SPOTTED AT THE 2018 SUMMER FANCY FOOD SHOW (SAVORIES EDITION)

Spotted on Shelves is showing off what was in the aisles at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show (FFS) in New York City. I scoped out new products from familiar brands and interesting things from up-and-coming companies.

As is the nature of trade shows like this, I was plied with free samples and the occasional tote bag. This did not affect what was chosen to appear in this column or my opinions of the products, but it did affect my waistline.

Are you a savory? Love anything salty, meaty, smoky or spicy? The Fancy Food Show had loads of new and future products that will push your umami button.

Bantam Bagels Egg Bites (Original, Swiss Cheddar Garden Veggie, Pepper Jack Chipotle, and Gruyere Onion Thyme)

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Shark Tank alum Bantam Bagels are introducing a new line of their signature mini bagel balls with an egg & cheese filling instead of their regular cream cheese. A hearty thanks from all the cream cheese haters like myself! These came out of the toaster oven with a thick crust, the inside was soft and chewy and the filling was silky and cheesy. I had the original, so it was a simple flavor profile – bagel, egg, cheese. I will definitely be trying the other flavors when they hit shelves.

Available exclusively in Target starting in July, wider distribution to follow.

Stonewall Kitchen / Legal Sea Foods collaboration (House Tartar Sauce, House Cocktail Sauce, and Signature Salad Dressing)

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I didn’t sample these, but seafood lovers might want to be on the lookout for these next year. Stonewall Kitchen is teaming up with Legal Sea Foods, the Boston-based restaurant chain / online fishmonger (had to slip that word in – it delights me) to bring their signature sauces to the home market.

Coming in 2019.

Holy Smoke Smoked Olive Oil

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At first taste, this is just a good olive oil. After a few seconds, a subtle smoky aroma sneaks in. Surprising but pleasant.

Available now at select grocery stores.

Tio Gazpacho Chilled Soups (Clasico, Verde, De Sol, Maiz, and Rosado)

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Cold soup in a bottle. Sounds like the beginning of an elaborate prank, but these were tasty and could be a handy (and healthy) lunch-on-the-go. I liked that this isn’t just gazpacho, it’s five different gazpachos that were all very different. The watermelon cilantro cayenne was the standout flavor for me.

Available now in select Whole Foods, Walmart, Kings and Amazon.

Field Trip Spicy Apple Buffalo Style All Natural Chicken Bites

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I’ve never had Buffalo wings in my life, yet somehow I know what that sauce tastes like. These chicken jerky bites definitely tasted like Buffalo sauce, but weren’t super-hot. The apple dropped a mellowing sweetness into the mix. If you’re a wing fan, these are a good snack to keep around for when the craving hits you.

Available in the next few months at supermarkets and drugstores nationally.

Den’s Hot Dogs with Mild Chili, Pineapple Chutney, Tomato and Onions, Sweet Relish, or Sauerkraut.

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I’ve always been sheepish to admit I like microwave hot dogs, but I’ve been vindicated by the Fancy Food Show! Den’s Hot Dogs are frozen and come with a bun and condiments already in place. Just nuke ‘em for a minute and you’re ready to go. Is this the end of the dreaded 10 hot dogs/ 8 buns math conundrum?

I sampled the pineapple chutney-covered dog, and it was pretty good! The bun ends up steamed and a little on the soft side for my taste (I’m a crusty bread person) but the hot dog itself was plump and had nice texture & flavor. They have novelty appeal, but would be great to have on hand when a fleeting ‘dog urge hits you.

Available now online, coming to QVC soon and testing at Walmarts in Texas & Florida this fall.

Pure Bred Idiot Hot Sauce Roulette and Hot Sauce

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The most fun booth at the show was the Ass Kickin’ Hot Sauce. I love this brand’s packaging and sense of humor. Their latest product is a hot sauce roulette game. 12 hot sauces of increasingly masochistic heat levels with a spinner.

