School Nutrition’s undercover shopping team discovers Exhibit Hall gems during SNA’s Annual National Conference. For the third year at SNA’s Annual National Conference (ANC), School Nutrition mustered a discerning group of volunteer “secret shoppers,” who were charged with seeking out the most exciting items on display in the Exhibit Hall in Denver. The magazine’s shopping team is given a simple, straight-forward mission: Tell us what products caught your eye—and why. By using an independent team of school nutrition operators to identify the creative innovations they find most intriguing, School Nutrition can ensure that we’re highlighting products with genuine potential to excite all our readers! This year’s Secret Shopper team represented districts of all sizes and demographics and hailed from all across the country. And they discovered dozens of noteworthy products. From tasty foods and beverages that meet new nutrition standards to innovative equipment to helpful resources, these Secret Shopper finds are sure to grab your attention, too. The products and companies with multiple citations and/or passionate shopper comments are highlighted in this article. Take a look to learn more about solutions that could become “must-haves” for your school meals operation. Tasty Solutions Dominex www.dominexeggplant.com One of the most popular booths with School Nutrition’s 2012 Secret Shoppers belonged to “The Eggplant People.” Dominex says it has been developing delicious eggplant products for more than 25 years, and our shopping team affirmed that claim. “The vegetarian meatballs were very good. They had a nice flavor, and the consistency seemed very palatable for children,” noted one shopper. The meatballs (and other offered products) are made with fresh eggplant days after harvest. They can be parbaked and held in a hot dish with marinara sauce for several hours. Others cited the company’s line of vegetable “fries” made from carrots, zucchini and, of course, eggplant. “The carrot ‘fries’ were delicious. I think my students would really like them,” enthused one shopper. Another agreed, adding that the products offered a “creative way to work more vegetables onto the lunch tray.” Foster Farms www.fosterfarmsfoodservice.com The Fernando’s line of burritos from Foster Farms earned high marks from the magazine’s shopping team. One called it “Excellent— great flavor profile while meeting low-sodium targets and whole-grain requirements.” The family-owned-and-operated company offers several burritos for K-12 operations, including a shopper-cited Breakfast Burrito, which features egg, sausage, beans and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla. Schwan’s Food Service www.schwansfoodservice.com Secret Shoppers got big smiles when Schwan’s Food Service said: “Cheese!” Tony’s Grilled Cheese Sandwiches were hailed to have “great flavor” and cited for meeting whole-grain requirements with a “yummy crunch.” The individually wrapped heat-and-serve sandwiches are high in calcium and are made with 51% whole grain. Campbell’s Foodservice www.campbellsfoodservice.com www.campbellsfoodservice.com/soupedup Campbell’s attracted Shoppers’ attention with one product and one program. The company has leveraged its popular Pepperidge Farm Goldfish® cracker into a crustless sandwich bread, sold both at retail and to foodservice. Available in Honey Whole Wheat and Whole Wheat varieties, the bread, made without high fructose corn syrup, is “a kid-friendly whole-grain option,” cited one SN shopper. Other shoppers were “bowled over” by Campbell’s new Souped Up! Program, which shows K-12 operators how to assemble unique, delicious soup entrées—with a kid-appropriate spin. Using soup bases from the company’s Tomato, Cream of Chicken, Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Potato lines, operators can create a variety of reimbursable offerings, from Mini Meatball Italiano Soup to Stuffed Potato Soup to Buffalo Chicken Soup. “The station they had set up was great,” reported one shopper. “The chef had all the ingredients lined up and made the soups to order. It was a unique way to make soup meet the requirements for meat/meat alternate, grains and veggie counts. My favorite was Taco Bowl Soup; I went back twice!” Recipe ideas are available online; details include meal contributions and nutrition information. “I’ve always felt very limited selling soup, because I found it very difficult to work it into the meal pattern as a counting component,” confessed another shopper.