Honey20: The Most Influential Made-With Honey Food and Beverage Products

Naming the 20 most influential made-with-honey food and beverage products of all time was an imposing task. There have been tens of thousands of products to hit grocery store shelves that were formulated with honey to deliver sweetness, functionality and marketing benefits. We reviewed hundreds of these products and put together the Honey20 list of the most influential made-with-honey products in the food and beverage industry.

20. Total 2% Honey Split Cup, Fage

The split cup was a revolutionary idea in the yogurt industry. Previously, dry toppings were placed on a packaging extension on top of the yogurt, or wet and fruit fillings were buried at the bottom of a container, causing consumers to fumble around with additional packages or stir in predetermined levels of fruit mixes. FAGE Greek Yogurt changed that in 2013 with the addition of a split cup that let consumers determine how much and when to add a variety of fillings to their yogurt. A star of this new packaging introduction was honey. Adjoined to a cup of the company’s 2% Greek yogurt was a “sidecar” of 100% pure honey. The company’s split cup packaging put a spotlight on how amazing honey is in yogurt, from a sweetness perspective as well as improving mouthfeel.

19. Root Beer, Sprecher Soda

Honey and root beer have been casual dance partners for more than 100 years, with a variety of root beer makers over time experimenting with using honey as a sweetener and flavor. However, it wasn’t until Randy Sprecher launched his now famous Root Beer in the 1980s did soda makers and consumers understand the starring role honey could play in a well-crafted recipe. More than 30 years later, Sprecher’s still uses honey to distinguish its Root Beer from the competition, and the company’s use of the all-natural sweetener has helped it expand distribution and garner countless recognitions as the best tasting root beer in the United States. If you’ve never had Sprecher’s Root Beer, trust us, it just hits differently than other sodas due to Sprecher’s focus on the craft of making soda and using all-natural ingredients like honey.

18. Bit-O-Honey, Spangler Candy Company

Similar to Brach’s Candy Corn (No. 11 on the Honey20), Bit-O-Honey has become an iconic brand in the confectionery industry and influenced countless other manufacturers to explore honey’s use in products that used to rely solely on sugar. Bit-O-Honey exudes nostalgia, and in 2022, nostalgia sells. The soft taffy was created in 1924 by Chicago’s Schutter-Johnson Company, and has changed hands multiple times over the years. Despite the changes in brand ownership, the product has stayed relatively the same with each individual piece wrapped in an iconic taffy-like waxed paper and enveloped in packaging with an unmistakable bee character. Today, Spangler Candy Company has taken this soft taffy and added it to its family of nostalgic brands, proving that despite its near 100-year existence, Bit-O-Honey still has staying power.

17. Honey Smacks, Kellogg’s

The evolution of Kellogg’s Honey Smacks closely parallels consumer and manufacturer sentiments about the sweeteners used in food and beverage products over the last 75 years. When the cereal was first introduced in the 1950s, it was titled Sugar Smacks. In the 1980s, the public wanted healthier cereals so Sugar Smacks became Honey Smacks. The formula was pretty much the same, but the name connoted a more naturally sweet product. Then in the 1990s, Kellogg’s dropped all mention of sweeteners and just named the cereal Smacks. In 2004, honey was added back to the name and Kellogg’s leaned into honey hard, reflecting changing demands from consumers for more honey-sweetened cereal. Today, Honey Smacks are still all about honey as consumers continue to demand more all-natural sweeteners in their products.

16. Honey Green Tea, Honest

When Honest Tea was founded in 1998, there wasn’t a lot of chatter in the beverage aisle about organic ingredients and Fair Trade practices. Things we take for granted today under the banner of sustainability didn’t get much coverage 20 years ago. Honest Tea helped change that and quickly grew from a company with a cause to being purchased by the Coca-Cola Company in 2011.

Throughout the company’s growth, one of its flagship products was Honey Green Tea. The brand made the honey-sweetened tea the star of its nationwide go-to-market strategy with billboards, ad buys and promotions showing honey in all its glory, with the comb and honey dipper finding permanent residence on product packaging. Although Coca-Cola is discontinuing the brand at the end of 2022, its impact on consumers and the beverage aisle will live on by constantly reminding product developers and tea drinkers that honey is the perfect complement to green tea.

15. Honey Stinger, Honey Stinger

Prior to Honey Stinger, endurance athletes around the world regularly stomached energy gels with flavors that left little to be desired. It was a quick hit of carbohydrates built for long runs, not enjoyment. Honey Stinger changed all that in 2001 with an endurance fuel powered by honey and a strong message that honey can power a workout without the sugar crash. Besides the functional use of honey, this all-natural sweetener simply made Honey Stinger products taste better than its competitors. Today, the company has built a diverse food portfolio of waffles, chews, gels and bars — all using honey.

