Readers' Choice Awards 2016: The Champions of Innovation

April 4, 2016
It’s our pleasure to introduce the nine products that have been voted 2016 Products of the Year by more than 800 readers.

Each year Automatic Merchandiser asks readers to vote for their favorite, most-requested and/or best-selling products in the vending, micro market and office coffee service industry. Items submitted to the competition range from the newest vending machine technology that can create efficiencies to consumers’ favorite new snacks and beverages.

This year more than 800 readers – double the number from 2015 – cast their vote online in a four-week period for their favorite new products in nine categories. The 2016 Readers’ Choice Product of the Year Award winners are consistent with market trends for nutritious, flavorful snacks and beverages; forward-thinking technology; and a premium coffee experience.

Better-for-you innovation soars

Products dubbed healthy and/or better-for-you had an outstanding presence in this year’s awards. In the salted snack category, Mars Chocolate North America took home a win with their goodnessknows® snack squares crafted with whole nuts, real fruits, toasted oats and dark chocolate; meanwhile the SnackWell’s brand Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites – made from whole grain and free from high fructose corn syrup – was voted a fan-favorite in the cookie category. Coca-Cola took home gold in the cold beverage category with its vitaminwater® refresh (tropical mango flavored + other natural flavors) and vitaminwater vital-t (lemon iced tea flavored + other natural flavors), consistent with Mintel’s findings that innovation in flavor led to record-high U.S. bottled water sales in 2015.

Mars Chocolate North America grabbed its second award with its win in the candy category with M&M’S® Crispy Candies that not only satisfy the consumer sweet tooth but also do so at under 200 calories per serving.

This year Packaged Facts reported that convenience is also a major selling point for food and beverage packaging. Flowers Foods brings consumers a conveniently packaged sweet treat with its Mrs. Freshley’s Icers which was crowned the winner in the pastry category.

Oftentimes best-selling products and product trends seen in retail are leaders in vending, too. The sandwich reigns supreme on restaurant menus across restaurant sectors and that trend followed true into the vending and micro market industry as well this year as AdvancePierre Foods continued its winning streak in the food category, with its Pierre Signatures Sandwich line.

The winner in the technology category comes from the entrepreneurial Gimme team, an industry newcomer, with their introduction of the Gimme System, a combination hardware/software solution that turns traditional vending machines into data-producing, “smart” machines.

This year readers’ votes reflected a move towards a high-quality, premium coffee experience with the win of MARS DRINKS™ ALTERRA® Donut Shop Dark in the hot beverage category and Coffea Technologies’ NEXT22 Super Automatic Bean to Cup Coffee Brewing System in the equipment category.

The coffee experience consumers crave

In 2015, OCS operators reported record-breaking revenues in most of the U.S., driven partly by consumer demand for a more sophisticated, premium coffee experience. The NEXT22 Super Automatic Bean to Cup Coffee Brewing System by Coffea Technologies was voted best new product in the equipment category and is focused on bringing that gourmet coffee experience to the consumer.
The NEXT22 allows users, with the touch of a button, to be served SCAA Gold Cup Standard beverages, from lattes to cappuccinos to a traditional cup of coffee. The machine shows its sophistication inside and out. The machine features personalized messages on a 10-inch video screen, uses a small footprint and has a cashless option. Internally the brewer can create a single cup or a 60 ounce carafe, customized to the user’s needs and featuring its patented Vacuum Extraction method to produce a truly 21st century coffee experience.

The overall flavor and taste of coffee is just as important as how it is brewed. The winner in the hot beverage category, MARS DRINKS™ ALTERRA® Donut Shop Dark, uncovers apricot flavors with undertones of caramel and a rich, chocolatey finish. “Mars Drinks helps bring people together in the workplace by offering a wide range of products that appeal to a variety of taste preferences,” David Flochel, General Manager, Mars Drinks North America said. “ALTERRA® Donut Shop Dark is a bold new take on a longstanding office favorite that gives people at work one more reason to grab a cup of coffee and connect.”
ALTERRA® Donut Shop Dark coffee can be brewed using any of MARS DRINKS™ single-serve FLAVIA® brewers.

