This year's Editors' Picks delivered on trendiness and convenience, with some new spins on old favorites – but above all, great taste.
It took us weeks, but we ate it all.
The response to Progressive Grocer's 2013 Editors' Picks contest was indeed overwhelming. In all, we received nearly 425 entries, encompassing close to 500 individual products, taking into account multiple varieties and flavors for many of the food products. (This year, we evaluated nonfood products separately; those winners were profiled in the July 2013 issue.)
When the dust – and our stomachs – settled, we were left with 123 winners, which are documented on the following pages.
That's not to say that those not chosen as Editors' Picks weren't good products; to be sure, we received few stinkers. But the winners delivered in spades in three key areas:
Innovation: Originality, new packaging application, ingredient enhancement, ability to grow or develop a new or existing category, new flavor/variety/portion size, etc.
Taste/Functionality: How did the product live up to taste/quality expectations, or functional attributes?
Value: How did the product's overall value proposition deliver on price, time and convenience?
Some winners employed novel packaging applications to simplify preparation or consumption and otherwise add value to products. For example: Musco's Pearls Olives to Go, Home Chef Kitchen On the Plate entrées, Stemilt/Sunkist Lil Snappers mini apples and oranges, Tasteful Selections Microwave Potatoes, and Wholly Guacamole 100-Calorie Snack Packs.Some winners were entirely new concepts. For example: French's Flavor Infuser Marinades are neat single-use syringes aimed at making roasting or grilling proteins easier and tastier. Perdue's Boneless Skinless Seasoned Rotisserie Breast Roast delivers a great-tasting, low-shrink prepared food solution. And Raes Bee Free Honee fills a niche for vegans looking for guilt-free sweetness.
Some winners bring new life to mature categories. For example: Cool Whip Frosting, Miracle Whip Dipping Sauces, Sunsweet's bread and brownies, and Old El Paso Stand 'n Stuff tortillas.
And some winners we just thought were really cool, such as Among Friends cookie mixes, Farmer's Garden pickles from Vlasic, and Hammond's Pigs 'n Taters chocolate bar.
But above all, our Editors' Picks had to deliver on taste, and this year's winners came through.
Our judging panel was quite diverse this year. On the front lines were PG's own staff members, backed up by the extended personnel of Stagnito Media's offices in Deerfield, Ill., and Jersey City, N.J. Staffers shared many of the products with their families, who also weighed in. And we assembled informal focus groups, including neighborhood PTA members and Girl Scout leaders – the moms who serve as gatekeepers to their families' pantries.
So as all of us at PG wipe the crumbs from our shirtfronts, toss away the food wrappers and pledge to start our new diets tomorrow, we invite you to take a look at this year's bumper crop of Editors' Picks.
Among Friends Cookie Mixes
SRP: $5.89 www.amongfriendsbakingmixes.com
These 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.
Aux Delices des Bois Genoa Salami and Truffle Sopressata
SRP: $9.99 www.transatlanticfoods.com
The main reviewer for these products admits a weakness for charcuterie, but these were true standouts for their taste and texture. The mild salami is made from finely ground pork (not treated with hormones or antibiotics) spiced with coriander and black pepper, while truffles add a new dimension to the sopressata. The all-natural sausages contain no artificial nitrites. Essentially a gourmet product, these sausages from New York-based Transatlantic Foods merit the attention of mainstream grocers looking to further class up their specialty food departments.
B4U! Sprouted Grain Frozen Pizza
SRP: $6.99 www.better4Ufoods.com
Delray Beach, Fla.-based Better For You Foods (B4U) scores with this healthier frozen pizza that also tastes great – a challenge, especially among the discriminating testers in PG's Chicago office. The all-natural, ultra-thin crust is made of sprouted grains, which deliver higher amounts of dietary fiber, nutrients and protein, along with a lower glycemic index. The Bruschetta Style and Old World Veggie varieties also deliver real cheese and tasty toppings, at just 220 calories per generous serving. We were additionally impressed by B4U's shelf-stable gluten-free crust, a healthy option for home pizza chefs.
Ball Park Lean Franks
SRPs: $4.99 pork, $5.49 beef per 8 franks www.hillshirebrands.com
They still plump when you cook 'em, but now they're a little leaner. The Lean Beef and Lean Pork Franks from Chicago-based Hillshire Brands are made with 100 percent of their respective proteins, no artificial colors or flavors, and contain 70 to 80 calories and 5 grams of fat per link. Our tasters preferred the beef variety to the pork and welcomed a healthier option for summer grilling, as well as for hungry kids, for many of whom hot dogs are their go-to food.
Barefoot Refresh Wines
SRP: $7.99 www.ejgallo.com
All three varieties of this line extension of Modesto, Calif.-based E&J Gallo's popular Barefoot Wine brand were real crowd-pleasers among our testers. The Summer Red, Sweet White and Crisp White all delivered on their promises of light, fruity flavors and fragrant aromas. Truly living up to their name, these refreshing wines are a great summertime treat at a value price, making them accessible to a wide audience.
SRP: $8.29/6-pack www.anheuser-busch.com
A robust pilsner with a smooth, refreshing finish, this addition to the Beck's lineup was heartily enjoyed by the beer drinkers among our testers. With 6 percent ABV, Beck's Sapphire is brewed with imported German sapphire hops. A good choice for beer aficionados looking to take things up a notch, it should be a welcome addition to grocers' beer aisles.
Boost Nutrition Bar
SRP: $8.99/box of 8 bars www.us.nestle.com
Kudos to Florham Park, N.J.-based Nestlé HealthCare Nutrition for growing the adult nutrition category with its Boost Nutrition Bar, the first such product designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of the 65-and-older consumer. Each bar contains 21 vitamins and minerals, plus 11 grams of protein. The bar format brings incrementality to the category by helping to satisfy additional usage occasions.
Boyd's Organic Coffee
SRP: $10.99 www.boyds.com
The java junkies on our staff really enjoyed the ground coffee from Portland, Ore.-based Boyd's, which rolled out six retail varieties in playful redesigned packaging. The flagship 423½ Original Roast occasioned more trips than usual to the office coffeemaker, and the other five sacks vanished quickly. The "accessible, honest" flavor and aroma are further enhanced by simple roast-level designations, straightforward flavor descriptions and cheeky package blurbs.
Breyers Ice Cream Toppings
SRP: $2.49-$2.99 www.BreyersToppings.com
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.
Buddy Fruits Pure Fruit Jiggle Gel
SRP: $1 www.buddyfruits.com
Making fruit more fun for kids is the mission of Coral Gables, Fla.-based Buddy Fruits, and its Jiggle Jel adds a new dimension to the experience. It could be described as "applesauce meets Jell-O," but it replaces animal-based gelatin with fruit pectin, which claims a host of health benefits, to deliver a 100 percent fruit product. The shelf-stable squeezable pouch offers convenience and portability for lunchboxes and after-school snacks.
Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita
SRP: $13.79/12-pack www.anheuser-busch.com
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.
Budweiser Black Crown
SRP: $12.99/12-pack www.anheuser-busch.com
It's no insult to the mother brand to call this beer "Bud all grown up." The result of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch'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.
Bumble Bee Prime Fillet Gourmet Flavors
SRP: $2.49/5-ounce can www.bumblebee.com/gourmetflavors
Making a humble can of tuna something a little more special proved to be right up this iconic brand's alley. The San Diego-based company drew on high-quality ingredients and trendy flavors to deliver olive oil-packed albacore with chipotle peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and jalapeños. These delicious combinations are perfect to dress up recipes or, as at least one of our testers enjoyed it, right out of the can over a bed of lettuce.
