Taste-Test Experiment: An All-Kid Panel Evaluates Name-Brand vs. Store-Brand Cereals

When it comes to breakfast, kids can be real cereal killers.   Unfortunately, for those of us trying to keep our grocery costs reasonable, name-brand cereals can be a very expensive proposition.

When I was growing up, I remember my sister pounding down multiple bowls of Froot Loops and Lucky Charms every morning.

I enjoyed kid cereal too – Apple Jacks and Frosted Flakes are still favorites of mine – but I never could put it away like Sis.

Cereal is Big Business – Here’s Why

Here are a few facts about cereal I found while surfing the Internet:

  • On average, Americans consume 160 bowls of the stuff each year – that’s 10 pounds per person.   Ireland, England, and Australia eat even more than that on a per capita basis.
  • Cereal continues to be one of the most popular products in terms of dollars spent at the grocery stores – in 2009 it ranked eighth.
  • When it comes to television, cereal advertisers are outspent only by the auto industry.     Most of that is undoubtedly focused on kid cereals.

Speaking of kid cereals, remember when the word “sugar” was not a nasty word?   Although the cereal industry uses 816 million pounds of sugar per year, the word “sugar” has all but disappeared from cereal titles.   For example, when I was a kid Frosted Flakes used to be called Sugar Frosted Flakes, and Honey Smacks were known as Sugar Smacks.

The Experiment

Before starting the experiment I ran down to my local Albertsons grocery store and purchased six popular name-brand kid cereals and their store-brand counterparts.

Like my previous taste test experiments, the point was simple: Determine if there was a discernible taste difference between the name-brand and store-brand equivalents.   In this case, the focus was strictly on kid cereals.     No Shredded Wheat, Special K, 100% Bran Flakes, or anything else that would make a kid turn up his nose in disgust.

As with all of my store-brand vs. name-brand taste test challenges, I convened a panel of experts to sample the cereals in a blind taste test.   Of course, for this challenge I could think of no better panel of experts than the kids in my neighborhood.

To ensure a one-to-one comparison, I only chose name-brand items that had identical store-brand counterparts; package size and item type had to be identical, or virtually identical.

Furthermore, to ensure the taste test was a blind comparison, each sample was marked only as either ‘A’ or ‘B.’     The panel was then asked to taste and record which product they preferred; they were also free to give me any accompanying comments they had regarding a particular product.   When comparing cereals, panelists that could not discern a clear winner were allowed to give a vote for both products.

As always, before we get to the results, I want to introduce our distinguished panel of experts:

MatthewMatthew
Grade: 7th
Age: 12
Favorite Color: Purple

.

JordynJordyn
Grade: 6th
Age: 11
Favorite Color: Purple

.
.

NinaNina
Grade: 5th
Age: 10
Favorite Color: Midnight Blue

.

 

RohaanRohaan
Grade: 4th
Age:   9
Favorite Color: “Can I pick two, Mr. Len, because I really like red and blue.”   No, Rohaan.   You can’t.   (Trouble maker.)

.

 

BrennanBrennan
Grade: 4th
Age: 9
Favorite Color: Black

.

 

JustinBieberJameson
Grade: 4th
Age: 9
Favorite Color: Red

.
.

godzilla1-1MJ
Grade: 4th
Age: 9
Favorite Color: Blue

.
.

MariahMariah
Grade: 2nd
Age: 8
Favorite Color: Red

.
.

MakaylaMakayla
Grade: 2nd
Age: 7 (and a half!)
Favorite Color: Pink

.
.

KeivaKeiva
Grade: Kindergarten
Age: 6
Favorite Color: Red

.

RekshneRekshne
Grade: Kindergarten
Age: 5
Favorite Color: Pink

.

Major1Major
Grade: Dropped-out (but promises to start working soon on his GED)
Age: 6
Favorite Color: Black (and white)

.

For this experiment, I chose six popular name-brand kids cereals including Lucky Charms, Corn Pops, Cinnamon Life, Apple Jacks, Rice Krispies, and Froot Loops.

Here now are the results of my fourth blind taste test experiment based upon the inputs received from the panel of experts.

1.   Kellogg’s Corn Pops vs. Albertsons Golden Corn Nuggets

Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $4.89; Albertsons, $1.99   (a savings of 59%)
Panel Scoring: 9-8 in favor of Kellogg’s
The Verdict: Basically even.   To deem Kellogg’s corn pops the winner on such a narrow margin would be ear-responsible.

Gotta have my pops!   This cereal has had more face lifts than Joan Rivers.   The name brand cereal was originally called Sugar Pops when it first debuted back in the early 1950s.     Sometime in the 80s or 90s they changed the name to Corn Pops.   Wikipedia notes that in 2006 the name was changed to Pops, but then reverted back to the Corn Pops label after a few months of poor reception.   I’m sure during all that time the store brand carried on with its same old boring “Golden Corn Nuggets” moniker and prices at a 60 percent discount to the Corn Pops – or whatever they’re calling them now.   Almost half of the expert panel showed no favoritism to either brand, saying they both tasted equally good.   Of the seven panelists that did have a preference, the Corn Pops squeaked out an unremarkable 4-3 majority over the store brand.     Of those showing a preference, Keiva and Makayla liked the store brand better because it tasted sweeter.     However, Mariah and Jordyn disagreed – they thought it was the name brand pops that had the sweeter taste.   Nina agreed, noting that the store brand Golden Corn Nuggets actually tasted “kind of like sticky Cheetos but without the cheese.”     (Try and get insight like that from Consumer Reports, people.)

