Product of the year winners: surprising or predictable?

April 1, 2014

The term “trend” refers to a direction in which an idea or preference is changing. With each new generation and even newer innovations, trends change—and they change often. Every year, Automatic Merchandiser and ask consumers, operators and manufacturers to vote for their favorite or best-selling new products for the year. Predictably, the chosen products are consistent with trends seen in other retail segments.

Chocolate proved to be this year’s most trending food flavor. Lucintel reported that 73.9 percent of the U.S. population enjoyed eating chocolate in 2013. It is unsurprising then that the firm also reported that the U.S. chocolate industry is expected to reach $19.3 billion in 2018. Despite these facts, however, the paradoxical request for healthier vending options is surprising. Consumers seem to want to keep the old flavors they love, but with a healthier twist. In the beverage segment, gourmet coffee and unsweetened tea won for the most number of votes. Although consumers kept their love of tea, they additionally made the switch to a “healthier” option by favoring unsweetened tea.

In 2013, two new categories were introduced—equipment and technology. With over 58 percent of American adults owning smartphones—according to the Pew Research Internet Project— and more companies incorporating digital signage into their machines, technology and equipment are becoming increasingly relevant, making them two obvious choices for category additions. With the industry’s seemingly reluctant integration of mobile into vending, however, it was an unexpected win for a mobile app in the category of technology.

Equipment and technology join the food, candy, cookie, pastry, salted snack, cold beverage and hot beverage categories, totaling nine winners for the 2013 Readers’ Choice New Products of the Year.

Deliver on trends

The AdvancePierre Foods’ BIG AZ BaconAddict Cheeseburger, winner of the food category, was launched at the 2013 NAMA OneShow and began shipping one month later. As a line extension of the BIG AZ brand sandwiches, the BIG AZ BaconAddict Cheeseburger is set to satisfy bacon-loving consumers. “At AdvancePierre, we monitor food and flavor trends constantly, making sure to keep our offerings up to date with current trends,” said Nancy Todys, senior director of convenience marketing at AdvancePierre. “Bacon on sandwiches is hot and growing. When we decided to add a bacon cheeseburger to our BIG AZ line-up, we were challenged to deliver the concept in BIG AZ style. We did a lot of research and development to find ways to deliver a satisfying bacon experience and live up to the BIG AZ BaconAddict Cheeseburger name.” Todys continued, “Bacon is more popular than ever, and the BIG AZ BaconAddict® delivers on the promise of big bacon flavor.”

In 2013, bacon was not the only trending flavor option for consumers. As expected, the demand for chocolate drove Mars, Flower Foods and Biscomerica to create products for those with a sweet-tooth.

“Consumers are willing to try new flavors from brands they already know and love,” said Tim Quinn, vice president of trade development for Mars Chocolate North America. M&M’s Chocolate Bar, winner of the candy category, launched in May 2013.  “Consumers looking for a chocolate bar format now can also enjoy the colorful candy fun of M&M’s brand candies at the same time with the M&M’s Chocolate Bar.” M&M’S® Chocolate Bar earned 70 percent purchase interest and ranked top in performance across all other measures, including uniqueness and trial.

In the pastry category, the winner, Mrs. Freshley’s Chocolate Dreamies, became available across the country starting September 30. The chocolate cakes are available in 2.8 ounce two-count, single-serve packs for the vending channel. Chocolate Dreamies are available in colorful cellophane packaging with a view window prominently displaying the chocolate cakes. “Mrs. Freshley’s mission is snack cake innovation, whether that’s creating a new twist on a classic or developing unique items in partnership with other well-known brands,” said Brent Bradshaw, Flowers Foods’ vice president of marketing. “Chocolate was an obvious choice when we thought about expanding our popular Dreamies line. These are the ultimate in on-the-go snacking, offering great flavor and freshness.”

