Readers' Choice Awards 2018: The Pioneers Of Innovation

March 14, 2018
It is our pleasure to introduce the eight products that have been voted the 2018 Products of the Year by nearly 500 voters.

Every year Automatic Merchandiser asks its readers to identify their favorite, most-requested or best-selling products in the convenience service industry. The items submitted to this competition range from the newest technology to consumers’ favorite new snacks and beverages.  

There were nearly 500 readers who voted in this year’s survey in only a two-week period for their favorites in eight categories. The 2018 Reader’s Choice Products of the Year Award winners are a good representation of what’s trending, what are the favorites and the best new technologies. These products represent the most liked, creative and innovative of 2017. Well done.

Favorites with a New Twist 

The indulgent favorites this year consist of well-known brands that have creatively made their products stand out among other contenders. Flower Foods’ Mrs. Freshley’s has long been a fan-favorite among readers and consumers alike, and this year it earned the gold in the cookie and pastry category for its Brownies Made With OREO Cookie Pieces. Another multiple time winner of the Readers’ Choice Products of the Year Awards in this indulgent category is MARS Chocolate North America. MARS hit it out of the park again this year with a trendy ingredient: caramel. The MARS M&M’s brand, a much-loved favorite, crafted a new candy by adding delicious caramel inside it’s chocolate candy shell. Two scrumptious treats served up by the industries’ best indulgent creators of the year. 

Cookie and Pastry Winner 

Flower Foods’ Mrs. Freshley’s brand has a wide array of delicious sweet treats for the micro market and vending industry. From Emoji Cupcakes to Mini Donuts, you can’t go wrong with a product that stands by its name. Now the newest addition to the collection, Brownies Made With OREO Cookie Pieces, adds a classic twist to the brownie that won hearts with another consumer favorite, OREOs. In the release of the product in August 2017, Meredith Butler, Flower Foods’ brand manager, said: “OREO® cookies are the perfect complement to Mrs. Freshley’s Brownies. For more than 100 years, OREO® Cookies have been a beloved snack time favorite, and Mrs. Freshley’s is thrilled to collaborate with the OREO® brand on this new offering.”

Candy Winner 

MARS Chocolate North America surprised everyone with the new addition to its M&M’s brand. Simple and delightful and luscious all at the same time, caramel was the perfect choice to create the amazing new M&M’s Caramel Chocolate Candies.  “Caramel is such a nostalgic and comforting flavor and its popularity is on the rise with pairings like coffees and other specialty foods...” reported MARS Chocolate North America in a prepared statement. “It took years to develop the technology and machines required to get the delicious soft caramel ingredient into our signature hard candy shell. And, we think it was worth the wait!”

What's Trending 

According to the Products of the Year survey, what’s been trending has been indulgent products with a healthy angle. The best example of this is the winner of the food category, Healthy Grains Double Dark Chocolate Bar by KIND. This KIND bar is the perfect mix between healthy, with 100 percent whole grains, and indulgent with the dark chocolate. Another trending item with a fit-focus is Planters’ P3 by Kraft Heinz. Many health conscious consumers have been very happy with the emergence of this product by Planters, which focuses on protein. In the cold beverage category, Red Bull slides in with a new sugarfree line extension. Already part of the trendy energy-infused coffee-alternative, Red Bull appeals to consumers looking for a healthier option in this category by offering an alternative sweetened energy drink with the Purple Edition Sugarfree and Lime Edition Sugarfree. Another ever increasing popular beverage, cold brew, also made an appearance in the Products of the Year. Farmer Brothers Company released its Artisan Collection Cold Brew Filter Packs which took top spot for best new office coffee service (OCS) product. 

Food Winner 

The new KIND bar is both a healthy-for-you option and a tasty one. Stephanie Perruzza, MS, RD, health and wellness specialist at KIND Snacks said, “Our KIND Healthy Grains Double Dark Chocolate Chunk bar is unique as it contains a blend of five super grains (oats, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and quinoa) to create a chewy and crunchy texture. Each bar provides at least one full serving of 100 percent whole grains, contains 5 grams of sugar and like all of our KIND snacks, is gluten-free and does not contain any genetically engineered ingredients. We know consumers are looking for snack options that provide a balance of health and taste, which is where we feel this product and all of our KIND snacks stands out. 

Salted Snack Winner 

The winner of the salted snack category this year went to Planters P3 by Kraft Heinz. This innovative product combines three sections of different types of protein — a great grab n’ go for those on the run, or for anyone trying to satisfy a grumbling stomach. Complying with many trending lifestyle eating habits, the P3 pack contains only protein, which makes it easy to feel good about eating. Consumers enjoyed the combo of nuts, cheese and meat, in any order. Planters P3 did it right!

Cold Beverage Winner 

The cold beverage category winner went to the Red Bull line extension, which included the new Red Bull Purple Edition Sugarfree and Red Bull Lime Edition Sugarfree, released in January of 2017. Creating a sugarfree version of an already delicious drink was smart thinking on Red Bull’s part. Any consumer who is looking for an energy pick-me-up and wants something other than coffee can feel good about drinking the new Red Bull line extension.

OCS Winner 

For the OCS category this year, the Artisan Collection Cold Brew Filter Packs by Farmer Brothers came in number one. Not only is it easy to prepare, this trendy beverage takes the cake in taste, too. “As the popularity of cold brew has grown, we have heard customers voice concerns about the effort and time to prepare this on-trend beverage,” said Gerard Bastiaanse, senior vice president of marketing in a prepared statement. “We wanted to offer our customers an innovative solution to the standard method of preparing cold brew that would reduce labor costs while providingthe smooth, consistent flavor their consumers crave.” It was released in May of 2017.

Technologies that enable more transactions 

Technologies today are trying to make it easier for consumers. One of the ways they attempt to do that is by enabling more transactions. Sure enough, that has been the source of many contentions as well as innovations lately. One company that created technology last year that has been the next generation of micro markets is Vagabond, with the release of vīv in April 2017. This commerce platform has made transactions easier for both consumers and operators. Another key player in the category, 365 Retail Markets, launched nanomarket™, also in April 2017. By creating a specific micro market for those areas where micro markets weren’t possible previously, 365 has opened up a whole new world of possibilities. 

Technology Winner 

The winner of the technology category was well won this year by Vagabond’s vīv (pronounced like five). Juan Jorquera, CRO of Vagabond, and Michael Lovett, CEO, described vīv in many ways, because it can do so much. They said, “vīv is the next generation of micro-markets — powering a hybrid catering/market concept that eliminates the cost of spoiled fresh food by enabling consumers to pre-order (and pre-pay) for it instead!” Jorquera also described a goal that he wanted to see vīv achieve, which was a partnership between Vagabond and the operator.

Equipment Winner 

The winner of the equipment category this year was the nanomarket™, by 365 Retail Markets. The nanomarket™ opened up a vast amount of opportunities for operators to create “mini micro markets” at locations where micro markets previously would not have been possible. A simply genius idea, the nanomarket™ solves the issue of a location not having enough space  or employee count for a traditional micro market. “The nanomarket™ provides a glimpse into where we’re headed at 365. While so much of the nanomarket™ will be familiar to our operators, there are several underlying benefits that will only begin to reveal themselves over time.” said Ryan McWhirter, director of product. “Our vision of a connected campus, allowing one consumer account to traverse markets, vending and dining starts with nanomarket™. Where it ends, we’ll see.”

There were a lot of great products to choose from this year, as it seems that each year there are even better creations for consumers and operators alike. From snacks and beverages to technologies, this has been a phenomenal year. Congratulations to the winners of the Readers’ Choice Products of the Year Awards!