Introducing TGR's Editors' Picks
Winners were selected by an exhaustive screening process that involved the entire staff of our Jersey City, N.J., office – the editorial staff of Progressive Grocer and Convenience Store News, and our non-editorial staff alike. Products were judged on three criteria: taste/functionality, innovation and value. To be eligible, products had to be introduced between March 2012 and June 2013.
We put out a call for entries, and we were overwhelmed by the response. Now in its second year, our competition attracted more than 940 submissions! Our tireless testers weren't deterred by the task at hand. They sampled and tested fearlessly and contributed their honest, unbiased feedback. Armed with our colleagues' tasting and testing notes, we were able to determine which products were worthy of recognition in TGR's Editors' Picks.
In this issue, we salute the year's best specialty food products. Housewares and kitchenware items will be showcased in the October/November issue of The Gourmet Retailer. Along the way, products that made it into what we came to think of as the "Gold Circle" – those that earned across-the-board accolades, even from our pickiest participants – included such crowd-pleasers as Coach Farm's Rawstruck, Jennie's Macaroons, Inko's Mango & Passion Fruit Rooibos Tea, Seattle Chocolate Co.'s jcoco Edamame Sea Salt chocolate bar, McConnell's Fine Ice Cream Churros Con Leche, Noosa Lemon Yoghurt, and We Rub You Spicy Korean BBQ Marinade.
|ALO Exposed Aloe Vera & Honey
We picked it because: Like all the ALO drinks, Exposed is made direct from the aloe vera plant. The difference? This Light blend has 50 percent less sugar and calories than the original ALOs. At only 30 calories per serving, this gluten- and fat-free drink is also guilt-free. We love the original aloe vera and honey, but you can mix it up with the Bright (aloe vera plus orange and passion fruit) or Refresh (aloe vera plus cucumber and cantaloupe).
We picked it because: BookChickPop satisfies all our movie-time snack needs: a sea salt popcorn with no gluten, preservatives or trans fats. So light and simple (35 calories per cup!) that, let's be honest, we don't even need the movie! There's also Movie Pop and Sweet & Spicy Kettle Corn for when you're looking for a different flavor.
We picked it because: Not all sauces are created equal, and Apinya's stand out. They're infused with the flavors of Thailand but made in Pennsylvania; try the signature Thai Chili hot sauce. All vegan and gluten-free, the Peruvian-inspired Thai Basil Aji or Tunisian Coconut Harissa also top our list of must-tries.
|Art of Tea Green Pomegranate Iced Tea
We picked it because: This tart and tangy tea is a refreshing crowd-pleaser that's perfect for summer entertaining. The oversized 2-quart tea bags take the guess work out of measuring out the perfect pitcher of iced tea. Four biodegradeable tea pouches per package.
|Askinosie Chocolate CollaBARation Bar
We picked it because: The Southwest never tasted so sweet. A true collaboration between Askinosie and Katharine Kagel of Santa Fe's Café Pasqual, this dark chocolate bar is bold in all the right ways. Blended with goat's milk, ancho chilies and dusted with sea salt and pistachios, CollaBARation is the new way to spell dessert.
|Coach Farm Rawstruck
SRP: $24.99 per pound
We picked it because: Coach Farm's first raw milk cheese is a winner. Farm fresh milk is just the beginning for this cheese that has a depth of flavor that belies its crumbly texture. Its melt-in-your-mouth goodness does indeed leave us feeling totally Rawstruck.
|Calbee Harvest Snaps
We picked it because: Time to trade in traditional chips for good, and sneak in your vegetables without sacrificing taste or crunch. Snap Pea Crisps are 70 percent peas while Lentil Snaps are 65 percent lentils, and both will keep your snack cravings satisfied.
|G.H. Cretors Kettle Corn
SRP: $3.99 per bag
We picked it because: This old-fashioned popcorn is made by hand in copper kettles – need we say more? The Chicago Mix is caramel, cheddar and kettle corn, a long-standing traditional that we can't get enough of today.
|Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax with Chia Cereal
We picked it because: Sure, starting your day with this cereal makes good nutritious sense, but it's the crispy, crunchy puffs that keep us coming back day after day. It's power-packed with whole grains (5 grams of fiber per serving!), 7 grams of protein, plus 1000 mg of Omega-3s. It's the cereal that has everything – and is also free from gluten and the top eight allergens. Another winner from the leading allergen-free company: Enjoy Life's S'mores Bars.
