Refrigerated & Frozen Foods has hosted a Best New Retail Products Contest since 2013, but 2021 is the first time we’ve split frozen and refrigerated products into separate annual competitions. The first leg this year was for frozen foods, and after a month of voting throughout April, our top five was set based on vote totals from the public.
We spoke with each of the winning companies about how their products and packaging fit into a crowded and competitive frozen foods marketplace, what sustainability efforts they’re executing in 2021, and what their plans are for 2022 and beyond. Our overall winner—Devanco Foods—was also featured on an episode of our Cold Corner podcast, which you can listen to HERE.
Finally, a quick reminder that the second leg of our retail products contest this year will focus on refrigerated foods, with daily voting throughout the month of August. You can find our finalists and cast your vote at rffmag.com.
#1 – Devanco Foods’ MSG-Free Chicken Gyros Kits
First Place: Devanco Foods' No MSG Gyros Kits with 12,740 votes.
Total Votes: 12,740
Q&A: Peter Bartzis, President & CEO, Devanco Foods, and Liz Vanderhoef, Marketing Manager, Devanco Foods
R&FF: Congratulations on placing first in our 2021 Best New Frozen Retail Products Contest. What does this recognition mean to Devanco, especially after winning our contest last year with your regular MSG-Free Gyros Kits?
Bartzis: The recognition is something that we don’t take lightly. It’s a very prestigious award. We put it in our marketing materials and we put it on our website too. Getting this award is something that we’re proud of because it recognizes us as a manufacturer, and we’re proud of all our products, not just the two gyros kits that won back-to-back years.
Vanderhoef: I think it says a lot too that the voting is consumer based. We have a lot of people that love our products and follow the Devanco brand, especially here in the Chicagoland area. So, when we rolled out our chicken gyros, they were super excited because they could pick up our traditional gyros kits, and right next to it, they could also pick up our new chicken gyros for variety. Everybody was really excited about the addition of a chicken gyros kit, and so they were excited to help us win this award too.
Chicago-based Devanco Foods was Refrigerated & Frozen Foods' 2020 Frozen Foods Processor of the Year. Their retail products are sold in every U.S. state. Photos courtesy of Devanco Foods.
R&FF: What innovative features do your MSG-Free Chicken Gyros Kits have that helped it finish first out of 20 finalists?
Bartzis: I think it’s the variety. Like Liz said, you can get the regular gyros kit, which is a beef and lamb product, and then you also can get a chicken version, which is perceived as being a healthier item. People love gyros. We sell it in every state, and we export it throughout the world, and it’s a sandwich that is still under the radar, but it is becoming mainstream right now, especially with a chain like Arby’s putting it on their menu.
Vanderhoef: Gyros have a lot of versatility too. For example, we’re always testing new recipes here, and we made a buffalo chicken gyro. It had buffalo sauce and blue cheese in the tzatziki, which was phenomenal. And our kits are nice because the pita bread, tzatziki, and meat all come in one box and it’s fun for kids to assemble. All you have to do is add your own little flair to the basic ingredients and you can make it different from sandwich to sandwich. People can even put them in the oven with some condiments on top and make chicken gyro pizzas if they want. We’re seeing a lot of people loving that versatility.
Devanco's MSG-Free Gyros Kit (right) won Refrigerated & Frozen Foods' Best New Retail Products Contest in 2020, while the company's MSG-Free Chicken Gyros Kit (left) won the frozen portion of this year's contest. Voting in R&FF's refrigerated foods contest will start in August.
R&FF: What is unique about the packaging for your MSG-Free Chicken Gyros Kits?
Bartzis: During the pandemic, everybody rushed to the grocery stores. Convenience was a big thing. We had a six-pack of gyros that was for a family, but our chicken gyros come in packs of three, which is perfect for millennials shopping out there that may not have six people in their household.
R&FF: How many stores are your MSG-Free Chicken Gyros Kits in today?
Bartzis: At least 500 stores are carrying this item right now.
