Check out this year’s Secret Shopper discoveries from the ANC 2017 Exhibit Hall. BEFORE HEADING TO “HOT’LANTA” for SNA’s 71st Annual National Conference this past summer, School Nutrition recruited an elite team of selective detectives, aka school nutrition operators who agreed to serve as undercover “Secret Shoppers.” These volunteers were tasked with an important mission: While sampling and surveying menu, equipment and resource options for their own school and districts, identify the products and companies they deem most intriguing. This annual project, now in its eighth year, allows to bring you a well-rounded selection of peer-reviewed products with great potential for your school meals operations. Secret Shoppers identified nearly 200 products that caught the eye, tempted the taste buds, sparked an idea or solved a problem. More than 40 of these garnered multiple (or especially passionate) mentions and are highlighted in the following pages. We thank our cool corps of volunteers for the extra time and effort they took traversing the “miles of aisles” in ANC’s expansive Exhibit Hall. They hailed from all parts of the country and represented all levels of the purchase-influence chain from district directors to managers to employees. With their refreshing critiques and judicious commentary in hand, is pleased to deliver this array of school nutrition products and tools that simply sizzled. Carter-Hoffman/CresCor www.carter-hoffmann.com/gardenchef www.crescor.com Fresh herbs are a hot commodity in K-12 kitchens today. Now, improve your access to them with on-trend, in-kitchen garden equipment. Our Shoppers’ investigative skills discovered two companies offering such systems: Carter-Hoffman and Cres Cor. One Shopper is enthusiastic about Carter-Hoffman’s Garden Chef, because the unit “made it so easy to grow plants!” Another Shopper praises Fresh Cor, a simular system from Cres Cor. Shopping team members remark that this type of equipment also lends itself to being “a great nutrition education piece.” E S Foods www.esfoods.com A Secret Shopper favorite this year came from E S Foods, a company dedicated exclusively to school foodservice. Its veggie pinwheels are whole grain, meet 2 meat/meat alternate and 2 grains requirements and feature such flavor varieties as Mozzarella Cheese, Philly Steak & Cheese and Reduced-Fat Turkey Pepperoni. After taste testing these individually wrapped pastries, Shoppers applaud them as “moist” and “delicious.” Edison Grainery www.edisongrainery.com Edison Grainery provides affordable, 100% gluten-free, 100% certified-organic pastas, grains, beans, cereals and snack foods. As an eager Shopper points out, the company has “such a variety for students with wheat allergies.” And while operators know well the challenge of finding gluten-free products with a positive flavor profile, Shoppers are impressed with these offerings: “The taste is awesome!” Tyson Foods www.tysonfoodservice.com/k-12 Another year, another Secret Shopper success for Tyson Foods! The company’s Asian-inspired Wei Café line was the talk of the town this year, as exhibited by comments from an enthusiastic Shopper: “The best Asian flavor for breaded chicken.” Other products from the line, such as Lemongrass Thai Casserole and General Tso’s Dipping Sauce are described as having “diverse flavors” and “unique colors,” as well as being “suitable for all ages.” One Shopper reports that the Wei Café product line “caught my attention,” while another, pleased with the potential menu options, says, “There are not a lot of good dark meat products [on the market]—[but] this is a good one!” Metro (InterMetro Industries) www.metro.com “I love the idea of being able to create a shelving/work surface area customized to fit the space available,” a streetwise School Nutrition Shopper declares in recommending Metro’s SmartLever Workstations. Multifunctional and capable of supporting up to 2,800 pounds per unit, viewing this system caused another Shopper to proclaim that “not all kitchens are created equal.” This space and productivity solutions company also earns approval for its Mightylite pan carriers, which have “eight hand holds,” and are “much lighter than other transport units.” Observes one Shopper, “I