School Nutrition’s undercover shopping team discovers Exhibit Hall gems during SNA’s Annual National Conference. Once again, School Nutrition recruited a special team of “Secret Shoppers” to take on an important mission at SNA’s Annual National Conference, this year held in Utah’s beautiful Salt Lake City. The Exhibit Hall teemed with these mystery shoppers, who went undercover (for the sixth year!) to find the most innovative and intriguing products available to K-12 foodservice operators—and share these with our readers! These volunteers come from all levels of the school nutrition profession, from district directors to managers to employees. By gathering intel from experts who come from a variety of backgrounds, regions and district sizes, School Nutrition can present a well-rounded list of products and innovations. Surely one or more of these intriguing solutions will suit one of your cafeteria needs and concerns. This year, the list of touted products showcases diversity in menu offerings, with options from Asian to Mexican cuisine—and even Dutch waffles! Shoppers also scouted a number of operational solutions meant to increase participation, help cafeterias go a little greener or simply make daily tasks much easier. Without further ado, we invite you to review the products and vendors that earned the most recognition and the most enthusiastic Shopper comments (in random order). Perfect Parfait www.perfectparfaityogurt.com Our Secret Shoppers were intrigued by the idea of building participation and encouraging students to enjoy healthy dairy products through the purchase of a Perfect Parfait machine. The yogurt kiosk can be stationed at the “front of the house” to allow students to build their own parfaits, or behind the serving line to allow for greater supervision by cafeteria staff. The machine delivers consistent, portion-controlled servings with high sanitary standards. Multiple Shoppers commented on the quality of the yogurt, which is available in low-fat, low-sugar, certified organic, Greek and traditional varieties, saying, “This was amazing! So good, I wish I could eat more!” and “This was the best yogurt I tested in the show.” AdvancePierre Foods www.advancepierre.com A wide array of versatile products, including the Fully Cooked Beef Steak, led AdvancePierre to make a welcome appearance on this year’s list. “We’ve been looking for a lightly seasoned chopped beef steak that we could use for burritos, Philly sandwiches, street tacos, etc., in our high schools,” said one Secret Shopper participant. “Each time we find a product, it’s low-quality or too high of a cost. This product is tender, no gristle and available for [commodity] processing; I have eight uses for it already!” Tasty Brands www.tastybrandsk12.com Each year, operators seek tasty and convenient options for breakfast-in-the-classroom service. In Salt Lake City, multiple Secret Shoppers found the answer in Bagel-Fuls from Tasty Brands. One Shopper was pleased to report that they’re “so much more moist than [some] other brands, and [the] whole-grain taste is high-quality,” while another boasted the “Strawberry with Cream Cheese was delicious, and they don’t even have to be heated, just thawed!” The product, a bagel pocket and layer of real cream cheese topped with a layer of real fruit spread, is made with 51% whole-grain flour and can be served as an item for grab ‘n’ go breakfast and lunch service, as well as field trips and snack programs. Choose from Cinnamon and Cream Cheese, Strawberry and Cream Cheese or Apple Cinnamon and Cream Cheese varieties, all of which meet Smart Snacks regulations. MMI Culinary www.mmiculinary.com Searching for a new red/orange vegetable option to offer kids in your school? Check out MMI Culinary’s Sweet Potato Souffle, which one Shopper said has “great flavor and a sweetness that the students would like.” Each serving credits as a 1⁄2-cup red/ orange vegetable. Another Shopper raved over MMI’s Whole Corn Grits: “It can be used in place of rice, and it’s white! Many people don’t know this product is available.” Serve the grits as a side dish or as a hot cereal choice at breakfast for one grain. Del Real Foods www.delrealfoods.com Diversity was the name of the game in Salt Lake City, and Del Real Foods offered yet another ethnic addition to the innovative products our Shopper team identified. Heat-and-serve soups, fully prepared meats, raw meats, specialty items and fresh salsa—this company has it all! Among the items that earned special attention by SN volunteers were the