The Gourmet Retailer’s Editors’ Picks Winners: Foods

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The Gourmet Retailer’s Editors’ Picks Winners: Foods

08/01/2014

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

This month, The Gourmet Retailer borrows an annual favorite from our sister publication, Progressive Grocer: Editors' Picks. Loyal readers of PG are familiar with this yearly salute to the best new products of the year as selected by the editorial staff.

To kick off TGR's version, winners were selected by an exhaustive screening process that involved the entire staff of our Jersey City, N.J., office – the editorial staff of PG and Convenience Store News, and our non-editorial staff alike. Products were judged on three criteria: taste/functionality, innovation and value.

We put out a call for entries, and we were overwhelmed by the response. Our inaugural competition attracted nearly 500 entries. 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 third annual class of Editors' Picks.

Bakery on Main Instant Oatmeal
SRP: $5.99
phone: 860-558-1689
WEB: www.bakeryonmain.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We came for the packaging, stayed for the oatmeal! Each packet is inviting and easy to open – just what we need in the morning – with nothing extraneous or damaging to the environment. The cereal is made with certified gluten-free oats and a blend of ancient grains including chia, quinoa, amaranth and flax. And it's Non-GMO Project Verified. Available in six flavors including Maple Multigrain Muffin, Traditional (unsweetened), Strawberry Shortcake, Apple Pie, Carrot Cake, and Blueberry Scone.

Best Boy & Co. Sriracha Mustard
SRP: $5.50
phone: 260-446-4513
WEB: www.bestboyandco.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We all have those condiments that seem to linger in the back corner of the refrigerator – sometimes for years after their best-by date. That is definitely not the case with Best Boy & Co. Sriracha Mustard. We went through the entire 9.5-ounce jar in less than two weeks. Hands down, this is one of the best sriracha-based products we've tried to date. To start, Best Boy & Co. takes fresh ground mustard seed – made from its antique granite-wheeled mustard grinder – and then infuses it with their sriracha sauce. Made in small batches. The end result is a full-bodied mustard that packs a delicious, somewhat addictive punch.

Best Cheese Corp. Winter Melkbus
SRP: $12.99/ pound
phone: 914-305-8244
WEB: www.bestcheeseusa.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We are still raving about Winter Melkbus. Melkbus, Dutch for milk can, signifies a series of farmstead raw milk cheeses made on small family farms outside the city of Gouda in Holland. We found the Winter Melkbus, a seasonal cheese, to be rich and complex with subtle undertones of cardamom and nutmeg. This cheese is at its best after four months of age. Delicious any time of year – if you can get it.

Bhakti Chai Green Tea Tulsi Artisan Dry Tea
SRP: $9.99
phone: 303-484-8770 ext. 2
WEB: www.bhaktichai.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: This chai was a stand-out not only for its taste but for its sustainable measure. Bhakti Chai recently launched a line of artisan blended packaged tea but with a twist: Tulsi, an herb long revered in India for its health properties was added to an organic green tea base combined with Bhakti Chai's ginger spice blend. The resulting tea is delicious hot or iced. Each tin includes 14 pyramid tea bags that are 100 percent biodegradable without strings, tags or overwraps. After cold-pressing organic ginger root to make Bhakti Chai liquid products, the company gently dries the post-extraction ginger, which is still loaded with potent flavor and aroma. There is zero waste in this seamless field-to-cup process.

Brothers All Natural Fruit Clusters Raspberry & Fuji Apple Fruit Clusters
SRP: $3.75
phone: 585-343-3007
WEB: www.brothersallnatural.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: This healthy snack is a crowd-pleaser for all ages. The Brothers-All-Natural Fruit Clusters start with fruit that's picked at the peak of ripeness, cut into pieces, freeze-dried and rolled into a bite-sized cluster. Fruit Clusters are 100 percent fruit, no added sugars, additives or preservatives. They're suitable for a wide range of diets: gluten-free, peanut/tree nut-free, soy-free, vegan. They're also non-GMO and OU Kosher certified. Each 1.25-ounce packs six servings of fruit, and is resealable for convenience and anytime snacking.

Choctal Ghana Chocolate Ice Cream
SRP: $8.79
phone: 626-791-8722
WEB: www.choctal.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We're fans of the entire line of Choctál's single-origin, super premium ice creams, but the Choctal Ghana Chocolate Ice Cream is the stand out. Rich, intense, decadent – the way a chocolate ice cream should be. Made with an all-natural all cream base with no artificial additives. The ice creams are made with less air resulting in a denser, richer and more satisfying ice cream experience.