“ The Souped Up! recipes make it possible to do the ‘semi-homemade’ thing with their basic soups and create a reimbursable soup meal.” Simplot www.simplotfoods.com For a second year, Simplot was hailed by SN Secret Shoppers for its Simplot Classic® Culinary Select™ Vegetables and Blends line. From Edamame Succotash (edamame, corn, diced red peppers) to Tuscan Blend (green beans, carrots, squash, zucchini, red pepper strips) and other new offerings, Simplot got rave reviews from Shoppers seeking to find new ways to earn veggie acceptance among K-12 students. The company’s Simplot UpSides® program also was cited by the team. “They showed a variety of grain/legume/veggie blends that really will meld well with the new meal pattern and are visually appealing and delicious,” praised one shopper. The UpSides program offers targeted K-12 recipes and menus. For example, it describes how to create Tex Mex Nachos, featuring Simplot’s RoastWorks® Corn & Black Bean Fiesta on tortilla chips and served with salad and pears. Menu details also feature modifications for different age groups. The Father’s Table www.thefatherstable.com School Nutrition’s Secret Shoppers went “loco” for Ultra Loco2 Squared and Ultra Lil’ Loco flatbreads from The Father’s Table. “A very nice whole-grain item that would work well in a variety of applications,” credited one shopper. Available in 6-in. rounds, 6x5-in squares and a 4-in. foldover, these lowered-sodium breads were found to be exceedingly “versatile”—as were the company representatives. “I was looking for a one-bread/grain to use for my breakfast sandwich. They are so willing to listen and to adapt their products for what we need,” enthused another shopper. “Great customer service. A+ for these!” The products meet HealthierUS School Challenge and Alliance for a Healthier Generation criteria. Another benefit? The company donates half of its profits to charity. American Bean Company http://americanbeanproducts.com/Falafel.html “Not being a vegan myself, I’m always hesitant about trying vegan foods,” reported one SN shopper. But after trying the Crispy Chick-P Nuggets from the American Bean Company, this operator is convinced students will like the “crunchy and flavorful” falafel product. The company is working to find even more creative, kid-friendly options to help school nutrition professionals serve more beans in different flavors and textures, while yielding numerous menu solutions. ConAgra Foodservice www.conagrafoodservice.com From the Fit for Kids Plus™ line by ConAgra, Secret Shoppers were taken by the Whole Grain MaxSnax® BBQ Chicken flatbread sandwich. One shopping team member called it “a great entrée option that provides whole grain with good barbecue chicken flavor.” Made with Ultragrain® whole-wheat flour, the product strives to offer a bold, authentic pizzeria taste, with less sodium. The CN item also won an award from the National Restaurant Association. Lamb Weston www.lambweston.com With greater emphasis being placed on serving orange vegetables in school meals, it’s not a surprise that sweet potato fries were found at several booths in the ANC Exhibit Hall. But the Seasoned RibCut® Sweet Potato Fries from Lamb Weston’s Sweet Things® line was hailed as “different from any other sweet potato fry we tried,” said a shopping team duo. The thick-sliced fries feature evenly spaced ridges to cook up crisp and crunchy on the outside, but tender inside. They are coated with a savory red-batter seasoning deemed “great” by SN’s shoppers. Rich Products www.richsfoodservice.com/k12 Rich Products promises that making pizza with a superior, fresh-baked crust is easier than you think. Its 14-in. Whole-grain Pizza Crust got the nod from SN’s Secret Shopping Team, who cited its “great flavor and appearance.” Made with 51% whole grains, it offers precuts for size consistency. Rich’s offers printed recipes for several pizza entrées, as well as ideas for other foods, such as calzones. “It would work well for operations that build their own pizzas, but still comply with regulations,” said one shopper. Super Bakery www.superbakery.com “This