The Champions of Innovation 2017: Readers’ Choice Awards

March 21, 2017

Each year, Automatic Merchandiser asks readers to vote for their favorite, most requested or best-selling products in the vending, micro market and office coffee service industry. Entries range from consumers’ favorite new snacks and beverages to the industry’s most innovative equipment and vending technologies.  

This year, about 650 readers cast their vote online in a month-long period for their favorite products in 10 categories: Cookie & Pastry, Better-For-You, Food, Salted Snack, Office Coffee Service Products, Office Coffee Equipment, Candy, Salted Snack, Equipment and Technology. Winners show market trends for flavorful snacks, unique and sophisticated coffee experiences, and a growing demand for innovative vending technology and equipment.  

Flavor, flavor, flavor 

Snacks containing full flavors made a mark in this year’s awards. In the salted snack category, Snyder's-Lance, Inc. got the win with their Sweet & Salty S’mores Pretzel Pieces featuring the sweet flavors of marshmallows and chocolate sprinkled on classic salted sourdough pretzel pieces. In the better-for-you category, KIND’s Nuts & Spices and Fruit & Nut Bar Line Expansions took home top honors not only for its taste but also for its healthy approach to snacking. KIND’s Nuts & Spices line has just 5 grams of sugar or less per bar, which is 50% less sugar than the average snack bar that contains 12 grams. 

“Our Nuts & Spices and Fruit & Nut snack lines are made with ingredients you can see and pronounce and we want people to feel good about what they’re putting into their bodies,” said Stephanie Perruzza, dietitian and health and wellness specialist at KIND. The number one ingredient in all of our snacks is a nutrient-rich ingredient like nuts, whole grains or fruit, making KIND a great go-to snack staple. 

Full-bodied flavor also took center stage in this year’s food category. AdvancePierre Foods continued its winning streak and snagged the title in the food category with its flavor-packed BIG AZ Sriracha Grilled Chicken Sandwich. 

“Sriracha sauce, with its sweet heat, is right on trend, especially with Millennials,” said Nancy Todys, vice president of convenience marketing at AdvancePierre Foods. “The grilled chicken makes it a great choice for consumers seeking satisfying, flavorful, better-for-you sandwich options.” 

Twists on the traditional 

Snacks providing a fun twist on long-time favorites also had a good showing in this year’s awards with Snicker Crisper by Mars voted favorite candy among readers. The Snicker Crisper offers the classic Snickers caramel chewiness alongside the crunch of rice and peanuts.  

In the cookie and pastry category, readers voted Mondelez International’s OREO Thins as fan favorite. Taking the 100-year history of OREOs, the thin twist on the classic cookie has been a popular hit among sweet-teeth across the country looking for a thinner, crispier treat. They also offer a healthier alternative for those watching their waistlines: The original OREO contains 42 calories per cookie, while an OREO Thin has just 35 calories. 

“OREO Thins is a new take on the classic cookie,” explained Rachel Reed, channel marketing manager for foodservice and vending at Mondelez International. ”The crisp and delicate texture of OREO Thins was designed for fans who love the taste of OREO but are looking for a more sophisticated cookie." 

Coffee favorites 

Similar to 2015, 2016 was a strong revenue-driving year for the OCS market. In the OCS equipment category FLAVIA Creation 500 single-serve brewer by Mars Drinks North America took home the title, reflecting consumers’ growing desire for a unique, flavorful coffee experience. The FLAVIA Creation 500 is marketed to blend stylish design with enhanced drinks and menu display options that make it easier for consumers to create and enjoy the perfect brew. 

The demand for quality, rich and flavorful office coffee products also was shown in the OCS products category with Folgers Black Silk Coffee by J.M. Smucker Co. taking the top title. Flavor takes top priority with this blend, aimed toward fans of dark-roasted coffee with bold, yet exceptionally smooth undertones. Folgers continues to be an iconic brand with 150 years of history of providing consistently rich brews.  

Natural Sweetness

In the cold beverages category, Tribe Sweet Tea by Push Beverage Corp. took home the gold. The beverage is a real brewed tea sweetened with pure cane sugar with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, reflecting the trend of more natural flavoring for drinks. The eye-catching package also has gained attention in micro markets while still having an ultra-vendible bottle to use in vending machines. 

“Our Tribe Sweet Tea was such a great addition to our seven other great tea flavors," said Laurel Whitney, chief financial officer and acting general manager at Push Beverages. "Today, people are looking for more natural options and our real-brewed Tribe Teas are sweetened with pure cane sugar and have no preservatives added. Between that and our attention-grabbing package, we knew this one was a winner."

Tech and equipment favorites 

The vending industry has been increasingly embracing innovation over the past several years, recognizing its value and necessity for efficiency. Launched last September, 365 Retail Markets’ 365 Inside was the overwhelming fan favorite in this year’s technology category. 365 Inside is a hardware add-on device for vending machines that, in combination with the 365Pay app, creates a seamless cashless payment, reporting and communications structure, as well as wireless real-time alerts, operational and nutritional data.  

“365 Inside is an innovative step towards connecting more points of sale in the workplace,” said Joe Hessling at 365 Retail Markets. “Adding 365 Inside to vending machines connects cashier POS, mobile only markets, nanomarkets™ and the original MicroMarkets via our 365Pay app for a truly connected campus.” 

On the equipment side, innovation also has been top of mind among industry members. Following that trend, the Hello Goodness Vending Machine by Pepsico Foodservice won fan favorite in the equipment category. The unique vending unit offers healthier beverages for consumers with several smart design features including a digital point-of-sale touch screen with product nutritional information, the ability to offer real-time consumer preference insights to inform future offerings, dual climate-control shelving that allows both perishable and non-perishable items to be easily vended together at the correct temperature, and cashless and digital vending capabilities. 

“The launch of Hello Goodness in 2015 revolutionized the vending industry, and we are incredibly proud to be recognized for providing on-the-go consumers with access to healthier, affordable and great-tasting snacks and beverages,” said Anne Fink, president of global foodservice at PepsiCo, Inc. “As customer and consumer demands continue to evolve, we will continue to evolve the Hello Goodness platform by innovating new equipment and curating new products.” 

New products continue to drive the industry forward. As a result, it is our pleasure to support and promote these leaders’ contributions.  


Readers’ Choice Products of the Year were voted on by about 650 Automatic Merchandiser and readers in a period between January 2017 and February 2017 via a survey promoted through email, print and social media. All products nominated were released and submitted to the editorial staff in 2016. 


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