School Nutrition sent an undercover shopping team on a mission to identify the best and brightest Exhibit Hall offerings at SNA’s Annual National Conference. For the fourth year at SNA’s Annual National Conference (ANC), School Nutrition recruited a discerning group of volunteer “Secret Shoppers,” who were charged with seeking out the most exciting items on display in the Exhibit Hall in Kansas City. The magazine’s shopping team was 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. Once again, this year’s Secret Shopper team represented districts of all sizes and demographics and located in more than 20 states from coast to coast! Did they discover anything noteworthy? You bet! Secret Shoppers submitted reports on more than 100 products that stood out in the crowd of offerings showcased by nearly 400 vendors. From tasty foods and beverages that meet new nutrition standards to innovative equipment solutions to helpful resources, the following 2013 Secret Shopper finds are sure to grab your attention, too. These are the products and companies that had multiple citations and passionate shopper comments. Take a look to learn more about school nutrition solutions that could become the next “must-haves” for your school meals operation. Kangaroo Brands, Inc. www.reallytastyfood. com Several varieties of pre-filled and unfilled pocket and pita breads from Kangaroo Brands, Inc., a division of Sandwich Bros. of Wisconsin, earned Secret Shopper praise in Kansas City. A breakfast sandwich line features Sausage & Cheese, Turkey Sausage & Cheese and Egg & Cheese varieties and is a heat-and-serve option for schools. But operators also liked the plain, 1-oz., 60% whole-grain, pre-cut pocket breads they can fill on their own, especially with warm or cold commodity processed items, from sloppy Joes to chicken salad. Shoppers cited the product packaging, which helps to prevent breakage. The company’s website also features recipe suggestions. Juice Alive www.juicealive.net Leave it to School Nutrition’s Secret Shopping team to discover a non-beverage find from a juice company! Juice Alive now offers a fresh- dispensed instant oatmeal system for in-cafeteria breakfast programs. Fresh oats are poured into hoppers on a three-head dispensing machine with no clogging, mess or daily clean-up, promises the company. Five flavors are available: Original, Maple Brown Sugar, Apple Cinnamon, Raisin Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Spice. Shoppers thought this was a particularly great idea for high school operations. “It helps compete with the restaurants in town,” noted one. “It’s totally different,” said another. Other highlights cited were its convenience, the consistency offered and lack of waste. It could even work for a la carte service, noted a third Secret Shopper. S.A. Piazza www.sapiazza.com Breakfast can get a big boost, based on the magazine’s Shopping team verdict on the Wild Mike’s Ultimate Pizza product line from S.A. Piazza. In particular, Shoppers were “wild” about the company’s whole-grain Maple-Filled Breadstick. Available in two sizes, offering 1 or 2 grains, respectively, the breadsticks were deemed “perfect” in size and “great” in flavor. Reviewing a new apple variety, one Northeast-based Shopper said, “It’s delicious and healthy. The apple sticks are unbelievable; taste like a Danish but offer 2 breads/grains and a 1⁄2 cup of fruit.” Country Pure Foods www.juice4u.com Juice blends featuring fruits and vegetables from Country Pure Foods earned special praise from Secret Shoppers. Adding these VBlend products to the menu can help change up veggie offerings to students, noted one Shopper. “Kids will drink it for sure.” Of the company’s Dragon Punch flavor, another Shopper found it one of the tastiest vegetable/fruit blends she’d ever tried, complimenting its mouth-feel: “It is not thick; it is just like regular juice.” Available in 4-oz. single-serve cartons that contribute 1⁄2-cup “other” or “additional” vegetables toward meal pattern requirements, the VBlend line has “cool names”; in addition to the aforementioned Dragon Punch, they offer Wango Mango—“flavors and names that students will love,” concluded SN Shoppers. Cambro Manufacturing Company www.cambro.com Secret Shoppers were impressed with the wide variety of foodservice solutions offered by Cambro Manufacturing Company. Specific products cited included the company’s colander pans, which enhance food safety through reduced product handling. Colander pans allow juices and moisture to drain quickly and easily. “Rinse, drain, prep