is the best item of the show,” enthused one shopper of Ultra® Eat-a-Bowl™ from Super Bakery. “It’s something I’ve really wanted. I will definitely work to incorporate it in my menu.” This oven-baked, 55% whole-wheat bread bowl counts for 2 breads and meets Alliance for a Healthier Generation and HealthierUS School Challenge criteria. The company offers several recipe suggestions for using the product in creative, commodity-based entrées, from Chicken Potpie and Chili Cheese Bowl to Chicken Salad Bowl and Philly Steak Stuffed Bowl. “This is such a novel, versatile idea, with so many fun applications to get kids to eat whole grains and more veggies and fruit,” lauds another SN shopper. Sara Lee www.saraleefoodservice.com www.feedyourbottomline.com Secret Shoppers weren’t looking just for good fits with the new meal pattern; they also sought new items to add to a la carte lines. So, they were excited to discover 150-Calorie Dessert Cups from Sara Lee. The single-serve, rich, creamy dessert features layers of cake crumbs, topped with a whipped rosette. Five flavors are available: Triple Chocolate, Strawberry Crème, Banana Crème, Chocolate Cookies n Crème and Lemon. “This dessert was surprisingly delicious and light,” said a team who visited booths together. And you can’t beat great taste with a price point in the 40-cent range, they noted. “A great dessert for a la carte,” agreed another shopper. Chobani www.chobanichampions.com Considering using yogurt in entrée recipes or as a vegetarian meal option? SN’s Secret Shopper team knows the value of leveraging brand acceptance with K-12 customers, which is why the Champions line from Chobani attracted notice. One shopper cited the line’s “great, kid-friendly flavors,” which include Very Berry, Chocolate Chunk and Orange Vanilla. The line is available in 3.5-oz. single-serve packages. Smarter Snacking Rock ‘n Roll Gourmet www.rocknrollgourmet.com Ready to awaken the free spirit in your students? Hippie Chicks from Rock ‘n Roll Gourmet is a gluten-free, all-natural, lowfat, baked potato chip “made with rice to look more like rice cakes,” said one shopper, who was attracted by the “different and interesting” snack option. Flavors include Memphis Blues Barbecue, Woodstock Ranch, Sea of Love Salt and three other varieties. Tropical Paradise, Inc. www.cool-tropics.com Need a fun idea for after-school snacks, field trips, summer meals and sports concessions? SN’s shopping team found a great solution: Cool Tropics Rips. This single-serve, 100% juice slush from Tropical Paradise can be served frozen or cold. “The packaging really stands out—very colorful,” reported one shopper, adding that the product has a good price range for schools. Shelf-stable up to one year, the 4-oz. package is easy to serve and eat: Freeze. Squeeze. Rip and Sip. Flavors include Dragon Punch, Kiwi Strawberry, Orange Mango and Cool Blue Razz. The Switch Beverage Company www.switchbev.com The Switch isn’t abandoning beverage products, but is expanding to the snack segment with its new Flip Chips, all-natural potato chips, that meet HealthierUS School Challenge and Alliance for a Healthier Generation requirements. Low in sodium, less than 100 calories per single-serve bag and free of gluten, trans fats and saturated fats, Flip Chips are neither baked nor fried. Shoppers gave high marks for their “ great flavor,” “good crunch” and “bright packaging.” Three flavors are on the market: Spicy BBQ, Sour Cream and Onion and Salt & Vinegar. National Raisin Company www.raisels.com The magazine’s Secret Shopping team has high hopes for Raisels, fruity-flavored golden raisins that “taste like a sour patch candy,” described one shopper. “Students will love them.” With just a light dusting of sugar (less than sweetened dried cranberries), the all-natural flavor comes in Sour Apple TKO, Sour Orange Burst and Sour Lemon Blast varieties. National Raisin Company’s Raisel Facebook page encourages kids to send a picture and “Show us your Raisel Face.” Enjoy Life Foods www.plentils.com www.enjoylifefoods.com Shoppers found an “interesting concept to increase legumes” in the form of Plentils from Enjoy Life Foods. These crunchy chips are made from lentils—a great source of plant-based protein. The product contains no artificial ingredients and all varieties are