I did not sample this product, as I’m a lily-livered hot sauce coward, but if you’re a daredevil with desensitized taste buds, this could be a hoot! And if you want to cut to the chase, just buy the bottle of #12, Pure Bred Idiot Hot Sauce.

Available now at Cost Plus World Market, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, Amazon and select specialty retailers and gourmet shops.

Happi Foodi Frozen Foods (Chicken & Dumplings, Barbacoa Mac & Please, Mozzarella and Green Chili Arepas, Buffalo Chicken Avocado Egg Rolls, Tostones with Fruit Salsa, Tequila Lime Chicken, Skewerless Kabobs, and Cuban Egg Rolls)

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This is a brand-spanking-new frozen food line from the makers of WaffleWaffle. Their Cuban Egg Rolls were on hand for sampling. I generally don’t like hot ham & cheese, but I thought it was a solid product and the crust was well-executed. I’d like to try the other products in this line.

Exclusively available in Walmarts starting in October, wider distribution to follow.

SPOTTED AT THE 2018 SUMMER FANCY FOOD SHOW (BUBBLY EDITION)

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Spotted on Shelves is showing off what was in the aisles at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show (FFS) in New York City. I scoped out new products from familiar brands and interesting things from up-and-coming companies.

As is the nature of trade shows like this, I was plied with free samples and the occasional tote bag. This did not affect what was chosen to appear in this column or my opinions of the products, but it did affect my waistline.

One of the trends at FFS was sparkling and carbonated drinks. Sodas and waters are evolving — taking on new flavors and ingredients.

Dry Zero Sugar Sodas (Cola, Peach Tea, Mountain Berry and Island Fruit)

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These tasted like a cross between a flavored seltzer and a traditional soda. There are no artificial colors, so they are all clear. The cola flavor was lighter than a Coke/Pepsi and slightly spicy. Available now in grocery, big box stores and Amazon.

Gus One-Drink Cocktail Mixers (Mojito, Sparkling Cosmo, Moscow Mule and Tonic & Lime)

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These are marketed as mixers to add to your alcohol of choice to make a cocktail, but I thought these were great on their own. The standout here was the Mojito – mint isn’t a common soda flavor, and it’s well-done here. Available now in select grocery stores and specialty retailers.

Töst

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Töst tasted a bit like a grown-up ginger ale. It’s described as a non-alcoholic drink for celebrations – to me that means “for when you don’t feel like drinking, but don’t want to take flak from your hard-partying friends.” Handy.

Large bottles available now in gourmet, specialty shops and select Whole Foods in New England, single-serve bottles launched this week, hitting stores soon.

O.Vine Wine Grape Infused carbonated waters

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I’m not a big wine drinker. I’ll take a good soda over wine any day. These wine grape infused waters were a middle ground between the two. The flavor was light and bright, but wasn’t just a watered-down wine.

Availability TBD – these were prototypes for testing at the show.

Just Craft Sodas (Pear and Vanilla, Apple and Ginger, Lemon and Lemongrass, Peach and Habanero, and Tangerine and Rhubarb)

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This Canadian brand’s Peach Habanero flavor stood out to me. Hmm. Spicy soda? That’s new to me. It was an interesting experience – the heat hit fast with medium strength, but vacated the area quickly, which I liked. It was a self-contained sweet/hot with each sip.

Available now in select grocery chains and Cost Plus World Market.

Element Shrub & Club Sparkling Vinegar Drinks (Honeydew Jalapeno, Pineapple Turmeric, Lemon Mint, Blood Orange Saffron, and Cranberry Hibiscus)

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Sparkling vinegar drink. I was a skeptic. Then I tried them, and I was still a skeptic. While they were pleasant, and the vinegar was much less prominent than I expected, these were just a bit too savory for my taste.

But if you remember and loved Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray (celery-flavored) soda, these vinegar drinks will be right up your alley. They’re tangy, a little sweet with a hint of earthiness/vegetables.

