Automatic Merchandiser announces winners of 2021 Readers' Choice New Products of the Year Awards

April 18, 2021
Innovators rise to the challenge in 11 key snack, food, beverage and technology categories in the vending, micro markets and office coffee service sales channels

At the beginning of each year, Automatic Merchandiser asks readers to vote for their favorite, best-selling or most requested new products from the prior year. These products generally highlight current trends in technology, favorite flavor profiles and consumer buying habits. Despite COVID-19 challenges, 2020 has been no different. Although COVID-19 changed the needs of the operator and the customer overnight, manufacturers rose to the challenge and brought forth products to meet those needs.

In fact, the pandemic didn’t stop many manufacturers from introducing innovative products, especially in the vending, micro market and OCS channels. More companies will be bringing employees back to the workplace in 2021, and these new products have the ability to lure them to the breakroom, especially if they can do so safely.

This year, more than 1,000 participants placed their votes for the best products introduced in 11 categories in 2020. These are the products you will want to take a closer look at and consider adding to your lineup in 2021.

Miss Vickie’s Jalapeño kettle cooked potato by PepsiCo/Frito-Lay

Consumers showed their preference for a salted snack that packs a full-flavor punch in 2020. The first-place winner in the salted snack category is Miss Vickie’s Jalapeño kettle cooked potato chips by PepsiCo. Miss Vickie’s came into vending for the first time in 2020 with this winning snack. Made with “just the right amount” of jalapeño seasoning, this Miss Vickie’s flavor comes with no artificial flavors or preservatives.

Following in a close second place is Zapp’s New Orleans Kettle Style Evil Eye Potato Chips by Utz Quality Foods. These chips are available in 2-, 2.625-, 5-, and 9-oz. bags, in a wide range of flavors, from Spicy Cajun Crawtators to Cajun Dill Gator-Tators.

Fieldstone Bakery Grains 2 Go Bars

In 2020, manufacturers continued to provide quality, healthy grab-and-go options. The winner in the healthy category is McKee Foods’ new Fieldstone Bakery Grains 2 Go Bars. Launched in September, the Grains 2 Go Bars are soft and chewy with “just the right amount of goodness to keep customers going all day.” They are a suitable addition to vending, micro markets or pantries, and they meet NAMA’s FitPick Select school nutrition standard.

These grab-and-go friendly bars come in two flavors, chocolate chip and apple cinnamon, each packed with whole grains. “Consumers looking for a whole grain-rich snack will love our new Grains 2 Go Bars,” said Kelley VandeLune, national foodservice sales manager of McKee Foods. “These bars are a perfect addition to all vending segments including K-12 vending, micro markets and pantries.”

OH SNAP! Sassy Bites, the newest addition to the OH SNAP! line of single-serve pickles and pickled veggies, came in second place. 

Jack Link’s Cold Crafted Linkwich

In the protein and meat snack category, Jack Link’s Cold Crafted Linkwich won the most votes. Launched in January 2020, each little Linkwich is made with two slices deli meat sandwiched between two slices of natural Wisconsin cheese. Each Linkwich has 9g. of protein and 0g. of sugar, with no artificial ingredients, no added nitrates, nitrites or MSG, and is gluten free.

“We’re thrilled to see Jack Link's Cold Crafted Linkwich recognized by Automatic Merchandiser as the Product of the Year in the Protein/Meat Snack category!” said Libby Mura, senior vice president of marketing of Jack Link’s Protein Snacks. “We created Cold Crafted three years ago with the goal of giving consumers fresh, great tasting snacks that are also a good source of protein. Linkwich is a product addition that has quickly become a fan favorite. People tell us they think of Linkwich as a ‘breadless sandwich,’ a convenient source of protein with 0g. sugar. And they love the taste because we only use the best ingredients. We’re a Wisconsin company, so of course we make Linkwich with real Wisconsin cheese, and premium genoa and hard salamis.”

Gardein Ultimate Plant-Based Jerky, launched in August, receives an second-place honorable mention.

International Delight’s Iced Coffee Caramel Macchiato

In the cold beverage category, International Delight debuted its Iced Coffee Caramel Macchiato. Packaged in 15-fl.oz. cans, this beverage is made with real milk, cane sugar and cream, providing a nice balance of creaminess to coffee.

“International Delight is honored to be recognized as Automatic Merchandiser’s Product of the Year for the Cold Beverage category,” the company said. “For years, International Delight Iced Coffee has been giving consumers a way to celebrate everyday moments with spot-on flavors they know and love. Our iced coffee is also complemented by a line of flavorful creamers – and Caramel Macchiato is a fan favorite across the board, as the top-selling caramel coffee creamer.”

Taking second place is the Celsius Peach Vibe fitness drink.

PicoCooler from 365 Retail Markets

Consumers and operators both benefit with the winner in the equipment category. The PicoCooler by 365 Retail Markets offers multiple ways to pay. It provides operators with the opportunity to grow into semi-public areas (think hotels, hospitals, apartment complexes and malls) and provides them with controlled cooler access.

“We have been receiving a tremendous amount of positive feedback about PicoCooler,” said Jon Floyd Sr., 365’s executive account manager, international. “Both consumers and operators alike are enjoying the wider selection and variety of products of all different shapes and sizes that fit in the PicoCooler. It really is a one-stop-shop for grab-and-go food and beverages for consumers. And to top it off, PicoCooler offers frictionless payments by offering consumers multiple ways to pay, including from their smartphone with our 365Pay app.”