gluten-free and free of the eight most common food allergens. Available in 4-oz. and 0.8-oz. bags, Plentils come in Light Sea Salt, Dill & Sour Cream, Margherita Pizza and Garlic & Parmesan flavors. Welcome Additions Hooray Purée www.hooraypuree.com When it comes to helping some kids consume more vegetables, a “stealth nutrition” approach may be the way to go. The single-ingredient, shelf-stable, 100% organic and conventional vegetable purées from Hooray Purée can be added to soups, dips, sauces, gravies, rice, pastas, tacos, burgers—even baked goods! One shopper affirmed the company’s promotional materials: “I had a brownie made with the purée. Yum!” Recipes for the Butternut Squash, Spinach and Carrot purée products can be found online, including directions to modify USDA recipes for K-12 school meals. Wisdom Natural Brands www.sweetleaf.com You might have seen commercial advertising for SweetLeaf Stevia®, the only natural sweetener with zero calories or carbs, from Wisdom Natural Brands. “I love having a real natural sweetener choice to replace sugar and corn syrup,” said one shopper. Another reported that the company is looking to work with dairies to develop lower-calorie flavored-milk options. In the meantime, the company is introducing a blend of Stevia and cane sugar for SugarLeaf™ to use in recipe preparation. Magic Straws, LLC www.magicstraws.com Worried about maintaining milk consumption in the face of a decision to reduce offerings? Shoppers were excited about making got milk® Magic Milk Straws available as an a la carte item. The official milk straw of the got milk? Campaign, these low-sugar (4 g) straws are packed with flavor beads that change the taste of white milk to flavors with considerable kid appeal, including Chocolate, Cookies & Cream, Strawberry and Vanilla Milkshake. Value packs are available with additional flavors, such as Chocolate Peanut Butter, Orange Cream, Wild Berry and Chocolate Candy Cane. “A low-sugar way to increase milk participation,” enthused one shopper. Another confirmed that “kids love” the product from Magic Straws, LLC, adding, “they are fun, cute and don’t take up much space. We are going to use them to help promote our grab ‘n’ go breakfast and sack lunch programs.” Secret Shoppers also cited the company’s membership in Cool School Café as an additional benefit. McCormick for Chefs www.mccormickforchefs.com A big challenge for cooks in K-12 operations—and in all foodservice segments—is to wean American consumers off salt, without reducing the tasty flavor of entrées and sides. McCormick for Chefs has introduced reformulated lower-sodium entrée mixes in its Lawry’s line; in fact, these meet regulatory requirements for 2022-23! The new products include Lawry’s Chili Seasoning Mix, Fajita Seasoning Mix and Sloppy Joe Seasoning Mix. The original formulations of its Spaghetti Sauce Seasoning, Taco and Stretch Taco mixes already meet the requirements. “Same great flavor, but lower sodium,” credited one shopping team member. “Very good flavor profiles,” echoed another. LeSaffre Yeast Corporation www.lesaffreyeastcorp.com School Nutrition’s Secret Shoppers were intrigued by two products from LeSaffre Yeast Corporation. Fermipan 2-in-1 Instant Yeast is a clean-label dough conditioner that improves the consistency and quality of your dough. Most notably, said one shopper, “It makes wholewheat rolls and breads rise like white-flour products.” This could solve a problem K-12 bakers are encountering, agreed another shopper. “We’ve had challenges at some of our schools in getting our 50% whole-wheat rolls to rise.” In addition, the company’s Gustal® Salt Reducer caught shoppers’ attention. This active base enables bakers to reduce the salt content in baked goods by up to 30%, while preserving flavor. Gustal Salt Reducer can be blended with any bread improver or dry ingredient and can be used for bagels, baguettes, buns, cookies, English muffins, flat breads, pizza dough and more. Equipped for Success Georgia-Pacific Professional www.gppro.com On the lookout for a more hygienic approach to dispensing disposable cutlery than open bins? Georgia-Pacific Professional offers the Dixie® Smart Stock Classic Dispenser. Users press a lever and each utensil is distributed one at a time. Magazine shoppers particularly liked the availability