R&FF: Where are Devanco’s products distributed, and does Devanco have a direct-to-consumer or e-commerce strategy?
Bartzis: Overall, our products are in every state, and we’re in more than 2500 stores. Our foodservice and retail items are basically the same, so customers are getting foodservice-quality items at the grocery store. Just by switching the production line, we’re able to pivot from foodservice to retail packaging, and we also do a lot of private label foods for larger chains.
Vanderhoef: During the pandemic, many retail partners thanked us for fulfilling all our orders, since others couldn’t due to production delays related to coronavirus. Devanco implemented a lot of procedures at the beginning of the pandemic even before they were mandated, to make sure our team felt safe and healthy coming to work. So, we didn’t have the issue of losing staff to COVID-19, and we didn’t have people getting sick or fear coming to work. As a result, we were able to fulfill all our orders. Our retail partners would call us and say, “This vendor wasn’t able to get us our order or deliver a complete order. Can you add X amount of cases?” And we were able to fulfill that.
Currently, we’re working on an e-commerce strategy. We’re hoping within the next three months or so to have that option live. We’re working hard to determine which products will do best through e-commerce, and how to send those products to people’s homes in the most cost effective and sustainable way.
Left to right: Evan Bartzis, GM; Liz Vanderhoef, marketing manager; and Peter Bartzis, president & CEO. You can hear Liz and Peter discuss Devanco's recent contest win on our Cold Corner podcast.
R&FF:What sustainable programs does Devanco have today, and what areas of sustainability are most important to your company?
Bartzis: Our gyros kits are all made in sustainable packaging, and our goal is to have all our packaging be sustainable by 2025. We’re pushing our vendors to get into that and make it at a price point that it is feasible so that we don’t have to overprice when we go out to the field. We’re also looking at alternative energies at our facility here in the Chicago area, putting solar panels on our roof, and initiatives like that.
Vanderhoef: We’re on track to be well ahead of our 2025 goal for sustainable packaging, and we’re also focusing on cleaner labels, with nitrate-free beef bacon, and moving our Italian beef to an all-natural formula.
Vanderhoef cites the versatility and convenience of Devanco's MSG-Free Chicken Gyros Kit, combined with the current popularity of chicken overall, as driving factors in the product's first-place finish.
R&FF:What’s on the horizon for Devanco for the rest of 2021 and into 2022?
Bartzis: We have a plant-based line of products coming out, and we have a line of farm-to-table hummus called Zacca in several flavors. Our retail sales grew 150% during the pandemic, and while this year may not be 150% year-over-year again, it’s still growing between 40% and 50%. Also, foodservice is a large part of our operation, and that’s coming back this year.
Vanderhoef: We’re also rolling out a new website which is going to be huge for us, and will help tremendously with our e-commerce option when we launch it.
#2 – Yasso Poppables
Second Place: Yasso Poppables with 8,389. Yasso's Poppables are sold nationwide in nearly 1,000 stores, and also through the company's direct-to-consumer option on their website. Photos courtesy of Yasso.
Total Votes: 8,389
Q&A: Craig Shiesley, CEO, Yasso
R&FF: Congratulations on placing second in our 2021 Best New Frozen Retail Products Contest. What does the recognition mean to Yasso?
Shiesley: We are honored to be recognized for our newest innovation, Yasso Poppables. We are always looking for ways to disrupt the better-for-you frozen category and the launch of Yasso Poppables marks a new phase of snacking innovation and creativity within the company. We are thrilled about what’s in store for the future.
R&FF: What innovative features do your Poppables have that helped it finish second out of 20 finalists?
Shiesley: First of all, they are incredibly snackable. At just 60 calories each and made with the goodness of Greek yogurt, they are the perfect round, bite-sized better-for-you snack. Yasso Poppables are available in four flavors including coffee, sea salt caramel, vanilla bean, and mint, and staying true to Yasso standards.
R&FF: What is unique about your packaging for Poppables?
Shiesley: Each Yasso Poppable is packed in a tray for easy snacking, sharing, and a quick grab for the constant business of our everyday lives.