Capri Sun Super V
SRP: $3.49/10-pack www.kraftfoods.com
We've seen a lot of products that aim to sneak extra vegetables into the mouths of babes, but this one just may prove to be the most successful. Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft extended its popular Capri Sun line with Super V, which delivers one combined serving of fruits and vegetables in each pouch. With no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, Super V's Apple, Berry and Fruit Punch varieties were gleefully sipped by our junior tasters with nary a thought to veggie content.
Certified Angus Beef Kansas City BBQ Seasoned Pepper Crusted Beef Tri Tip
SRP: $7.99/pound www.gwfg.com
Vernon, Calif.-based Golden West Food Group does justice and then some to the Certified Angus Beef marque with a fabulously flavored and remarkably tender tri tip. The vacuum-packed product comes preseasoned and ready to cook, and a reviewer with admittedly hit-and-miss grilling skills found it impossible to mess up. Juicy and delicious, this cut – popular in the West but gaining a growing audience elsewhere – is sure to rank well on most carnivores' "I could eat this every day" list.
Chobani Champion Tubes
SRP: $2.79/8-pack www.chobani.com
Norwich, N.Y.-based Chobani scores in the ongoing mission to get children to eat healthier with its Champions Tubes yogurt in four kid-friendly flavors. With all-natural ingredients, real fruit, vitamin D and protein, these portable snacks are nutritious, convenient and fun to eat. In a dairy case crammed with everybody's latest take on Greek-style yogurt, this product's a winner.
Ciao Bella Sea Salt Caramel Gelato Squares
SRP: $5.99/box of 4 www.ciaobellagelato.com
Indulgence plus portion control equals an enthusiastic pick for Florham Park, N.J.-based Ciao Bella's Gelato Squares. This sophisticated take on the ice cream sandwich weds a hip, trendy flavor profile to a time-tested snack format. Each bite of the rich gelato between two chocolate wafers had our tasters yearning for the next one – one of the few entrants that we felt, only half-jokingly, didn't send enough samples. Grazie, Ciao Bella!
Citizen Chef Sauces
SRP: $2.99 www.citizenchef.com
How many dishes can you make from these neat refrigerated cooking sauces from San Francisco-based Citizen Chef? Each package contains a handy recipe and a website address for even more ideas. Of the six varieties sampled, we enjoyed the Hawaiian Pineapple BBQ with pulled pork as the base for a southwestern-style pizza atop a tortilla; the others should inspire Asian, Mediterranean and tropical tastes. These sauces deliver on Citizen Chef's mission to promote fresh ingredients, real cooking and eating together.
Columbus Farm to Fork Naturals
SRP: $4.99 www.columbussalame.com
This line from Hayward, Calif.-based Columbus Foods follows the trend of all-natural deli meats in fine style. These uncured sausages, along with roasted turkey, offer the quality and taste expected of the company's well-liked product line. Farm to Fork Naturals boast meats raised humanely with no antibiotics, as well as no added nitrites or nitrates. The Genoa Salame delivers a great mild flavor, while the Piccante variety packs distinctive paprika spice.
Cool Whip Frosting
SRP: $2.69 www.kraftfoods.com
Some may wonder why it took this long for Kraft to put its iconic Cool Whip brand on a line of frostings. Made with real butter, milk and sugar, the product is light and easy to spread on cakes, cupcakes or whatever else one might like to top with frothy vanilla, chocolate or cream cheese flavors. Sold in the freezer case alongside traditional Cool Whip, Cool Whip Frosting is a great category extender with enough to frost a 9-inch, two-layer cake, or two dozen cupcakes, in each tub.
Crepini Naked Crepini
SRP: $6.99 www.crepini.com
These heat-and-serve crepes from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Crepini are great for those who might be too intimidated to make crepes from scratch. Remarkably thin yet durable enough to cook with, they will keep in the fridge unopened for 25 days, or frozen for 18 months. The 6-inch crepes seem sweeter and more suitable for desserts, while the larger crepes should work well for savory dishes.
Crispy Fruit Tangerine
SRP: $1.49 www.crispygreen.com
This intriguing product from Fairfield, N.J.-based Crispy Green removes that pesky shelf-life factor from the fresh-fruit equation. The company's patented freeze-drying process creates light, airy tangerine segments free of added sugar or preservatives. Don't repeat our rookie mistake and chew them – let them melt in your mouth and enjoy a sweet, juicy taste from a healthy snack that you can stash in your cupboard or desk without fear of attracting unwelcome buzzing guests (and, no, we don't mean co-workers).
Crunch Pak Salad KitZ
SRP: $4.99-$5.99 www.crunchpak.com
Crave a Waldorf salad but don't have time to prepare it from scratch or tote all the ingredients for a lunch at work? Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak takes the prep and guesswork out of it with its fresh salad side dishes in two varieties, Tropical and Waldorf. Just blend the four-serving container of diced apples with the accompanying packets of dried fruits, nuts and dressing. The convenient combinations of sweet, tart, creamy and crunchy are tasty timesavers.
Dandy Radish Mini Sticks
SRP: 98 cents www.dudafresh.com
Joining the ranks of ready-to-use produce are these packs of pre-cut radish sticks, a colossally more convenient way to add radishes to salads, garnishes and other recipes. Healthy and versatile, these 4-ounce pouches from Salinas, Calif.-based Duda Farm Fresh Foods are a welcome addition to the growing landscape of RTE produce that continues to make it easier for busy shoppers to enjoy healthier meals.
SRP: $3.99 www.coca-cola.com
A natural next step for Atlanta-based Coke's popular bottled water brand, Dasani Drops are a handy and portable way to add a little flavor to our daily drinks. Each 1.9-ounce squeezable flip-top bottle offers 32 servings of flavor enhancement in four varieties: Pink Lemonade, Strawberry Kiwi, Pineapple Coconut and Mixed Berry. Dasani Drops are a great addition to grocers' healthy-on-the-go offerings.
Delights by Jimmy Dean Flatbread Sandwiches
SRP: $6.99/box of 4 www.hillshirebrands.com
Tasty, protein-packed and fewer than 300 calories – all great qualities of an on-the-go morning meal and all attributable to this new line of breakfast sandwiches from Chicago-based Hillshire Brands. Microwaveable in minutes, Delights by Jimmy Dean Flatbread Sandwiches were appreciated by our testers for their flavor and convenience. Varieties are Turkey Sausage, Egg and Cheese; Bacon, Egg and Cheese; and Egg White with Spinach and Mozzarella-Style Cheese.
Dietz & Watson All Natural Chicken Sausage
SRP: $3.49/4 links www.dietzandwatson.com
Love sausage but avoiding fat? Philly favorite Dietz & Watson comes to the rescue with these delicious fully cooked chicken-based sausages that contain no fillers, MSG, gluten or pork. Each of the seven flavors delivers an authentic representation of its stated profile: Buffalo Style, Jamaican Jerk, Asiago & Spinach, Italian, Tomatillo Salsa Santa Fe Style, Andouille, and Oktoberfest Black Forest.
Dippin' Stix Celery and Apple Snack Packs
SRP: $1.49 (often 2/$3 or 10/$10) www.reichelfoods.com
Perfect for school lunches or anytime snacks for all ages, these snack-size packs from Rochester, Minn.-based Reichel Foods team fresh apple slices and celery sticks with peanut butter and chocolate, plus raisins for an Ants on a Log variety. Kids will enjoy the fun snacks while parents will appreciate the ease of providing a healthy treat while taking part themselves. Dippin' Stix are a definite plus for the RTE produce section.
Duke's Meat Snacks
SRP: $6.49 www.thanasi.com
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.