14. Honeycomb Cereal, Post

What more can we say about Honeycomb cereal that isn’t already being said on its cereal box? First, honey is right in the name of the product, front and center. Then there is the shape of the cereal, mimicking the hexagonal shape where bees store their honey. Next we have a honeycomb pattern to serve as a background image. And finally, the phrase “Big Real Honey Flavor!” right under the name of the product. Honeycomb Cereal has been all about honey since its launch in 1965. In addition to its rival Honey Nut Cheerios, Honeycomb Cereal has reinforced the message that there is no better way to start your day than with a bowl of honey-sweetened cereal.

13. Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts

How did it take until the 1980s to fully realize the flavor potential of roasted peanuts glazed with a sweet and salty flavor combination? While researching the Honey20, we were shocked to discover that the now ubiquitous honey roasted peanut is “new” in terms of food products. Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts first debuted in 1985 and continues to lead the category through brand recognition and an exceptional flavor profile that leans heavily on honey.

12. Honey Yoghurt, Noosa Yoghurt

Noosa was not the first company to add honey to yogurt. However, the company was the first to build a yogurt brand around honey, adding the all-natural sweetener to all of its products. Noosa’s use of honey showed the yogurt industry that honey was more than a flavor; it was an alternative sweetener that could replace sugar and contribute complexity, mouthfeel and a great marketing message. The company’s Honey Yoghurt doubles down on these attributes, using honey not only for sweetness, but also as the core flavor.

11. Brach’s Candy Corn, Ferrara Candy Company

I bet you didn’t know the candy corn of your youth was, and still is, sweetened with honey. But it says so right on the package of Brach’s Candy Corn: “Made with Real Honey.” Brach’s wasn’t the first confectioner to make candy corn, but the company did perfect the recipe and take the candy nationwide. The use of honey in the confectionery industry was rare in the post-World War II era; however, Brach’s proved ahead of its time, using the all-natural sweetener to impart both a dynamic flavor and market position approved by kids and their parents.

10. Honey Buns, Duchess/Carolina Foods

Honey Buns are the snack cake that has launched a thousand brands. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is fascinating to trace the history of the honey bun from its origins in North Carolina to its rapid rise in popularity under the manufacturing scale-up of Carolina Foods to the sweet bun’s elevation as a key product line from every major snack cake producer. Yes, Little Debbie’s, Mrs. Freshly’s, Hostess and Tastykake all make honey buns, but no one has made them longer than Carolina Foods.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based manufacturer has been making Duchess Honey Buns for more than 50 years. In that time, the honey bun has gone from a sweet treat to a lunchbox indulgence to a convenience store staple to even a form of currency in prisons. This calorie-laden snack cake has even weathered a shift toward more “healthful” snacking, simply because it just tastes so good. Times may change, but honey buns will always be there, and that’s why they are No. 10 on our Honey20.

9. Justin’s Honey Almond Butter

The spread selection at a grocery store looked a lot different 15 years ago when peanut butter dominated the category, and the only difference between products was the branding. Justin Gold noticed this and set out to redefine the spread category with alternative nuts and unique flavors. He started small, debuting at the Boulder Farmers Market in Colorado with a product line that consisted of Heavenly Honey Peanut Butter, Sinfully Cinnamon Peanut Butter, Pumpkin Pie Peanut Butter and Honey Almond Butter.

Today, Justin’s is still selling Honey Peanut Butter and Honey Almond Butter, but the brand has outgrown farmers markets and now is sold in supermarkets throughout the United States. Justin’s has played a key role in redefining the spread category as a home for different types of nuts, flavor combinations and the use of honey as a sweetener. They’ve also tied their brand to a good cause, as every purchase of Honey Almond Butter goes toward pollinator conservation. Of all food brands in the United States, few understand more than Justin’s the importance of honey and honey bees in our food system, and the company has been very vocal in its efforts to shine a spotlight on the importance of honey bees and pollinators.

8. KIND Snacks Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt Bar

Who would have thought the food bar category would have been ground zero in the sweetener war of our times, pitting KIND Snacks versus CLIF bar in a battle of “who’s healthier” that played out in newspapers, social media and even national television ad campaigns. The point of contention was the type of sweetener used, with KIND promoting the all-natural sweeteners it uses, such as honey, and CLIF touting the use of organic sweeteners.