also liked the optional rolling cart.” Pathwater www.drinkpathwater.com The path was made clear to SN’s Shopping team when it discovered the Pathwater booth. This filtered, BPA-free, nothing-added water comes packaged in an appealing reusable, 100% recyclable bottle. It’s a high-quality product with a high-end look, but our Shoppers assure readers that this product is “sold at a low enough price point that it could be sold a la carte.” JonnyPops www.jonnypops.com/food-service “Kids love frozen desserts,” acknowledges one Shopper who highlights this brand’s offerings. Stuffed with real fruit, gluten-free, kosher and Smart Snacks-approved, these are tasty treats, too. With a “compelling story behind the company formation”—the story of Jonny who dreamed of a frozen pop company and, quite sadly, passed away before he could see that dream realized—JonnyPops earns high marks for having both “good flavor and texture.” Comida Vida www.comidavida.com Which menu items and ingredients did our discerning SN Shoppers most appreciate at the Comida Vida booth? “All of them,” asserts one Shopper of the company’s diverse product line. Some, of course, are true stand-outs, such as fully prepared, Latin-inspired menu items like the Chicken Anaheim Chili & Bean Burrito, which earns such praise as: “nice serving size for secondary students,” “nice appearance,” “awesome flavor.” Shoppers also give kudos to Yuca Steak Cut French Fries (a “light and flavorful option”) and Ripe Plantain Slices (“very different”). SICO America www.sicoinc.com Are you furnishing a new cafeteria? SN Shoppers suggest that you will want to make SICO America a resource. The company has dining tables and merchandising options for creating a one-of-a-kind, attractive environment for your students. “I love the logos on the tall tables,” comments one Shopper, “but the cool thing is they adjust to average height and they fold flat for storage.” With almost 200 tabletop and bench laminates to select from in the company’s collection, décor options can match virtually any school colors, themes or other custom looks. What’s more? A Secret Shopper remarks “I love the optional accent guard on the seat—it adds additional color, and students won’t be able to stick gum up in all those open spaces on the bottom of the slab.” Wallace Packaging www.wallacepack.com If Shopper comments are anything to go by (and trust us, they are!), Wallace Packaging’s products are “sporking” good. The “selling point,” advocates one Shopper, is that this eco-friendly company’s spork kits can be custom designed with school and cafeteria logos or even district information and nutrition messages. Wallace also offers The Absolute Tray, a round, compostable, biodegradable product approved for food use by USDA and FDA. Edlund Company www.edlundco.com School nutrition operators certainly love versatility in food products—and the same holds true for adaptable equipment. And adaptable is exactly what operators get with the Titan Series Max Cut from Edlund Company. No matter how you slice it, this product has it all. “This is a slicer/dicer that does everything,” reports one Shopper, noting its ability to wedge, core and cut French fries. Another plus, say our Shoppers, is that it’s “easy to use—and clean!” Land O’Lakes www.landolakesfoodservice.com Land sakes! Some Secret Shoppers think they’ve found a great menu solution in the Ultimate White Cheese Sauce Blend from Land O’Lakes. “I like that this product is so versatile,” mentions a Shopper from the Southwest. Other Shopper compatriots concur, noting, “It is an easy way to add variety to your menu.” The company also earns brownie points among Shoppers by “donating to local [Atlanta] charities instead of spending on giveaways [at their booth].” Butter Buds Foodservice www.bbuds.com/food-service School nutrition operators are always seeking creative ways to make food flavorful “without adding calories or sodium,” discloses an SN Shopper. Look no further than Butter Buds Foodservice! It offers a line of seasonings, which come in convenient shaker jars and are available in four enjoyable flavors: Cheddar Taco, Blazin’ Buffalo, Cheezy Garlic and Cinnamon Swirl. All are gluten-free and contain 65 mg of sodium or less. An added