Available online now, regional retailers soon.

Pocas Ginger Brew (Original Ginger, Ginger Mango Turmeric, Ginger Apple Moringa, Ginger Pineapple Ginseng, and Ginger Calamansi Mojito)

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I found these ginger ales ten minutes before the show closed – while boxes were being swiftly packed and subtle tasting and discussion were not on the menu. The mysterious ingredients moringa and calamansi (which I will address in later posts) drew my attention, but in general these had a good level of ginger and interesting combinations of fruits and/or “superfoods.”

Available online and Amazon soon, regional Northeast retail outlets afterwards.

REVIEW: Snickers Salty & Sweet, Espresso, and Fiery Intense Flavors

Snickers Salty Sweet Espresso and Fiery Intense Flavors

When Snickers announced back in October that they would release three new varieties – “Intense Flavors,” I was intrigued. Salty & Sweet, Espresso, and Fiery sounded interesting. But that was crisp, cool autumn. Now it’s sweaty June, the Intense Flavors are here, and it seems like a curious move. Who wants melty chocolate all over their hot fingers? I’m guessing this release might have been timed to defeat the summer chocolate slump and tear us away from our ice cream cones. Could be a smart move – it got me on board at a time when I’d be more likely to reach for the freezer.

The Snickers Intense flavors packaging is a subtle shift from the usual Snickers wrapper – so subtle that in a bin of bars, I had to dig around to locate each flavor. They looked like a pile of the same product. But this similarity did effectively communicate one thing – these are essentially Snickers bars with flavors added.

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Also, they’ve stuck with the “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” themed logos. The Sweet & Salty bar says “Indecisive?” instead of “Snickers.” The Espresso says “Irritable?” and Fiery asks if you’re “Wimpy?” I hate this particular gimmick – the visual of all the different words offends my sense of graphic cohesion – so that definitely made me “Irritable.”

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Snickers Intense flavors are slightly smaller than the basic Snickers. Now .04oz lighter doesn’t sound like much, but when I lined them up next to the Snick OG, it’s noticeable. The silver lining is that they’re 10 calories less than the original!

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Aroma-wise, only the Snickers Espresso had a unique smell layered on top of the usual choco-nuttiness. The unmistakable scent of coffee.

Snickers Salty & Sweet tasted like a basic Snickers with a pinch of salt. That was the only difference I detected, but it was a welcome addition. It makes so much sense that I questioned for a hot second whether original Snickers had a salty kick all along. I had to go back and sample one to make sure. It may not be revolutionary, but it was delicious. Like a Snickers+.

Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: What can’t be improved with a pinch of salt? Just make this the default Snickers flavor already.
Cons: It’s so right, it should have existed already…so not surprising at all.
Nutrition Facts: (1 bar) 240 calories, 11 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 26 grams of total sugars, 25 grams of added sugars, and 4 grams of protein.

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Snickers Espresso was the biggest departure. Coffee isn’t a new or risky flavor these days, but it’s done well here. The espresso was richer than the usual coffee flavor products. It was present from the first bite but didn’t smother the original Snickers combo that I love. This was my favorite of the three and I would definitely buy it again.

Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Great espresso flavor that works well with the basic Snickers formula.
Cons: Makes me ashamed of how much I hate coffee (the drink).
Nutrition Facts: (1 bar) 240 calories, 11 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 115 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of total sugars, 25 grams of added sugars, and 4 grams of protein.

Snickers Fiery was disappointing. It felt like ages until the chili pepper heat hit me. I’d finished chewing and started swallowing when the back of my throat lit up and stayed that way for longer than I’d have liked. The heat level was about 3, which is fine for me, but it felt out of place. It didn’t have the fun flavor whiplash of the Skittles and Starburst Sweet Heat candies. Fiery is great for people who love low-level peppers that stick around like unwelcome houseguests.

Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: I ate it, so I must not be wimpy, as the logo implies.
Cons: Implying I’m wimpy. Heat that shows up to the party late, then refuses to leave – even after you’ve turned the music off and yawned loudly.
Nutrition Facts: (1 bar) 240 calories, 12 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 26 grams of total sugars, 24 grams of added sugars, and 4 grams of protein

Purchased Price: $1.25
Size: 1.82 oz. bars
Purchased at: CVS

REVIEW: 7Up Cream Cheese Cake Bites

7Up Cream Cheese Cake Bites

When I mentioned to friends that I was trying 7Up Cream Cheese Cake Bites, at least 3 of them said “Ew!” I couldn’t understand this reaction. 7Up is just lemon-lime – how is that a revolting cake? Cream cheese and citrus isn’t a new combo.

The soda-cake thing isn’t groundbreaking, either – Cola cake has existed for more than half a century. Why were they acting like I was volunteering to each live cockroaches? Have people become so conditioned by coffee potato chips and strawberry-flavored cheese that their Pavlovian reaction to any new flavor variety is to make a face and groan? I, for one, was excited about 7Up Cream Cheese Cake bites.

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On first glance, I saw two things I liked: streusel topping (I love streusel. Haven’t found a way to make an all-streusel coffee cake yet, but I’m working on it!) and a very prominent “Freshness Date” – great, they aren’t shelf-stable until the end of time. When I opened the package, the smell was lacking in lemon-lime-essence. White cake and cream cheese were dominant, with a little shred of lemon way in the back.

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My first bite was a continuation of the aroma experience – not much in the way of lemon-lime. The base was a simple yellow cake. It was tasty, but didn’t scream citrus. The cream cheese topping added a nice tang, but again, not much 7Up flavor. I tasted the streusel alone and realized it wasn’t actual streusel. I think it’s re-baked cake crumbles. Bummer. I wish the package had pointed that out in advance.

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While lemon peel zest is 8th on the ingredients list, lemon oil and 7Up concentrate are 11th and 12th, under “2% or less.” No lime listed at all. That just about sums up this experience – there’s 2% or less of 7Up in this product. I find lemon in particular a flavor that’s hard to skimp on – it’s so powerful, even a little makes itself known. I suspect employee #9145 at the industrial baking plant dozed off for a couple minutes (he’s got a newborn, after all) and forgot to add in the 35-lb. bag of powdered citrus extract.

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The cake is moist and the texture is a nice middle ground – not too light, not too dense.

They’re not bad little cakes, which has earned them some points, but they’re not what they claim to be, which has lost them some points. I would enjoy these on a dessert table at a party, without knowing they’re supposed to be soda-flavored, but I wouldn’t buy them again.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 cake bite – 120 calories, 7 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 9 grams of sugars, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.97
Size: 16 cake bites/box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Decent cake, cream cheese topping is good. “Freshness Date” lets me live the illusion these aren’t mass-produced fake food.
Cons: Lemon-lime taste? In the immortal words of Geoffrey Holder – “Never had it, never will.” Drink an actual 7Up with these if you want the titular experience. And don’t ever tease me with fake streusel. I can’t take it.

QUICK REVIEW: Milky Way Fudge Minis

Milky Way Fudge Minis

What is it?

A Milky Way with the usual chocolate malt nougat swapped out for chocolate fudge nougat. That’s about it.

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How is it?

These are delicious, much the same way a regular Milky Way is. The fudge nougat has a slightly more pronounced cocoa flavor and the texture is a hair denser, the effect of which is 10 percent more chocolateness – not a huge bump. If I was blindfolded and someone handed me these and said “Here’s a Milky Way,” I likely wouldn’t be able to tell it was different.

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These made me ask “why?” in a way no other product variation has. It’s too similar to the original. When I bite into a Milky Way Caramel Apple or Midnight, I’m getting a materially different experience. I would give a plain Milky Way a 9, but I’m deducting a point for lack of originality here. They taste good, but a variant should stand apart from the original.