The winner? Consumers, as they got an in-depth look at why food companies choose the ingredients they do. KIND chooses honey, and has used honey as a primary ingredient in most of its bars, including the best seller Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt. Honey fits perfectly into the brand’s ethos that consumers should be able to pronounce the ingredients a company uses in its products. By using honey, and unapologetically promoting it as a better option than other sweeteners, KIND has elevated honey’s perception to consumers looking for whole food nutrition made from whole food ingredients.

7. Nabisco Honey Maid Graham Crackers

The history of graham crackers dates back to 1898 and was named after a Presbyterian minister who practiced a low-fat, vegetarian diet that included high fiber cookies. The original recipe called for molasses, but the Pacific Coast Biscuit Company in Seattle updated the formula to include honey and launched the Honey Maid Grahams brand in 1925.

Almost 100 years later, Honey Maid still dominates the graham cracker aisle by maintaining its “wholesome” product positioning, led by 8 grams of whole grains per serving and Mother Nature’s sweetener, honey. The use of honey in Honey Maid Graham Crackers has taken on more importance in recent years, as the product’s current packaging iteration features a large, hexagon-shaped callout stating the product is “Made with Real Honey.”

6. AriZona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey, AriZona

In a country that’s not as steeped in tea culture as most of the world, it’s surprising that America’s best selling green tea comes from a brand that’s known for its supersized cans, quirky designs and unflinching $0.99 price point. However, that’s what makes AriZona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey so unique. It shouldn’t be as successful as it is, or have the longevity it does, but it is, and it does, we believe, due to the exceptional flavor pairing of green tea, ginseng and honey.

Green tea was one of the original functional RTD beverages, and when AriZona launched its take on the beverage in 1996, the company smartly leaned on honey to provide a familiar and welcome flavor for consumers who were not sure if they were ready to jump on the green tea bandwagon. Today, there are countless bottled green teas, but AriZona Green Tea with Ginseng and Honey reigns supreme by using honey to welcome consumers to the category with a familiar flavor profile.

5. Nature’s Own Honey Whole Wheat, Flowers Foods

“Nature's Own Honey Wheat bread is the No. 1 selling loaf of bread in the U.S.*” That’s one of the first things you read when you go to Nature’s Own website and navigate to the Honey Whole Wheat bread page. You also see the familiar packaging with a larger-than-life honey dipper positioned front and center.

When compiling the Honey20, we evaluated countless honey wheat breads for inclusion. Nature’s Own Honey Whole Wheat from Flowers Foods made the cut because of what it represents. It’s a “bridge” bread from the white bread of our past to the whole wheat bread that now dominates store shelves. Honey Whole Wheat is made with a combination of enriched flour and whole wheat flour, introducing whole wheat to consumers with a touch of honey to provide sweetness and familiarity.

Flowers Foods introduced the Nature’s Own brand in 1977 with a promise now commonplace on the bread aisle: “NEVER any artificial preservatives, colors or flavors and NO high fructose corn syrup.” Honey fit perfectly into that promise back then, and it’s just as relevant today. In fact, the Nature’s Own brand uses honey to provide consumers with a familiar and all-natural sweetness in many of its products, including Honey 7 Grain, Honey Oat, 100% Whole Wheat with Honey and Life Honey Wheat. These are all great products, but Honey Whole Wheat gets special recognition due to its popularity and influence among bakers and consumers.

*Source: IRI Syndicated Data for the total U.S. latest 52 weeks ending 01.23.2022

4. Honey Bunches of Oats, Post Holdings

Similar to Honey Nut Cheerios, Post Holdings has built an empire around its wildly popular Honey Bunches of Oats cereal brand, which sells close to $400 million worth of cereal a year. In 2022, the company was selling six varieties of Honey Bunches of Oats and two branded granolas. That’s a lot of breakfast foods, and a lot of honey, which is why this cereal makes the top 5 of the Honey20.

Honey Bunches of Oats’ origin story is quite unique, pinned to a sole Post Cereals employee (Vernon Herzing) who formulated the first iteration of the cereal in 1986 from three separate Post cereals. After much trial and error, honey was deemed the missing ingredient to tie everything together, and Honey Bunches of Oats officially hit the market in 1989.

In 2021, the Honey Bunches of Oats brand accounted for two of Post’s top five most popular cereals, with the Almond variety claiming the top spot and the original coming in at No. 3. In just over 30 years, Honey Bunches of Oats has established itself as a perennial favorite on the cereal aisle. It’s beloved by millions and instantly recognizable with a large honey dipper sitting front and center on the product packaging, welcoming consumers of all ages to start their days with a honey-sweetened cereal.