and store in one pan,” asserts a company brochure. A 1-in. depth between the colander and the food pan allows for ample drainage, ensuring that food stays fresh longer. The pans are available in four sizes, two depths, two materials and with three lid types. Another Shopper, hailing from the heart of the nation, gives a shout-out to the company’s team at their booth who took time to help determine a solution regarding older equipment in her storeroom. “Be it old or new, Cambro was there for me,” she noted. National Raisin Company www.raisels.com Exhibited at the Chortles/Raisels booth in Kansas City, Raisels returns for another year as a School Nutrition Secret Shopper favorite. One Shopper explains why: “The flavor is outstanding. I do not like raisins, but I tried these and love them!” Sour Lemon Blast was cited multiple times, but with new flavors being sampled, one shopper thinks that the watermelon variety will “be a big hit with the students.” Another shopper notes that they can be marketed as grab ‘n’ go and a la carte options. With just a light dusting of sugar (less than sweetened dried cranberries), the all-natural flavored fruit snack comes in five varieties: Sour Apple TKO, Sour Orange Burst, Sour Lemon Blast, Sour Watermelon Shock and Sour Peach Pucker. PepsiCo Foodservice www.pepsico.com PepsiCo Foodservice scored Secret Shopper attention for two different product lines. The company’s Naked Juice smoothies are made from 100% juice, meeting nutrition standards for competitive foods in middle and high schools. Flavors include Mighty Mango, Strawberry Banana and Green Machine. “I’m excited to have an a la carte beverage that is recognizable to students from the retail side,” reported one SN Shopper, who was ready to order this upon returning home from Kansas City. Another product offering brand awareness that got a thumb’s up from the Shopping team was the whole grain-rich Reduced-Fat Cheetos® Flamin’ Hot Puffs from PepsiCo’s Frito Lay North America division. “The students love the flamin’ hot flavor,” declared one Shopper, adding, “the product packaging is great.” At press time, the snack complies with criteria from the HealthierUS School Challenge and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Schools The Soynut Butter Company www.soynutbutter.com I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter from The Soynut Butter Company is a peanut butter substitute that found favor with this year’s Secret Shopping team. One Shopper called it “much better” than some of the other alternatives on the market, adding, “It was smooth like peanut butter and did not have an after taste.” Reported safe for anyone allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, the product also can boast that it has 30% less fat, is cholesterol-free and contains a higher amount of soy protein per serving than tofu or soymilk. “This will surely be a great substitute for peanut butter and I am confident that kids will love this product,” concluded SN’s Shoppers. Eisenberg Sausage Company www.kellyeisenberg. com When is a hot dog not just a hot dog? Perhaps when it’s a Black Angus Mini from Eisenberg Sausage Company. This CN-label beef product is just 3 inches long. “The mini size lends itself to younger children. It’s very easy to hold for small hands,” reported one member of the Secret Shopper team, who added, “It would also be neat for a la carte sales for high school students who want a smaller portion or just a different sort of hot dog.” Shoppers found the product convenient because the buns and dogs are sold together and meet nutritional requirements. The novelty certainly could pay off, considering that kids are always attracted by something new and “I’d never seen hot dog sliders before,” noted another Shopper. Pinnacle Foods Group, LLC www.fooservice.pinnaclefoods.com The magazine’s Secret Shoppers cited Pinnacle Foods Group twice. First, from the company’s Lender’s® White Whole Grain Individually Wrapped Bagels line, the Whole Grain Cinnamon Raisin variety earned high marks for using white whole- grain flour and no high fructose corn syrup, while also being low in sodium and sugar. One Shopper earmarked it as a good possibility for breakfast-in-the-classroom operations. Another gave a shout-out to the company’s entire portfolio—and its exemplary service. “Pinnacle’s reputation for producing high-quality food items is well known,” this Shopper noted, pointing to the Pinnacle Promise to support the K-12 segment by adding value beyond the product and calling this commitment “a