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Leaders, Not Followers.

Byline: Kathie Canning

Our 2016 Editors' Picks winners aim to lead category innovation efforts instead of following the national brands.

For our first-ever Editors' Picks program, we invited private label manufacturers to submit unique and noteworthy new product concepts that are available for private branding. We also invited retailer-manufacturers to submit their most original new self-manufactured products. Then we and a team of tasters/judges evaluated the products -- based on taste and level of innovation for food and beverage products, and based on functionality and level of innovation for non-food products.

When all was said and done, product concepts from 12 companies, representing approximately one-quarter of the entries, rose to the top of our score sheets. These products, designed to lead in their various categories instead of following the national brands in terms of innovation, are profiled here. We congratulate all of the winning companies!

Non-Food Product Concepts

DayClear and NiteClear over-the-counter remedies

GM Pharmaceuticals Inc.

These clear over-the-counter (OTC) allergy, sinus, cold, cough and flu products are gluten-free, alcohol-free, dye-free, sugar-free, artificial flavor-free and acetaminophen-free. They are described as filling in a gap for the many Americans who are impacted by "diseases and intolerances requiring special diets and pharmaceutical considerations." In fact, the company owner created the line because he wanted his son -- who was diagnosed with celiac disease -- and other people with sensitivities to certain ingredients to have another OTC option. And we love the concept. "The clear solutions are free of many ingredients people don't want -- they are on-trend," one judge pointed out.

Freeze-dried minnow treats for dogs and cats

Carnivore Meat Co.

Said to be the first of their kind in the world, these freeze-dried minnow treats are wild caught from Midwest rivers and streams and contain no additives or preservatives -- only the minnows. The freeze-drying process locks in all of the natural bioavailable nutrients. What's more, the treats are produced in a pet food facility that is USDA, ISO and EU certified; the company notes that it's the only pet food manufacturer in the world to have all three designations. We love the concept's uniqueness, simplicity and wholesomeness. And our pet taste-tester had no complaints. "He loves them," one of the judges said after offering them to her dog.

Never Miss a Spot SPF 50 spray sunscreen

Phd Skin Care LLC

This product is innovative for its patented wand technology, which allows users to deliver the sunscreen in hard-to-reach areas such as their back. Said to be "intelligently designed to be lightweight and stealthy," the wand, once opened, sports a nozzle users press to produce a fine mist. The technology also is offered for the manufacturer's self-tanners, moisturizers, skin brighteners, pain sprays and other products. We think it solves a huge sunscreen application challenge. "It's easy to use," noted one judge, "and is perfect for occasions when I have no one to help me apply sunscreen to my back."

Ty-D-Bol Natural bathroom cleaner line

Willert Home Products

These plant-based cleaning products are said to keep bathrooms fresh and clean naturally. The line, consisting of a liquid toilet bowl cleaner, toilet bowl cleaning tablets and a natural bathroom cleaner, is biodegradable and non-toxic, as well as free from dyes and perfumes. Although they are made with ingredients that are safer for human health and the environment, the surface and toilet cleaners kill odor-causing bacteria. And the toilet bowl cleaning tablets are the only tablets on the market powered by tea tree oil, the company notes. We like the natural but effective nature of the products. "I love that the tablets use tree oil, a leaf-derived oil that often is used in skin care products," one judge stated.

Food and Beverage Product Concepts

Dark chocolate cranberry cherry juice

Lassonde Pappas & Co. Inc.

This outside-of-the-ordinary juice is said to have a chocolatey scent but a more subtle taste, with the undertones of the chocolate meshing well with the tartness of the cranberry and the mellow sweetness of the cherry. It is also described as versatile, with usages ranging from a treat for children to an exotic mixer for alcoholic beverages. Although our tasters were a bit less descriptive, they loved it just the same. "Good for a girls' night out -- just add booze," one taster noted. "Much better than I expected -- very unusual and tasty," another said.