of eye-catching “skins” for the dispensers—easy-to-apply, colorful decals that cover the fronts and make them “unique.” The skins can be customized with school colors, mascots and designs. Taylor Precision Products www.taylorusa.com Sometimes the most helpful solutions are among the simplest. Take, for example, the TempRite® Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer from Taylor Precision Products. “This propylene glycol-filled tube simulates food temperature for more accurate and stable readings,” noted one shopper. Measuring just 6-in. long (including the hook), the thermometer features bright blue, red and green graphics with safe temperature zone indicators. Its range is from -20°F to 60° F. StyroSmart Solutions, Inc. www.StyroSmart.com School Nutrition’s Secret Shoppers found the “perfect, eco-friendly way to use foam trays in good conscience.” Styro Genie® from StyroSmart Solutions can reduce waste volumes by 95% through an environmentally friendly thermal densification that simply reverses the manufacturing process by removing the air and returning the plastic to a liquid resin. The low-temperature process is safe and clean and does not produce harmful emissions. And, “the end product can be used by students for art [or by the school] for landscaping projects,” noted one shopper. Another cites “reasonable pricing” for the equipment. Online Answers Cornell University BEN Center www.smarterlunchrooms.org Cornell University’s Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs Center offers research-based, low and no-cost changes to school lunchrooms that subtly “nudge” students to smarter dietary choices. Secret Shoppers affirmed the “proven strategies to encourage healthier eating habits in our students.” BEN Center Co-directors Dr. Brian Wansink and Dr. David Just offer dozens of easy-to-implement tips through the SmarterLunchrooms. org website. [Editors’ Note: To learn more about this resource, see “Raise Your Cafeteria’s I.Q.” in the June/July 2012 issue.] STEPS Challenge www.schoolnutrition.org/steps Sponsored by SNA and Jennie-O Turkey Store, and introduced at ANC 2012 in Denver, the STEPS Challenge is a brand-new personal wellness program developed especially for school nutrition professionals. The completely customizable program provides resources and inspiration to help you make better health and wellness choices of your own, based on your needs, interest and schedule. Set goals. Track your progress. Embrace new habits. Promote healthy eating. Horizon Software International www.horizonsoftware.com Horizon Software International offers Pay on the Go, a new, free, MyPaymentsPlus app that allows operators to give parents a secure, convenient option for checking account balances, reviewing transactions and adding more money to their child’s MyPaymentsPlus account. The app features a push notification that alerts parents when preset low-balance thresholds are reached. “I can’t wait to share it with the parents in my district,” noted one eager shopper. Innovative Technologies by Design www.PrepPal.com Stop handwriting your food prep labels for storage in refrigerators, coolers and stockrooms. Instead, consider the Prep-Pal™ Kit from Innovative Technologies by Design. Featuring CD-ROM software, thermal printer, a roll of labels and a cleaning card, this kit makes food rotation easier and more accurate. Prep lists and employee names are quickly imported into the software; product expiration dates and times are automatically calculated. “The system is simple and can help with health inspection and ensure food safety,” said one shopper. Gone are the days of smeared ink, human error, messy handwriting and sticky residue, with this easy-to-read-and-remove labeling system. Shoppers Wanted! School Nutrition’s 2012 ANC Secret Shoppers reported that they enjoyed this project—especially as a way to see the Exhibit Hall with “new” eyes. Interested in being part of the team at ANC 2013 in Kansas City? We’re recruiting! For more information or to volunteer, send an e-mail to email@example.com. Note: Shoppers must be active SNA members working for a school or district at the time of the conference. All shoppers are volunteers; there is no discount on ANC registration or other remuneration.
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