East Riding Farm All-natural Popovers and Bowls
SRP: $3.49-$5.49 www.eastridingfarm.com
These clever, versatile frozen popovers from Westport, Conn.-based East Riding Farm create new hors d'oeurve opportunities. After four minutes in the oven, the regular and bite-size popovers can be filled with sweet or savory ingredients, while the edible bowls can be used to serve anything from chili or stew to berries or flan. These would be a great addition to the appetizer section of the frozen aisle.
Edwards Mounds Coconut Crème Pie
SRP: $8.49 www.theschwanfoodcompany.com
Decadent and creamy, this new pie from Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan's Consumer Brands carries the name and flavor profile of the popular Mounds candy bar. Layers of coconut crème and pockets of dark chocolate lie atop a cookie crust, making for a real thaw-and-serve treat. The pie is top-notch, and the co-branding is sure to attract sweet-loving fans.
Ener-G Gluten Free Garlic Pretzel
SRP: $4.19/8 ounces; 69 cents/1 ounce www.ener-g.com
These gluten-free mini pretzel rings from Seattle-based Ener-G Foods pack a fierce garlic punch that was appreciated by many of our tasters, who also liked the versatile package sizes. Crisp and tasty, these certified-kosher snacks are also free of wheat, soy, dairy and nuts. They should be welcomed by gluten avoiders looking for a new salty snack.
Eppa SupraFruita Sangria Wine
SRP: $11.99 www.deutchfamily.com
"Love it!" was a common comment among tasters' notes on the red and white sangrias from White Plains, N.Y.-based Deutch Family Wine & Spirits. Smooth, fruity and delicious, Eppa SupraFruita is the first such beverage made from organic California grapes and a variety of superfruit juices, including mangosteen, pomegranate and blood orange, making the wines rich in antioxidants. These will add color, flavor and variety to any grocer's wine aisle.
Farmer John Chicken Sausages
SRP: $4.99/12 ounces, $6.99/36 ounces www.farmerjohn.com
Starting with 100 percent natural chicken, these sausages from Los Angeles-based Farmer John deliver great flavor with less fat than regular sausages. Fully cooked and hardwood smoked, the Hot Louisiana and Bratwurst varieties contain no fillers, gluten or MSG. The sausage lovers among our tasters appreciated having a good-tasting healthier link. They cook up great on the grill and would be a fine addition to the meat case.
French's Flavor Infuser Marinades
SRP: $2.99 www.frenchs.com
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.
Freschetta Brick Oven Chicken Club Pizza
SRP: $6.69 www.theschwanfoodcompany.com
Our testers enjoyed this mating of pizza with club sandwich from Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan's that delivers a nice change of pace from more traditional pizza varieties. Tasty white-meat chicken, bacon, tomatoes and spinach adorn a crispy, brick oven-style crust that bakes up nicely. (Tester's tip: Use a pizza stone.) This pizza makes for a nice meal, or can be cut into appetizer-size portions.
Giovanni Rana Refrigerated Pasta and Sauce
SRP: Pasta, $4.99-$5.99/12 ounces, $7.99-$8.99/22 ounces; sauce, $4.99-$5.99 www.giovannirana.com
A favorite in Italy for half a century, Giovannni Rana is rolling out its wonderful line of fresh, all-natural pasta and sauces to the U.S. market. Our testers were supremely impressed with the quality, taste and texture of both the flat and shaped pastas, with the highest marks going to the ravioli, tortelloni and gnocchi. The Alfredo sauce is exquisite – the best at least one tester's ever had – and the pesto and Bolognese are also terrific. Authentic flavors, artisan preparation and stellar ingredients make the Rana line a definite winner. Molto buono!
Hammond's Candies and Nuts
SRP: $2.99-$11.99 www.hammondscandies.com
It's always a pleasure to receive the latest releases from Denver-based Hammond's, and this year's entries were no exception. As usual, all were of top quality, but our tasters had a few favorites. Among the candy bars, Double Truffle offered a rich combo of milk and dark chocolates, while the quirky Pigs 'n Taters satisfied our salty-sweet cravings with bits of bacon and potato chips enrobed in milk chocolate. The Peanut Brittle Bites make a favorite treat handier to eat, while the Dipped Brittle Bites coat it in chocolate ecstasy. Rounding out the standouts were Toffee Crunch Cashew Brittle and Burnt Sugar Pecans.
Herdez Bean and Cheese Dips
SRP: $3.49 www.herdeztraditions.com
Herdez is a leading brand of dips and salsas south of the border, and it's easy to see why. Our testers enjoyed the Mexican-made pinto and black bean dips, as well as the queso dips: Queso con Salsa delivered milder flavors, while Queso Blanco con Jalapeños packed a spicier punch. All tasted better warmed; they'd also work well in more complex dips or other recipes. Anyone seeking authentic Mexican flavors will enjoy these dips from Austin, Minn.-based Hormel's MegaMex Foods subsidiary.
Herdez Mexican Cooking Sauces
SRP: $3.49 www.herdeztraditions.com
Our testers enjoyed the authenticity and versatility of these Mexican-made cooking sauces. Put through their paces as bases for rice and chicken breast dishes, they delivered pleasing flavor, good consistency and just-right spice levels. Herdez is Mexico's leading salsa brand, so it's no wonder these sauces are winners. They're available in Red Guajillo Chile, Roasted Pasilla Chile, Tomatillo Verde and Traditional Chipotle.
Herdez Chile Limon Tortilla Chips
SRP: $1.99 www.herdeztraditions.com
A lot of chips come across our desks promising to be something new and different, but we were impressed by the old-world simplicity and authentic flavor of Herdez's new Chile Limon tortilla chips. Promising to be "zesty and spicy," they lure you in with cool citrus before delivering a punch of spice. Good to eat with salsa, but plenty good to eat without.
Home Chef Kitchen On the Plate Entrées
SRP: $6.99-$7.99 www.homechefkitchen.com
Technology teams up with taste for a winning product. Available in 14 varieties, these microwaveable plated entrées use the latest Cryovac skin-seal technology to a deliver a hand-plated meal ready in three minutes – the ultimate in convenience. From San Diego-based Home Chef Kitchen, the chicken marsala and beef short rib samples cooked up moist and flavorful. This packaging is a remarkable innovation – look for it to show up on other products before too long.
Hormel Natural Choice Cherrywood Smoked Ham Deli Meat and Sun-dried Tomato Turkey Deli Meat
Hormel Natural Choice has expanded its deli meat line with two innovative flavors. Like all of the product line's varieties, the Sun-dried Tomato Turkey and Cherrywood Smoked Ham are all-natural and gluten-free, and contain zero added nitrates or nitrites. Both were also key components of tasty individual better-for-you sandwiches PG editors enjoyed for lunch at the office – and combining the meats worked well, too. And, as if that weren't enough, they come in convenient resealable packages.
Hormel REV Wraps
SRPs: $1.99-$2.29/single; $5.29-$5.99/3-pack www.hormel.com
Hormel REV Wraps are made with real meat and cheese, and have 15 grams of protein or more, making them an ideal snack for on-the-go teens and adults. At fewer than 300 calories each, these wraps provide energy to stay fueled and ingredients to satisfy hunger. They're available in eight varieties featuring popular deli meats, including turkey, ham and pepperoni, combined with cheese and soft flatbread.
Ian's Sausage Pancrepes
SRP: $6.49 www.iansnaturalfoods.com
Our allergy-free testers enjoyed this breakfast entrée from Framingham, Mass.-based Ian's Natural Foods, so those avoiding gluten, soy, dairy and nuts should love it. Kitchen-crafted and hand-rolled for a unique bakery quality, Sausage Pancrepes are also free from artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. We enjoyed the regular variety drizzled with maple syrup; it also comes in blueberry, strawberry and apple varieties.