R&FF: How many stores are Poppables in today?
Shiesley: Today, Yasso Poppables are sold in about 1,000 stores and we’re excited about our growing distribution. Yasso Poppables will be available nationwide this summer.
R&FF: Logistically, how are your products distributed to stores, and how has Yasso’s direct-to-consumer and e-commerce strategy grown over the past year?
Shiesley: Yasso Poppables, along with our broader portfolio, are delivered through frozen warehouses and distribution to grocery stores nationwide. We have seen significant growth in our omni-channel business including the launch of DTC in the summer of 2020. We are confident that frozen temp state is just getting started by the shift in consumer behaviors as they find optimized ways to ship the “last mile” and we are seeing significant returns by elevating our presence across a number of platforms from Instacart to retailer online pickup and delivery.
Yasso's Creamy Guarantee is a new addition to the company's frozen novelty packaging in 2021.
R&FF: What sustainable programs does Yasso have today? What areas of sustainability are most important to your company?
Shiesley: In 2020, we optimized our cartons and saved over 180 million tons of corrugate. We also increased the amount of product that can fit on each truckload by 42%, reducing the number of trucks on the road by 336, annually. This removed 443,000 miles travelled annually, which is enough to get to the moon and back.
R&FF: What’s on the horizon for Yasso the rest of 2021 and into 2022?
Shiesley: We recently launched a Creamy Guarantee initiative and reformulated our Mint Chocolate Chip flavor to be even mintier. We are dedicated to setting the gold standard for permissible indulgence and delivering the highest consumer satisfaction and will continue to innovate to satisfy customer requests throughout the coming years.
#3 – Cappello’s Almond Flour Pastas
Third Place: Cappello’s Almond Flour Pastas with 1,403 votes. "We were inspired to create dishes that could be enjoyed by all regardless of dietary restriction as we saw a need for simple, real-food ingredients in the frozen, gluten-free category," says Cappello's Co-Founder/Co-CEO, Ben Frohlichstein. Photos courtesy of Cappello's.
Cappello’s Almond Flour Pastas
Total Votes: 1,403
Q&A: Ben Frohlichstein, Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Cappello’s
R&FF: Congratulations on placing third in our 2021 Best New Frozen Retail Products Contest. What does the recognition mean to Cappello’s?
Frohlichstein: Our crew is so honored that we have been recognized out of the many great frozen products that were contestants this year. We feel that this acknowledgment is a testament to the quality of the ingredients that our pastas are made with and show the true value of having restaurant-quality products available in the frozen section.
R&FF: What innovative features do your almond flour pastas have that helped it finish third out of 20 finalists?
Frohlichstein: We were inspired to create dishes that could be enjoyed by all regardless of dietary restriction as we saw a need for simple, real-food ingredients in the frozen, gluten-free category. Many foods that are gluten-free are not necessarily the best for those consuming them as many items use grains that have been chemically altered to achieve their gluten-free status. Being around for the last 10 years, we are passionate about going beyond the moniker of grain-free and strive to reshape the frozen food paradigm in a more sustainable direction focused on foods that never compromise on taste or texture so that consumers can be really excited to eat them. We feel that voters really saw that we are keeping true quality in mind and voted accordingly.
Cappello's packaging leverages simple black and white patterning paired with a modern typeface and lots of white negative space to keep the focus on the principal pieces of communication, according to Frohlichstein.
R&FF: What is unique about your product’s packaging?
Frohlichstein: The black lids and labels, with their high-contrast font stand out among the pack. We also emphasize the product attributes like preservative-, dairy-, and gluten-free on the lid. The 8 ounce plastic tubs are the ideal weight, size and shape for the cold chain and have a strongly reinforced lid to prevent accidental openings before it reaches the consumer.
R&FF: What stores are Cappello’s products sold in today?
Frohlichstein: Our pastas can be found in Whole Foods Market nationwide, select Walmart stores, Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Wegmans, Erewhon Market, Lassens Natural Foods & Vitamins, Bristol Farms, and Valley Natural Foods.