well-kept secret.” Pinnacle offers its customers a team of chefs to help operators create menus and recipes; provides compliant menus for breakfast, breakfast-for-lunch and lunch service; makes available a Breakfast Building Grant program; and more. The Soynut Butter Company www.soynutbutter.com I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter from The Soynut Butter Company is a peanut butter substitute that found favor with this year’s Secret Shopping team. One Shopper called it “much better” than some of the other alternatives on the market, adding, “It was smooth like peanut butter and did not have an after taste.” Reported safe for anyone allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, the product also can boast that it has 30% less fat, is cholesterol-free and contains a higher amount of soy protein per serving than tofu or soymilk. “This will surely be a great substitute for peanut butter and I am confident that kids will love this product,” concluded SN’s Shoppers. Global Foods, Inc. www.globalfoodslv.com Speed-scratch operations might want to take a look at the Whole Grain Cinnamon Swirl Gourmet Mix offered by Global Foods, Inc. According to SN Shoppers, this coffee cake mix is a fresh option for a bread alternative. An “opportunity to bake and serve a speed-scratch coffee cake, it could be customized by adding other fruits or chocolate chips or raisins,” explained one Shopper. The company suggests berries and applesauce, as well. The mix is easily divided into muffins. “Great flavor with possibilities to be creative,” summed up the magazine’s shopping team. The Schwan Food Company www.schwansfoodservice.com With the extensive variety of school menu solutions offered by The Schwan Food Company, it’s no surprise that School Nutrition’s Secret Shoppers identified several stand-out products from the foodservice giant. Big Daddy’s® new Primo frozen cheese pizza variety “tastes out of this world!!” says one Northeast Shopper, who was also impressed with the size of its 2 meat/2 grain serving. Another Shopper termed it an “upscale pizza that meets the new guidelines, with versatility and minimal labor.” The pizza features a blend of mozzarella, white cheddar, provolone and parmesan cheeses. While pizza reigns supreme with students, Asian-inspired cuisine is skyrocketing in popularity. That’s why another member of the magazine’s Shopping team was attracted to the company’s Minh® Less Sodium Sauces: “Students love Asian flavors. These lower-sodium options are a great way to enhance protein, vegetables or rice to achieve a variety of entrées and sides.”This Shopper also cited the easy-to-handle frozen packaging, as well as available recipe cards and menu ideas. Flavors include Sweet & Sour, Teriyaki, Kung Pao, Orange and Szechuan. Continuing to address emerging consumer trends, Schwan’s now offers ready-to-serve frozen fruit smoothies. Its grab ‘n’ go Fruchi® line is compliant with pending regulations for a la carte offerings, and Secret Shoppers pronounced it an “excellent a la carte healthy option.” Operators can serve the beverage from a freezer, rather than a blender, to eliminate prep and mess. The four-flavor line features Strawberry Banana, Berry Blast, Island Splash and Raspberry Rush, and Shoppers applauded its “very good taste and texture,” predicting “it will be a big hit with students.” The Good Bean, Inc. www.thegoodbean.com Need a nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free vegan snack item that also counts as a protein or a vegetable? The magazine’s Secret Shoppers recommend you check out the crunchy roasted chickpeas from The Good Bean. The eponymous product packs “as much protein as almonds, but with 80% less fat,” reported one Shopper. “Delicious!” pronounced another. The Good Bean snacks are available in seven flavors: Sea Salt, Smoky Chili & Lime, Cracked Pepper, Sweet Cinnamon, Thai Coconut Lemon- grass, Mesquite BBQ and Chocolate. This “very crunchy” treat could be a great fit with school meals. VMP Nutrition www.vmp nutrition.com How can you keep busy students raring to go throughout the long day? School Nutrition’s Secret Shoppers were intrigued by VMP Total Energy Bars from VMP Nutrition. They’re packaged with a tasty, sugar-free micro-nutrient gel, which kids can squeeze on to the top of their bar. Fun and appealing for kids, this whole-grain snack alternative is packed with essential vitamins, minerals, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, delivering the nutrition parents want to see. VMP Total Energy Bars offer a “great taste,” reported one Shopper. Gel flavors come in Peach Mango, Orange and Banana. Sky Blue Bakery www.skybluefoods.net Always on the lookout for tasty whole-grain bread options, School Nutrition’s Secret Shoppers discovered some good possibilities at the Sky Blue Bakery booth in Kansas City. Among the finds they identified was a 100% Whole Wheat Corn Bread. “The children need to have new experiences other than white and [conventional] whole-wheat bread,” explained one Midwest-based Shopper. “The corn bread can do this—and be purchased in grocery stores and made at home, too. [At school], we can serve it with chili or salads as an alternative to crackers.”The company also offers a 100% Whole Wheat Jalapeño Bread option with an extra kick. Another Shopper, this time hailing from the Pacific Northwest, had high praise for Sky Blue’s Simply Tutti-Frutti Strawberry & Banana Muffin, calling it a “very delicious moist product. It didn’t taste like [typically] dry whole-grain products.” Learning ZoneXpress www.learningzonexpress.com Learning ZoneXpress is a terrific source for creative promotional, educational and training materials for school nutrition operations. Secret Shoppers applauded the company’s “bright and eye-catching” laminated posters, which “project all the messages we want for both staff and students!” The wide array of MyPlate items was noted, as was the Terrific Tray Dry Erase Menu Board, deemed “very user-friendly for students to identify meal components. It’s erasable, so it can be updated every day.” The Board is available in two sizes and features an image of a lunch tray divided into the different meal pattern requirements. Also touted was a new resource: 5-minute Foodservice Activities, which “will be a great tool for managers’ meetings and inservices.” This spiral-bound book includes 50 different activities, divided into five themes essential for running a compliant school nutrition operation. Hubert www.hubert.com With food allergies on the rise, school nutrition professionals always have an eye out for resources that will help them keep their customers safe. That’s why the Allergen Kit from Hubert caught the eyes of Secret Shopper team members. This line of smallwares are color-coded (purple) to help those performing meal prep tasks guard against cross contamination and ensure certain menu items stay allergen-free. Products featured in the comprehensive kit include several knives, a cutting board, turners and spatulas, slip-on silicone sleeves, fry pan, serving spoons and tongs— even a digital thermometer! The company offers a similar color coded- baking kit and other products sold individually. Wild Garden Hummus www.wildgardenhummus.com Hummus is becoming an increasingly popular retail and commercial food- service favorite, so it’s no wonder that product options are being made available to K-12 school nutrition operations. Secret Shoppers were partial to those offered by Wild Garden Hummus. The single-serve “Hummus to Go Combo Pack” features combinations of hummus and pita chips in three flavors: Traditional, Sun-dried Tomato and Roasted Garlic. “This would make a great nutritious snack,” declared one Shopper. “Hummus is good and pita chips make a great accompaniment.” Since no refrigeration is required, athletes could keep the snack on hand in their lockers for an afterschool treat before practice, she noted. With the healthy item available in retail stores, schools might be able to leverage brand identity; one Shopper saw it during her travels home from Kansas City, “which made it even cooler.” School Nutrition Network www.schoolnutritionnetwork.com Another repeated Secret Shopper find (first highlighted in 2011), School Nutrition Network (formerly SchoolNutritionandFitness.com) offers a comprehensive and interactive set of customizable web pages developed specifically for school nutrition departments that will help operators promote healthy habits to students. “OMG!!!” reported one Shopper. “These guys are awesome and make having a professional website possible with hardly any time or money invested. We also love their menu templates.” This Midwest operator was so impressed, she’d already signed a contract with the company at press time. This vendor also offers print posters, customizable brochures, cycle menus printed on magnets or as posters, banners and more. Chobani www.chobani.com With the popularity of Greek yogurt skyrocketing among consumers, it’s no surprise that SN’s Secret Shoppers discovered some finds at the Chobani booth this year. The company’s