bonus, according to Shoppers, is the range of menu items that can be enhanced by the seasoning blends. “Mac & cheese, mashed potatoes, chicken products and the list goes on,” suggests one Shopper, while another proposes establishing a station to allow students to customize their own flavor profiles. Hostess Brands www.hostesscakes.com Hostess Brands have long held cred with kids. Leverage the brand name in your foodservice operations when you menu whole grain-rich, nut-free, Smart Snacks-compliant options like Mini Muffins, which were fully sanctioned by Secret Shoppers: “ “My students will go crazy for these new muffins!” With such varieties as Blueberry, Chocolate Chip and Birthday Cake, these “trendy flavors” are “priced right for breakfast” with “super kid-friendly marketing!” Bolthouse Farms/Campbell’s Soup Company www.bolthouse.com www.campbellsfoodservice.com Multiple Secret Shoppers were impressed by the “crunchy, delicious” snack offerings available from Bolthouse Farms. As one Shopper describes, “Baby carrots are the go-to for the vegetable mandate. However, kids get bored with them. These are beautiful and would excite kids.” Another Shopper mentions practical plusses: “You no longer have to put ranch dressing in soufflé cups, since the seasoning is inside the packet.” Familiar to some on retail shelves, Bolthouse Farms has only been in the K-12 market for a couple of years; its parent company, however, is quite familiar with the market and has its own stack of Shopper accolades—Campbell’s Soup Company! Its new line of customizable soups is lauded as “a good concept” that promotes the made-to-order trend hot with students today. Customers simply select a hot soup base and then a separate package of varied soup ingredients. Our Shopping brigade appreciates that the company “had done their homework,” and predicts the customizable soups will be “a big hit” with kids. Revolution Foods www.revolutionfoods.com/in-schools Revolution Foods hit a homerun with its take on thaw-and-serve sandwiches. “The bread was not soggy when thawed. And the sandwiches look and taste good after thawing,” describes a member of the Shopping team. Going beyond sandwiches, the company offers complete menus for breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks that are said to be clean label and hand-prepared by chefs, with vegetarian and dairy-free options available. One SN Shopper is ready to add these to her program: “What a positive message to send to parents!” FarmLogix www.farmlogix.net With operations in 17 states, FarmLogix works to connect farmers and foodservice distributors in order to enhance local purchasing opportunities for school districts. Letting someone else do the legwork is tempting for many busy school nutrition operators, say Shoppers. The company also helps to offer national rebates, organize fundraisers and has launched a national competition to promote farm to school to local communities. Uno Foods www.unofoods.com/food-service Since 1943, Uno Foods has been baking up a storm—if that storm had fluffy pizza clouds; whole grain rain drops; flurries of toppings (like Chicken Bacon Ranch, Barbecue Chicken and classic Pepperoni); and instead of electricity buzzing through the atmosphere, the smell of hand-tossed crust wafting through the air. These flavors were no-less tantalizing to our Secret Shoppers, who claim that the pizza products are “very good” and who repeatedly mention the innovative addition of a “sweet potato crust.” Buena Vista Foods www.bvfoods.com Buena Vista Foods might want to ask our Shoppers to start writing the company’s promotional copy. Consider this glowing report of its Cinnamon Crumble: “WHAT?!? A great-tasting, moist, no mess or fuss, thaw-and-serve OR thaw-and-heat directly from the freezer you say?” SN’s enthusiastic reviewer goes on to call the breakfast item a “gem,” touting the flavor as “amazing” and remarking, “I can’t wait to taste test it with our student guests!” Calbee North America www.calbeena.com Harvest Snaps from Calbee North America are, as our Shoppers point out, “non-GMO,” “made from whole pea and/or lentil bean,” “a good source of fiber and protein,” “gluten free,” and can be menued as a “baked goodie.” Offered in a variety