Inglehoffer Applewood Smoked Bacon Mustard
SRP: $3.89-$4.49 www.beavertonfoods.com
Love bacon? Enjoy mustard? This product is a match made in heaven! Oregon-based Beaverton Foods has blended its award-winning honey mustard with maple and smoked bacon, creating a truly winning combination of flavor and texture. It's great on just about anything you'd use mustard on. Of course, some of our testers would eat a shoe if it was wrapped in bacon – but still, this product is tops.
Jack Link's Meat Snacks
SRP: $1.29-$3.99 www.jacklinks.com
Leave it to Minong, Wis.-based Jack Link's to put innovative spins on old favorites. Big Dippers are fun, portable snacks that offer an extra dose of flavor in All American (beef sticks/cheese sauce), Barbeque (steak strips/BBQ sauce) and Buffalo Chicken (chicken strips/buffalo-ranch sauce) varieties. The Squatch snack stick line taps a younger market with original and hot varieties atop a hip Yeti-based marketing platform. We also liked the brand's lean toward the leaner with its tender and tasty Original Turkey Strip.
Jamba Green Fusion Fruit & Veggie Smoothie
SRP:$2.99-$3.49/8 ounces www.inventurefoods.com
Among the entries aimed at boosting folks' vegetable intake, this was literally the coolest. Phoenix, Ariz.-based Inventure Foods' Jamba Green Fusion combines green apple, mango, pineapple, kiwi, banana, broccoli, spinach and spirulina to create a vitamin-packed smoothie when the frozen mix is blended with apple juice. We found it light and refreshing; even a tester averse to most things green and leafy enjoyed it. With 100 calories per 8-ounce serving, this is a winner.
José Olé Chicken & Cheese Nacho Bites
SRP: $4.99-$5.49 www.windsorfoods.com
Leverging one of the top 10 restaurant menu items, Houston-based Windsor Foods has put the flavor profile of nachos into an easy-prep frozen snack. Jalapeños provide a surprise kick to the crunchy tortillas stuffed with white-meat chicken and Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses. Served with salsa and sour cream, these made for a great game-day snack during our product trials. They're a nice addition to the frozen snack category.
Julie's Organic Frozen Novelties
Trendy, tasty and healthy – these new frozen novelties from Eugene, Ore.-based Julie's Organic win this trifecta. The unique Cranberry Pomegranate Sorbet Bar is sweet-tart and refreshing, as well as dairy- and fat-free at 90 calories. The Low Fat Pina Colada Frozen Yogurt Bar boasts six active probiotic cultures to enhance digestion and immunity, plus prebiotic fiber. They're standouts among the many fine products sold under Oregon Ice Cream's Julie's brand.
Always the innovator, Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg Co. submitted several fine cereals, of which we selected these standouts. Special K Multi-Grain gives the popular cereal a whole new taste and texture, boosting the crunch factor with a blend of wheat, rice and corn that contains 11 grams of whole grains. Raisin Brand Omega-3 from Flaxseed spikes its two scoops of raisins with this trendy, heart-healthy ingredient, although at the expense of some dietary fiber compared with the original. And kids and adults on our testing panel enjoyed Cinnamon Jacks, a fun three-grain cereal flavored with its namesake spice and brown sugar.
Kellogg's Gone Nutty! Pop-Tarts
The Pop-Tart fans on our tasting panel actually did go a little nuts over these latest additions to the iconic brand. Wrapped in gold foil to set them apart from traditional offerings, Gone Nutty! Features semi-sweet chocolate baked into the crust and fillings of real peanut butter. Our tasters liked the sugar crystals sprinkled on the Peanut Butter and Chocolate Peanut Butter varieties; one remarked, "Some of the best Pop-Tarts I've ever had!"
Kettle Brand Chips
SRPs: Maple Bacon, $2.69/5 ounces; $3.49/8.5 ounces; Bakes, $3.39/4 ounces www.kettlebrand.com
Salem, Ore.-based Kettle Brand scores with these new chips. Claiming to be the only baked chip made from potato slices, Bakes are a departure from Kettle's usual style, but offer a great-tasting chip that doesn't suffer for having 65 percent less fat than regular chips. Our favorite was the Cheddar & Roasted Tomato, actually seasoned with a Cheddar-Romano blend. The Maple Bacon kettle chips are sweet-salty-smoky deliciousness. Non-GMO verified, these chips were nine months in flavor development, which melded real bacon, maple syrup and chili pepper – good stuff.
Kool-Aid Liquid Drink Mix
SRP:$2.99/24 servings www.kraftfoodsgroup.com
Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft has been updating the image of its iconic Kool-Aid brand, and this water enhancer is a no-brainer for extending the category. It's perfect for adults who enjoyed the drink as kids; now their next drink of Kool-Aid can be as close as the nearest tap or bottled water, with the squeezable bottle stashed in pocket or purse. It's easier for moms to take on the road, too. At zero calories per artificially sweetened serving, the item comes in cherry, grape, tropical punch and orange flavors.
La Terra Fina Dips
SRP: $4.99/10 ounces www.laterrafina.com
These Greek yogurt-based dips from Union City, Calif.-based La Terra Fina leverage fresh, flavorful ingredients to create unique appetizers that can double as sandwich or wrap spreads. They're also free of gluten, nuts and trans fat. Our favorites were the Caramelized Onion (a robust blend of red onions and balsamic vinegar) and the Kalamata Olive & Spinach (with sun-dried tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon); also offered are Yellow Pepper & Lentil, Balsamic Beet & White Bean, and Red Lentil Curry.
Land O'Frost Premium Minis
SRP: $4.19 www.landofrost.com
This product line zeroes in on the protein-rich part of branded kids' lunch kits, sold separately! Lansing, Ill.-based Land O'Frost has miniaturized its popular Honey Ham, Hickory Smoked Ham and Turkey Breast, and Honey Smoked Turkey Breast to 72 2-inch rounds per resealable package. They're great for kids' lunches, snacks and appetizers; enterprising home cooks will likely find other applications as well. A tasty, versatile winner.
Loeb's Onion Crunch
A 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!
MacKnight Salmon Mignon
SRP: $10.99-$12.99 www.macknight.com
Our testers loved this succulent center-cut portion of premium-grade Atlantic salmon, coated in cracked peppercorns and topped with herb-infused butter. As the butter melts during cooking, it bastes the salmon, ensuring the 5-ounce portion is moist and flaky. This gourmet-quality product from Miami-based MacKnight Food Group helps make fine seafood more accessible to mainstream grocery shoppers.
Mars Snickers and Milky Way Bites
SRPs: $1.40/2.8 ounces, $2.99/8 ounces www.mars.com
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.
T. Marzetti Simply Dressed Vinaigrettes
SRP: $3.99-$4.49 www.marzetti.com
Columbus, Ohio-based T. Marzetti Co. goes back to basics with these great-tasting refrigerated salad dressings that contain none of the following: preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, or gluten. The light varieties offer calorie counters a new option without sacrificing flavor. Light Roasted Tomato emerged as a favorite among our panel; other varieties are Cherry Balsamic, Lemon, Light Red Wine Italian, Light Balsamic and Light Veggie Ranch.
Miracle Whip Dipping Sauces
SRP: $2.99/12 ounces www.kraftfoodsgroup.com
Kraft has embraced the "love it or hate it" image of its iconic Miracle Whip dressing, but even its foes on our testing panel enjoyed the flavorful sauces in this logical brand extension. Kickin' Onion Blossom offers a mildly spicy tang, Smokin' Bacon Ranch lives up to its moniker, and Sassy Sweet Tomato delivers a cool, fresh taste. These are indeed great for dipping, or perhaps even used in place of their mother product.
