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Snacking is a way of life in America. The percentage of Americans who snack at least three times a day has increased exponentially over the last five years and convenience stores are smartly capitalizing on the trend. From Baby Boomers to Millennials, about half of all eating occasions are snacks and mini-meals, and these occasions are taking place when people are alone because they can get things done while they are eating.
This year?s batch of winners in the Convenience Store News Best New Products Awards tap into the latest snacking trends including one-handed protein snacks to healthy ?bites? meant for sharing. The winning products? descriptions also herald such on-trend terms as ?gluten free,? ?premium,? ?bold flavors? and ?exotic combinations? of ingredients.
After a month of consumer testing, the votes were tallied and 20 winners were recognized by CSNews at the 2014 NACS Show in Las Vegas for bringing the best new products to the convenience store industry during the past year.
Judging for the 18th annual CSNews Best New Products Awards was supervised by Past Times Marketing, a New York-based consumer research and product testing firm. Entries were rated and awarded points by consumers based on the criteria of taste, value, convenience, healthfulness, ingredients, preparation requirements, appearance and packaging.
THE 2014 WINNERS ARE:
Alternative Snacks: Nature Valley Nut Clusters.
Nature Valley from General Mills Convenience has come out with single-serve bags of Nut Clusters ? nuts and granola in tasty, thick mini-square bites. Our panelists loved the Roasted Nut & Seed variety. ?Satisfying flavor yet good for you,? said one panelist. ?Perfect size for a hike, car or in the office drawer,? said another. The product is convenient and healthy with high protein and fiber.
Candy/Chocolate: Twix Bites.
Delivering the same chocolate and caramel-covered cookie bars as a full-size Twix bar, the unwrapped Twix Bites satisfy the sweet tooth. Consumers said they just ?want a little bite,? and you can pop these in your mouth easily. Panelists also thought these ?bites? were less messy to share than the regular bar, and you can eat some now and save some for later snacking. A convenient option for social occasions or on-the-go, the product from Mars Chocolate North America is also very popular among the Hispanic demographic.
Candy/Non-Chocolate: Fruit Vines Bites.
From American Licorice Co., one of the original licorice manufacturers in the nation, comes a low-fat candy with no preservatives. These soft, chewy, bite-sized candies pack a punch in flavor. Fruit Vines Bites are available in cherry and strawberry, the top two fruit flavors in America. Our testers loved the strawberry in a blind taste test. Following consumer trends for bite-size, on-the-go snacking, Fruit Vines Bites are the perfect portable sweet treat. ?This is better licorice than the twisted sticks,? said one panelist. ?Utterly addictive,? said another.
Candy/Novelty: Disney Princess Light & Sound Wand.
Cinderella is the most popular Disney princess character among U.S. moms of girls aged two to five, and she?s among the most popular Disney princesses among girls aged six to eight. This wand dispenser from CandyRific LLC uses unique sound-chip technology and incorporates a light-up feature. Press the button on the wand and Cinderella?s dress glows and shimmers while a magical-sounding music clip plays. A great impulse toy with candy in the wand.
Edible Grocery: Pickle Crunch.
This is a unique condiment to top sandwiches, hot dogs, sausages, salads and soups. Onion Crunch Inc. describes its newest product Pickle Crunch as the first battered, crunchy, deep-fried pickle that has a one-year shelf life. Perfect for grab-and-go wraps, our panel liked its flavor and versatility. It?s good for vegans and kosher, too.
Electronic Cigarettes: NJOY King 5-Pack.
Real tobacco flavor, a soft filter, plus the size, weight and appearance of a real cigarette all make the NJOY King a product that delivers satisfaction to adult smokers. Our users liked the flip-top lid and great value of the money-saving 5-pack, which comes to $5.99 per King or a $10 savings on every purchase.
Energy Drinks: Ultra Red.
The energy drink scene is alive and well and very competitive. Ultra Red from Monster Energy follows in the footsteps of the brand?s original Zero Ultra in terms of aesthetic appeal. Ultra Red has zero calories and zero sugar, but you would not know it from the taste. This SKU has a light cranberry flavor with a big kick that lasts. Our panelists were impressed with the taste and the fact that there was no ?crash? afterward. They were expecting it to be overly sweet like some energy drinks, but this was balanced just right.
Foodservice/Display & Packaging: Embraceable Platter and Dome.
This large oval platter from Anchor Packaging was designed with a locator ring in the bottom to hold a standard 8-ounce paper food container. The serving size can be used for chili, soups, oatmeal, grits, macaroni and cheese, fruit and many other items that often accompany a main dish, sandwich or salad. It is no longer necessary to lid both the round 8-ounce paper food container and the main course to transport separately, as this packaging does double duty.
Foodservice/Lunch & Dinner: Fast Choice Hand-Wrapped Sandwiches.
Variety in foodservice products is key to success in this category. The Fast Choice line of hand-wrapped sandwiches is a value offering from AdvancePierre Foods. These full-size, full-flavor sandwiches are priced right to give c-store operators more options for a value menu strategy, and are ideal for combo meal bundling and two-for-$3 deals. Our panelists liked the size, texture and flavor quality of all the sandwiches, especially the Jalapeño Charbroil Cheeseburger.
General Merchandise: Power Bank Portable Rechargeable Battery Backup.