In 2020, it’s not surprising that the Hand Sanitizer Vending Machine from Digital Media Vending International came in second place. The PPE vending machine not only dispenses hand sanitizer, but also provides face masks and antibacterial wipes.

Sara Lee's individually wrapped Mini Cheesecakes

Sara Lee Individually Wrapped Mini Cheesecakes took first place in the cookie and pastry category. Sara Lee Frozen Bakery launched the new line of individually wrapped, easy-to-eat mini cheesecakes in November. The mini cheesecakes are packaged in a peel-and-plate cup and come in two flavor varieties: the classic plain and decadent salted caramel truffle.

“Sara Lee Mini Cheesecakes are on-trend now more than ever because they’re individually wrapped snacks that you can eat right out of the cup with a fork or spoon,” says Ryan Malone, Sara Lee Frozen Bakery chief marketing officer. “We’re pleased to answer increasing consumer demand for ‘touchless snacking’ with our innovative packaging that helps consumers feel confident about the safety of their food.”

Rolling out in September, Little Debbie Pecan Spinwheels came in second place.

Trident VIBES 12-ct. from Mondelēz International

For the second year in a row, Mondelēz International Inc. took home gold in the candy category, unveiling its Trident VIBES 12-ct. in Spearmint Rush and Tropical Beat flavors in June. “Consumers love Trident VIBES for their light crystal coating, which gives an immediate release of bold, deliciously refreshing flavor,” said Andrea Delloiacono of The Food Group, Mondelēz’s foodservice agency. “The new 12-piece pouch offers VIBES in a more affordable and compact format than bottles. In addition, the pouch is a perfect packaging format for both vending machines and micro markets.”

Taking second place honors, Albanese World’s Best Ultimate 8 Flavor Gummi Bears feature natural flavors and colors from real fruits and vegetables.

King’s Hawaiian Sliders by E.A. Sween

Launched in May 2020, Market Sandwich King’s Hawaiian Sliders by E.A. Sween won in the food category. Made with King’s Hawaiian Original Sweet Buns, the new sandwiches are offered in three varieties: Smoked White Turkey & Cheddar, Smoked Ham & Swiss and Chicken & Bacon with pepper jack cheese and jalapeño bacon. The items all come with two sliders per package and have a 14-day refrigerated shelf life.

Grand Prairie’s  Tortellini Carbonara Bowl took second place..

Gimme Key Pro by Gimme Vending

Following its win last year, Gimme launched the winning Gimme Key Pro in the technology category in November 2020. “This recognition is a confirmation of the dedication and expertise of our team and their ability to create and develop innovative solutions that are making a real impact in the vending industry,” said Evan Jarecki, cofounder and CCO of Gimme.

“Our customers are especially excited about the seamless integration of the Gimme Key Pro with Gimme VMS, and the extensive two- to seven-year battery life. They are also enthused with the speed to accomplish tasks, like DEX, with the upgraded processor that is running up to 46% faster than before. Product strength is also a big plus for many customers as the Gimme Key Pro can now withstand three feet of water for 30 minutes and sub-freezing temperatures to minus 122°F.”

The Gimme Key Pro is a purpose-built wireless DEX (Data EXchange) device that wirelessly monitors vending machine inventory and generates invoices for grocery store deliveries.

In second place is the Remote Price Change (RPC) by USA Technologies.

Kitu Life Super Coffee Caramel

Office coffee service products were split into two categories this year: OCS products and OCS equipment/systems. In the OCS products category, Kitu Life Super Coffee Caramel took the palm. Launched last June, Caramel Super Coffee comes with no added sugar and an infusion of MCT oil. Each Super Coffee flavor provides the caffeine, protein and sustained energy consumers might need to take on the day.

“We strive to create products that taste great, are great for consumers and are priced in line with the mainstream options,” said Kitu Life founder Jordan DeCicco. “We’re grateful that our Caramel Super Coffee lived up to these principles, and thankful for the recognition from Automatic Merchandiser.”

The honorable mention goes to the second-place winner, Original Oat Milk by RISE Brewing Co., which launched one year ago

Starbucks Serenade with VirtualTOUCH by Nestlé Coffee

It’s no surprise that the first and second place products in the OCS equipment and systems category boast touchless features, considering many consumers searched for touchless options in 2020. Taking home the gold, the Starbucks Serenade Single-Cup Brewer with VirtualTOUCH by Nestlé Coffee Partners Solutions Lab provides a bean-to-cup experience that delivers the Starbucks coffee consumers know and love, ordered right from their smartphones. The product comes with a variety of freshly crafted beverages, from a fresh cup of hot or iced Starbucks coffee to a chai latte or hot cocoa.

“We have received such positive response from both our operators and consumers on the Serenade Single-Cup Brewer with VirtualTOUCH technology and we’re honored to receive this award,” said Melissa Henshaw, senior vice president of Nestlé Coffee Partners Solutions Lab. “Consumers love getting their favorite, freshly brewed Starbucks coffee ordered through their smartphone, with an intuitive experience that makes the ordering process easy and touchless.”

In second place is the Smartwell Touchless Beverage Dispenser from Elkay.

Check out these products and more in the Product Guide at

Click here to see Vending Market Watch's video roundup of this year's product winners.

About the Author

Adrienne Klein | Contributing Editor

Adrienne Zimmer Klein is a freelance writer with a background in the vending, micro market and office coffee service industry. She worked at Automatic Merchandiser and from 2013 until February 2017.