Morey's Shrimp Creations
SRP: $7.99 www.moreys.com
Golden Valley, Minn.-based Morey's Seafood International scores with these versatile shrimp entrées that can easily be paired with rice, pasta or vegetables. Each package contains two 6-ounce servings of shrimp and sauce that can be prepped in the microwave or regular oven, or on the stovetop. The Seasoned Alfredo Sauce was a standout among our testers; the product line is also available in Thai Curry Sauce and Creamy Parmesan Sauce varieties.
Mrs. May's Crispy Veggie Chips – Garden Fresh Mix
SRP: $4.50 http://mrsmays.com
PG staffers were impressed by the visual appeal as well as the taste of these veggie chips from Mrs. May's Naturals. In four-serving pouches at 130 calories per serving, the thick-cut slices of sweet potato, squash, carrot and string bean are vacuum-cooked in small batches. The crunchy chips offer a natural flavor and texture – another fun and easy way to boost your veggie intake.
SRPs: $1.29, Corner; 99 cents, FrütUp www.mullerquaker.com
PepsiCo's Chicago-based Quaker Oats subsidiary brought the Müller yogurt recipe over from Germany and now offers it in a couple of cool formats. Müller Corner comes in a two-chamber container that pairs low-fat yogurt with fruit (we liked the strawberry; it also comes in blueberry) or cereal mix-ins (Crunchy Granola, Choco Balls and Crispy Crunch). Greek Corner teams the yogurt with almonds, berries and honeyed apricots. FrütUp features a layer of fruit mousse atop the yogurt – our favorite was the lemon; it also comes in strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and peach-passionfruit. The yogurt has natural flavors and is free of artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup.
Nature's Own Oatmeal Toasters
As 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.
Noosa Finest Yoghurt
SRP: $2.49/8 ounces www.noosayoghurt.com
This rich, velvety-smooth Australian-style yogurt actually comes from Bellvue, Colo.-based Noosa, which blends it in small batches with all-natural fruit purées. The new Lemon variety, blended with fresh lemon curd, was an instant favorite – like eating cultured lemon pie. Lemon and the seed-laden Passion Fruit join a line of five other flavors. A standout in a dairy case groaning under the weight of everyone's version of Greek yogurt, Noosa is a refreshing change of pace.
Ocean Mist Farms Season & Steam Brussels Sprouts
SRP: $2.99 www.oceanmist.com
This product made converts out of some of the Brussels sprouts haters on our panel. Truly innovative, these sprouts from Castroville, Calif.-based Ocean Mist Farms are cleaned, trimmed and ready to steam-cook in a microwaveable bag. The first-of-its-kind packaging allows users to open the bag and preseason the sprouts before cooking. Sprouts cooked up moist and tender. Ocean Mist has a winner with this product.
Old El Paso Stand 'N Stuff Tortillas and Mexican Cooking Sauces
SRPs: $3.59, tortillas; $2.49 sauces www.bettycrocker.com/Products/Old-El-Paso
These 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.
Orbit for Kids
SRPs: $1.29/14-count envelope; $4.49/multipack bag www.orbitgum.com
The kids on our testing panel said this gum kept its flavor longer than any other they've had. That's good, since Chicago-based Wrigley designed Orbit for Kids to give parents a fun and convenient way to protect their children's teeth. Awarded the ADA Seal of Acceptance, Orbit for Kids helps keep teeth clean between daily brushings. It comes in Original Bubblegum and Strawberry Banana flavors.
Orca Bay Seafood Burgers
SRP: $4.99 www.orcabayseafoods.com
These robustly seasoned seafood patties are a great alternative bun topper to burgers or chicken, or just fine without those extra carbs. The Southwest Sockeye Salmon Burger blends the heart-healthy north Pacific fish with roasted red onions, non-GMO corn, black beans and spices; the Spicy Thai Mahi Mahi Burger teams this tender fish with coconut milk, green onions, chili peppers and curry paste. Our testers appreciated their respective kicks, with a slight preference for the Southwest version. Ready after just a few minutes in the skillet, these are a great new seafood option.
Oscar Mayer Carving Board Pulled Pork
SRP: $5.79/11.05 ounces www.kraftbrands.com/oscarmayer/
The latest edition to the Oscar Mayer Carving Board line of meats from Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft, this is delicious pulled pork made easy. Hardwood-smoked and well seasoned, the flavorful pork is great by itself or with your sauce of choice, on sandwiches or in recipes like nachos or tacos. With no artificial preservatives and recloseable packaging, this is another winner from Kraft.
Papa Ben's Mandelbroyt
SRP: $5.99 www.papabenskitchen.com
Las Vegas-based Papa Ben's Kitchen offers what it calls an "Eastern European cousin to biscotti" – a pretty accurate description. The twice-baked mandelbroyt (Yiddish for "almond bread") is made from all-natural ingredients in five flavors; our favorites are the Chocolate Espresso Bean and Spicy Chipotle with Ginger and Dark Chocolate. It's a nice crunchy snack at only 80 calories per piece. Additionally, a portion of all profits go to the Zachor Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.
Parrano Dutch/Italian Cheese
SRP: $10.99/pound www.bestcheeseusa.com
This service deli product comes from Purchase, N.Y.-based Best Cheese Corp. It certainly lives up to its description, "The cheese from Holland that thinks it's Italian," combining the buttery aroma of Gouda, the texture of Parmigiano-Reggiano and flavor notes of both varieties. Our testers enjoyed its rich taste as a snack, and it also worked well grated for lasagna. Deli operators have a winner with this cheese.
Pearls Olives to Go
SRP: $1.99/4 1.2-ounce cups www.olives.com
"What a cool idea!" That about sums up our testers' reactions to these single-serve cups of black olives from Tracy, Calif.-based Musco Family Olive Co., though a couple had to be convinced they were shelf-stable. Each snack-size cup contains 10 large olives totaling 40 calories, an ideal portion size for lunchboxes. Neat, tidy and tasty, these olives are gluten-, dairy-, sugar- and GMO-free, as well as vegan.
Peeps Marshmallow Chicks
SRPs: Party Cake, $1.29-$1.69; Bubble Gum, $1.49; Sweet Lemonade, 99 cents-$1.29 www.justborn.com
It used to be that Peeps only got trotted out at Easter, but Bethlehem, Pa.-based Just Born continues to extend this iconic marshmallow confection to other occasions with great success. Our testers included several Peep diehards who loved the flavor of the Bubble Gum chicks and the look of the Party Cake confetti motif. And at least one non-fan was converted by the sweet-tartness of the Sweet Lemonade Peeps. These are fun products, hands down.
Perdue Chicken Solutions
SRPs: Burger/$1.99; Breast Roast/$7.99-$8.99 www.perdue.com
Salisbury, Md.-based Perdue Foods impressed us with these chicken solutions for the service deli, which we saw (and tasted) in action at this year's IDDBA show. The all-natural chicken burgers, with 40 percent less fat and 30 percent fewer calories than traditional beef burgers, are part of a turnkey program that includes merchandising materials and foil bags for 90-minute hot holding alongside rotisserie birds. The boneless, skinless, seasoned, pre-trussed rotisserie breast roast delivers nearly four times more edible breast meat than regular bone-in birds, reducing shrink and boosting the bottom line for deli operators. Oh – and they taste great, too.
Perky Jerky – Beef and Turkey
SRP: $4.99/2.2-ounce bag www.perkyjerky.com
This Greenwood Village, Colo.-based brand has created a hip image and niche for itself with beef- and turkey-based jerky snacks spiked with guarana extract. Its newest flavors – Sweet & Spicy, Hot & Bothered, and Teriyaki – don't fail to please: ultra-tender, gentle texture; bold flavors; and all gluten-free and high in protein. One of our testers noted the turkey version in particular was far and away better than other poultry-based jerky he's tried.