|Frontera Foods Salpica Salsa Verde
800-509-4441 x 120
We picked it because: You give us a good, chunky salsa, we'll give you our love. And this Salsa Verde is a medium-spiced blend of fresh roasted tomatillos and Hatch Valley green chilies that hits all the right notes – zesty and chunky, and made in small batches. All natural with no preservatives, we dare you not to eat it in one sitting.
|Glutino Pancake Mix
We picked it because: Our friends on gluten-free diets miss comfort foods such as pancakes the most. This instant gluten-free mix delivers on taste and convenience – you really just have to add water! Plus it's packed in an easily portable bottle so you can have pancakes wherever you are, and it will keep in the fridge for up to four days.
|Hammond's Peanut Brittle Bites
We picked it because: The title says it all: bite-sized pieces of crunchy peanut brittle. If you've ever needed a taste on the go, or a perfect gift, this 9-ounce bag of fresh butter, brown sugar and peanuts should be your first and only stop.
|Hannah Max Baking Dark Chocolate Chip Cookie Chips
We picked it because: These chips satisfy our need for crunch and chocolate in one fell swoop. Made with rich, dark cocoa and semi-sweet dark chocolate, it's a one-two punch of the sweetest kind. And, made with cane sugar, cage-free eggs and rBST hormone-free butter, it's the best kind of treat.
|Harry & David Milk Chocolate Blackberry Moose Munch
We picked it because: We admit that we're huge fans of the highly addictive Moose Munch. Only with Moose Munch do they start with an already-perfected snack. In this new variation caramel popcorn is just the beginning. Adding milk chocolate and blackberry takes these all-natural clusters to a near-genius level. And who are we to argue with that?
|Inko's Mango & Passion Fruit Rooibos Tea
We picked it because: This refreshing, caffeine-free tea brings the flavor of South African rooibos right to your fridge. We also love the earth-friendly 15.5-ounce aluminum can. The all-natural tea comes in at 100 calories per can, making it the perfect afternoon – or anytime – drink of choice.
|Justin's Single Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
SRP: 99 cents
We picked it because: The kid in all of us needs a peanut butter cup. And this one is 100% organic, Rainforest Alliance-certified and vegan. It's our grown-up way of indulging – and one that kids love too. Individually wrapped, it fits neatly into any lunchbox or briefcase.
|Kane Candy Chocolate Party Cups
We picked it because: No party is complete without these chocolate cups. Dessert cups, toasting cups – there's a chocolate variety for every occasion and guest. We're partial to the new White Chocolate Cordial & Toasting cups, but also love the Pink Magnolia Chocolate Dessert Cups. Cheers!
|La Panzanella Snowball Dolcetini
We picked it because: With the simple sweetness of vanilla, the art of the European tea cookie is captured in La Panzanella's Snowball Dolcetini. It's a classic recipe made with all-natural ingredients that will have you carving out a regular tea time.
|La Pasta Sweet Potato, Quinoa & Kale Ravioli
We picked it because: Three superfoods in one ravioli is a feat we didn't know could taste so good. The health benefits of protein, vitamins K, C, B and A are secondary to the taste of this hearty pasta with chunks of sweet potato, sautéed kale and tri-colored quinoa. If you're looking for a health-packed meal the whole family (kids too!) will love – this is it.
|Lark Fine Foods Mighty Gingers
We picked it because: Deep, chewy and intense, these ginger cookies are packed with all the spices of our childhood – but without all the work! Just add butter, molasses and egg to the cookie mix and enjoy perfectly spiced ginger cookies fresh from the oven.
|Maple Reserve Co. Tonewood Cube
We picked it because: This is maple syrup as you've never seen it before – a cube of pure maple sugar. Single-sourced, unblended and totally free of additives, Tonewood sets the new bar for maple products. And they're not stopping at the cube – syrups, wafers, cream, flakes and seasoning are also available from the progressive Maple Reserve Co.
|McConnell's Fine Ice Cream Churros Con Leche
We picked it because: We didn't know you could make churros more delicious – but McConnell's has done it. They've paired freshly made churros with grass-fed milk and cream. Added some organic cage-free eggs, a splash of R.R. Lochhead vanilla and finished it off with Sri Lankan cinnamon. We're sold!
|Mediterranean Snacks Tapaz2go
We picked it because: Finally, hummus we can take on a road trip! These gluten-free snack combos are more like mini-meals. A single-serving pouch of Sea Salt Lentil Crackers paired with one of three kinds of hummus: classic, roasted garlic or red pepper. The individual package size is 3.6 ounces so it's ready to travel. Store it chilled or on the shelf at stable room temp. It's ready to go when you are.