of flavors (Wasabi Ranch, Lightly Salted, Tomato Basil), including two new ones (Habanero and Mango Chile Lime), this “delightful snack item” scores a hit at its ANC debut. As relayed by a particularly sharp Shopper, “The texture is most like a cheese ball, but healthier, and it comes in a variety of flavors that will surely grab your guests’ attention!” Cambro Manufacturing www.cambro.com/Schools Cambro Manufacturing turns Shoppers’ heads with multiple solutions from the company’s product line. The Cam GoBox™ features ergonomic handles, a built-in label area and the ability to inter-stack not only with Cambro boxes, but with those from competitors, as well! Secret Shopper reviews call the transport solutions “lightweight,” durable” and, the golden word, “affordable.” Another product making this year’s list is the Premium Flex Cart, which one Shopper calls “outstanding for Breakfast in the Classroom. We are so impressed, we are ordering 74 carts for the start of SY 2017-18!” Foster Farms www.fosterfarmsfoodservice.com Grab Wraps from Foster Farms are restaurant-quality, individually wrapped, hand-rolled sandwiches for school meal programs. School Nutrition’s Secret Shoppers describe them as “excellent,” “one of my favorite samples,” offering “good flavor,” “easy production” and “menu variety.” Four flavors are available, but the Cheese & Poblano Grab Wrap tops the praise list with a simple affirmation: “I think this is something the kids would enjoy.” TabletKiosk www.tabletkiosk.com In the September 2017 issue, SN advised you to work smarter, not harder. With Mobile POS Solutions and Sahara Slate Tablet PCs, TabletKiosk offers operators a helpful tool to expand points of sale beyond the cafeteria, reducing long lines at service. According to our Shopping sources, the POS Terminals are a “great solution to assist with mobile meal distribution” and “the compact tablet records meal accountability at a reasonable cost.” Cuisine Solutions Bill Stablein: wstablein@cuisinesolutions Up until now, this restaurant-quality sous-vide supplier has catered to professional chefs and home cooks. Today, Cuisine Solutions is officially in the K-12 game. While the company has several products, such as Sliced Turkey, Ground Beef and versatile ABF Chicken Breast Pieces, it’s the Scrambled Eggs that garner the most acclaim from our Shoppers: “The best egg product short of a whole egg.” The eggs are also said to be “clean label” and “like butter,” while the company’s combination Paneer & Eggs earns kudos of its own: “Best non-whole egg product I’ve ever tasted!” FritoLay, a div. of PepsiCo Foodservice www.fritolay.com The Top N’ Go® Walking Taco from Frito Lay is sure to take your K-12 menu over the top! The product is available as Doritos Nacho Cheese or Tostitos Crispy Rounds. According to SN’s Secret Shopper sleuths, “students would find it fun to eat” due to both “ease of use” and “attractive” qualities, such as familiar flavors, portability, customization and “a nice serving size for secondary students.” This street food-inspired snack is reduced-fat and provides 2 oz. eq. grain. S.A. Piazza www.sapiazza.com www.wildmikesultimatepizza.com/food-service Our Shoppers found multiple offerings from S.A. Piazza’s “Wild Mike’s” Ultimate Pizza both wild and wonderful. “The tastiest little cheese-filled breadstick I ever had,” lauds a Shopper of the company’s Cheese Bites, adding, “Will definitely put them on my menu!” Another ANC Shopper admires Mike’s Cheesy Bottom Crust, saying, “There is cheese in the crust and there are spices in the crust.” A third Shopper praises the company’s whole grain, clean label attitude: “They leave out many ingredients that others use and I don’t want.” Ardent Mills/Ultragrain www.ardentmills.com What did the SN Shoppers think when confronted with pastas like Rotini, Egg Noodle, Penne and Elbow from Ardent Mills and featuring Ultragrain? “It is hard to find a pasta that cooks up well and has a good texture and taste,” concedes one Shopper. Others were more direct: “[The product] makes whole grain more appealing to the children.” “Whole grain pasta usually has a nutty aftertaste and this does not.