Chicken Chili Verde entrees, the Cheese and Bell Pepper Pupusas and the Chicken Tamales in Red Sauce. “Del Real is a new company on the scene,” reported one Shopper. “They sell corn husk tamales that are delicious, with authentic flavoring.” Another pointed to the Cheese and Bell Pepper Pupusas (vegetarian!) that can be “a great handheld entr.e that is both extremely tasty and fun to eat—with a great name kids will notice!” Tyson Food Service www.tysonfoodservice.com Multiple Secret Shoppers were so enamored with Tyson’s new Wei Caf. line of products that they brought back a whole stack of specific product recommendations! These included Whole-Grain Breaded Dark Meat Chunks with Tangerine Sauce (“Students like Oriental!”), Teriyaki Flavored Dark Meat Strips and Whole-Grain Breaded Dark Meat Chunks with General Tso’s Sauce. The Shoppers also pointed out the company’s Whole-Grain Breaded Chicken Sausage Bites, which were described as “a great grab ‘n’ go item,” and Tyson’s All-Natural Low-Sodium Pulled Chicken, which was called “versatile.” Simplot Foods www.simplotfoods.com Two of SN’s Exhibit Hall scouts returned to us singing the praises of Sidewinder Fries from Simplot Foods, noteworthy because of the shape and the taste of this new, fun curlicue product. The item credits as a 1⁄4-cup to 1⁄2-cup starchy vegetable, depending on the serving size. Yet another Shopper took notice of the company’s Stir Fry Supreme, a blend of broccoli, sugar snap peas, water chestnuts, julienne carrots, baby corn and sliced mushrooms, among other veggies. Plus, Simplot makes it very easy for operators to determine how the blend fits into meal pattern requirements. In the words of one Shopper, “All vegetable blends are now labeled as to which vegetable subgroup they contribute to. The new vegetable blends are great!” Fresh Kids www.wearefreshkids.com Colorful packaging called attention to the classic kid snack Pretzel Stix, now being offered by Fresh Kids. These pretzel sticks are a healthy upgrade from the norm, as they are free from GMO ingredients, high-fructose corn syrup, trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils and artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners. In addition, each 1-oz. package of Grain & Honey-Kissed Pretzel Stix is compliant with federal regulations. Take it from one of our Secret Shoppers, “Students love pretzels!” Barrel O’ Fun www.barrelofunsnacks.com Barrel O’ Fun was one of the most-recognized brands at the Salt Palace Convention Center, due to the company’s wide range of snack options that include Salv.o Multigrain Snackin’ Puffs, Sweet Thai Chili Tater Pops and Taco in a Bag, all of which earned kudos from SN Shoppers. The quick-and-easy Taco in a Bag garnered special attention—it allows customizing by students, who simply open the bag of nacho cheese flavored tortilla chips, add pre-portioned meat, lettuce, cheese or other taco favorites, and then grab a fork and enjoy! Good Source Solutions www.goodsourcesolutions.com “I’m almost embarrassed that this caught my attention,” admitted one Secret Shopper of a Whole-Grain Frosted Cookie, shown at ANC by distributor Good Source Solutions. “A frosted cookie! When we are supposed to be pushing fruits and veggies?! [But] this was so good.” That Shopper wasn’t the only one who felt that way; multiple members of the team noted the taste and look of the soft whole-grain sugar cookies that come in multiple variations to help school nutrition operations celebrate birthdays, holidays, seasons and other special occasions. Each 1.5-oz. cookie provides 0.5-oz. grain equivalence. Mexilink www.mexilink.com With strict sodium requirements presenting a challenge for school nutrition operators, it’s no wonder Tajin seasonings from Mexilink were so appealing to Secret Shoppers this year. Lowsodium and featuring zero calories, the seasonings can be dusted on fruits, veggies or whatever else needs an extra kick! Available in 5-oz. bottles or individual packets, Tajin is an all-natural solution that encourages the consumption of healthy foods, subsequently reducing waste. Shoppers had confidence that this seasoning line provides a tasty solution that kids will enjoy. Vollrath www.vollrath.com Sick and tired of your food spilling during transport or storage? SN Shoppers sure are! Fortunately, they’ve discovered that Vollrath’s Pan Band can come to the rescue! This dishwasher-safe band secures pan lids to steamtable pans, as well as holds film and foil in place to keep the contents from spilling. “They come in a