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11/16/2015

In with the New

New products are the lifeblood of any successful retail store. Whether they stem from innovation, product improvement or line extension, the importance of fresh new products cannot be underestimated in convenience stores. The entire assortment looks and sells better when categories are transformed with new products. One new product in a category can make the entire category more exciting, which translates into incremental sales.

Out with the old and in with the new. Consumers, especially millennials, choose newness from a well-structured assortment. Or, in the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “The only constant is change.”

This year’s winners in the Convenience Store News Best New Products Awards program launched innovative products to meet an evergrowing array of consumer needs and desires. They represent the latest trends of protein snacks, healthy bites, crunchy products, foodservice, alternative waters, value pricing and 24-hour snacking.

The thirst for newness is stronger than ever before. When asked the most important factor they consider when choosing a snack or beverage, our test-panel consumers overwhelmingly said taste. This is reflected in the 2015 winners of the CSNews Best New Products Awards.

After a month of consumer testing, the votes were tallied and 25 winners were recognized by CSNews at the 2015 NACS Show in Las Vegas for bringing the best new products to the convenience store industry during the past year.

Judging for the 19th annual CSNews Best New Products Awards was supervised by Past Times Marketing, a New York-based consumer research and product testing firm. Entries were rated and awarded points by consumers based on the criteria of taste, value, convenience, health-fulness, ingredients, preparation requirements, appearance and packaging.

THE 2015 WINNERS ARE:

Alternative Snacks/Energy Bars: Fit Crunch Baked Protein Bars.

The days of choking down a protein bar are over. This six-layer baked protein bar made with whey isolate is from Chef Robert Irvine and goes down easy. The panel tested Peanut Butter, Cookies and Cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. While they liked all three, the peanut butter bar received the best rating. The bar reminded them of a candy bar and they loved the texture with the different layers.

Alternative Snacks/Health Bars: Stone Ground Gluten Free Fig Bars.

After so much innovation in the health bar arena, this new product from Nature’s Bakery rose to the top of its category. The fig bar is convenient, with two smaller bar bites in its 2-ounce package. Not unlike Fig Newtons in appearance, they are moist and flavorful; contain no high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; and are gluten free. It is the type of snack people with all types of dietary restrictions can enjoy. Our panelists loved the twin-pack portion options for snacking, as well as the taste. It comes in four flavors: pomegranate, original fig, blueberry and raspberry.

Alternative Snacks/Meat Snacks: Turkey Jamaican Style.

Depending on the latest study, fat or carbohydrates take the blame for much of the health woes in America, but protein remains mostly unscathed. Perky Jerky has come out with this new Turkey Jamaican Style that is an ultra-premium jerky combining tender cuts of meat with a natural marinade. What makes it so healthy? It is low fat, low carb, with a great protein source without any of the bad stuff. No nitrites, preservatives or added MSG. This Turkey Jamaican Style scored high on flavor and texture, even for some of the meat lovers on our panel who are not jerky fans.

Automotive Products: Armor All Vent Clip Air Fresheners.

Consumers take pride in maintaining their cars. The Armor All Co. came out with this new twist on an interior freshener — the vent clip. This attaches to one of the car air vents and has a new innovative membrane technology to diffuse the scent. The small, black, 1½-inch round profile of the product makes it blend in with the car interior, unlike former larger vent units. Our panelists sampled the vanilla scent and cited its ease of installation and discreet delivery system.

Beer: Samuel Adams Summer Ale 16-Ounce Can.

There is something wonderful about cracking open an ice-cold summer beer in a can. The Boston Beer Co. came out with a Summer Ale 16-ounce can, featuring the iconic Summer Ale bottle design, as a great single-serve product this year. Summer Ale cans offer c-store customers the most popular craft beer style in a convenient single-serve brewed by Samuel Adams. Summer Ale is less heavy and lighter in color than other seasonal beers. Seasonal beer offerings have been around since the 1850s in Europe. They took off in a big way here in the states in the 1990s. This beer rated very highly with our panel.