Cappello's is expanding distribution of its products in California and on the East Coast in 2021.
R&FF: Does Cappello’s have a direct-to-consumer or e-commerce strategy?
Frohlichstein: Our items are available direct-to-consumer through our website Cappellos.com and can be found on Amazon through Whole Foods Market direct.
R&FF: What sustainable programs does Cappello’s have today? What areas of sustainability are most important to your company?
Frohlichstein: Our crew is currently working with Land To Market of the Savory Institute, the world’s first verified regenerative sourcing solution for meat, wool, dairy and leather. We are collaborating closely with their team to find where we are able to take steps in incorporating ingredients that are regenerative into our products.
R&FF: What’s on the horizon for Cappello’s the rest of 2021 and into 2022?
Frohlichstein: We are passionate about continuing our product innovation and will have some new, grain-free foods popping up later this summer. We are also in the process of expanding our distribution in many areas including Safeway, Safemart, and Lucky stores in California, and for our friends on the East Coast, Cappello’s can now be found in Giant Martin.
#4 – Bibigo Korean-Style Crunchy Chicken
Fourth Place: Bibigo Korean-Style Crunchy Chicken with 1,372 votes. "These past few years, we had noticed significant growth in the amount of attention surrounding Korean fried chicken and knew it was a trend we needed to get ahead of and deliver a great product to consumers," says Soyoung Paik, CMO at CJ Foods USA, parent company of Bibigo. Photos courtesy of Bibigo.
Total Votes: 1,372
Q&A: Soyoung Paik, CMO, CJ Foods USA
R&FF: Congratulations on placing fourth in our 2021 Best New Frozen Retail Products Contest. What does the recognition mean to Bibigo?
Paik: We are incredibly honored to have our new Bibigo Korean-Style Crunchy Chicken recognized by industry peers, customers, and consumers. Our Bibigo brand celebrates Korean cuisine and the belief that food is meant to bring people together and to be shared. While this brand is relatively new to the U.S., we are excited to share it with consumers throughout the country as we often say that it is more than 5,000 years in the making. Many of our products pay homage to the traditional products of South Korea, which have been perfected over the course of several decades and it is only right to share these items with others who appreciate a labor of love when it relates to food.
R&FF: What innovative features does your Korean-style crunchy chicken have that helped it finish fourth out of 20 finalists?
Paik: One of our core values is that we strive to be the first, the best or different in the marketplace. These past few years, we had noticed significant growth in the amount of attention surrounding Korean fried chicken and knew it was a trend we needed to get ahead of and deliver a great product to consumers.
When it relates to the trend of Korean fried chicken, search results are soaring. There has been a steady rise reported through Google Analytics on the number of consumers searching for Korean Fried Chicken on Google as well as more than 35 million search results on YouTube. Additionally, there has been a rise in Korean-inspired chicken restaurants. Bonchon now has more than 100 restaurants in the U.S. and BB.Q Chicken is also expanding in the U.S. with 47 locations.
Our Korean-style crunchy chicken features antibiotic-free boneless chicken tossed in a signature batter for an extra crunch that’s light and airy. The Soy Garlic flavor has the perfect balance of soy sauce, garlic and ginger. And the Sweet & Spicy variety has the ideal blend of sweetness with the perfect amount of heat from chili peppers.
"Our Korean-style crunchy chicken features antibiotic-free boneless chicken tossed in a signature batter for an extra crunch that’s light and airy," says Paik. "The Soy Garlic flavor has the perfect balance of soy sauce, garlic and ginger. And the Sweet & Spicy variety has the ideal blend of sweetness with the perfect amount of heat from chili peppers."
R&FF: What is unique about Bibigo’s packaging for its Korean-style crunchy dishes, and other Korean-style foods in the line?