variety of sizes to fit different steamtable pans,” one Shopper noted. “I like the idea of reducing the use of foil and film and securing the lid with the band.” Pan Bands are available in black or gray, can be heated up to 450ÅãF and come with a 90-day warranty. Foodservice Sustainability Solutions www.styrosmart.com The Styrogenie SG-1200 from Foodservice Sustainability Solutions received rave reviews from Shoppers at this year’s ANC, as it provides an innovative solution to school nutrition operations trying to go green and ramp up recycling practices. The Styrogenie makes it possible to recycle polystyrene foam trays, reducing waste volume by 95% and allowing schools to achieve immediate and substantial savings on waste collection fees. The machine removes the air from the foam and returns it to a liquid resin, which is then cooled and formed into small briquettes that can be easily recycled or sent to a processor for resource recovery. Idahoan Foods www.idahoanfoodservice.com See potatoes in a new light with Idahoan Foods’ Tater Tumblers, which one Shopper called a “great way to enhance the potato experience and drive veggie consumption.” The product also was praised as versatile with a “reasonable cost,” SN’s undercover agent stated. Add seasonings and diced ingredients (such as sausage, cheddar cheese or jalapenos) and serve with dipping sauces to accompany your center-of-the-plate protein. The potatoes, according to the company, stay crispy and crunchy under a heat lamp for up to three hours. Trident Seafoods www.tridentseafoods.com Seafood can be a tough sell to some kids, but not when it comes in the familiar form of a “burger,” as in Alaska Pollock Burgers from Trident Seafoods. Each patty contains just 80 calories and is considered a good gluten-free option for students with special dietary needs. The Shopper who discovered this item called it “new and innovative,” noting that it was the only unbreaded, chopped and formed patty made from fish. The Shopper also liked that this product is available at the retail level, so that parents could purchase it for home use. Country Pure www.juice4u.com When you simply can’t get a student to take a vegetable or you need a back-up plan due to product shortages, hand over Country Pure’s Sunset Sip or Calypso Crush juice boxes. “We’re doing OVS at elementary satellite sites,” noted one Shopper. “This is a great option in case we run out of the day’s veggie choice, so we can be sure all meals end up reimbursable.” The shelf-stable product, which is 100% vegetable juice—but tastes like fruit juice—credits as a 1⁄2-cup red/orange vegetable. The Salvajor Company www.salvajor.com Proper food waste disposal may not be a particularly exciting aspect of school nutrition operations, but finding the right solution to help with this integral kitchen task makes the whole ANC experience even more worthwhile. One of our diligent Shoppers highlighted The Salvajor Company and its options for food waste disposal and precleaning dishes and trays. Many of today’s dish machines are specified for “low water usage,” which can be good for the environment but bad for trays marked by particularly messy or stubborn foods, like mashed potatoes or cheese sauce and dressings, noted our volunteer experts. In response, Salvajor offers the Troughveyor and the Scrapmaster machines, which aid in scraping and rinsing dishes or trays before they go to the dish machine. In the words of one SN Shopper, “This disposer is perfect for ‘pre-wash.’ I think my dishwashers are going to be happy people!” Campbell’s Soup Company/Pepperidge Farm www.campbellfoodservice.com It’s no secret that kids go crazy over Goldfish-brand snacks, so consider offering them something new yet familiar with Goldfish Puffs Mega Cheese from Campbell’s Soup Company/Pepperidge Farm. One Secret Shopper pointed out the value of a gluten-free snack that still provides 8 grams of whole grains, because this product is made with corn, not wheat like conventional Goldfish-brand snacks. The Goldfish Puffs meet Smart Snacks regulations and come in single-serve packages for a la carte and vending sales. Campbell’s also suggests using the Puffs as a topping on a baked potato, combined with chopped broccoli and shredded mozzarella cheese. Traxus www.welovek12schoolnutrition.com The new Professional Standards rule means a lot more paperwork for directors—or perhaps not, with Traxus, a digital tool that tracks employee training. At a cost of roughly $15 per employee per year, the product can be purchased for “a