|Noosa Lemon Yoghurt
SRP: $2.49 (for 8 ounces)
We picked it because: Australian-style yoghurt from the happy cows and clovers of Colorado, Noosa Lemon Yoghurt is the right blend of decadence and tart. The rich, smooth texture of Morning Fresh Dairy milk is blended with honey and fresh lemon curd. It's made in small batches, but we're thinking of ordering in bulk!
|Nye's Cream Sandwiches
We picked it because: An all-natural, delicious twist on a kiddie classic, we're skipping lunch and going right to dessert. Made with rBST-free milk and fruit at the peak of ripeness, Key Lime Pie has our complete attention. We also can't say no to the Peppermint Chocolate. We'll take one of each, please.
|Partners Free For All Kitchen Gluten Free Crackers
We picked it because: These crackers might be gluten-free but they're packed with taste and crunch. A light, crispy cracker that's also kosher and non-GMO makes it tough to pick a favorite flavor. Our top three: Olive Oil & Sea Salt, Roasted Garlic & Rosemary, and Olive Oil & Herb.
|Pereg Gourmet Quinoa with Vegetables
We picked it because: Finally, it's quinoa made easy! If you can boil water, you can eat quinoa. Packaged in family-sized, resealable containers these mixes are a quick and healthy way to feed the whole family. Carrots, potatoes, bell peppers and raisins plus herbs and spices give this naturally gluten-free grain a fun and tasty kick.
|PopsALot Saigon Sunrise
We picked it because: We would have told you that kettle corn was perfect as is. We would have been wrong. One bite of this kettle corn with a generous swirl of Vietnamese cinnamon and we're never going back. Each all-natural Popsalot batch is handcrafted and kissed with just the right amount of salt and sweetness that make it irresistible.
|Q Drinks Q Grapefruit
SRP: $1.99 (per 8 ounce); $7.99 (4 pack); $6.99 (per 750 mL)
We picked it because: It actually tastes like a grapefruit! Q Grapefruit is packed with Florida grapefruits and just a dash of organic cane sugar. What does this mean? For only 50 calories you get the real thing – fresh, bitter and tart, with just a hint of sweetness. Perfect for summertime, anytime.
|Quince & Apple Syrups
SRP: $13 (250 mL)
We picked it because: These small batch syrups add big flavor to cocktails and beverages. With their homemade, artisan approach, Quince & Apple has created unusual, signature flavors (hibiscus lemonade, anyone?) to keep you well-liked by friends and neighbors stopping by for drinks.
|Red Mill Farms Jennie's Macaroons
We picked it because: We've never met a macaroon we didn't like, but these are on a different level. Tender and chewy, with pure dark chocolate drizzled over each one, there's a whole lot to love. Gluten-free and available in 5-ounce and 10-ounce re-sealable clam shells.
|Roaring Brook Dairy Chevre Cheesemaking Kit
We picked it because: Homemade goat cheese in under 60 minutes? Yes, please. This do-it-yourself cheesemaking kit provides everything you need to make about eight batches of goat cheese (6-8 ounces each). With illustrated instructions, we promise you can follow along. Also included are herbs de province, rennet, cheesecloth and an authentic French cheese mold. Go forth and make cheese!
|Rogue Creamery Blue Heaven Blue Cheese Powder
We picked it because: What's better than one blue cheese? How about four? Blue Heaven blends Rogue Creamery's Oregon Blue, Oregonzola, Crater Lake Blue and special reserve blue cheeses into a pure powder. Whether you use it for dressings, sauces, dips, flavored butter or even popcorn, Blue Heaven couldn't be more aptly-named.
|Roland Arugula Pesto
We picked it because: Pass the pesto please! This peppery take on the original is imported from San Remo, Italy. A blend of arugula, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, we're putting it on everything – even just a spoon!
|Rosanna Farm Belle
We picked it because: This is Rosanna's debut into the food world and we love it. The new line supports the local economies of the Pacific Northwest while introducing the world to the sustainably sourced, natural ingredients of the region. Syrups, hazelnuts, raw-infused honey cream and jams are all part of this must-have product line.
|Seattle Chocolates jcoco
SRP: $7.95 (three 1-ounce bars)
We picked it because: Seattle Chocolates President & CEO Jean Thompson has put the "j" in jcoco – her creations combine new flavors from across the globe and count us among the inspired. Edamame Sea Salt turns us upside-down, and with its copper-foil packaging we even look chic eating it. Added bonus: with each jcoco purchase, a fresh and healthy serving is donated to one of three regional food banks.