2.   General Mills Lucky Charms vs. Albertsons Magic Stars

Price Comparison: General Mills, $2.99; Albertsons, $1.99   (a savings of 33%)
Panel Scoring: 8-6 in favor of General Mills
The Verdict: A slight edge to the leprechaun, but the kids think both brands are magically delicious.

Ah yes, who doesn’t like a big heaping bowl of “Me frosted Lucky Charms?”   According to our expert panel, it was a very close call between the name-brand favorite and Albertsons Magic Stars knock-off.   That being said, the panel was sharply divided – only Rohaan and Major admitted to liking both cereals equally.   Okay, only Rohaan was able to articulate his thoughts to me verbally, but the dog inhaled both of his samples so quickly you’d have to be a fool to think otherwise.   Among the panelists who didn’t have fleas, Matthew gave the Lucky Charms props because he preferred the flavor of the toasted oats.   For most of the younger panelists though, the focus was understandably on the marshmallows.   MJ and Rekshne both said they chose the Lucky Charms’   because the marshmallows had a better taste.   Jameson dinged the Magic Stars’ marshmallows because they were “too crumbly.”   But Makayla disagreed, saying that she liked the marshmallows from the Albertsons brand cereal because they “melted in your mouth better.”

3.   Kellogg’s Rice Krispies vs. Albertsons Crispy Rice

Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $5.29; Albertsons, $1.99   (a savings of 62%)
Panel Scoring: 10-8 in favor of Kellogg’s
The Verdict: Kellogg’s by a nose, but even the store-brand managed to rice to the occasion.

I just love the old Yo Momma joke that went something like “Yo momma’s so ugly, even Rice Krispies won’t talk to her!”     Heh.     That one snap-crackle-and-pops me up every single time.     In this head-to-head comparison of one of the all-time classics, our panel of experts gave a very slight edge to the Kellogg’s Rice Krispies over the Albertsons brand.   For the most part, the kids were indifferent.   The only passionate response came from my son, Matthew, who was quite adamant when he complained that the store-brand Crispy Rice was “gag-me bad.”     Considering the store brand offers a savings of 62%, the odds are pretty good that I’ll be trying to slip those by him again sometime in the future anyway.

4.   Kellogg’s Apple Jacks vs. Albertsons Apple Dapples

Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $4.99; Albertsons, $1.99   (a savings of 60%)
Panel Scoring: 11-8 in favor of Albertsons
The Verdict: The Albertsons Dapples were the apple of the experts’ eyes.

Apple Jacks, like grape candy, is one of those gastronomical enigmas.   Neither tastes like the fruit it proclaims to imitate.   Recognizing this, Kellogg’s decided to go on the offensive by asking kids in its television ads, “Why are they called Apple Jacks if they don’t taste like apples?”   Beats me.   To tell you the truth, I really don’t care because Apple Jacks is still my all-time favorite cereal of all-time and forever.   Did I mention for all-time?   Then again, what do I know?   If you ask the kids, a slim majority said they would rather eat the Albertsons Apple Dapples.   Of those that did prefer the store brand, they said they liked the sweeter taste.   Mariah was our only expert who gave Apple Jacks the nod.     She thought they were “just tastier.”   For the record, I did my own blind taste test and still preferred the Apple Jacks – there definitely was less sugar.

5.   Quaker Cinnamon Life vs. Albertsons Crunchy Oat Squares with Cinnamon

Price Comparison: Quaker, $2.99; Albertsons, $2.39   (a savings of 20%)
Panel Scoring: 7-6 in favor of Albertsons
The Verdict: Too close to call.   Neither cereal was oat of the ordinary.

Remember the commercial with Mikey, the finicky kid who wouldn’t eat anything?   That is until his brothers put a bowl of Life cereal in front of him.     It spawned one of the biggest catch phrases of all time: “He likes it!   Hey Mikey!”   Well, I bring that up because this test was a dead heat, 6-6, when the dog stepped up to the plate (pun intended).   With apologies to Quaker, Major just wouldn’t eat the Life cereal.   He chewed it a few times, seemed to dislike the texture of the oat squares and then spent the next 46 seconds trying to dislodge the apparently irritating shards of oats from off his tongue.   The dog did gobble up the Albertsons oat squares though.   As for the kids, like I said, it was a dead heat.   Most of those that voted for the Life agreed with Keiva who said it was “more cinnamony.”   Nina preferred the Life too because the store brand was “too hard.”   Not everyone agreed.   Makayla said the Life was “bland.”   But most of those who praised the Albertsons brand used terms like “thicker” (MJ) and “not as fluffy” (Jameson).   I guess my dog prefers his oats not as fluffy too.