great price,” according to the Shopper who brought this to our attention. Perks of the Traxus software include easily accessible and orderly records that can be produced during annual audits or periodic reports. It offers the ability to review learning records and progress, as well as optional printable certificates when an employee has completed training. Grimmway Farms www.grimmway.com Add a little extra color to your students’ lives with Rainbow Baby and Colorshred Carrots, a multi-hued product from Grimmway Farms that makes veggies a little bit more appealing. “These are great for adding fun to vegetable bars,” one Shopper commented. In addition to these colorful “sun-kissed” options, Grimmway offers a variety of carrots in their traditional orange color, including chips, coins, diced, crinkle-cut and shredded. JTM Food Group www.jtmfoodgroup.com Extend your meat budget and add extra vegetables to a meal with JTM Food Group’s Mushroom Meatballs, which are fully cooked beef meatballs that incorporate mushrooms. Each serving provides a 2-oz. equivalent meat/meat alternate and, when served with a 1⁄8-cup of another vegetable, they also provide 1⁄4-cup other/additional vegetable for K-12 reimbursable meal requirements. Serve them over a classic dish, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce, or add them to an Asian-inspired dish for something a little different. Rich’s Foodservice www.richfoodservice.com Shoppers found just the right treat to cultivate favor with students! Rich’s Foodservice was cited for its Zerts Cake Batter Vanilla Pudding Cups, Brownie Batter Chocolate Pudding Cups and Whole Grain-Rich Donuts. The Pudding Cups caught the attention of one of SN’s Shoppers for its kid appeal, flavor and rich texture, as well as its potential as an a la carte item that could also work for birthday treats. The donuts were seen as a great opportunity to mix up breakfast menus (a common theme among Shoppers this year). Another plus was the opportunity for commodity processing and the versatility to order ready-to-finish or fully finished donuts, or even just the dough. Posada www.posadafoodservice.com In the ANC 2015 Exhibit Hall, there was no shortage of Mexican food varieties. One option Shoppers discovered was Posada’s “tasty” Whole-Grain Chicken Taquitos. “You can serve them by themselves with a cup of salsa, or you can pour enchilada sauce on them and serve,” noted one Shopper, already planning menu options. At its booth, Posada served up its taquitos with samples of green and red sauce. The magazine’s volunteers also gave credit to the company’s whole-grain breakfast burritos with egg, sausage and cheese, plus lunch burritos with beans, beef and cheese. NatureSeal, Inc. www.natureseal.com Guacamole, salads and other foods showcasing avocado present a familiar yet interesting way to add variety and dimension to menu offerings. However, when the avocado browns with exposure to the air, students are more likely to reject it. Luckily, Secret Shoppers discovered that NatureSeal offers an FDA-approved vitamin, mineral and organic acid blend in powder form that can be applied to the fruit in order to inhibit browning and even extend its shelf-life for up to 10 hours when refrigerated. The product is gluten-and GMO-free, and is also Kosher and Halal certified. Shoppers reported that this product had great potential for plating sandwiches, salads or other menu items, and it could help to dramatically reduce spoilage and waste. Back to the Roots www.backtotheroots.com In an Exhibit Hall full of food samples and equipment demonstrations, a much greener booth caught the eye of a couple Secret Shoppers: Back to the Roots, which offers a Garden Toolbox, consisting of herbs in a can (basil and cilantro), as well as a Mushroom Mini-Farm (grow your own oyster mushrooms out of a box!) and an aquaponic system (read: a super-high-tech fish tank, which cultivates an herb garden on its lid). If you want to offer teachers in your school a fun way to help students learn about growing herbs and mushrooms, these are some great tools to get started. Jack Link’s www.jacklinks.com One of the top products among SN’s Secret Shoppers was the introduction of Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky to the K-12 school nutrition market. Not only does it offer great brand recognition for students, but it also provides a vending or snack option that fits Smart Snacks rules. It features reduced sodium but contains a high protein count, with a whopping 10 grams per serving! One Secret