TASTE TEST: CHEFS NAME BEST FOOD PRODUCTS

NEW YORK -- At the 15th Annual Gold Medal Food and Beverage Awards, held at Carnegie Hall here earlier this month, a panel of professional chefs from the American Tasting Institute recognized the best products in the consumer food and beverage and food-service industries across the United States.Some of the winners included Chicken of the Sea, Baxter's Canned Soup, Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran, Monterey

NEW YORK -- At the 15th Annual Gold Medal Food and Beverage Awards, held at Carnegie Hall here earlier this month, a panel of professional chefs from the American Tasting Institute recognized the best products in the consumer food and beverage and food-service industries across the United States.

Some of the winners included Chicken of the Sea, Baxter's Canned Soup, Kellogg's Cracklin' Oat Bran, Monterey Pasta, Aunt Jemima from Quaker Oats, and Hunt's Ketchup from Con Agra.

Taste counts for retailers in the Center Store as they try to tempt consumers with novel products, according to Marc Oldham, executive vice president of the ATI, Cincinnati.

"In the Center Store, you always have products that have sold for years with tremendous brand equity and tremendous sales volume," Oldham said.

However, with the more innovative introductions, consumer scrutiny is going to be more intense, and Oldham stressed taste as the deciding factor.

Advances in food technology and science have enabled manufacturers to make real progress in taste and flavor, which is particularly relevant in the burgeoning natural foods arena, Oldham said.

Consumers continue to realize the benefits of natural and organic foods. However, the array of unfamiliar brands and products can be confusing for the mass-market convert, Oldham said.

While some consumers will go to several stores to meet their all-natural needs, most desire one simple stop, he added.

Steering consumers to the best-tasting product is the most effective way to keep them in the store, he said, and tastier products deserve to be identified.

The Institute's Gold Medal designation, which can be displayed on all winning products, serves as a convenient signpost.

"Our goal is to guide the consumer to the best possible experience," Oldham said.

Some of the winners in the natural foods category for 2001 included Mother's cereal from Quaker Oats, ShariAnn's Organic Soup, Vitasoy soy milk and Hansen's Natural Sodas.