Snacking, food trends

Mars Chocolate North America took home two awards this year for its M&M’S® Crispy Candies and goodnessknows® snack squares in the candy and salted snack categories, respectively. “We’re thrilled that the vend community is recognizing two of our new products with ‘Product of the Year’ awards,” said Timothy LeBel, Vice President of Sales - Mars Chocolate North America. “M&M’S® Crispy Candies and goodnessknows® snack squares are both delicious and under 200 calories per serving. These are two terrific examples of the snacking options we’re developing at Mars Chocolate as we strive to meet consumers’ goals for health and wellness.”
Due to popularity and consumer demand, Mars Chocolate North America brought back M&M’S® Crispy Candies following a 10-year hiatus. The treat features a crispy center covered in creamy milk chocolate, enclosed in a colorful candy shell.

The company’s goodnessknows® snack squares were launched in July 2015 in three flavors – Cranberry Almond Dark Chocolate, Apple Almond & Peanut Dark Chocolate, and Peach & Cherry Almond Dark Chocolate. The product contains no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners.

In line with consumer preference for better-for-you products, the SnackWell’s Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites were voted the favorite in the cookie category. “The SnackWell’s brand is deeply rooted in offering fat-free products and has grown its product lines to offer consumers a wide variety of better-for-you snack options.” said Anthony Raucci, Senior Vice President of Sales at Back to Nature Foods L.L.C. “We’re so honored to be voted the fan-favorite in the cookie category for our Mini Chocolate Chip Cookie Bites which are made from whole grain, free from high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils.”

Trends show that consumers are increasingly demanding water and enhanced water beverages. According to Mintel, flavored water with enhancements led to record-high U.S. bottled water sales in 2015. In fact, many vending and micro market operators have voiced their surprise at the amount of water they are selling.

Coca-Cola’s vitaminwater® refresh (tropical mango flavored + other natural flavors) and vitaminwater vital-t (lemon iced tea flavored + other natural flavors) won in the cold beverage category. The varieties were released in limited markets across the country in 2015.

The reigning champion in the food category, AdvancePierre Foods, kept both the consumer and operator in mind with its Pierre Signatures Sandwich line which includes Pierre Signatures® Spicy Chicken Breast with Cheese Sandwich, the new and improved Pierre Signatures Cheddar Cheeseburger and Pierre Signatures Southern Style Chicken Breast with Cheese sandwich. “When it comes to our Pierre Signatures line, our guidelines are simple: ensure the products have a fresh look and appeal and are hand-made with restaurant-quality ingredients,” shares Nancy Todys, VP-convenience marketing at AdvancePierre Foods. “We’re answering the demands of the consumer while keeping the goals of our micro market and vending operators top of mind.”

In the pastry category, Mrs. Freshley’s Icers put a new spin on classic vanilla and chocolate flavors, featuring two layers of creme-filled cake topped with velvety icing. “Mrs. Freshley’s is thrilled to be recognized by Automatic Merchandiser readers for the 2016 Product of the Year Award,” said Meredith Butler, Flowers Foods’ brand manager. “As vending consumers look to satisfy their sweet cravings with new and exciting product offerings, Mrs. Freshley’s Icers are the perfect solution to fill that need through a conveniently packaged and delicious treat.”

Operator–focused technology

Technology integration in the vending industry is slowly but surely occurring. More operators are using technology to drive efficiencies and profitability. In fact, Automatic Merchandiser reported last year that 5.8 percent of operators added a vending management system (VMS) the prior year, bringing that number to 58 percent of total operators using a VMS. It comes as no surprise then that readers voted Gimme Systems as the winner in the Technology category. Gimme Vending released a new true plug-and-play solution last year that gives vending machine owners the ability to track cash and inventory and speed service calls, thanks to a pocket-sized device that transmits information instantly to handheld devices/mobile phones. The Gimme System, a combination hardware/software solution, allows vending companies to track what’s happening in the field, in real-time, via the cloud, without downloading, synchronizing or hand-keying. “Gimme is on a mission to ensure every vending operator can reap the benefits of accessing better data and better insights in order to improve profitability,” said Cory Hewett, CEO of Gimme Vending. “In this spirit, we build technology that connects every vending machine to the Internet, regardless of where these machines are located. We are working collaboratively with leading VMS providers to usher in this new ‘era of insight’ for vending.”

The Gimme System solution integrates with existing VMS and turns traditional vending machines into data-producing, “smart” machines.

New products drive the industry forward, therefore it’s our pleasure to support and promote these leaders of industry innovation.