Oaxaca cheese shredded strips

Nuestro Queso LLC

Mainstream U.S. consumers are increasingly interested in authentic Hispanic cheeses, but traditional Oaxaca cheese -- with its strings wrapped up into a ball -- has represented a time-consuming food preparation challenge. These new Oaxaca shredded strips, fashioned from the same Oaxaca cheese that won Nuestro Queso the gold medal for "Best Hispanic Melting Cheese" in the 2015 United States Championship Cheese Contest in Milwaukee, make food preparation a breeze. "Very good -- tasty and convenient," one taster said. "If I see this in the store, I will definitely buy it," another added.

Better Balanced ketchup

Red Gold Inc.

This new ketchup is described as having half the sugar and sodium of regular ketchup. It aims to address the needs of the 60-plus percent of consumers who are trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle by consuming less sugar and salt. In addition, the product is made from 100 percent non-GMO ingredients. Most of us tasters didn't miss the sugar and sodium one bit. "I have been looking for a low-sugar ketchup -- very tasty," said a taster. "Very good for a diabetic; I would buy it," another taster added.

Organic apple and honey almonds

Woodstock Farms Manufacturing

Flavored almonds are now commonplace, but this offering takes the flavor treatment outside of the ubiquitous smoked, savory and spicy territory. The organic apple and honey flavors are described as not only unique, but also healthful -- fitting in with today's mega-trend of health and wellness. "The flavor is very good," one taster noted. "They are not too sweet or overpowering," another said.

PURE probiotic gum

Focus Nutrition

Why chew just any gum when you could choose one that not only freshens your breath, but also offers a daily dose of probiotics -- "good" bacteria associated with digestive and oral health? This probiotic gum sports a sweet mint flavor. "I like that it is aspartame-free and uses stevia, a healthy choice," one taster said. Another taster was impressed that the probiotics did not impact the flavor. "It's as good as most mint gums," the taster said.

Better-for-you mini sugar cookies

Homefree LLC

Created by a clinical psychologist with a child who has multiple food allergies, these mini cookies are described as being free from the top eight allergens. In addition, they are a good source of whole grains, certified gluten-free, non-GMO Project Verified, low in sodium, kosher and vegan. Also noteworthy is the fact that the cookies' manufacturer is a certified "B Corp" for its strong commitment to social and environmental responsibility. All of that impressed us tasters, but the cookies' taste sealed our decision. "My favorite [product] of the day!" one taster exclaimed. "Great taste [and] size; perfect for kids to bring to school because of allergy-free policies," another said.

PurPod100 compostable single-serve coffee pods

Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA

Described as the world's first 100 percent compostable single-serve coffee pods, the PurPod100 pods are made with all biomaterials and certified by the Biodegradable Products Institute. (Each pod's ring is actually made with biomaterial and reclaimed coffee chaff -- the skin of the coffee bean that comes off during the roasting process!) The pods are compatible with all K-Cup brewing systems and are said to return valuable nutrients to the soil. We all thought the coffee inside the pods was pretty darn good as well. "Love the packaging and love the smoothness of the coffee," one taster stressed. "Love that the ring is made from the coffee bean skin," another put forth.

Edible flavored bread bowls

Better For You Foods LLC

These petite, all-natural frozen bread bowls, available two to a package, come in four varieties: Multi-Grain, Wheat, Poppy Seed & Onion, and Cornmeal and Jalapeno. (Additional varieties are in development/bread bowls also could be offered with heat-and-serve fillings such as chili, chowder, stew, dip and egg scrambles.) We loved the flavor twist in an all-natural format -- and the fact that the bowls thaw quickly with the addition of hot fillings. "Tastes like an "everything' bagel," one taster said of the Poppy Seed & Onion variety. "Great idea for something different," another said of the Cornmeal and Jalapeno variety.

Note: To be eligible for entry, the product concepts must have been introduced and made available for private labeling between January 2015 and January 2016. A team of editors/associates judged food and beverage entries based on taste/quality and innovation. Non-food products were judged on innovation and functionality.
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Author:Canning, Kathie
Publication:Progressive Grocer's Store Brands
Date:Apr 1, 2016
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