Designing a new building? Creating a new food or beverage? In either case, the best approach involves three “F’s.”  Architects adhere to the adage that “form follows function.”  Meanwhile, innovative product developers pay attention to form, function and, of course, flavor.

There were many examples of creative form, flavor and function in the 12th annual Spirit of Innovation (SOI) new product contest, co-sponsored by Prepared Foods and Ventura Foods.

To be considered, new products had to have been introduced during 2014 through May 2015. BNP Media food and beverage magazine editors and staffers then evaluated and ranked submissions against several criteria—including sales achievement as well as a product’s unique appeal to consumers and/or foodservice operator customers. As a title dedicated to the broader product development process, Prepared Foods also emphasizes demonstrated teamwork, the coordination and cooperation of research chefs, product developers, nutritionists, marketers and others.

A mixed panel of editors and consumers also tasted 10 semi-finalist products in the retail and foodservice categories.

This year’s contest drew a record 72 entries with 60 retail submissions and another 12 foodservice submissions. They reflect all product categories—including meat, poultry seafood; fruit and vegetable; bakery; prepared entrees; snacks, soups and side dishes; dairy; candy; beverage and waters; and sauces, condiments and seasonings.

This year also brought a fascinating new wave of functional products: prenatal vitamins, vitamin mints and lozenges that help curb appetite and overeating. Also reflecting market trends were submissions for natural fruit-flavored stevia water drops; organic stevia sweeteners; artisan cold-pressed, non-GMO canola oil; and even broccoli greens that consumers sprinkle on other foods.

What’s In? What’s Out?

This year’s retail new product winners share many common attributes. For starters, they each target snacking. Likewise, each addresses nutritional interests and/or concerns. In some cases, processors play up what’s inside (protein) while others focus on what’s out (allergens or calories).

Pure Mediterranean Foods

Retail first place honoree Pure Mediterranean Foods, Elk Grove Village, Ill., believes that hummus is no longer just a dip or snack—and that’s why the company created what it says is an “all-new meal occasion.” Its new Hummus Plus product pairs flavorful hummus with seasoned chicken in a unique, all-in-one package.

“Hummus presents a strong opportunity for consumers to use beyond just a dip or as a side and be the focus of a full meal,” says David Gacom, vice president of sales and marketing. “Hummus Plus has transformed the category with a protein-packed solution satisfying enough to eat as a meal, but still convenient enough to consume on-the-go.”

Retail Honorees

  1. Pure Mediterranean Foods
  2. Mars Chocolate North America
  3. Skinny Batches

Gacom says 30% of Americans are seeking snack, beverage and food products with higher protein content, driven by a desire for weight loss and satiety.  With up to 28g of protein and 12g of fiber, Hummus Plus delivers strong nutritional benefits and sustained energy. Additionally, the product offers convenient packaging for active, on-the-go shoppers.

“With more and more consumers prioritizing healthy eating, protein has become a major driver of purchase,” Gacom adds. “Hummus Plus allows supermarket and deli operators to provide a protein-packed solution for shoppers with fast-paced, active lifestyles looking for convenient meal or snack options.”

Hummus Plus is available to supermarket and deli operators in 8oz, on-the-go packs and in five flavor combinations: Traditional Hummus + Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast, Garlic Hummus + Garlic Herb Chicken Breast, Roasted Red Pepper Hummus + BBQ Seasoned Chicken Breast, Garlic Hummus + Chipotle Chicken Breast and Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus + Oven-Roasted Chicken Breast.

Mars Chocolate North America

This year’s second place honoree, Mars Chocolate North America, doesn’t talk about multiple flavors. Rather, texture is the focus of new M&M’S Crispy Chocolate Candies, a line extension of iconic M&M’S brand candy.

Mars Chocolate introduced a Crispy flavor variety as a limited-edition item in 1998. Since then, consumers have used Facebook, online petitions and phone calls to ask for its return.

“When M&M’S fans talk, we listen. And consumers have made it clear that M&M’S Crispy are so irresistible, we had to bring them back,” says Berta de Pablos Barbier, vice president, marketing for Mars Chocolate. “We’re sure existing fans will be thrilled to see M&M’S Crispy back in stores coast to coast, and we’re just as excited to introduce this delicious product to a new generation of chocolate lovers.”