3. Mike’s Hot Honey

The Honey20’s top 5 is dominated by major global brands known across the United States and around the world. Except Mike’s Hot Honey. Mike’s Hot Honey earns its No. 3 spot for jumpstarting a trend that promises to have an enduring impact on the food industry.

Sure, most consumers have probably not tasted Mike’s Hot Honey specifically, but they probably have dined at a restaurant that is using “hot honey” on everything from chicken sandwiches to pizza. It’s become one of the most popular condiments in America and has spurred countless new entries into the marketplace, all of which are seeking to capitalize on the delicious combination of sweet and heat.

Simply put, Mike’s Hot Honey has created a new condiment category by creating a simple formula (honey, chilies, vinegar) with a complex flavor. The product was first introduced to pizzerias in 2010 and has slowly grown into a juggernaut, with a footprint in retail, foodservice and even a fried chicken restaurant in famed Madison Square Garden.

2. Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey Crunchy Granola Bars, General Mills

In 1975, Nature Valley, a General Mills’ brand, became the first major food industry player to bring granola bars to store shelves around the country. Its first, and still anchor product, was a crunchy bar made with oats and honey. The bar was ahead of its time, offering consumers a grab-and-go snack that could be eaten in the car, on a hike or at work. Today, convenience is a key attribute of the snacking category, and Nature Valley granola bars deserve much of the credit.

Nature Valley also deserves credit for making honey a key attribute of its granola bars. In Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey Crunchy Granola Bars, honey plays multiple dynamic roles. Primarily, it provides the product’s backbone flavor profile. Honey also plays a functional role in binding the whole grain oats together. And from a marketing perspective, honey is essential to the brand’s success. In fact, the company recently reformulated its trademark bar to include even more honey, which the product’s packaging proudly features with the words “Now with More Honey” appearing next to a large honey dipper.

1. Honey Nut Cheerios, General Mills

It should come as no surprise that Honey Nut Cheerios sits atop the Honey20 list of the most influential made-with-honey products of all time. The brand, which was introduced in 1979, possesses the two most important attributes of any enduring food and beverage brand: relevancy and sales.

Let’s start with sales. In 2021, Honey Nut Cheerios was the top-selling cereal in the United States — an impressive feat for a brand that’s 43 years old. Just as impressive, the brand’s spinoffs have undoubtedly added hundreds of millions in more sales over the years. In 2022 alone, General Mills was selling Honey Nut Cheerios Medley Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios Treats Bar and a reformulated single-serve package for the USDA Child Nutrition Program.

Honey Nut Cheerios is one of the few ubiquitous food products that has most likely been consumed by a plurality of Americans. It’s one of the most influential cereal brands because it tastes great, of course, but also because General Mills has made all the right moves in keeping the cereal relevant, including:

  1. Made with Real Honey: Although Honey Nut Cheerios’ packaging design has gone through countless iterations, one thing has remained consistent: the focus on honey. In 2022, Honey Nut Cheerios’ packaging screams honey. It’s in the product name, and the phrase “Made with Real Honey” garners the prominent center spot of the box. General Mills has leaned into the use of honey because that’s what consumers want, which brings us to …
  2. Positioning: The promotion of honey complements the cereal’s positioning as a better-for-you option. The most prominent banner graphic on Honey Nut Cheerios states: “Can Help Lower Cholesterol as Part of a Healthy Diet.” Honey Nut Cheerios is one of the few products that delivers what consumers want: healthful indulgence.
  3. BuzzBee: When this lovable character was introduced, its role was akin to that of other cereal mascots such as Tony the Tiger, Count Chocula and Trix Rabbit. It was a cute mascot loved by kids and known by parents. However, as honey bee health became a major concern around the world, General Mills did not hesitate to use its platform to spotlight the issue. One such successful campaign involved removing BuzzBee from packaging to spotlight the importance of honey bee health on our food ecosystem.
  4. Honey and Honey Bee Education: As one of the largest users of honey in the world, General Mills has not shied away from its role as an educator about all things honey and honey bees. Through influential ad campaigns and website content, the company has shined a spotlight on the importance of beekeepers, honey and honey bees.
  5. Popular Culture: We all remember the Usher commercial, right? It’s just one of countless ways Honey Nut Cheerios has become a pop culture icon.

A book could be written about the enduring success of Honey Nut Cheerios since it first landed on store shelves in 1979. It’s as much of a part of Americana as apple pie and a clear choice as the most influential made-with-honey product in the United States.