Shopper noted that this “product is awesome, [has] great vivid packaging…[it’s] a snack that students will enjoy!” Each serving is only 70 calories, contains 7 g total carbs and 0 g trans fat. Stock up with flavor options such as Original, Teriyaki or Peppered. Mrs. T’s www.pierogies.com Not only did Mrs. T’s grab the attention of ANC-goers by sponsoring an Exhibit Hall lounge area to rest weary feet, but the company inspired several of the magazine’s Secret Shoppers. In particular, its Whole-Grain Pasta and American Cheese-Stuffed Pasta products gained attention for their versatility, noted one Shopper volunteer, who pointed out the ability of these menu items to be served hot or cold. They also can be served as a vegetarian option for main entr.es. The company’s Mini Pierogies also gained special notice, not only as a standalone menu item, but also as an addition to salads, helping to increase grain and protein counts while enticing participation from students. J & J Snack Foods www.jjsnackfoodservice.com A longtime favorite vendor partner among K-12 operators, J & J Snack Foods proved its worth at ANC 2015 with multiple Secret Shoppers raving about several innovative snack products that were on display this year. The Dutch Waffle was one popular offering, providing students with a sweet treat reminiscent of a funnel cake, but featuring 51% whole grain! Whole Fruit, a line of frozen fruit bars and sorbet, earned kudos as a creative way to get students to eat fruit while meeting the 6-oz. regulation for afterschool snacks. The new line of Sorbet and Greek Yogurt Whole Fruit Combo Cups include probiotics and 4 g of protein in every 4-oz. cup. Slush Puppies, an extension of J & J Snack Foods and its ICEE Company division, also received rave reviews as a 100% juice option that provides a “nice change of pace for a fruit component.” ProHealth Pasta www.prohealthpasta.com Pasta doesn’t always have to come from wheat, as ProHealth Pasta proves with its Red Lentil variety that earned accolades from SN Secret Shoppers at ANC. Just as the name indicates, the pasta is made from red lentils; it’s GMO-and gluten-free, and according to one Shopper, it “cooks light and tastes good.” Each serving contributes 2 meat/meat alternates, a half-cup legumes or a half-cup vegetable. The protein in one serving of the red lentil pasta equals a 3-oz. piece of chicken. ProHealth also makes a black bean pasta; both versions come in penne, spiral, elbow and orzo. Buzz Strong‘s, LLC www.buzzstrong.com Cookies in the cafeteria? They couldn’t possibly meet Smart Snacks regulations…or could they? Just check out Chocolate Cake Cookies from Buzz Strong’s, LLC, which certainly are Smart Snack-compliant. One Shopper reported that he already serves them in his cafeteria, and “my students really like them.” Buzz Strong’s also offers Chocolate Chip, Mint Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Raisin varieties. Kellogg’s Specialty Channels www.kelloggsspecialtychannels.com Our Secret Shoppers love the idea of driving program participation by turning the cafeteria into a celebration source with Kellogg’s Specialty Channels’ Happy Birthday Program. Choose a day each month to celebrate a school-wide birthday party, and take advantage of the kit’s posters, banner, counter cards, visors and aprons. Another Shopper also raved over Kelloggs’ Origins Ancient Grains Blend cereal (not yet available to schools, according to the company). He cited “a clean label with simple ingredients” that would be great in a parfait. Chef’s Corner Foods www.chefscornerfoods.com Bringing diversity to the menu is a priority, and SN Shoppers liked the solutions provided by Mandarin Mango Chicken from Chef’s Corner Foods. Recognized by this year’s Shopper team for its exceptional flavor, the chicken features a whole-grain thin batter, finished with a tropical Mandarin Mango sauce. Each 3.92-oz. serving provides 2 meat/meat alternates and .-grain, plus breaks down to 0 g trans fat, 12 g protein and less than 160 calories. If Mandarin Mango doesn’t float your students’ boats, choose something else from the company’s expansive line of chicken entr.es: Honey Fire, Mandarin Orange, Sweet Thai Chili, Cherry Blossom or Lemongrass. Need a breading-free option? Chef’s Corner also offers grilled varieties, such as Grilled Korean BBQ, Spicy Szechuan or Grilled Teriyaki Chicken. Shoppers Wanted! School Nutrition’s 2015 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 2016 in San Antonio? 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.