New M&M’S Crispy debuted in early 2015 and since has experienced strong sales, says de Pablos Barbier. She adds that today’s product addresses two key trends: consumer interest calorie-controlled snacks and new textures.

“Consumers are seeking snacking options under 200 calories per serving, and M&M’S Crispy Candies are 180 calories per serving,” notes de Pablos Barbier. “Consumers’ desire for new textures also has resulted in the creation of a new ‘Crispy Crunchy’ segment within the chocolate category. This segment is growing 1.8x the rate of the chocolate category and 1.7x the rate of the non-chocolate snack category with an average of 9.2% per-year increase in category sales.”

A multi-functional, global team addressed the M&M’S Brand’s main product challenge, which was ensuring a smooth, high quality M&M’S Crispy “lentil,” which was only achievable by obtaining an even chocolate distribution around each lentil.  The team overcame this challenge by identifying the appropriate chocolate to deliver the product design and by validating the ability to meet process specifications.  This required a close partnership between R&D and plant associates, as well as a willingness of both parties to test different solutions until they identified the final recipe. 

The new offering is available to retailers across the country in four sizes: singles, sharing size, medium laydown bags and a new 30 oz. “party size” stand-up pouch (plus a 37oz stand-up pouch for the club channel).

Skinny Batches

Also targeting tasty, guilt-free treats is Prepared Foods’ third-place retail honoree, Skinny Batches. Founded in 2010 by Emme Tyler, this Beverly Hills, Calif., firm lives by motto: “Love Your Food. Love Yourself.”

A graduate of Stanford University, Tyler is a self-taught baker and was a Season 3 contestant on TLC’s The Next Great Baker (airing November 2012 to February 2013). She has past experience as an entrepreneur in the education and entertainment industries, establishing her own educational consulting firm and production company.

After starting with a diverse line of retail packaged cookies, Tyler’s Skinny Batches recently expanded into ready-to-bake, freezer-to-oven pastries. They include a Brown Butter Saltie Danish, a flaky danish dough filled with cookie butter made from Skinny Batches’ popular Brown Butter Saltie Cookies; a Pumpkin Scone, a moist spiced scone with included drizzle pack of specially spiced glaze; and the Kouign Amman, a vegan croissant dough layered and rolled with sugar.

The pastries require no thawing or proofing, and come pre-portioned in ovenable, recycle trays, so that consumers can truly go from freezer to oven in under 30 minutes with no clean-up required. Each box comes with two trays of four pastries each, for a total of eight individual pastry servings.

“We use no artificial preservatives or flavors,” Tyler notes. “Our concentrated [recipe development] focus and our unique flavors—along with reasonable portion control—allow us to develop craveable and satisfying pastries that are under 200 calories each. We are anti-deprivation and anti-guilt. We believe that you can and should be able to enjoy our pastries as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Many of Skinny Batches’ pre-packaged cookies are calorie-controlled portions. Tyler says other products are “skinny” because they eliminate certain allergens, such as gluten or dairy.

“People often ask, ‘What’s so skinny?’ We believe skinny is a mindset. We offer you products in unforgettable flavors, in reasonable portions—with no artificial ingredients,” says Tyler. “We use real ingredients. That’s right, real butter and real sugar. We believe these offer real flavor to truly satisfy your cravings. We are anti-deprivation and anti-guilt. You deserve to eat dessert and our products can be enjoyed as a daily part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Flavorful Foodservice

The Original Cakerie

Can you have your cake and eat it too? Yes indeed. Another baker determined to deliver full flavor—with no gluten—is Canada’s Original Cakerie, based in Delta, BC. The company took first place honors in this year’s Spirit of Innovation judging for two new foodservice offerings in its Inspired By Happiness line.

The products are Dreamin’ of Chocolate, a generous layer of fine Belgian white chocolate mousse between two layers of dark chocolate sponge cake and topped with chocolate ganache; and Dreamin’ of Strawberries, which features strawberry fruit filling and Belgian white chocolate mousse between two layers of light, moist shortcake. It’s topped white chocolate mousse and a white chocolate drizzle.