Bottled Water: Banana Water Mango by Elmhurst Naturals.

Consumers have a dizzying array of options for bottled water. Banana Water Mango is a light and refreshing hydration beverage made with natural ingredients. There is definitely an opening in the market for water products with more potassium. This water provides as much potassium as two bananas and is an excellent source of vitamin C and magnesium. Banana Water Mango also has no added sugar or colors. It comes in a convenient 12-ounce bottle and is perfect for those who live an active, on-the-go lifestyle. Our testers liked the “not too overpowering” flavor mix of banana and mango. One tester said: “Quicker than a smoothie.” And the bottle itself was highly scored by testers commenting that it has a “sleek, smooth finish.”

Carbonated Soft Drinks: Sprite LeBron’s Mix.

Convenience store shoppers are 50 percent more responsive to packaging and flavor innovation than average shoppers. The Coca-Cola Co.’s Sprite LeBron’s Mix soft drink appeals to the multicultural consumer, who spends 91 percent more than average on fruit-flavored carbonated soft drinks. Connecting Sprite to a key passion point — basketball — is genius. Flavor innovation is also on trend. Sprite LeBron’s Mix is LeBron James’ favorite mix of traditional Sprite with natural cherry and orange flavors. The limited-time beverage created major online buzz with tweeted promotion hashtags of more than 3.7 million to date through My Coke Rewards, an online platform dedicated to delivering fun, engaging ways to reward people for picking up their favorite Coca-Cola beverages. Our panelists were impressed with the social marketing, packaging and unique flavor of this game-changer.

Candy/Chocolate: M&M’S Crispy Chocolate Candies.

Newness and more newness is what the c-store customer demands in the chocolate candy category. Mars Chocolate North America relaunched M&M’S Crispy Chocolate Candies this year. This product was first introduced in 1998, and consumers have been asking for its return via Facebook, online petitions and phone calls. It was the No. 1 Mars variant no longer on the market that consumers requested to be brought back. These candies feature a unique, crispy center covered in creamy milk chocolate, enclosed in a colorful candy shell. The product has a great texture and crunch, colorful packaging and the key 200-calorie or less count that snack-seeking shoppers are looking for.

Candy/Non-Chocolate: Honeybell Buds.

Old-fashioned hard candy is making a comeback. Honeybell Buds by Butterfields Candy were a big hit with our panel. Comments included “just the right size,” “intense flavor kick” and “reminds me of Grandma’s candy jar.” The nectar from the orange blossom produces Honeybell Buds. Honey bell oranges come out once a year, but this candy is shipped year-round. At $1.75 for a 2-ounce bag, the price appealed to consumers on our panel.

Cigars: Backwoods Honey Bourbon.

Backwoods Honey Bourbon cigars from ITG Brands don’t have the same look and feel as any other cigar on the market. Honey and bourbon combined with 100-percent natural tobaccos have a sweet sting at a price of $1.49. On-trend with the “honey” name, this is the limited-edition Backwoods version for 2015.

Dairy Beverages: Cold Stone Creamery Milk Shakers Coffee Caramel Dream.

Forget those pricey, handcrafted coffee drinks from Starbucks. This premium coffee shaker from Cold Stone Creamery combines smooth coffee and rich caramel flavors in one delicious treat. The flavor is a decadent combination and the perfect indulgence when one is on the go. No standing in line waiting for the barista to finish it — just shake this chilled beverage and drink. Our testers said it tasted “fresh made,” a great compliment. The $2.49 price is a real winner for convenience stores considering the premium name of Cold Stone Creamery.

Dairy Products: LALA Greek Smoothies.

As more convenient alternatives to fluid milk are developed, individually drinkable yogurt and dairy-based smoothies are increasingly popular. LALA Greek Smoothies combine the nutrition that Greek yogurt provides with on-the-go convenience. This product claims to be the first Greek yogurt smoothie in the market. It fills the drinkable yogurt niche, and gives consumers the extra boost of 12 grams of protein from Greek yogurt. There is no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial colors. This drinkable Greek yogurt is made with real fruit and is naturally sweetened. Our panel tested the strawberry, peach and mango varieties and liked the peach flavor best.

