Readers' Choice Awards 2019: The Champions Of Innovation

April 22, 2019

Automatic Merchandiser annually asks its readers to choose their favorite, most requested or bestselling products in the convenience service industry. Entries for the competition include consumers’ favorites in snack, beverage, equipment and technology. The survey was promoted through email, print and social media.

This year, about 500 readers cast their votes online over the course of two weeks for products in nine categories: Salted Snack, Healthy/FitPick, Cold Beverage, Cookie & Pastry, Candy, Food, Technology, Equipment and Coffee Products.

Upon reviewing final results, a 10th category of Protein or Meat Snack was added. The original winner of the Salted Snack category was found to be better suited for the distinguished category of Protein or Meat Snack.

These winners successfully responded to their customers’ desires and market trends, which include steering toward “better for you” products that maintain outstanding flavor    

Salted Snack 

This year’s winner of the Salted Snack category was Van Wyk Confections’ Sweet & Salty Pretzel. Featuring crunchy, salty Bavarian pretzels dipped in premium milk chocolate and covered in crunchy toffee, the treat is irresistible. Van Wyk Confections has been a supplier since 2000 in the fundraising arena and has expanded this product into vending and micro markets with the help of Burdette Beckmann, Inc.

“The Sweet & Salty Pretzel TWISTS are unique and bring a fun twist to this market,” Mark Van Wyk, owner of Van Wyk Confections, said. “We are proud of this product and excited to grow it in the vending channels.”    

Protein or Meat Snack 

This category made its debut this year to distinguish it from both the Food and Salted Snack categories.

The winner this time was Hillshire® Snacking Small Plates, a premium, refrigerated adult snack. Each serving includes at least 15 grams of protein and no artificial ingredients. Tyson Foods rolled out six flavors, which each include salame, prosciutto or pepperoni as well as either natural white cheddar cheese or natural gouda cheese with toasted rounds.

“We’re constantly innovating to provide solutions that meet the evolving needs of our consumers, especially as many look for snacks to do more for them - whether it’s a quick pick me up, or a substantial protein rich offering to get them through the day,” said Mike Fanelli, marketing director of Hillshire Snacking at Tyson Foods. “We’re honored to be recognized for developing meal and snack solutions that support how people are eating and are excited for the future of elevated protein snacking.”    


Naked Fruit, Nut & Veggie Bars brought home the gold this year for the Healthy/FitPick® category. These bars mark the Naked brand’s first extension beyond premium juices and smoothies. The innovative product line of chilled snack bars is packed with real fruits and vegetables in three flavors: Blue Machine, Green Machine and Red Machine. None contain preservatives, and they are all excellent sources of vitamins A, C, E and iron.

“As experts in fruits and vegetables, I’m thrilled we are bringing the convenience, nutrition and taste we are known for at Naked into the chilled bars space,” said Becca Kerr, former senior vice president, North America Nutrition Fruit and Vegetable portfolio, in the press release announcing the product’s debut. “Since it’s not always convenient to fit fruits and vegetables into your daily routine, we’re expanding our lineup, continuing to provide consumers with yet another option to make sure they are getting their daily dose of goodness.”    

Cold Beverage 

The 2019 awardee for Cold Beverage is Push Strawberry Soda, which joined Push Beverages’ lineup of several fruit-flavored sodas in August 2018. The soda, which comes in 20-ounce bottles with a calorie count of 270, is naturally and artificially flavored. The entire first batch sold out before samples went out, said Laurel Whitney, co-founder and CFO at Push Beverages.

“We are so honored and humbled to have our second showing in the Reader’s Choice awards first with our Tribe Sweet Tea in 2016 and now with our Push Strawberry Soda,” stated Whitney. “Both these items were developed on customer request. We are so glad that we met everyone’s expectations.”

Cookie & Pastry 

The winner this year for this delightful category is Little Debbie® Double Decker Fudge Round, from Little Debbie® Vending, a snack cake brand of McKee Foods. The 3.9-ounce pastry is made with three soft fudge cookies, a layer of creme filling in between and is topped with a wave of icing.

