolate and crunch at just 90 calories per 0.7-oz. pack.

That sounds like a small portion - and it is slightly less than the typical 1 oz. bag of potato chips. But the crisps do a great job of satisfying the snacker's need in a single pack. The packaging is eye-catching, too, and three variations on chocolate are offered: original (plain chocolate), cinnamon and mocha.
- David Feder

Kellogg Co.'s Special K Protein Meal and Snack Bars and Special K20 Protein Waters: Shaping up with protein-fortified products

"Kellogg's [which celebrated its 100th birthday this year] was founded with the idea of eating healthier," says Jill Saletta, director of communications. "We've always maintained cereal has a place in a healthy diet, and now we're heading off into some exciting new areas."

One such area is the new Health & Wellness Division, which recently rolled out a line of protein-fortified Special K products. They are positioned as nutritious "shape management" tools, targeting consumers (particularly women) interested in weight loss.

"Our new protein-fortified products are intended to provide new and additional solutions to help them stay on track throughout the day," says Saletta of the Battle Creek, Mich., company. "We know protein can create a feeling of fullness or satiety, so that's why we think these products will be a great complement to our existing portfolio."

Sold in the diet and nutrition sections of grocery and drug stores, the line includes Special K Protein Meal Bars (190 calories), which have 10g of protein, are a good source of 13 vitamins and minerals and an excellent source of calcium. Flavors include: Chocolate Peanut Butter, Double Chocolate and Strawberry. Another option is Special K Protein Snack Bars (110 calories), with 4g of protein and a good source of nine vitamins and minerals. They are available in Chocolate Peanut and Chocolate Delight.

Most surprising is Kellogg's dive into unknown territory with Special K2O Protein Waters, the first broadly available brand of protein water. They deliver 5g of protein per 16-oz. bottle (50 calories) in Strawberry Kiwi, Lemon Twist and Tropical Blend. Consumer research shows that water, like snacks, plays an important role throughout each day as dieters try to stay on track with their weight management goals.

"Diets high in protein can help curb hunger," says Harley Pasternak, fitness and nutrition specialist, fitness and diet-book author and adviser to Hollywood's elite. "These products are great because they easily fit into busy lifestyles without sacrificing on taste or nourishment."

According to an Insights Research Ethnographic Study conducted by the Insight Research Group for Kellogg, millions of women start the week with good intentions for healthy eating to meet their weight-management goals. By Tuesday at 3 p.m., tummies are grumbling, and many are looking for a vending machine in search of a quick "fix." The study also found women's eating habits could swing drastically from good to bad across the day and throughout the week.

Kellogg's entire Special K product line is designed to be part of a wholesome diet, helping women (and men) stay on track with their shape-management goals.
- Diane Toops

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