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    Best on the Shelf

    Center store releases rank among PG’s favorite new products

    Center store products were among the highlights of Progressive Grocer’s 2013 class of Editors’ Picks. Among the hundreds of entries we received were new innovations as well as twists on old favorites. Winners were on trend and, above all, tasty.

    Among our favorite new products releases of the past year that can be found on center store shelves:

    Among Friends Cookie MixesThese clean-label cookie mixes from two moms in Ann Arbor, Mich., make it that much easier to enjoy home-baked goodies. They deliver just the right balance of flavor, density and moistness, using organic, non-GMO ingredients like spelt and flax seed, along with spices and dried fruits. Standouts among the six varieties we tasted (each is named for a friend or family member) were Shane's Sweet-n-Spicy Molasses Ginger, Phil 'Em Up Chocolate Cranberry and CJ's Brownie Bites.

    Breyers Ice Cream Toppings: This new line of sundae toppings includes sprinkles (or jimmies, depending on where you hail from) and fruit toppings, but what really impressed us was the hot fudge, caramel and chocolate sauces in squeezable, reclosable, microwaveable pouches: genius! Served warm or cold, they're easy to pour and made without high-fructose corn syrup.

    Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita: If the rate at which this beverage vanished in the hands of our testing panel is any indication, this new flavor of Bud Lite's Lime-A-Rita line should be a smash hit. The refreshing strawberry margarita-flavored beverage with a twist of Bud Light Lime is ready to drink – just open and pour over ice. Congrats to St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch for continuing to build this successful new category. We also really enjoyed Budweiser Black Crown, the result of A-B's Project 12 among its brewmasters nationwide, Black Crown is a golden amber lager brewed with toasted caramel malt and boasts a distinctively smooth taste coming from a beechwood finish. It was eagerly quaffed by our testers, who deemed this beer a winner. It's no insult to the mother brand to call this beer "Bud all grown up."

    Duke's Meat Snacks: The Shorty Smoked Sausages (in original and spicy) and Sweet B-B-Q Pork Strips from Boulder, Colo.-based Thanasi Foods take meat snacks to a whole new level. These snacks are truly addictive for the meat snack lover. The shorty pork sausages are slow-cured over hardwood smoke, while the braised pork strips are tender and flavorful in a lush, smoky sauce. Among protein-based snacks, these Duke's products are hard to beat.

    French's Flavor Infuser Marinades: This is truly a breakthrough for the home cook or backyard griller who's otherwise hesitant to experiment with marinades. With enough marinade for up to 4 pounds of chicken, steak, pork or fish, the Flavor Infuser eliminates mixing and pouring, allowing marinade to be injected deep into the protein for even distribution. From the brand owned by U.K.-based Reckitt Benckiser, it comes in Sweet & Tangy Teriyaki, Classic Steakhouse, Zesty Italian, and Caribbean Jerk.

    Loeb's Onion CrunchA great innovation in the condiment category, kosher, vegan Onion Crunch contains only onions, palm oil, wheat flower and salt, with no cholesterol or trans fat. Our testers enjoyed terrific flavor and texture on salads, atop hot dogs and in handfuls. From New York-based Loeb's, Onion Crunch currently comes in Original, Chipotle, Bacon and BBQ varieties. An enthusiastic pick!

    Mars Snickers and Milky Way Bites: Two iconic candy bars finally move beyond "fun size" to the next step in portion control with Snickers and Milky Way Bites from Hackettstown, N.J.-based Mars Chocolate North America. Our testers appreciated the ability to have a few small bites that deliver the full taste experience of their bigger brothers. The reclosable seal on the standup "sharing" pouch is a great feature. These are sure to be significant sellers.

    Nature's Own Oatmeal ToastersAs the latest addition to its line of traditional and innovative bread formats, Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers Foods delivers this great new breakfast treat in Cinnamon Raisin and Cranberry Orange varieties. The whole grain (20 grams per serving) squares are packed with real oats and sweet fruits and can be toasted or eaten right out of the bag. Our testers enjoyed them with a little peanut butter or jelly, but they offer great taste and texture alone, too.

    Old El Paso Stand 'N Stuff Tortillas and Mexican Cooking SaucesThese new products from Old El Paso, a brand of Minneapolis-based General Mills, add ease and authenticity to Mexican meals at home. The patent-pending standup soft tacos are convenient to fill and handle, emerging warm and chewy after a few seconds in the microwave. The sauces – Roasted Tomato, Chipotle, and Chili & Roasted Garlic – work well with chicken and pork. Together, they're a fun and easy meal solution.

    Pretzilla Buns and Bites: Milwaukee's Miller Baking Co. scores with its Pretzilla line of pretzel rolls. The burger buns are solid 'zel goodness, and the minis open up new slider opportunities. But the real gems are the bites, perfect for snacking, dipping and, as suggested on Miller's website, "pretchos," a pretzelized nacho concept. They're light, airy and addictive. From a town more famous for another Miller, Pretzilla is a monster new product.

    Vlasic Farmer's Garden Pickles: This new line of pickles from Peoria, Ill.-based Pinnacle Foods' Vlasic brand really helps class up center store. These premium pickles are packed with carrots, red peppers, garlic cloves and seasonings that you can see right in the mason-style jar. Our testers enjoyed the pickles' fresh taste and crunchy texture, and appreciated their low calorie count for guilt-free snacking. Farmer's Garden by Vlasic comes in five varieties: Kosher Dill Spears, Kosher Dill Halves, Dill Chips, Zesty Garlic Chips, and Bread & Butter Chips.

    Visit our August 2013 issue online to see the whole list of 2013 Editors’ Picks winners.

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