Flip line was a big hit. One Shopper cited, in particular, the Almond Coco Loco flavor, but another insisted that “every variety is awesome!” The line currently features 10 varieties, including Peachy Pistachio, Tropical Escape, Raspberry Choco Fix and Key Lime Crumble. The single-serve 5.3-oz. package separates the yogurt from toppings that can be easily added and mixed in by the customer. For example, users can “flip to fix your perfect mix” of toasted almonds and dark chocolate chips with the creamy coconut yogurt in the Almond Coco Loco variety. One shopper specifically applauded the “great package.” Mondelez International www.foodservice-snacks-desserts.com An international food manufacturer of Nabisco-branded items, including belVita, Mondelez International earned Secret Shopper kudos for showcasing the whole-grain belVita Breakfast Biscuit. While one Shopper felt the product was too pricey for reimbursable meals, she found it “very tasty” and suggested it would be a good a la carte item, providing it is reformulated upon the implementation of new nutrition standards for competitive foods. Another Shopper recalled seeing the product advertised on television and welcomed the opportunity to see and taste it in person in Kansas City. “I know my high school students and adults would buy this product,” she noted. “Great nutritional profile, good flavor choices and nice packaging.” The product offers 18-20 g of whole grains per serving. Sweet Leaf www.sweetleaf.com SweetLeaf Stevia® is a liquid additive from Sweet Leaf that contains zero sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners or caffeine. Just one drop gives plain milk one of three flavors—chocolate, vanilla or strawberry—without changing the color or nutrition profile of the beverage. According to the company, which works with dairies and school districts to adhere to federal school requirements, “it combines the appetite appeal of flavored milk with the low calories, sugar, fats and sodium of regular skim.” SN Secret Shoppers were drawn to this natural alternative that might help them boost milk consumption. Shoppers also cited the company’s similar Sweet DropsTM product, which can be mixed with water, coffee, tea, yogurt, oatmeal, smoothies and more. The extensive list of 17 flavors includes Hazelnut, Grape, Root Beer, Apricot Nectar, Vanilla Crème and Peppermint. Nu-Tek Salt Food Science www.saltforlife.com Reduced-sodium is the name of the school nutrition game, and for that reason, Salt for LifeTM Sea Salt Blend from Nu-Tek Food Science is one of this year’s Secret Shopper picks. The product “measures the same and is used the same as salt, tastes like salt but has 70% less sodium,” explained one Shopper. Another was impressed to learn the product was a Food and Beverage Innovations Award winner at the 2013 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show. According to the company, the smaller particle size increases salt intensity, with only 136 mg per 1⁄4 teaspoon, compared to 590 mg in the same amount of regular table salt. The company’s website also features a number of low- sodium recipes. Asian Food Solutions, Inc. www.asianfoodsolutions.com Asian Food Solutions brings fully prepared, heat-and-serve Asian cuisine to non-commercial operations, restaurants and retail stores. In particular, the company’s Japanese Cherry Blossom Chicken, whole-grain- battered chicken chunks tossed with a sweet-and-sour cherry sauce, earned mention by School Nutrition’s Shoppers, who affirmed its “very good flavor” and affordability. All of the company’s items seemed a good match for school nutrition programs, said one shopper, noting that “kids love chicken anything!” Products, which contain high-quality proteins and custom-blended sauces, feature no added MSG and zero trans fats per serving. In addition, Asian Food Solutions says it’s now offering more whole-grain products to help meet federal regulations for K-12 schools. Jones Dairy Farm www.jonesdairyfarm.com Jones Dairy Farm offers an array of products worth considering for the School Breakfast Program, but SN Shoppers cited two in particular. The company’s All-Natural 2-oz. Pork Sausage Patty attracted attention for being a fully cooked, low-sodium option that “tastes great and is also allergen-free.” Another Shopper, hailing from the Midwest and eager to replace her “poor turkey patty,” was enthusiastic about the company’s All Natural, .75-oz. Turkey Sausage Link and All Natural, 1.5-oz. Turkey Sausage Patty, which she declared “excellent.” Beanitos, The Original Bean