Dave's Gourmet Oatmeal Cookie Butter
SRP: $5.99
phone: 415-401-9100
WEB: www.davesgourmet.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Cookie butters are a relatively new and hot category. And this one from Dave's Gourmet has a creamy oat flavor that's a great topping for everything from apple slices to toast. Try this sweet creamy butter with ice cream and as a sandwich cookie filling.

Earnest Eats' Hot & Fit Cereals Superfood Blueberry Chia
SRP: $4.99-$6.49
phone:
888-264-4599 or 858-255-9166
WEB: www.earnesteats.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: A trifecta of superfood grains – whole oats, amaranth and quinoa – combined with blueberry and chia make this hot cereal a truly super food. Plus, we appreciate the option of buying single-serve cups (SRP: $2.50-$3.50) for a healthy breakfast on the go. Gluten-free and wheat-free versions are also available. Plus, this and other Earnest Eats cereals are Non-GMO Project Verified.

Enjoy Life Foods Dark Chocolate Baking Morsels
SRP: $4.99
phone: 847-260-0300
WEB: www.enjoylifefoods.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Who doesn't love chocolate? Now folks with food allergies can enjoy home-baked treats. Food allergies are serious business, and we have a deep appreciation of products that offer solutions. Enjoy Life Foods, a pioneer in the free-from category, added Dark Chocolate Baking Morsels to its line. To date, it's the only gluten-free dark chocolate morsel on the market that is also dairy-, nut- and soy-free. As with all Enjoy Life products, free-from the top eight common food allergens, certified kosher, verified non-GMO, and made with no artificial ingredients. And the best part – it tastes better than the alternatives. Let the baking begin!

G.H. Cretors Organic Popped Corn Extra Virgin Olive Oil
SRP: $3.99
phone: 847-263-7000
WEB: www.ghcretors.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: G.H. Cretors' Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil popped corn is the first ever popcorn to be popped in EVOO. Leaving us wondering, why didn't someone think of this sooner? Made with organic and non-GMO corn kernels, this delicious, practically guilt-free snack is free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives and is certified gluten-free.

Glutino Pretzel Crisps
SRP: $5.29
phone: 720-550-5038
WEB: www.boulderbrands.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We don't often use the words yummy and gluten-free analog in the same sentence, but Glutino Pretzel Crisps from Boulder Brands is one of the exceptions. These pretzel crisps are a great snack on their own – so thin and crunchy, even non-celiacs will enjoy this snack. These crisps are perfect for dipping into hummus, or eating with mustard, like one of our tireless tasters.

Gourmet International Chocolate Santander 53% Cacao Covered Coffee Beans & Cacao Nibs
SRP: $2.99
phone: 616-698-0666
WEB: www.gourmetint.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Chocolate and coffee are a natural pairing. Chocolate Santander's award-winning 53 percent chocolate contrasts beautifully with the sweet acidity of fresh ripe coffee berries. And the silky smooth chocolate highlights the satisfying crunch of the beans and nibs. GMO-free, all natural chocolate plays well with the magic touch of the Colombian mountains and forests.

Hankerings LLC Salvy Sousa Bloody Bull Bloody Mary Mix
SRP: $12
phone: 620-442-2700
WEB: www.salvysousa.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Trendy cocktails may come and go but bloody marys are always in style. Especially ones that taste as good as those made with Salvy Sousa Bloody Bull Bloody Mary Mix. Zesty and bold without being too hot, the mix can also be used as a base for chili, soup and stew.

Hannah Max Baking Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Chips
SRP: $4.99
phone: 310-380-6778
WEB: shop.hannahmax.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: These crunchy, crispy Cookie Chips are a new take on an old classic. Filled with whole rolled oats, mini raisins, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, these delicious bites will knock your socks off.

Kane Candy White Chocolate Cordial & Toasting Cups
SRP: $7.99
phone: 800-875-5557
WEB: www.kanecandy.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: One of our all-time favorite solutions for easy and elegant entertaining. Dessert cups, toasting cups – there's a chocolate variety for every occasion. We're partial to the new white chocolate.

Lark Oat Bark with Roasted Cacao Nibs
SRP: $5 phone: 978-768-0012
WEB: www.larkfinefoods.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Lark says they make "Cookies for Grown-ups" and the grown-ups at TGR agree! A cross between a cookie and candy, Oat Bark is thin, crisp, and flecked with organic unsweetened cacao nibs from one of our favorite chocolate companies, Taza Chocolate. The sweetness of the bark enhances the unsweetened cacao nibs, giving the cookie a delightful but not overpowering flavor of chocolate.

