The readers have voted, the ballots have been counted, and Automatic Merchandiser magazine now names its 2006 Readers' Choice Products of the Year. The contest, now in its 13th year, has become one of the most hotly contested events in the vending industry, as readers are asked to vote for their best selling, most profitable and most requested products.
The competition continues to field more nominations every year, and this year was no exception. In the last three years, more nominations were made via e-mail than were physically mailed or faxed. Automatic Merchandiser attached mail-in and fax-in ballots to its November and December issues. Readers were also able to cast ballots on the magazine's website.
There are two first-time winners this year: Nestlé Foodservice's Hot Pockets® brand Meatballs & Mozzarella sub sandwich, and Kar Nut Products Co.'s PB & J Mix. The Hot Pockets® product captured first place in the hotly contested food category, which usually fields the most entries, while PB & J Mix grabbed top honors in the new products category, which always features a first-time winner.
This year brought four returning winners from last year: Masterfoods USA's Snickers Bar, Kellogg's Food Away From Home's Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies, Cloverhill Bakery's Big Texas Cinnamon Roll and Nestlé USA's Nesquik Chocolate Milk.
The contest also saw two products reclaim first place status from previous years: Coca Cola's Coke Classic and Kar Nut Products Co.'s Sweet 'N Salty Mix.
Snickers Bar remains undefeated
Masterfoods USA's Snickers Bar remains the contest's only undefeated winner. The product also maintains the distinction of being the all-time top vote getter.
Kellogg's Food Away From Home's Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies, one of this year's four return winners from last year, also enjoyed undefeated status until it was dethroned for one year in 2004 by Masterfoods USA's Cookies&.
Kar Nut Products Co.'s Sweet 'N Salty Mix, one of the two products to reclaim top honors from prior years, took its third first place finish this year, having also won in 2003 and 2004. Sweet 'N Salty Mix took runner-up honors last year, when PepsiCo Foodservice's Cheetos, also a perennial winner, grabbed the top spot.
Kar Nuts has emerged as a regular contender in the salted snack category. This year the company was the only manufacturer to grab two first place trophies. Operators have credited its products' popularity to health appeal.
PepsiCo Foodservice's Nacho Cheese Doritos and Kraft Foods' Planters® Peanuts shared runner-up honors in the salted snack competition.
Coca Cola Classic, the other product to reclaim top honors this year, returns to the winner's circle following a 1-year absence. Its perennial rival, PepsiCo's Pepsi Cola, took top honors in 2005.
Coke Classic has enjoyed a winning streak from 2001 to 2004. It also held top honors from 1996 through 1998.
In 1999, both of the top soft drinks were upstaged by PepsiCo's Mountain Dew. This marked the only instance in the contest's history that Coke Classic or Pepsi Cola failed to win first place.
Cloverhill Bakery's Big Texas Cinnamon Roll has taken the lead position in the pastry segment in recent years, grabbing its second consecutive first place finish. Mrs. Freshleys/Flowers Specialty Group's Jumbo Honey Bun, the runner-up, held the top spot for five straight years from 2000 to 2004, and for two years in 1997 and 1998.
Nestlé USA's Butterfinger Crisp, which won the new product category last year, took runner-up honors in the candy segment this year.
Masterfoods USA's M&M's® Bite Size Cookies once again took runner-up honors in the cookie competition.
Pierre Foods' BIG AZ Charbroil with Cheese, which won first place in the food category in 2002, 2004 and 2005, was this year's food runner-up. The food category has always fielded the most nominations.