Innovation award underscores consumer demand for healthy, natural and boldly flavored products

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Product of the Year USA
Source: Product of the Year USA

Related tags: Nestlé

The food and beverage industry is in the middle of an innovation renaissance that is far outpacing many other consumer goods categories as illustrated by the winners of the 2016 Product of the Year award for innovation announced Feb. 11. 

“When you look at our winners this year, nine out of 29 were food and beverage,”​ which is far more than in previous years and more than any other consumer good category this year, said Rich Fryling, managing director for the Product of the Year USA program, which rewards manufacturers for high quality and innovative products launched in the previous year.

To place in context the significance of food and beverage stealing this year’s show, the traditionally highly innovative and popular health and beauty categories captured only six and five of the awards this year, respectively, and last year only four food and beverage products took home Product of the Year awards in the US.

“This [shift] is representative of the market,”​ and the areas with the highest concentration of innovation, Fryling said.

He also noted that a closer look at the winners, which are selected through the votes of 40,000 consumers nationwide who bought and tried the products, reveal several influential trends that help new products cut through the competition on crowded store shelves and catch consumers eyes.

Health & wellness is common trait of winners

Notably, products centered on health and wellness captured consumers’ attention this year, Fryling said.

He pointed to the almost unheard of double-win of Nestle’s Skinny Cow brand, which captured two awards in different categories in part on the strength of its wellness position. Its Skinny Cow Creamy Iced Coffee won the coffee beverage category and Skinny Cow Dipped Ice Cream Bars took the prize for the ice cream category.

The victories show that consumers will reward companies and products that answer their desire for delicious tasting foods and beverages, but which also will help them manage their weight by offering low-calorie alternatives to many competing products, Fryling said.

This also explains Smart Ones Smart Delights Strawberry Banana Smooothie taking home a Product of the Year prize in the better-for-you category, he added.

Natural products capture consumers’ attention

Another closely aligned and equally influential trend is for clean, natural products, such as Gold Emblem Abound Unsalted Pistachio & Almond Blend which won in the snack category.

“This basic blend of pistachios and almonds is the direction consumers are going as they look for products without added ingredients,”​ Fryling said. He explained consumers want products that are “what-you-see-is-what-you-get.”

He also noted this trend is extending beyond food for people into pet food. More and more people are unwilling to feed their pets food that they wouldn’t eat, which is one reason why Purina Beyond Purees won the pet food category.

Taste reigns supreme

While consumers want healthier options, they still want flavor, which was a key element of the other food and beverage products that took Product of the Year awards, Fryling said.

“Ore-Ida Bold & Crispy Garlic & Black Pepper Steakhouse Fries, which won the frozen food category, is all about flavor. Some consumers said flavor is the reason they eat and they aren’t going to give that up. So they look for products with an innovative, full flavor,”​ Fryling said.

“Another Nestle product called SweetTarts Soft & Chewy Ropes, which won in sugar confections, is another variation on the flavor theme,”​ Fryling said. He also noted that Nestle won because it took an established, iconic product and extended it in a bigger direction that had a new texture.

Texture likely also helped the recently relauched M&M’s Crispy Chocolate Candies capture the award for the chocolate category.

Congratulating all the winners, Fryling said he hopes they will maximize the benefits of the award, which includes the ability to place the Product of the Year winner logo on packaging to further help consumers spot their products in stores. For more on how the award can help brands increase distribution, gain market share and boost sales, as well as how it is conducted read HERE​.

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