Edible Grocery: Kraft Big Cheese Mild Cheddar and Colby Jack.

Protein snacking is especially relevant to today’s busy, time-strapped adult lifestyle. Customers are increasingly seeking nutrition-rich, real food alternatives. Cheese snacking has grown by 24 percent in c-stores this past year and delivers more than $200 million in annual sales. Our panel liked the flavorful taste and the easy open, easy to read, no mess packaging of Kraft Big Cheese Mild Cheddar and Colby Jack. It’s perfect for lunch or ready-to-go snacking.

Electronic Cigarettes & Vapor Products: blu PLUS+.

Smokers looking to switch to electronic cigarettes may have been turned off by products that fell short on flavor, battery life and price. For those seeking to transition from traditional cigarettes to a more viable option, blu PLUS+ is the perfect choice with its kit and affordability. The blu PLUS+ product line has enhancements from the previous models based on customer feedback. It has a unique design, satisfying vapor and more robust flavor than the earlier blu eCigs. Also, the $14.99 starting price for the blu PLUS+ Xpress Kit fills a niche of those who want an alternative but do not want to overspend. Our testers said they thought the “cigalike” was perfect for the c-store channel.

Foodservice/Breakfast: Jimmy Dean Blazin’ Hot Breakfast Sandwiches.

Breakfast wars abound throughout the nation across many venues, so c-stores have to constantly update their assortment to keep their front lines fresh. Spicy and hot flavorful foods are high on the list of consumer preferences today. Tyson Convenience Foodservice introduced individually wrapped Blazin’ Hot breakfast sandwiches in a new line that provides regional flavor options to appeal to more shoppers. Hot & Spicy Sausage on a Biscuit, Hot & Spicy Sausage, Egg and Pepperjack Cheese on a Biscuit, and Spicy Split Smoked Sausage & Cheese on a Croissant all have a nice presentation, but the flavor of the Spicy Split Smoked Sausage was the favorite for our panelists. Additionally, the retail pricing is value oriented starting at $1.29.

Foodservice/Lunch: Hot ‘n’ Ready Barbecue Pork Roller Grill.

Customers love the roller grill for its value, convenience and flexibility to customize their own fresh, hot items. The AdvancePierre Foods fully cooked barbecue pork for the roller grill is a hefty 3-ounce portion of flavorful pork infused with tangy barbecue sauce and seasonings. Our testers liked the flavor and the “super juicy” consistency. The value pricing of 99 cents was a shock — in a good way.

Foodservice/Packaging: Readyripe Watermelon Solution.

Maglio Companies released its readyripe watermelon packaging this year to much success, including earning an endorsement from the National Watermelon Association. Our panelists reviewed the two gusset bag designs custom-sized for a quarter cut and half cut sliced watermelon. The bags feature a large window area to allow consumers easy viewing of the quality of the fruit before purchasing. The patent-pending design keeps the fruit fresh for an extended period of time — up to 11 days from the date of production. Along with the extended shelf life, this packaging benefits consumers with a carry handle and a compact, resealable pouch that gives convenience stores the ability to customize portion-size offerings.

Foodservice/Snacks: Southwestern Style Frank.

For every second of summer, 818 hot dogs are consumed in America. That’s almost 50,000 franks a minute. There is a great appetite for new products in the hot dog/frank arena. Kunzler & Co. has come up with a tasty new product called the Southwestern Style Frank. It is a combination of pork and chicken with cheddar cheese, black beans, corn and peppers. Perfect to enhance a snack or meal, this is a great addition to the convenience store assortment at a suggested retail of $1.49. The unique and bold flavor appealed to our millennial testers.

General Merchandise: Pocket Selfie Stick.