Perugina Baci White
SRP: $4.50/5-ounce bag www.perugina.com
In honor of the 90th birthday of the storied Italian hazelnut-chocolate confection, Perugina has launched this white chocolate version. Whipped chocolate filling is blended with chopped hazelnuts, topped with a whole nut and enrobed in white chocolate. Delicious, creamy and about 80 calories each, the candy is a nice study in indulgent portion control. It left the hard-core Baci fan on our panel in absolute ecstasy. Baci means "kisses" in Italian, and we toss a few to Perugina for this wonderful treat.
Phin & Phebes Ice Cream
SRP: $6.99-$7.99 www.phinandphebes.com
Suckers for sweet and savory will absolutely love these new boutique ice cream flavors from Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Phin & Phebes. Dark Chocolate Salty Caramel blends caramel into chocolate ice cream, while Peanutty Pretzel combines peanut butter ice cream with slightly salty pretzels. These flavors are truly rich and decadent, and in spite of their premium price tag, they're an attainable treat.
Planters NUT-rition Peanut Butter and Nut Mixes
SRPs: Nuts, $5.69/5-pack; Peanut Butter, $3.69/12-ounce jar www.planters.com
Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft continues to add to its health-centric Planters NUT-rition line and scores with these two new products. Offered in a multipack of single-serve bags for a between-meal boost, the Sustaining Energy Mixes are hearty, crunchy blends of whole nuts, soy-laced granola, sesame sticks, dried fruit and chocolate in three varieties: Chocolate Nut, Honey Nut and Apple Cinnamon. The four varieties of peanut butter – Cinnamon Raisin Granola Nut, Berry Nut, Banana Granola Nut and Cherry Chocolate – add healthful taste and texture to the creamy base, great for changing up a PB that won't need J.
Pom Juice Blends
SRP: $2.99 www.pomwonderful.com
These new juice blends from Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful combine the tart, superfruity goodness of pomegranate with trendy coconut water and other fruit juices. Our favorite was Pom Mango, a pom-mango-pear combo that's tangy, light and refreshing. We also enjoyed Pom Hula (pom-pineapple-apple), but thought Pom Coconut was actually a bit too heavy on the coconut. Still, all offered healthy refreshment.
Pretzilla Buns and Bites
SRPs: Hamburger buns, $3.99; mini buns, $3.69; bites, $2.99 www.millerbaking.com
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.
ProYo High Protein Frozen Yogurt
SRPs: $2.79/single; $7.45/3-count carton http://proyofrozenyogurt.com/
The contents are tasty, but the winning move for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Twin Cups LLC was putting its ProYo frozen yogurt in handy squeeze tubes. Each 160-calorie tube delivers 20 grams of milk protein, active probiotic cultures and added fiber, with no artificial colors or flavors. Available in Dutch Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, Banana Vanilla and Blueberry Pomegranate, ProYo is a convenient, functional and delicious treat that's sure to appeal to adults and kids alike.
Quaker Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies
SRP: $2.69 www.quakeroats.com/Cookies.aspx
Our panel gave high praise to these light, crispy cookies from PepsiCo's Chicago-based Quaker Oats division. Containing 10 grams of whole grains per serving, they're packaged in handy single-serve packs of four cookies each, for a simple, comforting and nourishing snack. We like 'em, and it's a good bet your shoppers will, too.
Raes Bee Free Honee
SRP: $5.99-$6.99 www.beefreehonee.com
Admittedly, not a lot of vegan stuff impresses us. But this "honey" from Minneapolis-based Raes Foods Inc. is pretty cool. The first such product made from apples, it also claims to be the first vegan honey that can be used in equal proportions to the genuine article in cooking and baking. Plus it's safe for kids under 2 and for those allergic to bee honey. Viscosity is much like the real thing, and it has a fresh taste with apple undertones. Although a tad pricy, it fills a niche well.
Red Baron Classic Crust Hawaiian and Mexican Style Pizzas
SRP: $4.50 www.theschwanfoodcompany.com
Pizzas with nontraditional toppings can be a tough sell in Chicago. But our suburban Chi-town testers really enjoyed these combos from Bloomington, Minn.-based Schwan's Red Baron brand. The Classic Crust Hawaiian Toppings offered plenty of lean Canadian bacon and juicy pineapple atop a crispy-chewy base; this variety also comes as microwaveable Deep Dish Singles. Our panel liked the added texture of crushed tortilla chips on the Mexican Style Pizza, with its mozzarella-Cheddar blend, tomatoes, green chiles, onions, red peppers and a hint of cilantro. Red Baron scores for winning over the "sah-sitch" crowd.
Red Bull Editions
SRP: $1.99 www.redbull.com
It took Red Bull 15 years to come out with an alternative to its original flavor. Responding to consumer demand, these three new varieties – cranberry, lime and blueberry – come in red, silver and blue cans. The blueberry was the "hands-down favorite" of the Red Bull connoisseur on our panel, who liked it better than the original flavor and found it equally "easy to sip" alone or when used as a mixer. The cranberry was "tangy, tart and fruity," and preferred as a mixer.
Reser's Side Dishes
SRPs: Pasta salad: $2.99/16 ounces, $7.99/3 pounds; potatoes, $4.49 www.resers.com
Our testers really enjoyed these new side dishes from Beaverton, Ore.-based Reser's Fine Foods. Co-branded with Hidden Valley, the American Classics Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad kicks mac salads up a notch with zesty ranch seasoning and crispy bacon mixed with penne pasta. Meanwhile, the Main St. Bistro Zesty Au Gratin Potatoes tosses diced jalapeños amid the cheese and bacon-topped spuds, adding zest to the casserole's richness. Fully baked using a patent-pending process to ensure a golden crust, the dishes can be heated in either the oven or microwave.
Roba Dolce Ocean Spray Gelatos and Sorbets
SRP: $3.99/pint www.robadolce.com
These frozen desserts combine rich gelato and icy sorbet with Ocean Spray fruits and other ingredients for a treat that's decadent yet light and refreshing. Our favorites from among the line offered by Warwick, R.I.-based Roba Dolce: Dark Chocolate Gelato with Cherry Craisins and Dried Cranberries, Honey Fig Cream Gelato, and Lemon Blueberry and Blackberry Cabernet sorbets – the last two evoking flavors of their namesake wine.
Ruby Fresh Salad Jewels
SRP: $7.99 http://rubyfresh.com/
Members of our testing panel really enjoyed salads made with these pomegranate-based salad mixes from Firebaugh, Calif.-based Ruby Fresh. Combined with lettuce and vinaigrette dressings (also winning entrants in this contest), all three varieties yielded exciting flavor combinations. The three varieties package pomegranate arils with walnuts and gorgonzola cheese (Sparkling Spring Mix), sliced almonds and feta (Gleaming Mediterranean Medley), or sliced pecans and crumbled bacon (Brilliant Southern Blend). The display-ready 7-ounce packages will make for a great presentation in any produce aisle.
Ruffles Crispy Fries
SRP: $1.49 www.fritolay.com
The iconic Ruffles potato chip brand from PepsiCo-owned Frito-Lay, based in Plano, Texas, now adorns these vacuum-fried potato strips in Original and Cheese varieties. Resembling French fries, they deliver great potato taste with a crispy, crunchy texture that our testers enjoyed. It's a unique new snacking experience and a great way to extend the category.
Salem Baking Co. Delightfully Thin & Crispy Cookies
SRP: $5.99 www.salembaking.com
There's precious little not to like about pretty much everything Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Salem Baking Co. makes, so our high expectations for its new line of cookies were met, and then some. Each of the seven varieties submitted lived up to their respective names, delivering a rich and decadent taste and a delicate yet flavorful texture. Our particular favorites: Butter Pecan Praline, Triple Ginger, and Caramel Chocolate Chip with a Hint of Sea Salt; the Chocolate Chip, Dark Chocolate Mint, Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Cranberry Almond were also excellent.