Paik: For our Bibigo Korean Style Crunchy Chicken meals, the main objective is to seal and protect the product’s ingredients in order to deliver a great eating experience. These dishes feature juicy, boneless white and dark meat chicken that was raised without antibiotics, a light and airy batter with an extra crunch, and sauces that offer a range of flavors.
With the Bibigo brand, we innovate with our packaging when it can enhance the consumer experience. Another popular product from our Bibigo brand is our steamed dumplings, where consumers can literally turn frozen dumplings into delicious steamed dumplings in a matter of two minutes with the help of the packaging. The dumplings are individually wrapped with six per tray. The tray has a clear film on top that traps the heat and steams the dumplings.
R&FF: How many stores is Bibigo’s Korean-style crunchy chicken in today?
Paik: Bibigo Korean-Style Crunchy Chicken can currently be found at approximately 2,000 stores throughout the U.S., including Kroger, Alliance Marketing, Winco, Schnucks, Dierbergs, Albertson’s and others. We are also actively working with other retailers across the U.S. and expect to have our product in more than 2,500 additional locations by the end of 2021.
R&FF: Logistically, how are your products distributed to stores, and does Bibigo have a direct-to-consumer or e-commerce strategy?
Paik: Today, all Bibigo frozen products arrive at stores through our fellow U.S. CJ CheilJedang affiliate, Schwan’s Company. Our products are sent to their warehouses, where they are then distributed via Schwan’s direct-store-delivery organization.
We absolutely recognize the consumer demand for an enhanced digital shelf, as well as quicker delivery and car-side pick-up options. Our team is aggressively enhancing our presence on customer e-commerce websites and investing in driving our digital channel revenue. We are also working on a direct-to-consumer website, where consumers can digitally order our products.
Bibigo's Korean-Style Crunchy Chicken is sold in freezercases at approximately 2,000 stores throughout the U.S.
R&FF: What sustainable programs does Bibigo have today? What areas of sustainability are most important to your company?
Paik: As the distributor for Bibigo products in the U.S., Schwan’s Company focuses its environmental sustainability efforts on energy efficiency on the road and in our facilities, recycling within our facilities and packaging reduction programs. For instance, in 2020 our direct-store-delivery fleet became more efficient through continued driver-education efforts and technological advancements. Overall, our efforts led to a 9.1% improvement in fuel economy year-over-year.
Schwan’s Company is also involved in programs to give back to our communities. For example, we have been working with Feeding America since 2011. In 2020, we donated nearly 550,000 pounds of food to Feeding America and its affiliated food banks. Donations were distributed to 40 food banks in 24 states.
R&FF: What’s on the horizon for Bibigo the rest of 2021 and into 2022?
Paik: This year and into 2022 is all about growth for our Bibigo brand. Although we are well known as one of the most recognized brands in South Korea, we are still relatively new to consumers in the U.S. In conjunction with our other U.S. CJ CheilJedang affiliate, Schwan’s Company, we have several exciting initiatives underway to help our customers grow their frozen Asian food business and deliver the global flavors consumers are seeking.
This summer we are launching our new Bibigo Gotchu Sauce. The sauce is a play on the classic South Korean gochujang — “Gochu,” meaning “Korean chili pepper,” and “Jang,” meaning “fermented sauce.” Unlike a lot of the hot sauces on the market that immediately hit you with spice, this has a unique lingering slow heat that we think hot sauce connoisseurs and those culturally curious foodies will enjoy. Our Gotchu Sauce is available in both Classic and Extra Spicy. It can easily be paired with chicken, pizza, veggies, fried rice, eggs and our personal favorite, mandu—Korean dumplings.
Additionally, we will continue our first national Bibigo brand campaign that kicked off at the beginning of 2021 and will conclude at the end of 2021. For the second part of the campaign, we will focus on areas of increased Bibigo product distribution and awareness including the CJ CUP, which is a PGA event traditionally hosted in South Korea.