With so many personal communication devices today needing to be charged, it makes perfect sense to have a reliable power companion available to use while on the go. The Power Bank Portable Rechargeable Battery Backup from Mark Feldstein & Associates Inc. ensures you never run out of battery power on your smartphone, tablet and other portable electronics. The Power Bank is durable, compact and lightweight for easy travel. A micro USB cable is included. Our panelists liked the ease of use and the four ?smart? colors available.
Health & Beauty Care: Rolaids.
Rolaids antacids relaunched by Chattem and distributed to the convenience channel by Lil? Drug Store Products offer a unique dual-ingredient formula of calcium and magnesium, which the company claims is up to 44 percent more effective than Tums. One in four consumers suffers either from heartburn, acid reflux or indigestion, and nearly 60 percent treat these symptoms with an antacid or similar item. The iconic Rolaids brand is a name consumers trust. The packaging and entry-level price of 99 cents to $1.49 is great for on-the-go purchasing at c-stores.
Healthy Snacks: Pomegranate Pistachios Premium Blend.
This conveniently packaged and flavorful nut mix from Sahale Snacks is ?awesomely addictive? with its 160-calorie-per-ounce blend of Moroccan-spiced pistachios, almonds and dried cherries. One of our testers said, ?This snack has an energizing zing to it.? Our panel also noted that it?s refreshing to see a trail mix with antioxidant and fiber components ? an upscale, healthful trail mix indeed.
Ice Cream & Frozen Novelties: New Blue Bunny Premium Ice Cream Pint Flavors.
Blue Bunny Ice Cream from Wells Enterprises has embraced the Hispanic influence on the total market with a unique line of flavors, including Coconut Mango Swirl, Cuatro Leches, Flan and Hot Chocolate con Churros. These on-trend flavors provide a unique experience by bringing popular Hispanic desserts and fruits to ice cream. The high quality and smooth texture of each ice cream was noted by our panelists. They enjoyed all the unique flavors, but one stood out: the Coconut Mango Swirl, a refreshing combination of ice cream and sorbet.
Meat Snacks: Jack Link?s Small Batch Handcrafted Jerky.
Consumers are snacking more often and always looking for foods high in protein. This meat snack checks off all the boxes. Jack Link?s Small Batch Jerky is a premium beef jerky that is made with hand-cut slices of tender beef, slow-cooked in small batches and smoked in a traditional smokehouse. Our testers tried the three flavors: Original No.11, Peppered No.15 and Teriyaki No.17. The Original was their favorite. The smaller packaging was appealing, and the handcrafted marketing was clever and worked with the $5.99 price.
Non-Edible Grocery: Beneful Healthy Smile Twists.
This wholesome, tasty dog treat two-pack from Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. is a low-cost solution for the impulse-driven dog treat category. Beneful Healthy Smile Twists are dental dog treats with a peanut butter flavor accented with real parsley to keep a dog?s smile happy and healthy. They reduce both plaque and tartar. This good-for-your-dog product does not break the bank at $1 to $1.25 for the pack of two, and it also promotes awareness of other pet products being sold in c-stores. These were a hit with our canine test group, as well as their owners.
Other Tobacco Products: Garcia y Vega 1882.
The rolled leaf cigar segment is growing at 21 percent per year. Under Garcia y Vega 1882, Swedish Match has brought out unique rolled leaf cigars with its Sweet Aromatic and Honey Berry varieties and added new flavors such as White Grape and Bourbon. The resealable zipper feature on the packaging ensures freshness, which was noted by our test panel. The 1882 line is value priced with multiple packaging formats in pre-priced and open stock ? a satisfying cigar at c-store pricing.
Overall Innovation: Kunzler Individually Wrapped Cheddar Pepper Pretzel Dog.
Want a fun food for lunch that allows you to text ? with the other hand? This full-size cheddar pepper frank wrapped in gourmet pretzel dough is a winner from Kunzler & Co. It?s a great handheld meal for $1.49. Our panel thought this individually wrapped dog was genius and so convenient. Also, the flavor was very satisfying and it?s not too messy. The product remains fresh for 14 days when refrigerated.
Salty Snacks: Snapea Crisps.
Every bite of Snapea Crisps consists of 65 percent peas for a pleasingly pure, super-crunchy snack. Nutrition-rich peas serve as the perfect palette for delicious, guilt-free Harvest Snaps flavors from maker Calbee North America LLC. The Wasabi Ranch was the favorite flavor because it had a kick to it. Gluten-free with high fiber content, Millennials were especially impressed with the concept, shape and packaging.
Sweet Snacks: Brownie Brittle.
Luscious flavor and amazing crunch are key components to a satisfying snack. With Brownie Brittle, you get both. The 2-ounce size comes in Chocolate Chip, Salted Caramel and Toffee Crunch varieties. Our testers were excited with the ?edge-of-the-brownie crispness? and the 120-calorie-per-serving bites. The panel was hard pressed to pick a favorite, but Chocolate Chip won by a crunch.
Vapor Products: Vapin Plus eLiquid Vaporizer Pen.
With more and more consumers looking for smoking alternatives, vaping is a growing segment. Vaporizers differ from electronic cigarettes as they provide limitless options by allowing consumers to mix flavors and strengths to create their own product. With Vapin Plus from CB Distributors/21st Century Smokes, a wickless design and gravity-fed bottom coil produce more vapor and deliver a cleaner taste. The 5-Volt battery and 2.5-mil-liliter tank allow for extended usage. Vaping costs up to 90 percent less than smoking traditional cigarettes, stated the maker. This vaporizer pen is competitively priced at $24.99.