Sanders Seasonal Mini Collection
SRP: $6.99 www.sanderscandy.com
This line from Clinton Township, Mich.-based Sanders Candy wins on multiple fronts: taste, festive packaging and portion-controlled decadence. Packed for holiday and seasonal giving, each 6-ounce grab-and-go package contains such chocolate-enrobed confections as mini coconut eggs, caramels and nuts. These delicious chocolates are absolutely worthy of merit, as well as frequent consumption.
Sea Best Signature Roasted Tomato & Herb Salmon
SRP: $7.99 www.seabest.com
This latest offering from Jacksonville, Fla.-based Beaver Street Fisheries didn't fail to deliver on its promise of flavor, quality and convenience. The two-serving entrée offers richly firm salmon topped with Tuscan-style tomatoes and herbs. It cooked up moist and delicious in the office microwave; the container is also oven-safe. The item makes a fine addition to the frozen seafood case.
Seapoint Farms Edamame Crunch Chocolate Holiday Bars
SRP: $2.95 www.praimgroup.com
We loved the tastes and textures working in perfect unison in these chocolate bars from Salem, Mass.-based Praim Group. Our favorite was the dark chocolate, which set up a great sweet contrast to the crunchy, lightly sea-salted edamame. These samples sported a holiday overwrap, but the bars within are available year-round, thank goodness. An enthusiastic pick.
Sheila G's Brownie Brittle
SRP: $3.49-$3.99 http://browniebrittle.com/
This was an instant hit among our testers. Designed around the scrumptious crispy edges of a pan of brownies, this delectable snack from West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Sheila G Brands comes in recloseable pouches at just 120 calories per serving. Our panel was clearly divided on which flavor was their favorite – Mint Chocolate Chip or Salted Caramel – but unanimous in their love of this product. Win!
Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat
SRP: $7.99/6-pack http://anheuser-busch.com/
Even the traditionalists among our testers were sold on this new brew from St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch's Shock Top label. It's a hybrid of sweet cider that combines the taste of Shock Top's Belgian White beer with a sweet-tart apple flavor profile that's crisp and refreshing. Cider is on-trend, so it's sure to create a buzz in your beer aisle among those looking for a unique change of pace.
Snyder's Flavor Doubles
SRP: $3.69 www.snyderslance.com
These hybrid-flavor pretzel pieces from Hanover, Pa.-based Snyder's-Lance Inc. are a robust new taste experience. Chunks of hard sourdough pretzels are dusted with seasonings that pit heat against cool. The Hot Buffalo Wing & Buttermilk Ranch variety is spicy versus creamy, with a vinegar tang, while Cheddar Cheese and Cracked Pepper pair cheese and spice – both were winners among our panel of snackers.
Snyder's Tortilla Chips and Strips
SRP: $3.49 www.snyderslance.com
Two on-trend winners on the tortilla chip rack from Hanover, Pa.-based Snyder's: Whole Grain Tortilla Chips that are also certified gluten-free and reduced-fat, and Dippin' Strips, also reduced-fat (28 percent less than regular chips). Salsa is a healthy condiment, so it's great to see a healthier spin on its usual delivery method. These chips don't suffer taste- or texture-wise for the tinkering. Well done, Snyder's.
Special K Hot Breakfast Products
SRPs: Sandwiches, $5.99; hot cereal, $2.99 www.kellogg.com
The breakfast barons at Battle Creek, Mich.-based Kellogg's have done a great job of extending the Special K brand across this daypart category. These tasty flatbread sandwiches – topped with egg and cheese plus sausage, ham or veggies – top out at 240 calories each. Meanwhile, the Special K line takes on hot cereal with Nourish, ready in moments by mixing in hot water or heating in the microwave. Nourish comes in 2-packs of single-serve cups in maple & brown sugar, cranberry almond, and cinnamon raisin pecan varieties.
SRP: $1.99-$2.49 www.stefanofoods.com
These dough-enrobed sausages from Charlotte, N.C.-based Stefano Foods are a great, handy grab-and-go pick. The tasty franks come in three varieties – Beef Hotdog, Smoked Sausage and Kielbasa – wrapped in a bread shell that complements without being overwhelming. They're ready to eat after two minutes in the microwave – resulting in an attention-grabbing, satisfying meal or snack.
Stella Artois Cidre
SRPs: $7.49/4-pack; $5.99/24 ounces www.anheuser-busch.com
Cider is hot right now, and this apple-based offering from St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch's Stella Artois brand is one cool riff on the trend. Crisp and refreshing, this European-style, 4.5 percent ABV cider is made with handpicked apples. It's a nice change of pace that lives up to the reputation of a legendary beer label.
Stemilt/Sunkist Lil Snappers Gala Apple/Navel Orange Bag
SRP: $3.99-$3.99/3-pound bag www.lilsnappers.com
This is a clever and convenient assortment of crisp Gala apples and juicy navel oranges in a size perfect for kids. The handy, resealable pouch stands up in the fridge for easy access and maximizes product freshness, while a QR code on the package takes visitors to a mobile site for product information, recipes and kid-friendly activities. This fun and healthy product should go a long way toward getting more fresh fruit into the tummies of its target audience.
Stokes Purple Sweet Potatoes
SRP: $2.99/pound www.friedas.com
The cooking instructions are on a sticker right on the potato! It's the first thing you see on these new tubers from Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Frieda's Inc. – that and its striking purple skin. This non-GMO "super spud" has deep-purple flesh that's high in antioxidants, with a low glycemic index for folks watching their carbs. These spuds, whose color intensifies during cooking, offer a drier, denser and richer taste than most sweet potatoes, without being cloying.
SunRidge Farms Snacks
SRP: N/A www.sunridgefarms.com
Royal Oaks, Calif.-based SunRidge Farms puts out an extensive selection of unique and tasty snacks. This year, our favorites were the Hatch Green Chile Fiesta Mix and the Sea Salt & Turbinado Dark Chocolate Almonds. The Fiesta Mix is truly addictive – a blend of cashews, sesame sticks, dry-roasted almonds, veggie chips and pretzels mixed with bold, flavorful seasoning spiked with Hatch chiles. What's more, the 61 percent dark cacao almonds are mixed with turbinado sugar and sea salt for a dose of sweet-and-savory decadence.
Sunsweet Baked Goods
SRPs: Sandwich Bread, $4.49; Brownies, $3.99 www.sunsweetbakery.com
Prunes are back as "Plum Amazins," and they make for some great bakery products. The sandwich bread – made with purple wheat and corn, with plums added – is moist, loaded with antioxidants, and delicious toasted and topped with a little cream cheese. Our test loaf had a lengthy shelf life, extended by refrigeration, with no impact on taste. The 100-calorie brownies are rich chocolate infused with plum concentrate to enhance moistness, reduce fat and boost flavor.
Tai Pei Asian Garden Entrées
SRP: $3.29 www.windsorfoods.com
Hayward, Calif.-based Windsor Foods has a winner with this first Asian brand of better-for-you single-serve entrées. Each of the eight varieties has around 300 calories and no more than 8 grams of fat, and all are high in fiber and protein. We enjoyed the Orange Chicken, Sesame Chicken and Spicy General Tso's Chicken we sampled; other varieties include fried rice, beef and broccoli, and potstickers.