#5 – Valpizza SuperNapoli Pizza
Fifth Place - Valpizza SuperNapoli Pizza with 1,180 votes. "The SuperNapoli packaging is a simple, authentic pack, that focuses attention on the product--a pizza so good it has no need for enhancement, even on the pack. We chose very bright colors, as vibrant as the sounds and colors of the city of Naples itself," says Valpizza CEO, Marco Setti. Photos courtesy of Valpizza.
Total Votes: 1,180
Q&A: Marco Setti, CEO, Valpizza
R&FF: Congratulations on placing fifth in our 2021 Best New Frozen Retail Products Contest. What does the recognition mean to Valpizza?
Setti: Many thanks, we’re delighted with this recognition. It’s been a very busy year, and our R&D department has worked hard on new product lines to offer international consumers. Our catering know-how has enabled us to achieve excellent results with regard to quality. We’re very proud of this recognition, and our company has always focused strongly on internationalization, and the United States is definitely a market of strategic importance for us.
R&FF: What innovative features does your SuperNapoli pizza have that helped it finish fifth out of 20 finalists?
Setti: The SuperNapoli range is the perfect blend of tradition and innovation. Our aim is to offer consumers a good, aromatic pizza, just like the one they might eat in an Italian pizzeria. The long natural leavening, hand stretching and baking on stone in a wood-fired oven take consumers on a virtual journey to Naples, to enjoy a product in perfect Neapolitan style. The resulting SuperNapoli pizza is aromatic, light and easy to eat, made from 100% Italian tomato and flours from 100% Italian grains with unique fragrance and flavor.
R&FF: What is unique about Valpizza’s packaging for its SuperNapoli pizza, and other pizzas the company produces?
Setti: The SuperNapoli range’s packaging reflects the product: it’s a simple, authentic pack, that focuses attention on the product--a pizza so good it has no need for enhancement, even on the pack. We chose very bright colors, as vibrant as the sounds and colors of the city of Naples itself. A pack that will brighten your mood, just like eating the delicious pizza inside. What’s more, the individual pack colors help consumers to identify the various flavors, and the effect on the shelf is attractive and distinctive.
R&FF: How many stores is Valpizza’s SuperNapoli in today, and what is the retail reach of the Valpizza brand and its products?
Setti: As of today, the product is distributed in about 300 stores in the U.S.A., but it’s attracting a great deal of interest and we have various deals in the pipeline. Unfortunately, the pandemic has slowed down a lot of decision-making processes. Valpizza actually already enjoys a large presence in the U.S.A. and worldwide as a co-packer of private labels. Our products, which include pizza, snacks, calzoni, and more, are available in more than 35 countries, in both retail and foodservice channels. The product lines under our own brand also help us to inspire our customers, and to work with them to raise the quality offered to the end consumer.
Valpizza's Take & Bake line of pizzas are made and frozen at the company's plant in Bologna, Italy, and distributed to several countries, including the U.S. Once the pizzas are in stores, they can be thawed and sold fresh in the deli section with a five-day shelf life.
R&FF: Logistically, how are your products distributed to North American and European stores—especially since the pizza is produced in the Bologna area—and does Valpizza have a direct-to-consumer or e-commerce strategy?
Setti: Our organization gives us easy access to the entire U.S.A., and thanks to our two frozen foods warehouses and distribution agreements with leading logistics companies, we can provide our customers with flexible service and satisfy every kind of clientele. Our e-commerce program is now well established. We’re already present country-wide with private-label products, and our own products will soon be joining them, as in Europe and Asia.
R&FF: What sustainable programs does Valpizza have today? What areas of sustainability are most important to your company?
Setti: Our factory is in northern Italy, in the beautiful hills above Bologna. We have close links to our community and our natural surroundings, and our factory is equipped with photovoltaic plants and energy recovery systems. In 2021 we’ll be building a new production plant, a model for sustainability in our industry.
R&FF: What’s on the horizon for Valpizza the rest of 2021 and into 2022?
Setti: We’re currently able to offer a wide range of both frozen and fresh products. Quality always is first in our philosophy, and we’ll be extending our family by adding new production companies this summer. This will enable us to offer our customers new products and new convenience concepts.