Leftovers: Tyson spreads love with chicken nuggets; Little Debbie scoops into ice cream


Leftovers is our look at a few of the product ideas popping up everywhere. Some are intriguing, some sound amazing and some are the kinds of ideas we would never dream of. We can’t write about everything that we get pitched, so here are some leftovers pulled from our inboxes.

Express Valentine’s Day love with chicken nuggets

As Americans spend billions on flowers, jewelry and other tokens of affection this Valentine’s Day, Tyson Foods is trying a rather unorthodox way to tug at the heartstrings: the beloved chicken nugget.

The Arkansas meat and poultry processing giant is selling heart-shaped chicken, called Nuggets of Love, for a limited time. To help people say, “I love you” with a nugget, Tyson also is offering consumers a chance to win a Sauce Stylus that works like a pen. Favorite dipping sauces can fill the stylus to write a message of love.

“Our Nuggets of Love are a fan favorite, and this year we wanted to do something extra saucy for our millions of fans,” Colleen Hall, senior director of marketing for the Tyson brand, said in a statement. “This Valentine’s Day, nothing says love better than a warm, yummy chicken nugget.”

Americans plan to spend $23.9 billion on gifts for partners, friends, pets and others this Valentine’s Day, according to data from the National Retail Federation.

While candy may be the most popular gift — 56% say it’s the top item they plan to give — that doesn’t mean other food companies with less traditional offerings can’t find a way to get into the holiday and the billions of dollars in spending that come with it.

Welch’s has heart-shaped fruit snacks while Kraft Heinz has Jet-Puffed HeartMallows. Utz is bringing back its X and O shaped pretzel treat bags, and Mondelēz International has individually wrapped Oreos with printed messages on the top.

While these products do fit in with the spirit and sentiment of Valentine’s Day, no treats are as closely associated with the day as Sweethearts candies. The small pastel sweets featuring affectionate sayings such as “Hug Me,” “Cutie Pie” and “Be Mine” have been a holiday favorite since 1902. This year, Spangler Candy produced 450 million Sweethearts, a company spokesperson said.

— Christopher Doering


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Courtesy of Hudsonville Ice Cream


Little Debbie snacks scoop into ice cream

Over more than six decades, the signature tastes and flavors of Little Debbie’s snack cakes have mostly been in perfect-for-lunch-box individually wrapped packages and haven’t crossed over into other products. Oatmeal Creme Pies and Cosmic Brownies have both been made into cereals, but received mixed reviews from consumers as breakfast.

The latest Little Debbie mashup, however, is more likely to win consumers over. Hudsonville Ice Cream is joining forces with McKee Foods to make seven iconic Little Debbie snack cake varieties into ice cream flavors. This month, pints of ice cream designed to taste like Oatmeal Creme Pies, Cosmic Brownies, Zebra Cakes, Honey Buns, Strawberry Shortcake Rolls, Swiss Rolls and Nutty Bars are hitting the freezer section at Walmart. 

These new pints are launching months after the first collaboration between McKee Foods and Hudsonville Ice Cream: a limited time offer of pints of Christmas Tree Cakes ice cream. This flavor was wildly popular, with only one resounding complaint: Stores had sold out of it. Hudsonville said in a release that the new Little Debbie pints were a year-round item, so they may not be quite as prone to selling out.

The Little Debbie brand was born in 1960, though Oatmeal Creme Pies were first created in 1935. The years since have seen several new products, but no big changes of the brand’s most popular items. According to McKee Foods, more than 138 billion Little Debbie snacks have been sold through the years by retailers in the U.S. and Canada. And their popularity is not waning. A chart published last year by Statista indicated that 72.6 million U.S. consumers reported eating at least one Little Debbie snack cake in the previous month. Nearly 10.6 million of those had eaten eight or more servings in a month’s time.

Many other popular CPG products have been turned into ice cream through the years. In 2020, Breyers teamed up with food court and airport mainstay Cinnabon to create an ice cream flavor with gooey cinnamon swirls and dough bites in a vanilla base. Last year, Post Consumer Brands brought its Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles cereals to light ice cream varieties. But not all of the CPG ice cream combos are sweet. Kraft Heinz partnered with Van Leeuwen last year to make Kraft Macaroni and Cheese ice cream, and McCormick teamed up with Coolhaus in 2019 to make ice cream flavored like French’s Mustard.

The enduring appeal of Little Debbie cakes will likely make the new ice cream flavors a winner. And the scoopable varieties will especially be a treat when it gets to be summertime, when fewer school lunches are being packed.

— Megan Poinski


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Courtesy of Lifeway Foods


Mushrooms power up new probiotic oat milk

Consumers are interested in using food to improve their health, and companies are building upon their existing portfolios by implementing functionality. Adaptogens are popular in the wellness space for this reason. The mushrooms and herbs have been promoted by experts for their immune-boosting properties and potential to aid in relaxation and sleep.

Lifeway Foods, known best for its fermented kefir drinks, announced a new addition to its line of probiotic oat milk beverages. Mshrm Oat, which premiered at this month’s Winter Fancy Food Show, contains gut microbiome-boosting attributes, with 10 active probiotic cultures and beta-glucans for heart health. The product touts mushrooms as its star ingredient. The company said in an emailed statement that in the coming weeks it will share more details about when it will become available.

The beverages come in three flavors, each made with a different adaptogen specifying an intended health benefit. For Calm, the company uses reishi mushrooms and vanilla to help decrease anxiety and boost one’s mood. The Support flavor, designed for an immunity boost, contains a blend of adaptogenic mushrooms and aronia berry. And for Focus, aimed at consumers needing to relax their minds, the company uses lion’s mane — a long, stringy mushroom that grows on hardwood trees — along with L-theanine, turmeric and ginger.

A 2019 study from Kerry found 65% of consumers look for function in the products they eat and drink. After two years of pandemic-related restrictions, the company’s CEO Julie Smolyansky said now is the best time for this kind of product.

“With so much focus on the mental health crisis and the promising research around functional mushroom ingredients, I’m proud to offer these wellness options for everyone to enjoy and add to their self-care toolkits,” Smolyansky said in the product’s press release.

Larger CPGs including PepsiCo and Mondelēz have also rolled out products containing adaptogens. And more could be on the way. Allied Market Research projects the global functional mushrooms market will reach $19.33 billion by 2033. Adaptogens, such as mushrooms, have also appeared on several 2022 trend lists, with analysts noting the ingredients are being used in products including coffee and chocolate.

Other players in the wellness space have implemented adaptogens to add more functionality to oat milk products. Last year, Califia Farms launched Mushroom Oat Barista Blend, marketed as a coffee creamer, which contains lion’s mane and cordyceps mushrooms.

– Chris Casey

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