Must-Have Products of the Year

April 6, 2015

New products invigorate the vending industry. They also drive sales for vending operators and keep the customers coming back to the break room. This year Automatic Merchandiser and asked readers to vote for their most profitable, best-selling or most requested new products in nine separate categories. And readers answered. More than 450 people went online to cast their vote for their favorite products, and chose from more than 60 nominees to pick only nine winners: the must-have products of the year.

Health conscious consumers

Leaders in retail segments are oftentimes leaders in vending, too. That includes the consumer shift towards healthy-focused items. In 2014, Packaged Facts found that consumers continued yearning for food that is fresh, fast and healthy. Consumers are not only paying attention to the food that they purchase, but they are putting an emphasis on the ingredients that are included within their food. Health-focused winners included Biscomerica’s Sun-Maid Blueberry with Greek Yogurt Chips Cookies and Mondelez International’s WHEAT THINS Popped. These products meet a growing demand for “healthy” items with a powerful flavor profile.

AdvancePierre™ Foods continues its reign as the food category champion with its BIG AZ® Chicken Bacon Cheddar Club, reflecting Technomic’s find that in addition to healthy eating, sandwiches are a key platform for lunch-menu innovation.

Although healthy eating is up, consumers are continuing to retain a sweet tooth. “Health and wellness is a big trend, but it is not the only trend,” said Stacey Inglis, senior vice president of marketing/research & development at Steuben Foods, Inc. “Everyone needs something indulgent now and then.” Chocolate is still a majority winner with Mars Chocolate North America’s MILKY WAY® French Vanilla and Caramel, Flowers Foods’ Mrs. Freshley’s® Peanut Butter Flavored Swiss Rolls and Steuben Foods’ Cold Stone™ Creamery Chocolate Fudge Brownie Milk Shakers™ taking gold in the candy, pastry and cold beverage categories, respectively.

A segment that continues to be a power player for vending, office coffee service and micro market operators is the hot beverage category. The National Coffee Association found that coffee is Americans’ favorite daily beverage next to water, with 59 percent of Americans saying they drink coffee each day. It comes as no surprise that a must-have product in locations — and the overall hot beverage category winner — is Kraft Foodservice’s Gevalia Pumpkin Spice Espresso.

This year reader votes reflected a move towards technology innovation and consumer engagement with the wins of the PayRange System in the technology category and Crane’s Merchant MEDIA in the equipment category.

Customer engagement

Mobile payment is slowly growing with consumers and vending won’t be left behind in the mobile payment race. Mobile app and hardware PayRange was voted the best new product in the technology category. “We hear from our customers that because our solution was developed for operators by an operator, the simplicity and pricing is allowing them to offer a payment solution desired by consumers that works for them as well,” said PayRange CEO and Founder Paresh Patel. “We’re happy to play our part in ushering the vending industry into the mobile era.”

PayRange was announced at PYMNTS Innovation Project 2014, held at Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. The PayRange system includes Blukey™ hardware, a mobile app and service. It also enables existing vending machines to accept mobile payments simply and economically. “We’re honored to have been voted by readers to be the no. 1 technology product of the year,” said Patel.

Not only is machine payment expanding, but consumer engagement with and at the vending machine is expanding, too. Crane’s Merchant MEDIA was awarded the best new product in the equipment category. “Merchant MEDIA offers operators a breakthrough vending solution with integrated cashless, a 7-inch media screen and shopping cart features all designed to provide a game changing consumer experience,” said Steve Turner, vice president of snack, food and cold beverages at Crane Merchandising Systems. “Our MEDIA platform, which includes applications for custom storefront, digital product advertising, healthy solutions and Intelligent StoreTM, attracts and engages consumers and has proven to drive same-store sales growth for operators.”

Food flavor trends

Biscomerica’s Sun-Maid Blueberry with Greek Yogurt Chips Cookies was voted best new product in the cookie category. Biscomerica expanded its licensing partnership with Sun-Maid Growers by creating a variation off of its line of Sun-Maid raisin cookies. Sun-Maid, a leader in the retail dried fruit category, introduced a unique, quality cookie recipe using Sun-Maid blueberry pieces combined with popular Greek yogurt chips at only 210 calories per pack and 0 grams Trans Fat. “Biscomerica is honored to receive the award for best product cookie category as it is voted on by the vend operators — a true testament that the product has been very well received by the vend industry consumer,” said Kathy O’Brien, vice president of sales/vending at Biscomerica Corporation. “Thank you for voting for Sun-Maid Blueberry with Greek Yogurt Chips Cookies."