|Sheila G Brands Salted Caramel Brownie Brittle
We picked it because: Already fans of Sheila G's Brownie Brittle, this new flavor is no exception. Rich caramel and flakes of sea salt have been added to the crunchy chocolate snack. And at only 120 calories per serving, we can't think of a reason to say no – to firsts or seconds!
|Stash Tea Spice Dragon Red Chai Herbal Tea
We picked it because: Sometimes we need chai at night. They've added clove, ginger root and sweet cinnamon to a rooibos tea base to create this sweet and spicy – and caffeine-free chai.
|Stöger Nut Seed Oils Culinary Imports
We picked it because: We just can't get enough of these nut seed oils. Cold-pressed to European standards on the Stöger family farm in Neuruppersdorf, Austria, these oils can be used for drizzling, dipping, dressing and everything in between!
Organic Greek Yogurt Almonds
We picked it because: This crunchy snack has gotten us through many an afternoon meeting. Creamy organic Greek yogurt coats organic almonds in a protein-packed on-the-go snack. Just crunch quietly or your coworkers will stop by for a taste. Like our tireless tasters, you'll be glad they're available in 10-pound bulk boxes.
|Teeny Tiny Spice Co. of Vermont Oaxacan Adobo
We picked it because: There's nothing teeny-tiny about this chili-based spice blend. Use it as a dry rub or general spice blend. Pro tip: Combine it with a little citrus juice or vinegar. Warning: You'll risk being asked to host dinner parties again and again!
|The Olive Orchard World Olive Oil Sampler Set
We picked it because: These 2-ounce bottles of olive oil let you tour the world without ever leaving your table. These award-winning extra virgin olive oils are all cold pressed from estates in Italy, Greece, Chile and South Africa. The sampler lets you choose your favorite flavor profile, or if you're like us – choose them all!
|The Republic of Tea Pumpkin Spice
We picked it because: This cozy tea is autumn in a cup. Fine China black tea with natural pumpkin plus cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove. It's a special edition holiday tea so we'll be stocking up on this sweet, handcrafted blend. We're even adding a splash of milk for a little guilt-free pumpkin pie anytime.
|The Spice Hunter Salt Free Grilling Blends
We picked it because: We love that it is salt free – a rarity in spice blends. This makes it especially good for sodium-free folks and lets you, the cook, answer the age-old question: How much salt? Every blend is all-natural and kosher, with herbs and spices sourced from around the globe. Plus each jar comes with serving suggestions, with no-fail recipes on the website. So get grilling already!
|Torn Ranch Green Tea Chocolate Bar
We picked it because: We like to have our tea and eat it too. Torn Ranch's signature chocolate is infused with green tea for an antioxidant rich treat. The tea taste is subtle and perfect for a snack or dessert – or both! All-natural and kosher dairy, the bars come in milk or dark chocolate with choice of green or black tea.
|Tortuga 100% Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
We picked it because: When you can't get to Jamaica, bring it to you. This vacuum-packed, foil-sealed Blue Mountain coffee comes with an escape hatch to the tropics. Available in roasted and ground or roasted whole beans, the vacation feeling is included free of charge.
|Victoria Vv Original Vegan Alfredo Sauce
We picked it because: There are things we didn't know cashews could do! This vegan sauce will take your pasta or vegetables on a decadent ride. Cashew cream combined with fresh garlic, salt, black pepper and rosemary delivers that classic alfredo taste in a whole new – dare we say exciting?! – way.
|Way Better Snacks Simply Sprouted Simply So Sweet Chili
We picked it because: This tortilla chip is way better. Way, way better. Better tasting with a dose of Sweet Chili, and better for you with sprouted flaxseed, chia seeds, quinoa, black beans, broccoli seeds and daikon radish seeds. All these seeds add up to one chip we can't live without.
|We Rub You Spicy Korean BBQ Marinade
We picked it because: It's the spicier side of Korean cuisine. Starting with gochujang, an ancient food of fermented beans and chili peppers, this sauce kicks up any dish and can be used as a marinade or dipping sauce.
|White Coffee Corp. White Coffee Organic Naturals Single Serve Cups
We picked it because: Your Keurig will thank us. These single-serve cups are 100 percent hand-picked, specialty, organic coffee. Allergen-free, non-GMO – the best part about these single-serve cups is the freshness. You can smell the brew instantly, waking you up before even the first sip. And once you're awake, you can enjoy the rich flavor of their roasts or naturally-flavored coffees.