The “selfie” phenomenon continues to grow, and so does the opportunity to move a lot of selfie sticks in convenience stores. This product can generate a high volume of impulse sales. The Pocket Selfie Stick is so compact | that it literally fits in your pocket. It has a 30-inch telescopic extension and 180-degree rotation, and folds up to 8.75 inches when not in use. Priced right at $9.95, it comes packaged in a sturdy, compact, visible box.

Healthy Snacks: Dark Chocolate Sunflower Granola.

The health-conscious convenience store consumer needs grab-and-go snacks that do not break the budget. Handcrafted Dark Chocolate Sunflower Granola fits the bill. It is made with homemade sunflower butter, pecans, dried cherries and Himalayan pink salt. The Bungalow Picnic Co.’s granola mixture is an excellent source of protein, fiber, antioxidants and healthy fats. There are no preservatives, no added wheat or dairy, and no trans fats or cholesterol.

Flavored Malt Beverages: Angry Orchard Green Apple 16-Ounce Can.

More than 70 years since prohibition was repealed, cider is once again popular in America. The No. 1 hard cider in the country is Angry Orchard Green Apple. This year, the brand introduced this product in a 16-ounce can. This offers drinkers a convenient, single-serve, portable size. Angry Orchard Green Apple cans work well as an alternative beverage to take to parties and sporting events. The green apple tart flavor tasted best in a cup, according to our testers. It is attractive to non-beer, non-wine drinkers, as well as to those with gluten-free diets.

Other Packaged Beverages: Kool-Aid Ready to Drink.

Why not make Kool-Aid new again? The Kraft Heinz Co. brought Kool-Aid Ready to Drink to market this year. Consumers grew up enjoying Kool-Aid mixes, and they can once again experience the fun and flavor in a convenient, resealable bottle. The non-soda beverage still has the smiley face graphics and logo. Kool-Aid indexes high with key consumer segments: value shoppers, African-Americans and Hispanics. Available in Tropical Punch, Grape and Cherry Limeade, an exclusive for the c-store channel, each bottle is only 150 calories. Our panelists preferred the Cherry Limeade — poured into a cup of ice cubes. They commented: “Do drink the Kool-Aid!”

Packaged Sweet Snacks: Lemon and Cinnamon Ooey Gooey Butter Cakes.

Prairie City Bakery’s rich, buttery Ooey Gooey flavor is undeniably decadent with the fresh lemon and sweet cinnamon flavors of these two new products. They are individually packaged in a convenient, 2-ounce, grab-and-go pack that’s perfect for c-stores. The two-layer cakes have an appealing look and evocative flavor, like a product from an old-time bakery. Priced at $1.49, they are a great value, display with ease in a small space, and satisfy the need for an indulgent afternoon snack. The Cinnamon Ooey Gooey Butter Cake was the favorite of our testers.

Salty Snacks: Bugles Ranch.

Bugles is a strong brand that c-store consumers have known for more than 50 years. Traditional Bugles are a favorite of kids who put them on their fingertips as claws and chew them off one by one. General Mills Convenience & Foodservice introduced a new flavor this year, Bugles Ranch. The new variety is on-trend and brings excitement to the salty snacks category. The light corn crunch and fun-to-eat crispy corn snack was well received by our panelists. They liked the bold ranch flavor and retail price of $1.79 for a 3-ounce bag.

Overall Innovation: Reese’s Spreads Snacksters with Graham Dippers.

Called “utterly addictive” and “not too messy,” our panel loved the genius of this instantly consumable spread for snacking and dessert. The Hershey Co. has taken the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup and turned it upside down for a great product extension at a value-oriented price of $1.49. This packaged sweet snack is perfect for the lunch box or on the go. Nutella and Dulce de Leche spreads have been spawning a legion of new contenders, and this is one of them. There is a perfect combination of peanut butter chocolate cream inside a cup on one side and graham cracker sticks called dippers on the other side. A portion-controlled 270 calories was another feature that was appealing.