Tanimura & Antle Little Gems Sweet Lettuce
SRP: $1.99 www.taproduce.com
These petite heads of lettuce from Salinas, Calif.-based Tanimura & Antle are crisp, hearty and utterly convenient. A cross between romaine and butter lettuce, they are packed three heads per resealable bag, with bold graphics that are sure attention-getters in the produce aisle. Our testers enjoyed salads made with this lettuce and other ingredients entered in this contest; other serving suggestions are featured on-package.
Tasteful Selections Microwave Potatoes
SRP: $2.99-$3.49 www.rpespud.com
Our testers really loved the taste and convenience of these microwaveable potatoes from Bancroft, Wis.-based RPE Inc. The specialty baby potatoes are prewashed for consistent cooking right in the bag – six minutes is all that's needed for hot, moist and tender spuds. They'll be a great addition to the produce aisle as a super-easy side dish solution.
Tastykake Kandy Bar Kakes
SRP: $1.69/single, $4.49/family pack www.tastykake.com
Philadelphia-based Tastykake teamed up with Hershey on these scrumptious snack cakes based on iconic candies: chocolate cake filled with Reese's peanut butter-flavored crème and enrobed in milk chocolate, chocolate cake filled with York peppermint crème and enrobed in dark chocolate, and graham cracker-flavored cake filled with marshmallow crème and enrobed in milk chocolate for a s'mores flavor profile. Our tasters were divided on their favorites.
Top N' Go Chips
SRP: $1.49 www.frito-lay.com
A clever riff on Frito pie, Top N' Go chips from PepsiCo's Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay brand come packed in horizontal bags that open sideways to allow consumers to add their favorite toppings – like chili or cheese – directly in the bag. The Fritos Scoops seem most suited to this application for their rigidity and dip-scooping abilities; the product line also comes in Tostitos Bite Size Rounds and two SKUs of Doritos: Nacho Cheese and Salsa Verde. Why dirty a dish? Great for handy snacking.
Tribe Limited Batch Everything Hummus
SRP: $3.49/8 ounces www.tribehummus.com
Bagel meets schmear in this new snack from Taunton, Mass.-based Tribe Mediterranean Foods. The sesame seeds, poppyseeds, garlic and onion create terrific texture and a robust flavor combination: smooth and crunchy in one bite. This was our panel's clear favorite among the hummus entries received this year.
Turkey Hill All-Natural Ice Cream
SRP: $6.49 www.turkeyhill.com
Less is more for many things, and certainly for this entry from the ice cream experts at Conestoga, Pa.-based Turkey Hill Dairy. With no additives and simple ingredients such as milk, cream, sugar and natural flavors, the All-Natural line from Kroger-owned Turkey Hill comes in seven flavors. After sampling the Vanilla Bean & Chocolate and limited-edition Raspberry, we would be hard-pressed to refuse additional helpings.
Turkey Hill All-Natural Lemonade
SRP: $2.49-$2.69 www.turkeyhill.com
Recognized regionally for its excellent ice cream, Conestoga, Pa.-based Turkey Hill is becoming known more broadly for its line of chilled bottled drinks, the latest of which is this lemonade. The newest edition to the dairy's premium drink line, which also includes SunBrew Iced Teas (a 2012 Editors' Pick), the lemonade is well balanced and refreshing, with 12 percent lemon juice and real cane sugar. Guzzled eagerly by our testers, the lemonade also provided welcome refreshment at this year's IDDBA show.
Tyson Deli Market Grand Openings Snacks
SRP: $5.98 www.tysonfoods.com
The prepared food solutions just keep coming from Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods. One of the latest are these heat-and-eat stuffed-dough snacks – more like bite-size sandwiches – in ovenable trays with a 10-day shelf life after thawing. Our testers seemed to prefer the Italian Style Meatball with Mozzarella in Herbed Foccacia Bread, noting that they're best eaten moments out of the oven. Ham & Swiss in Sourdough and Chipotle BBQ in Masa Dough also were tasty.
Tyson Simply Fried Chicken Boneless Fried Chicken
SRP: $5.99/4-piece box www.tysonfoods.com
Boneless is where it's at in chicken right now, and Tyson answers the call for grocery store deli operators with this fried chicken solution. Prebreaded and shipped frozen in separate 5-pound bags, the deboned white and dark meat pieces resemble the shapes of their bone-in counterparts; local stores do the frying and pack them in 4-piece boxes for the hot case. For our tests, we had to adjust recommended cooking time to account for smaller quantities that could fit in a home deep fryer. But they cooked up golden brown and crispy, delivering great flavor, moisture and texture. Another prepared food win for the Tyson deli folks.
Tyson Pork Shoulder for Carnitas
SRP: $3.49/pound (average 3 pounds) www.tysonfoods.com
There's nothing much wrong with this product, except maybe that once you finish it, it's all gone. The preseasoned cook-in-bag pork shoulder goes right into the oven or slow cooker. Prepared to directions, it pulls apart effortlessly with a fork, after which it can be crisped up a bit in a skillet if desired. We enjoyed it on tortillas with fresh salsa and cotija cheese; it was also tasty on an improvised pizza over a mild barbecue sauce. Huge win on this one for convenience and taste.
Upfront Foods Straight Up Granola
SRP: $1.49 www.upfrontfoods.com
This 150-calorie, single-serve granola snack wins major points for its clean label, portion-controlled format and upfront nutrition information. It's also kosher, certified non-GMO and whole grain, as well as meeting the USDA's Smart Snack guidelines for schoolkids, with a grab-and-go format, making it perfect for lunchboxes. Sweetened with maple syrup and brown sugar, and spiked with flax seed, it comes plain or with dried cranberries. An enthusiastic win!
Vitamin Squeeze Powder Water Enhancer
SRP: $2.99 www.vitaminsqueeze.com
All-natural Powder Water Enhancers from Phoenix-based Vitamin Squeeze are squeezable powders with multivitamins and other functional ingredients, including electrolytes. The product line comes in eight flavors and three functional varieties (energy, multivitamin and weight control), allowing consumers to customize their hydration experience by controlling how much powder they dispense. The patent-pending dispensing technology makes vitamin replenishment easy, and each nutrient-rich squeeze is sweetened naturally with stevia, so the resulting drink contains zero sugar, calories or carbs. A variety of merchandising options is available, including powder drink, water or vitamin supplement category placement, as well as point-of-sale displays.
Vlasic Farmer's Garden Pickles
SRP: $3.99 www.pinnaclefoods.com
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.
Way Better Snacks Simply So Sweet Chili Sprouted Tortilla Chips
SRP: $2.99 www.gowaybetter.com
This was the hands-down favorite among our testers of all the so-called "sprouted" snack chips we received for the contest. Made with flax seed, chia seeds, quinoa, black beans, broccoli seeds and daikon radish seeds, Minneapolis-based Way Better Snacks' chips deliver a hearty taste, fine texture and satisfying crunch. The sweet-and-spicy kick was just enough for testers who prefer milder flavors, and plenty for those who like it hot. Way to go, Way Better Snacks!
Wholly Avocado 100-Calorie Snack Packs
SRPs: $1.99-$2.99/3-pack, $3.99-$5.99/6-pack http://eatwholly.com/
Guac on the run is a reality from Saginaw, Texas-based Fresherized Foods. These 100-calorie snack packs contain either 100 percent Hass avocado or avocado with ranch spices. Dipping is as easy as peeling back the cover, and the packs are perfect for lunches, snacks or recipe portions; for instance, they worked out great at an impromptu picnic. Making healthy snacking simpler = win.
Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt Bars
SRP: $4.99-$5.49 www.yasso.com
New on-trend flavors made a winner of these Greek yogurt frozen stick novelties from South Easton, Mass.-based Apollo Food Group. Our testers enjoyed the tart mango, creamy coconut and straightforward vanilla bean. Low in fat and calories, they are made with natural sweeteners and milk from cows not treated with artificial hormones.