Is there anything else I need to know?

The package makes a bold promise on the stretchiness of the caramel.

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I tried to recreate it, but only got this far:

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Conclusion:

If you’re a Milky Way fan, just buy a Milky Way. The experience is so close, there’s kind of no point in these existing.

Purchased Price: $2.98
Size: 8.9 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (4 pieces) 150 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 50 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 20 grams of sugar, 19 grams of added sugars, and 1 gram of protein.

REVIEW: Hershey’s Kisses Flavor of Hawaii Pineapple Coconut

Hershey s Kisses Flavor of Hawaii Pineapple Coconut

This time last year, Hershey’s launched its “Flavors of America” campaign. I thought this was a genius way to introduce new flavors – appeal to our national spirit and highlight the diverse agriculture and local/regional culinary specialties of our fair country.

While I had issues with the Flavor of New York Cherry Cheesecake bar, for the most part I enjoyed the products that came out of this promotion – Orange Creme Pop and Key Lime Pie Twizzlers, Strawberry Kit Kat, etc.
 
I thought the Flavor of Hawaii Coconut Almond Hershey’s Kisses were the standout of the bunch. They were superbly light and the enrobed almonds added a nice crunch. I nearly ate a whole bag in one sitting.
 
When I heard that Hershey was retreading these Kisses as Pineapple Coconut, I was excited but confused. I didn’t understand why it was having another go at Hawaii when there were plenty of other flavors and states it hadn’t hit yet. I love pineapple, though, so I definitely wanted to try them.
 
On breaking open the bag, I inhaled a lung-ful of suntan lotion. It smelled like whatever tropical-fruit-scented concoction I was slathering on my translucent skin during my family’s summer 1987 vacation to Honolulu. In that sense, it was definitely a flavor of Hawaii for me. But a food-scented lotion is more appealing than a lotion-flavored food. My hopes were starting to deflate like a pool float with a slow leak.

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While last year’s Coconut Almond Kisses were a subtle affair with a classy coconut and a smart almond textural bump, Pineapple Coconut were like 12-year-old me in Hawaii – frizzy, permed hair, Jamz shorts in a seizure-inducing pattern and geometrically abstract sunburn lines. Just wrong.
 
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The same lovely coconut remained, but these Kisses were mostly pineapple. Not an authentic “I just came from the Dole Plantation tour” flavor, but more of a “Check out these gummies I found at It’s Sugar.” I’m not against fake-fruit flavors – I prefer fake watermelon to the real thing – but in this case, the artificiality didn’t mesh well with the low-key coconut. I wouldn’t even say I disliked the pineapple on its own merits – I think it would have been great as a Twizzler.

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These Kisses also lacked a nut filling, which I really missed. I decided to make some of my go-to crafty snacks – I call them Flying Saucers. One round pretzel, one Hershey’s Kiss, bake at 250F for 3 minutes exactly, press one M&M into the center to flatten it out.  

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For me, the pretzels fixed the flavor imbalance and gave it texture. I had more appreciation for the Coconut Pineapple afterwards.

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Overall, these weren’t bad and would be a nice treat for a luau-themed patio party this summer, but if the Coconut Almond Kisses are available – choose them instead.
 
Now, can we PLEASE move on to some other states’ great flavors? How about Vermont Maple Kisses? New Mexico Chili Chocolate Kisses? Massachusetts Cranberry? Louisiana Bananas Foster?

(Nutrition Facts – 7 kisses – 170 calories, 9 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 35 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 16 grams of total sugars, 13 grams of added sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $4.75
Size: 10 oz. bag
Purchased at: Hershey’s Chocolate World
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Same light, lovely coconut flavor as last year’s model.
Cons: Pineapple that isn’t in tune with the coconut. Why are we going to Hawaii again? This kiss needs nuts (or pretzels or something crunchy and savory)!