In line with consumer demands for better-for-you products, WHEAT THINS Popped was voted the best seller in the salted snack category. WHEAT THINS Popped are available in two flavors, Sea Salt and Sour Cream & Onion with each serving containing only 90 calories, no cholesterol, no HFCS, no partially hydrogenated oils and no artificial flavors or colors. WHEAT THINS Popped deliver a light and crunchy popped chip with 7 grams of whole grain per serving.

AdvancePierre™ introduced to its BIG AZ line its first grilled chicken offering, the BIG AZ® Chicken Bacon Cheddar Club, which was voted the best selling product in the food category. According to Technomic, chicken sandwiches are one of the fastest-growing sandwich segments and have gained popularity in the quick-service restaurant and casual dining industries. “AdvancePierre™ Foods is honored that our BIG AZ® Chicken Bacon Cheddar Club was voted to be the 2015 food product of the year by Automatic Merchandiser readers,” said Nancy Todys, vice president of convenience marketing at AdvancePierre™ Foods. Todys believes that the company’s newest addition to the BIG AZ line reflects consumers’ growing preferences for grilled chicken and club sandwiches as well as their continued desire for big value.

Partnership and innovation

Manufacturers are looking outside the box to innovate products and drive sales for operators. Brent Bradshaw, Flowers Foods’ vice president of marketing, believes that innovative products and new partnerships with popular brands are what drive excitement. Flowers Foods’ Mrs. Freshley’s® Peanut Butter Flavored Swiss Rolls won over the voters in the pastry category. Peanut butter enthusiasts appreciated the product’s variation on the traditional creme-filled cake, which combines REESE’S® Peanut Butter filling with chocolate cake covered in a peanut butter-striped, chocolate-flavored coating. “I’m proud of our team’s hard work and we’re thrilled to receive this recognition,” said Bradshaw.

In the candy category, the winner Mars Chocolate North America added a new twist on a customer favorite with the MILKY WAY® Brand French Vanilla and Caramel Bar. The new flavor is a combination of creamy caramel and smooth French vanilla-flavored nougat covered in milk chocolate. It expands the brand’s reach and entices consumers to taste an exciting new flavor from a brand they already know.

“We’re thrilled that MILKY WAY® Brand French Vanilla and Caramel Bar won the Automatic Merchandiser 2015 Product of the Year award,” said Heather Kang, senior director of progressive markets for Mars Chocolate North America. “Vanilla flavor is a growing trend, and consumers are excited to taste it in their favorite candy bar.”

In order to reach a market of consumers looking for both a beverage and a snack, Steuben Foods partnered with Kahala Brands to create a new shake, Cold Stone™ Chocolate Fudge Brownie Milk Shakers™, winner of the cold-beverage category. “Specialty shakes are hot in desserts right now,” said Inglis. “They straddle the line between beverage and snack, and have all kinds of markets. So, we partnered with Kahala Brands and decided to make the best shake there is — something really worth indulging in. Not only this, we decided to do it aseptically, so that there are no real limits to where you can enjoy it. Cold Stone™ Milk Shakers™, our first licensed product, is the result.” The product contains a blend of reduced fat milk, cream, brownie and fudge flavors. The new ready-to-drink beverage offers an opportunity to bring consumers the authentic and distinctive taste of Cold Stone Creamery in a convenient bottle.

The NCA found in its 2015 National Coffee Drinking Trends report that 59 percent of Americans drink coffee each day. Espresso-based beverages are significantly more popular among consumers ages 18 to 39. It comes as no surprise then that readers voted Gevalia Pumpkin Spice Espresso as the winner of the best hot-beverage drink. “We are honored that our customers voted Gevalia Pumpkin Spice Espresso as Automatic Merchandiser’s hot-beverage product of the year,” said Paul Kinter, senior associate business manager, Kraft Foodservice. “It creates a delicious pumpkin spice specialty beverage that embodies what our customers love about Tassimo Professional.”

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to provide your customers with these must-have products.


Products of the Year were voted on by more than 450 Automatic Merchandiser and readers in a period between January 2015 and February 2015. All winners honored were introduced in a 12-month period from January 2014 to December 2014. All nominees were submitted to editorial staff throughout 2014.