Chip www.beanitos.com The single-most popular product identified by the magazine’s 2013 Secret Shopper team was the snack chip line from Beanitos, The Original Bean Chip. High in fiber and protein, low in fat and calories and gluten-free, the line earned enthusiastic praise. “Delicious,” pronounced one shopper. “Great tasting,” said another. They cited the “pleasant, corn chip-like texture,” the appeal “to young people” and the “vegan profile” of this “non-traditional snack.” Even better? The chips give operators a legume menu option for reimbursable meals—and a snack-bag size works for a la carte service, too. “Plain” bean varieties (white, navy and pinto) have sea salt added. Other flavors include Nacho Cheese (white beans), Chipotle BBQ (black beans) and Better Cheddar (pinto beans). Norpac Foods, Inc. www.norpac.com Norpac Foods showcased multiple products that earned notice by SN Secret Shoppers. One of these was the company’s Soup Supreme line. These reduced-sodium soups, considered a good “vegan option,” also boasted “great flavor,” reported one Shopper. Flavor varieties include Old-Fashioned Tomato, Country Vegetable, Fiesta Tortilla and Classic Vegetarian Chili. For the carnivores, a Hearty Chicken Soup with Whole Wheat Noodles also featured a “great variety of vegetables.” Also catching the eye of Shoppers was Norpac’s Flav-R-Pac line of sustainably grown vegetables, including Country Trio, Garden Blend, Cut Corn, Cut Green Beans and several others. One Shopper also cited the excellent sales materials developed by Norpac specifically for school meal programs, which demonstrated a significant understanding of this foodservice segment. Quik n’ Crispy www.Q-N-C.com Back again, after being cited by the very first School Nutrition Secret Shopping team in 2010, is the greaseless fryer from Quik n’ Crispy. This innovative equipment allows school cooks to fry, grill or bake using radiant heat. Ovenable foods that are “hot-air fried” are 20% to 40% lower in fat than deep-fat fried items, and preparation time is said to be 30% faster than using standard convection ovens. One Shopper was impressed that the fish she sampled was “crispy—and no fish smells [from the equipment]. French fries also were very good.” Another noted that “breaded products designed for ovens came out with a crispier, ‘like fries’ exterior.” A third was pleased that no hood or exhaust fans were required for the equipment, which produced “healthier” foods. The company off ers several diff erent models in various sizes. Super Bakery www.superbakery.com Some School Nutrition Secret Shoppers find exciting new solutions from familiar vendors. For example, a Super Bakery customer noted ongoing success with the company’s 3.4-oz., whole-grain Ultra Bread Slice, serving the Banana variety at breakfast, and being intrigued by a new Wild Forest Berry option discovered in Kansas City. Indeed, this Shopper is impressed with the company’s extensive line of baked goods for K-12 a la carte sales, all “healthy and all whole grain.” Another Shopper said Super Bakery’s Brown Rice Krispy Bar will let her “bring a healthy snack that counts as a grain back in to students’ lunches.” Wawona Frozen Foods www.wawona.com Wawona Frozen Foods offers school nutrition operations a variety of healthy, grab ‘n’ go options that appeal to kids’ desire for a sweet treat. This year’s group of Secret Shoppers give a special shout-out to the company’s baked Peach Turnover. “It tastes like homemade,” said one Shopper hailing from the South. “It could be great for holiday menus,” she added. While reformulation may be necessary to meet new federal nutrition requirements, the product was deemed to have great “eye appeal,” as well as tasty flavor. The company’s line of thaw-and-serve fruit cups also earned notice. BONUS WEB CONTENT Want to know what product a Shopper called “good for emergency feeding”? Intrigued to learn more about one find that was termed “durable, stackable, attractive and functional”? School Nutrition has identified another 10 “honorable mention” standouts from ANC in Kansas City, but you will have to go online to access these extra solutions! Simply visit www.schoolnutrition.org/ snmagazinebonuscontent to discover more great innovations that your peers think are “fun,” “cost- effective,” “delicious” and more. Shoppers Wanted! School Nutrition’s 2013 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 2014 “Making History” in Boston? 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.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.