“ “This product tasted great!” BEAR Fruit Snacks www.bearnibbles.us/yoyos What do Raspberry, Mango, Apple and Strawberry have in common? They are all flavors of pure fruit rolls sold by BEAR Fruit Snacks. With 0 g. of added sugar in each roll and only 60 calories, these high-fiber snacks are a hit with Shoppers, who note: “excellent marketing, food quality, price and nutrition profiles.” With U.S. roll-out in the early stages, one Shopper asserts that “the minute it is available, we’ll have it on our a la carte shelves!” Producers Rice Mill www.producersrice.com/food-service SN’s Secret Shopping team has eyes for the farmer’s rice co-op brand, Producers Rice Mill, particularly its Par Excellence® Rice Blends, which one Shopper describes as “allowing consistency in the kitchen with phenomenal taste.” Other Shoppers chime in to say that the family-owned company “controls each step of the process,” and that, as a result, “flavors were clean and bright, not artificial.” But that isn’t all our Shoppers had to report, adding, “The rice is very high-quality. I was there around 1 p.m. and rice that had been in the cooker since 9:30 a.m. was still fluffy and delicious.” BarFresh www.barfresh.com Sold in both single-serve packs and easy-pour bulk options, BarFresh’s smoothies (along with milkshakes and frappes!) make math a cinch: 1 smoothie package (in one of four flavors: Triple Berry, Mango Burst, Strawberry Banana or Caribbean) + 5 ozs. of water + 15 seconds in a blender = a healthy beverage that provides 1⁄2 cup fruit + 4 ozs. yogurt in each 8-oz. serving. Secret Shoppers suggest “putting it in a soft serve machine” and cite the fruit-full product as “tasty.” GMO Answer www.gmoanswers.com GMO Answer, from the Council for Biotechnology Information, is the essential, question-answering website of your dreams. Browse the tabs to learn about GMOs and understand their use in modern agriculture. One of our Shoppers expects this free resource tool to be useful in a variety of cases, like “educating self and staff” or “providing info to parents or the school board.” Bottom line, the website allows consumers “to make informed decisions.” Kent Precision Foods Group www.precisionfoods.com Can’t agree on whether your students prefer things super-spicy or more moderate in flavor? Let them decide. SN Secret Shoppers saw great value in The Flavor Lab self-serve seasoning station from Kent Precision Foods Group. “Flavor stations are becoming so popular,” explains one West Coast Shopper. “This company made it so easy by selling seasonings in shakers and providing racks with purchase.” This multi-use product has more to it than those shakers and racks, notes one Shopper: “This concept allows students to customize flavors of school meal components. AND there is employee training available.” Seasonings are from the Mrs. Dash for Foodservice and Foothill Farms lines and include many flavors: Ranch, Fiesta Lime, Chili Cheese, BBQ Teriyaki, Garlic & Herb, Spicy Jalapeno and more. Del Real Foods www.delrealfoods.com/food-service ANC in Atlanta was all about the “hot topics and cool connections,” and Del Real Foods did its share, offering hot recipes that students and nutrition professionals alike would find cool and exciting. From heat-and-serve soups to raw meats to fresh salsa, this company has it all! Among the items that earn special attention by SN’s volunteers is Del Real’s Chicken Tamales in Red Sauce. “They looked great and tasted phenomenal,” one Shopper remarks. The Chicken Tinga also gets a shout-out for its “multiple recipe applications,” while the Bean & Cheese Pupusa is “awesome visually and had a wonderful taste.” ConAgra Foodservice www.conagrafoodservice.com ConAgra Foodservice describes its Creamy Garlic Parmesan Flatbread from its Gilardi product line as “the perfect base to create the custom bistro experience.” And, boy, do Secret Shoppers agree! “The product was delicious on its own, but they gave amazing ideas to take the product to the next level,” reveals a Shopping participant. Another confirms the “versatility of the product,” and mentions that the base can be used “several different ways.” One Shopper is enthused by the serving options: “My favorite idea was to cut the flatbread in half, fill it with whatever you want and fold it over to make a panini!” Form Plastics