Lotus Foods' Forbidden Rice Ramen 4 Pack
SRP: $5.99
phone: 510-525-3137
WEB: www.lotusfoods.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Ramen is hot, hot, hot and rice ramen – make that Forbidden rice ramen – is on fire. It's made from Lotus' award-winning heirloom Organic Forbidden Rice, so it has a rich nutty taste and exotic black color. It's gluten-free, low fat, vegan, and non-GMO. The 4-packs are noodles only while individual packs come with a packet of reduced-sodium white miso soup. We can't wait to try a Forbidden Rice Ramen-burger!

Love Grown Foods Original Power Os
SRP: $4.99
phone: 303-482-7095
WEB: www.lovegrownfoods.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Heart-healthy beans have never been disguised so well! This cereal is made from navy beans, lentils and garbanzo beans, and as a result of their wholesome ingredients, they're a good source of protein, containing 4-6 grams per serving. Plus each serving has 3 grams of fiber and less than 100 mg of sodium. But best of all, this healthy breakfast staple is great tasting. Honey, Strawberry and Chocolate flavors are also available.

Lucini Founders Reserve Premium Select Extra Virgin Olive Oil
SRP: $39.99 phone: 305-858-7200
WEB: www.lucini.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Each November, two estate-grown olive varieties, Frantoio and Olivastra Seggianese, are picked by hand and pressed within 12 hours, capturing the coveted flavor found only in the best, fresh olive fruit. This oil is very special – less than 5,000 bottles were produced.

Madécasse Madagascar Chocolate Salted Almond
SRP: $5.99
phone: 858-444-5523
WEB: www.madecasse.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Madécasse bean-to-bar chocolate bars are grown and made in Madagascar. Made with a rare heirloom variety cocoa, Salted Almond is 63 percent dark chocolate sprinkled with roasted almond nibs and sea salt. The luscious new flavor is Fair for Life certified and has four times the impact of fair trade cocoa.

Manitou Trading Co. Porcini Funghi Risotto
SRP: $8.99
phone: 847-693-7542
WEB: www.manitoutradingcompany.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Risotto is comfort food at its best. We love this easy-to-prepare mix that doesn't skimp on quality ingredients: Arborio rice, porcini, champignon and shiitake mushrooms with garlic, rosemary and chives. Makes a delicious entrée or side dish.

Mrs. Weinstein's Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Almond Toffee
SRP: $15
phone: 888-957-9338
WEB: www.sweetshopusa.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: This sweet treat combines some of our favorite flavors: dark chocolate, sea salt, almond and toffee to create a well-balanced, buttery and unforgettable treat. The packaging, too, is top notch – making it a perfect hostess gift.

Naam Som LLC dba Pok Pok Som Thai Basil drinking vinegar
SRP: $15
phone: 503-235-0004
WEB: www.pokpoksom.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Drinking vinegar has been touted for centuries as a great boon to health. And even though Pok Pok Som makes no health claims, we decided to give it a try. What we found was a refreshing beverage with an intense basil flavor, mild acidity and sweet finish. Pok Pok Som drinking vinegar is a sweet and tart vinegar based concentrate that can be mixed with still or sparkling water, seltzer or club soda for a delicious soda alternative or unique cocktail mixer.

Napa Valley Vinegar Co. Champagne Pear Vinegar
SRP: $9.99 phone: 707-603-7153
WEB: www.winecountrykitchens.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We love how this fruit-flavored vinegar made our salads shine without the calories of a typical salad dressing. And it is a refreshing, low-calorie addition to seltzer. Better yet – this vinegar is one of six, all which are made with real fruit purée.

Nature's Habit Granola
SRP: $6.99
phone: 888-627-2859
WEB: www.natureshabit.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: "Quality you can see, a taste you will love," said one of our tasters about the granola that's made with cocoa, cherries, almonds and pecans. The company uses only full-sized nuts and fruit pieces to create their granolas and trail mixes.

Nutiva Organic Shortening
SRP: $6.79
phone: 800-993-4367
WEB: www.nutiva.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: This is a healthy one-to-one substitute for traditional shortening. Made with coconut and red palm oils, Nutiva Organic Shortening is vegan and free from dairy, trans fat, soy and canola. Excellent for baking and frying and ideal for producing flaky pie crusts and crisp cookies with the health benefits of coconut oil. Better yet, it is Fair Trade certified and Non-GMO Project Verified.

Owl's Brew Pink & Black Cocktail Mix
SRP: $8.99
phone: 646-790-1558
WEB: www.theowlsbrew.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Home entertainers looking to create sophisticated cocktails – look no further. This line of cocktail mixers is made with tea as the star ingredient. Our favorite: Pink & Black, a sophisticated concoction made with darjeeling tea, hibiscus and strawberries. The site's BrewLaLa recipe using equal parts Pink & Black and Pilsner has us singing Oh La La-licious. The entire Owl's Brew line is fresh-brewed in micro-batches from whole tea leaves and is ready to mix with spirits, beer and wine. The end result? Cocktails with a light and refreshing flavor profile.