“We are so excited our Little Debbie® Double Decker Fudge Round has been voted the operator-favorite in the Cookie & Pastry category. A double layer of fudge cookies and fudge creme offers a perfect snack solution when your customer thinks, ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘It’s snack time, and I deserve a treat,’” stated Kelley VandeLune, national sales manager foodservice. “The large serving size displays nicely in a vending machine, and the red lettering of the product name is eye-catching to help encourage customer purchase to add incremental sales to the operator’s business.”    


NibMor, a company that opened in 2009, won first place this year in the Candy category with its “better for you” Organic Dark Chocolate Snacking Bags. The snacking chocolate has only six to eight grams of sugar per serving and only five to seven ingredients per flavor.

“NibMor continues our unwavering commitment to serving you USDA Organic, non-GMO, glutenfree, vegan, Rainforest Alliance and Kosher goodness with great taste that the whole family can enjoy,” NibMor remarked in a prepared statement. “Our new Organic Snacking Bags are loaded with superfruits, cacao crunch, or rich sweet smoothness in a variety of flavors including Original, Tart Cherry, Wild Maine Blueberry, Extreme with Cacao Nibs, and Sea Salt with Cacao Nibs. NibMor snacking chocolate has 72-80 percent cacao in each recipe, expertly delivering flavonols and antioxidants to amongst even more yummy dark chocolate benefits.”    


Campbell’s Well Yes! Sipping Soups, which were introduced to the vending channel in September 2018, are this year’s winner in the Food category.

The delicious and healthy meal replacement option has performed well in micro markets, hospitality and OCS. The vegetarian soups consist of pureed vegetables blended with flavorful herbs and spices.    


Gimme Vending grabbed the top spot in the Technology category this year with its Gimme Markets mobile app, which it made publicly available in December 2018.

The inventory automation software, designed for micro markets and vending machines, allows route drivers to dash through inventorying markets, even in areas without a cell signal, by employing automatically variable inventory spot checks, a simplified user interface and a native app that doesn’t require cell service tapping from product to product.    

“We are honored to receive this award and sincerely thank everyone who voted for us, especially our customers who are the heart and soul of everything we do,” said Evan Jarecki, co-founder and CCO of Gimme. “We credit our team with this award as they are the backbone of our success and are beyond excited about our new Markets app and its ability to address the needs of our industry’s current and future growth in micro markets.” 


This year’s winner in the Equipment category is Three Square Market’s “The 46” Large Touchscreen Micro Market Kiosk.

The kiosk, which is fully ADA-compliant, includes a 46-inch touchscreen, kiosk camera, built-in shelving for products, headphone jack, UIC Credit/Debit card acceptance including tap2pay, bill acceptor, fingerprint scanner and bar code scanner.

“Three Square is very pleased to earn this award. We pride ourselves on always being the relentless leaders of new technology and innovation in the marketplace. When our homes, arenas and retail establishments are filled with big screens, we thought ‘Why isn’t the breakroom filled with the same?’ Thus, the 46 came to life,” stated Patrick McMullan, president, Three Square Market    

Coffee Products 

Vendors Exchange Café CURVE is the winner in this year’s Coffee Products category.

Modernizing full-size coffee equipment, it features an interactive 21.5- inch touchscreen, gives customers the ability to customize their drinks and provides an intuitive route driver screen to ensure proper maintenance.

Café CURVE is the newest addition in a long line of innovative products from VE aimed at taking existing operator assets and modernizing them into better-than-new machines. It is available for National 673, 653, 633, and the AP 213.

Matthew Shene, CEO of Vendors Exchange, said, “Our goal with the Café CURVE was to deliver a product to market that transformed consumer perception and experience, improved and simplified machine upkeep, and enhanced ROI for the operator.”    

Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 Readers’ Choice New Products of the Year awards!


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