Despite the low-carbohydrate trend making in-roads in virtually all areas of the supermarket in 2003, side dishes with rice, pasta and potatoes have not fared too badly. For example, over 60 new rice products hit store shelves in the U.S. in the past year, bearing witness to the established popularity of side dishes.

The best means of speeding the preparation phase of rice dishes has been to eliminate at least one step. For example, Patak's Food's (Austin, Minn.) Garlic & Cilantro Flavored Rice and Fall River Wild Rice's (Fall River Mills, Calif.) 100% Natural Rice no longer need to be boiled. These quick options offer the rice pre-cooked in a bag that also serves as a microwaveable package. The shelf-stable, stand-up pouches have gusseted bases and stand upright in the microwave. All the consumer has to do is tear open a notch for the product to vent.

For consumers who do not find boiling water such a chore but hate trying to find the right seasoning balance, Masterfoods USA (Hackettstown, N.J.) presented Uncle Ben's Flavorful Rice sub-brand. According to the company, each grain of rice in the seven varieties is infused with 100% natural flavors, eliminating the need for consumers to add a seasoning packet. The infused varieties include Parmesan & Butter, Garlic & Butter, Roasted Chicken, Spanish Rice, Chicken & Herb, Lemon & Herb, and Tomato & Herb.

Adding a Side

A company well known for its flavors expanded into the prepared food aisles in 2003, as The Spice Hunter (San Luis Obispo, Calif.) took its knowledge and experience with gourmet dried spices into convenient cup meals. Appearing under the Spice Hunter label, Quick & Natural debuted a five-SKU line of dehydrated instant soup mixes in cups, in such varieties as Navy Bean, Split Pea and Potato Leek. The company utilizes the same cup format for instant lunches, as well, including such gourmet pastas as Creamy Alfredo Fusili and Creamy Butter Fusili, in addition to gourmet Risotto in Three Cheese, Spinach & Garlic and Wild Mushroom offerings.

A more durable package marked the line of refrigerated, ready-to-serve soups launched by Winter Gardens Quality Foods (New Oxford, Pa.). The varieties are not much out of the ordinary and include such hallmarks as Vegetable Beef with Noodles, Homestyle Chicken Noodle and Cream of Chicken & Rice, but the uniqueness of the Zooop! line is evidenced in its package--a resealable, plastic Mason-style jar.

Of course, it is impossible to summarize 2003's new products without touching upon the low-carb phenomenon and soups did not disappoint. What might prove surprising to some is that many of the products also cater to the convenience needs of consumers.

A prime example is found in Carb 'Tastic Soup under the Fantastic Foods brand from HomeGrown Natural Foods (Napa, Calif.). These “Vegetarian Quick Meals” come in flavors such as Sundried Tomato Basil and Vegetarian Chicken Gumbo, containing 6g and 5g of carbohydrates, respectively. The individual meals only require the addition of boiling water.

Also for the carb-counting consumer, TyRy (Rocklin, Calif.) introduced Instant Gourmet Low-Carb Soup. The six varieties--Beefy Vegetable, Mushroom with Chicken & Garlic, Bay Shrimp Bisque, Broccoli Cheddar, Asparagus Chicken and Chicken Vegetable--are all free of gluten and wheat products.

While one of a pair of soups for foodservice from Blount Seafood (Warren, R.I.) is low in carbohydrates, the company focuses, instead, on another healthful aspect of the products. The two “heart-healthy” soups include White Lightning Chicken Chili, promising to be hot and spicy, loaded with chicken, beans, green and red bell peppers and jalapeño peppers. However, the carb-conscious consumer might opt for the Hearty Country Vegetable Soup, a low-carb, vegan soup made with 12 vegetables.

Flavorful Side

Also earmarked for the foodservice segment, StockPot Soups were a product of the niche gourmet division of Campbell Soup (Camden, N.J.), which obviously took a cue from the growing popularity of ethnic foods. The new line includes such varieties as Imperial Mu Shu Pork Soup with Mushrooms, The Zen of Chicken Soup with Lemon & Toasted Almonds, Dragon Fire Sichuan Beef Soup, and Red Lantern Sweet & Sour Chicken Soup with Bamboo Shoots.

The company also drew inspiration from classic Italian entrées in launching the Fresh from Italia line of soups. These include such varieties as Piccatta Fresca Soup with Grilled Chicken, Artichoke & Lemon, Alfredo Bianco Soup with Seasoned Chicken, Penne & Red Pepper, Bada Bing Bolognese Soup with Italian Sausage & Dry White Wine, Mangia Mangia Mushroom Soup with Cheese Ravioletti & Brandy Cream and Cincin Cheese Tortelli & Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Garlic.

Adding another flavorful aspect to its business, McCormick & Co. (Hunt Valley, Md.) agreed to purchase Zatarain's and its brand of Louisiana-style food mixes, spices and flavorings. Hormel Foods (Austin, Minn.), meanwhile, catered to connoisseurs of another popular ethnic cuisine by offering Fiesta Tortilla Soup mix under the Chi-Chi's brand. Similar to the Fantastic Foods offering, the microwaveable mix requires the addition of water, but the Chi-Chi's product differs in that the consumer also has to add salsa.

Adding flavors to soups is plausible, but as Heinz (Pittsburgh, Pa.) discovered, consumers may believe certain food items need no modifications. Heinz's Funky Fries, launched a couple of years ago as a line of colored and flavored French fries under the Ore Ida brand, met with initial success. However, the company announced this year that the line will be significantly scaled back, and Heinz also dropped varieties of Hot Bites, its extension of Bagel Bites frozen snacks, and Boston Market frozen side dishes.

More positive news in fries can be found north of the border, as McCain Foods Canada (Florenceville, New Brunswick) offers a more healthful version of the side dish. The company began producing its fries using non-hydrogenated oil.

Also taking fries in a more healthful direction was Lamb Weston (Tri-Cities, Wash.), which now processes its Canola Quick Fries only in high oleic canola oil. Promising fries free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat, Canola Quick Fries are available in shoestring, thin regular cut and thin concertina cut offerings.

Those who prefer mashed potatoes can have Keto Foods & Snacks' (Neptune, N.J.) low-carb option. Keto Ketato Classic Potato Flavored Gourmet Mix is for “low-carb, high-protein living,” and promises mashed potatoes without the carbohydrates--or at least without as many. A 1/2 cup serving still has 11g of total carbohydrates, according to the nutrition label.

Much of the information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database,, 312-932-0400.