Pamela's Products Mission Fig Figgies and Jammies
SRP: $4.99
phone: 707-462-6605
WEB: www.pamelasproducts.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: The rich fig filling and a cake-like crust were enough to make us swoon. So tasty, we were shocked to learn these fig bars are certified gluten-free and egg-free to boot. A sweet addition to lunch boxes for kids of all ages.

Partners' Free for All Kitchen Gluten Free Double Chocolate Brownie Thins
SRP: $4.29
phone: 253-867-1580
WEB: www.partnerscrackers.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Gluten-free makes life more livable for so many folks. Whether you need to be gluten-free or want to be gluten-free, these Brownie Thins are a real treat. They're made with a blend of five ancient grains – amaranth, quinoa, millet, teff and sorghum – mixed with cassava root flour, Dutch process cocoa, chocolate flakes, cane sugar, butter and buttermilk. They're non-GMO, kosher and made in facility run on 100 percent green electric power.

Polska Foods Spinach and Feta Pierogi
SRP: $5.99
phone: 800-750-0817
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Dumplings have been on trend for years, and these Polish-inspired delights from Polska Foods do not disappoint. The masterminds behind this delight have taken a family recipe and fine-tuned it, making it with whole grains and certified organic ingredients. Our favorite flavor is the Spinach and Feta, but you can't go wrong with any of these frozen-fresh pierogis.

Prosperity Organic Foods Chocolate Melt Organic
SRP: $4.99
phone: 888-557-5741
WEB: www.meltorganic.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: How do you improve upon a great tasting product? In the case of Melt organic spread, they added a rich organic cocoa and wildflower honey. Unlike other chocolate spreads, Chocolate Melt has only 1 gram of sugar per serving and is dairy-, soy- and nut-free. Made with Fair Trade Fair for Life certified virgin coconut oil and Rainforest Alliance certified palm fruit oil. 'Health' food has never tasted so good!

Reed's Culture Club Coconut Water Lime Kombucha
SRP: $3.69
phone: 800-997-3337
WEB: www.reedsinc.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Probiotics are hot, not only in yogurt but also kombucha, a fermented tea that has probiotics. Reed's starts with the finest organic and long-aged oolong and yerba mate teas to create their line of kombucha. Our judges found the Coconut Water Lime flavor refreshing and slightly effervescent.

Roland Foods Truffle Mac & Cheese
SRP: $3.99
phone: 800-221-4030
WEB: www.rolandfood.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We’ve never met a truffle we didn’t like, and the Roland Truffle Mac & Cheese has a distinctively earthy truffle flavor and aroma that makes it downright addicting. Everything for a delicious meal is included in one box and is ready in about 12 minutes.  

RW Garcia Tortatos Salt & Pepper
SRP:
$3.99
phone: 408-287-4616
WEB: www.rwgarcia.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Half potato and half corn. We say it is the best of both worlds in one chip. These highly snackable chips have a perfect ratio of salt and pepper that kept our trio of tasters going back for more. Plus they’re are all-natural, Non-GMO Project verified and gluten-free certified, and they contain no additives or preservatives.

Saffron Road Crunchy Chickpeas Korean BBQ
SRP: $4.49
phone: 212-209-1802
WEB: www.saffronroadfood.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Crunchy Chickpeas are great munchies. With only 2.5 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein per serving, we really can justify this gluten-free and Verified Non-GMO snack. Korean BBQ Crunchy Chickpeas are on trend, with Korean barbecue and bulgogi enjoying their time in the spotlight. The sweet and sour zing from the mixture of soy sauce, pear juice, sesame oil, garlic and red pepper dazzles the palate.

Sahale Snacks Mango Tango Almond Mix
SRP: 8-ounce $6.99; 1.5-ounce $1.75 phone: 206-456-3432
WEB: sahalesnacks.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We love to snack and Sahale always delivers delicious – and healthy – nuts and preservative-free dried fruit. This time it's a salty-spicy combination of whole almonds and peanuts, the sweet and tart chewiness of lime-infused mango and a subtle kick of chipotle chili. We want to eat the whole pouch!