Flavor and health

When it comes to food, consumers did not want to sacrifice taste for nutrition in 2013. Basil's Chocolate Chip Mini Bites, winner of the cookie category, was specifically designed and targeted to meet the 35-10-35 and school location requirements. It contains both the consumers’ preference for chocolate with a healthy edge. Kathy O’Brien, vice president of sales/vending for Biscomerica believes that Basil’s Chocolate Chip Mini Bites is popular due to the demand of a much needed cookie item for the “healthy” and school-approved category. In addition, O’Brien credits the appeal to containing low calorie count, whole grain and no trans fats. “This product gives consumers seeking a healthy choice a real taste treat,” said O’Brien.

In keeping with healthy preferences, consumers chose Herr’s Good Natured Selects Baked Multi-Grain Crisps Cheddar Cheese as the best overall product in the category of salted snack. Good Natured Selects offer a healthy blend of oats, potato flour and a combination of poppy, flax, sesame and caraway seeds blended to create the nutty flavor that will satisfy the most robust appetites. Good Natured Selects contain no saturated fats, no artificial ingredients and are completely gluten free. In addition to the Cheddar Cheese flavor, Good Natured Selects are available in Original Grains with Sea Salt and Tuscan Garden Medley.

In 2013, more consumers were looking for a healthy tea option, as seen in the unpredictable selection of Coca-Cola’s Honest Unsweet Lemon Tea as the winner in the cold beverage category. Brewed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic, Fair Trade Certified™ tea leaves from India, the unsweetened, zero calorie beverage is flavored with organic lemon extract and is available in 16.9 ounce polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Launched in November 2013, Honest Unsweet Lemon Tea contains no genetically modified organisms and is gluten-free.

Last year, the National Coffee Association reported that 31 percent of Americans consumed gourmet beverages and that figure was confirmed by consumers’ choice for the best hot-beverage in the 2013 products of the year contest. The winner, J.M. Smuckers Folgers Cappuccino Fall Flavors, is available in two flavors: Caramel Macchiato and Pumpkin Spice.

Inaugural category winners

Voters were not shy about voting for the most trending products in the newest categories introduced — technology and equipment. With coffee consumption and single-serve demand on the rise, voters chose a product that could offer everything for their needs. Newco’s Fresh Cup 3, winner of the equipment category, was designed with the roaster and operator in mind. This product lets users choose from up to five programmable recipes including coffee mild, medium, bold, espresso and iced. Newco’s flow meter provides precise volume accuracy and comes with one touch brew activation, back to back brew cycles without reheat delays, error codes for "heads up" serviceability and removable side panels for serviceability.

Although in 2013 over half of American adults reported using a smartphone, Vend Central’s Mobile Request 1 mobile app pulled off an unexpected win as it was voted the best product of 2013 in the technology category. “The reason it’s so popular is because mobile technology is so popular,” said Neil Swindale, president at VendCentral. “Customers shopping out of vending machines don't necessarily like to make a phone call when they have an issue. Our MR-1 is a cloud based customer service platform that allows customers to contact the vending company immediately via their smart phone.”

Presumably, following consumer trends would leads to higher sales. However, not all trends are predictable. Based upon the 2013 Product of the Year results, consumers expect the flavors they love such as bacon and chocolate while simultaneously wanting healthier options. When it comes to consumers’ wants and expectations, there are as many surprises as predictions. 


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Coffee Service

J.M. Smucker Co.

May 6, 2013
The J.M. Smucker Company specializes in meeting the needs of foodservice professionals. For more than 107 years, the family-owned and -operated company has marketed some of America...
Consultants, management, design services, etc.


March 4, 2013
VendCentral is a full line marketing firm specializing in the vending and coffee industry.
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Tyson Foods

May 30, 2007
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Coffee, tea and hot beverage

Newco Enterprises Inc.

May 30, 2007
Newco Enterprises is dedicated to building innovative beverage solutions that leads to the success of Newco customers. The company is vertically integrated with in-house capabilities...

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