“There’s growing demand for better-tasting gluten-free options, notes Ben Carpenter, The Original Cakerie’s foodservice marketing manager. “The gluten-free food and beverage market predicted to grow 48% to $15.6 billion from 2013 to 2016 (Mintel, 2013). Moreover, gluten-free desserts are one of the top trends in foodservice claiming 92% growth from 2013 to 2014 (Datassential, 2014). The Original Cakerie is excited to offer these profitable, gluten-free desserts to our operator partners.”

Foodservice Honorees

  1. The Original Cakerie
  2. King & Prince Seafood
  3. GS Gelato

Carpenter says Sue Ross, vice president of The Original Cakerie’s Product Development and Innovations (PDI) team, led 24 months of research and development, including extensive product testing.

“It was only when results of our tasting panel indicated that nine out of 10 regular consumers were not able to tell the difference in taste between our gluten-free cake and a regular cake—that we felt we were ready to introduce our cakes to the market,” says Carpenter.

He notes, meanwhile, that such a decision meant The Original Cakerie, a standard baker, would need to develop protocols and processes—from full sanitation prior to start-up, to full protocols practiced by every production employee—for the bakery to be successfully certified as gluten free.

Also playing up a full-flavor experience are this year’s second- and third-place SOI honorees: King & Prince Seafood, Brunswick, Ga., and GS Gelato, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.

King & Prince Seafood

Addressing restaurant patrons’ growing interest in small plates and shareable appetizers, King & Prince created three new items, including Mrs. Friday’s Tavern Battered Jambalaya Fritters. To address operator’s desire for more shareable seafood appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, King & Prince spent three years researching how best to address the need. Jambalaya Fritters are just one part of that solution, officials say. Cajun is a cravable, on-trend regional profile that marries well with seafood. The Fritters offer freezer-to-fryer or freezer-to-oven convenience for the foodservice operator. Meanwhile, their snackable size makes them pair perfectly with other bar bites or as an add-on.

Sue Gurkin is King & Prince Seafood’s director of innovation.

“How do you take a classic dish such as Jambalaya and make it portable and poppable? That was the challenge for our research and development team,” she says. “Add to that the need to marry FDA-regulated product (seafood) with USDA-regulated product (Andouille) and the project became quite complex.”

She concludes, “Our chefs and food scientists utilized and leveraged several of our partner suppliers to develop just the right blend. After many iterations and protocepts, we were able to include it in our Small Plates and Bar Bites Platform … As with any new product, we worked very closely with our category management team to ensure we delivered the right flavor, texture and bite at the right price for attractive menuing and good operator margins.”

GS Gelato

For its part, GS Gelato also spent hours perfecting the ideal taste combination. Although formulators didn’t face the same challenge of a coated product, they nevertheless had to find just the right balance popular salty and sweet flavors. One of their latest new offerings is a Maple Bacon Gelato.

“This extension to our line of authentic Italian gelato is in answer to our consumer’s need for new and innovative flavor experiences,” says Simona Faroni, president and co-founder. “Combining the flavors of maple and bacon in a frozen confection is journey into the exquisite flavor pairing of salty and sweet using ingredients not found in any other product of its kind in the marketplace.”

She continues, “At the R&D level we study trends, evolutions, consumer preference, and innovative flavors. The development of a new product takes in consideration the soul and the essence of our company, its methods, techniques, processes and exclusive flavor formulations.

“Our R&D team conducts blind and performance tests of individual components and ingredients, as well as sensory evaluations for overall flavor balance—along with all other aggregate attributes in order to deliver the most balanced, authentic, and pure experience. In essence, the challenges associated with the development of the new product can be summarized in one word: ‘balance.’ It’s a dance between quality and quantity with our intent to craft and offer a sublime experience.”

Hungry for More Details?

Prepared Foods presented its 12th annual Spirit of Innovation awards during the New Products Conference, Sept. 27-30, in Palm Beach, Fla.

Visit for images and details about past honorees.

Prepared Foods wishes to thank Spirit of Innovation co-sponsor, Ventura Foods. Ventura ( supplies a range of industrial ingredients including dressings and sauces; bases and gravy mixes; shortenings and oils; pan coatings; and margarines, spreads and butter blends.