Sanders Candy Single Serve Chocolate Fruit & Snack Dip
SRP: 75 cents phone: 800-651-7263
WEB: www.sanderscandy.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: When it comes to chocolate, we need all the portion-control help we can get. Thanks to Sanders Candy's new Fruit & Snack Dips, we can indulge our sweet tooth. Plus, this chocolate dip is a welcome addition to our lunch box and perfect with fresh strawberries or pineapple. The individual 2-ounce size is microwave-safe, gluten-free and contain no artificial flavors, sweeteners, colors or preservatives. Caramel, Milk Chocolate & Dark Chocolate dips are available.

Sisters' Gourmet Coconut Salted Caramel Blondie Mix
SRP: $17.99 phone: 770-338-1388
WEB: www.sistersgourmet.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We admit the packaging – the mix is artfully packed and stacked into a tall Weck canning jar – first caught our eyes, but it was the Coconut Salted Caramel Blondies that won us over. The mix, plus butter and sugar, makes a pan of blondies that will be sure to impress any lover of coconut that's accented with caramel and a touch of sea salt.

Stonewall Kitchen Maple Bacon Onion Jam
SRP: $7.95
phone: 888-326-5678
WEB: www.stonewallkitchen.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Equally at home on a cheese plate or as the star ingredient in a dip, this Maple Bacon Onion Jam is a winner. This complex savory jam has layers of flavor – the sweetness of brown sugar and apples balanced by the heartiness of bacon and the mild oniony flavor of shallots. A quick spread of this versatile condiment elevates a plain turkey sandwich into a gastronomic delight.

Stubb's Hatch Chile Cookin' Sauce
SRP: $3.99-$4.99
phone: 214-379-7000
WEB: www.stubbsbbq.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Hatch chiles deserve their turn in the spotlight. New Mexico is where Hatch chiles were developed and Stubb's makes these green beauties available across the country. The kit comes with a cooking sauce, spice mix and finishing sauce. It's best with chicken but does a great job with beef and pork, too.

Taste Weaver's Hot Peppers and Peaches Glaze/Sauce
SRP: $7.49-$8.49
phone: 888-810-8365
WEB: tasteweavers.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: With its tasty blend of sweet peaches, zesty red peppers and just a hint of orange, this is a wonderful glaze for meats, especially pork, chicken and fish. Or pour it over cream cheese or chèvre for a quick appetizer. We want to try it as a dipping sauce for a grilled cheese sandwich.

Tru Table Key Lime Caesar with Asiago Protein Dressing
SRP: $8.99
phone: 206-349-7501
WEB: www.trutable.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: High protein is in. And the Tru Table line of four salad dressings, which are made from all-natural ingredients and enriched with whey protein isolate, make it easier to get more of this dietary essential. Our favorite is the Key Lime Caesar with Asiago, a tangy modern twist on a classic. It contains 12 grams of protein per serving, or as much protein as two large eggs.

Urban Accents Ginger Carrot Cake Flapjack & Waffle Mix
SRP: $7.99 phone: 773-528-9515 ext.109
WEB: www.urbanaccents.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Ginger Carrot Cake Pancakes for breakfast? Yes, please! The assertive ginger flavor is a perfect complement to the sweet carrot cake and walnuts. The resealable pouch has enough of this all-natural mix to create 12-14 pancakes or waffles. We suggest buying multiples, because you won't want to run out.

White Coffee Corp. Joltin' Joe Espresso Roast
SRP: $7.99 phone: 718-204-7900 x.112
WEB: www.whitecoffee.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: This Espresso Roast is the perfect go-to for a caffeine pick-me-up any time of day. We preferred the smooth finish in the Espresso Roast. Joltin' Joe, which is also available in a medium roast, is hand-roasted and delivers on its promise of smooth brew with a rich aroma. The coffee is part of the new Joltin' Joe lifestyle brand, named after the baseball great. We love eye-catching packaging, too.

Woolwich Dairy Goat Feta Crumbles
SRP: $4.99 phone: 705-280-0107
WEB: www.woolwichdairy.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: We love feta, we adore goat cheese and we crave convenience. Woolwich makes life easier by combining all our favorites in one. A mild goat milk cheese with an authentic Mediterranean taste, these are already crumbled bits of firm-textured cheese with a sharp, tangy, salty flavor. They're made from fresh goat's milk and are rennet-free.

YZ Enterprises/Almondina Coconut Orange Toastees
SRP: $3.99
phone: 917-750-5505
WEB: www.almondina.com
WE PICKED IT BECAUSE: Almondina Toastees are crunchy little snacks that go down easy. On their own or topped with cheese or crumbled into ice cream or yogurt, the pack a lot of flavor into just 70 calories (4 pieces). Coconut Orange Almond Toastees combine a light citrus flavor with the dual nuttiness of toasted coconut and crunchy almonds. A perfect anytime snack.