www.grabngogreen.com “We are always looking for new packaging concepts to upscale our delivery system,” explains one Shopper. “Form Plastics had a number of options to choose from.” The eco-friendly, biodegradable products from this company are not only available in custom sizes, shapes and graphics, but require only a 25,000-piece minimum order. Products, whether standard or custom, are “attractive,” confirm SN Shoppers, and serve as a “great marketing system” for all your grab ‘n’ go needs. G.A. Systems www.gasystemsmfg.com A Shopper from the Northeast describes this product best: “eye-catching.” And G.A. Systems’ Product Carts certainly are. The California-based company offers customized colors and graphics, providing numerous options to pump up your style and increase participation through additional points of service and/or sale. The displays are termed “colorful,” “good-quality” and “nice-looking” by SN’s Shopping team. Chef’s Corner www.chefscornerfoods.com Bringing diversity to the menu is a priority, and SN Shoppers like the solutions provided by Chef’s Corner. Several products earn mention, such as a Whole Grain Chicken Egg Roll, which provides 1 meat/meat alternate and 1-oz.-eq. whole grain. The company is applauded for producing “unique and traditional” food that “tastes like what you would get in a Chinese restaurant.” The dish earning the most buzz is Whole Grain Yakisoba Noodles. “This item meets our grain requirements and adds variety,” explains a member of the Shopping team. The Noodles also “open up the possibility of pho as a menu item, which is trendy now.” Jennie-O Turkey Store www.jennieofood service.com/k12 Jennie-O Turkey Store returns to the ANC favorites list for another year! The company’s Slicing Logs, featuring two flavors (All Natural Uncured Turkey Ham and All Natural Oven Roasted Turkey) receive rave reviews from our Secret Shoppers in Atlanta. Says one enthusiastic reviewer, “Sometimes the little kids just want something simple and familiar. These can be sliced to look like Lunchables meats but with a much more desirable nutritional profile.” Another Shopper explains that the Slicing Logs are serious competitors for sack lunches brought from home, not only due to their versatility, but because they are a “cute way to present grab ‘n’ go lunch to elementary students.” Jennie-O also gets a shout-out for its individually wrapped Turkey Breast Sticks, which are allnatural, clean label, grab ‘n’ go Smart Snacks-compliant: “a nice, all-natural alternative to jerky.” Hadley Farms www.hadleyfarms.com Hadley Farms, a family-owned, kosher-friendly bakery, offers a wide variety of high-quality baked goods, including rolls, croissants, sweet rolls—and a special “healthy alternatives” line featuring whole grain-rich products. SN Shoppers say they could not get enough: “Can you say wholly comfort food!?! Your student guests and staff will greatly appreciate this tasty Cinnamon Sugar goodness,” reads one overjoyed evaluation of the company’s Whole Grain Cinnabar. Other Shoppers echo this sentiment, writing that the Cinnabar is a “delightful pastry combination” that “doesn’t taste whole grain.” National Food Group www.nationalfoodgroup.com With its staff wearing eye-catching neon-lit shoes and offering games, prizes and touch-screen technology, National Food Group had one of the most enticing booths in the Exhibit Hall. But do the brand’s products stand up to savvy Secret Shopper scrutiny? “The entire line of Zee Zee characters is very appealing to children,” one Shopper gushes. “I can really see our district embracing these characters and having a lot of fun with this product.” In fact, many Shoppers are eager to “meet the ZEE ZEEs™” and subsequently approve of the kid-friendly brand approach to familiar products, such as applesauce cups (both unsweetened and flavored), fruit cups and nutrition bars. “A great new concept to make eating fruit in cups fun. They could be used in all USDA meal programs,” sums up a Shopper from the East Coast. This year’s Secret Shopper project was managed, compiled and summarized by Rachel E. O’Connell, SN Communications Coordinator.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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