6.   Kellogg’s Froot Loops vs. Albertsons Fruit Rings

Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $4.99; Albertsons, $1.99   (a savings of 60%)
Panel Scoring: 10-7 in favor of Kellogg’s
The Verdict: Here’s the juice on the fruit loops… Kellogg’s ran rings around competition.

Just like their elementary school teachers, most people never forget the name of their childhood pediatrician.   Mine was Dr. Papazian and he was a wondrous man to me.   One year, my sister and I went in for one of our yearly physicals.   During the exam Dr. Papazian was feeling my sister’s abdomen, pushing and probing as all doctors are wont to do.   “I know what you had for breakfast!”   he told her.   My sister asked him to prove it and he immediately said “Froot Loops!”   You should have seen the look on both our faces!   How did he know?   Anyhoo, the Froot Loops are the only cereal in this experiment where the kids preferred the national brand to the store brand by a margin of at least 3 to 2.     Jordyn preferred the Albertsons brand because “it had more flavor.”   Somewhat ironically, the kids that preferred the Froot Loops all said they liked them because they were less sugary.   I bet Dr. Papazian wouldn’t have predicted that.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have a Winner!

For those of you who are interested, here is an official summary breakdown of the expert panel voting.

TasteTestCereal

Ironically, even though the name-brand cereals won more challenges I think it is the store-brand labels that won the experiment.

Yes, the name-brand cereals won four of the six challenges, but only the Kellogg’s Froot Loops won by even a moderately-sized margin.   I think the other three wins were really too narrow to justify paying price premiums between 33 and 62 percent for the national labels.     In fact, one could argue that even in the case of the Froot Loops, the victory was nowhere near decisive enough to justify paying two and a half times the cost of the store brand knock-off.

My recommendation is simple:   If your kids are already used to eating the name-brand kid cereals and you’re afraid they’ll balk at trying the store brands, save those name-brand boxes and put the store brand bags inside them.

Then, if the kids fail to notice the difference after eating the store brands, you can eventually let them in on your little secret – and enjoy drastically lower grocery bills in the process.

Hey, Readers!

This particular product experiment was suggested by a reader just like you!   In this case, a big thank you is in order to Smarty Market!   Do you have a suggestion for a particular product YOU would like to see tested?   If so, let me know!   You just might see it in my next experiment.



Comments

  1. 1

    says

    “If your kids are already used to eating the name-brand kid cereals and you’re afraid they’ll balk at trying the store brands, save those name-brand boxes and put the store brand bags inside them.”

    Sweet!!! :)

    I love these experiments, by the way. I am a big fan of generics, as you know, so it’s good to see such an even spread between them. I think it’s mostly about psychology–we love labels.

    I love your idea (the one I quoted), but at the same time, I’d love to use generics as a teachable moment with my kids. Giving them what they want (or what they think they want and think they’re getting) would defeat my purposes in that respect.

    I dunno…tough call, we’ll see how it goes when my kids actually start eating solid food!! :)
    .-= Wojciech Kulicki´s last blog ..Stopping Entitlement in Kids =-.

  2. 3

    says

    Whenever I’ve bought generic cereal, it’s not so much the taste as it is the consistency. Usually the generic are crunchier, and not in a good way (think rock-hard crunchy). Best bet, purchase brand-name cereals on sale with a coupon. Of course, maybe kids don’t mind the rocky-texture. :)
    .-= Little House´s last blog ..Charming Craftsmans =-.

    • 5

      says

      @Wojo: You make a good point about losing a teachable moment by pulling the deceptive bait and switch with the cereal boxes. I suggested parents just delay the lesson a bit for those kids who might be the type that would reject the cereal despite the evidence. Lots of kids will say they like something until you tell them it includes a food they supposedly “hate.” Then they won’t eat it. Lasagna with spinach comes to mind – I knew a kid who used to love it until he knew there was spinach in it. Now he never eats it. (Uh, don’t tell anybody that kid would be me.) LOL

      @LittleHouse: Funny you should mention that. Albertsons actually had selected Kellogg’s cereals on sale this past week for $1.99 – the same price as their store brands. So you make a great point. The thing is the sales are hit and miss, and if you have a kid who only eats, say, Froot Loops and they only come on sale a few times a year it may get tough to keep a steady supply available. Then again, in my case, I prefer the name-brand Apple Jacks and so it doesn’t matter how cheap the Apple Dapples are – I’m always paying the premium! :-)

      @Mr. CC: I did a quick check on what cereals I had left in the cupboard (I gave some boxes away to the kids after the experiment) and this is what I found: There was the exact amount of sugar per serving in both the Froot Loops and Fruit Rings, and the Cinnamon Life and its store-brand counterpart. The Rice Krispies had more sugar per serving than the store-brand Crispy Rice (4 grams vs 3 grams). In fact, for all of those cereals the nutritional numbers on a per-serving basis were virtually identical when compared on a head-to-head basis.

  3. 6

    says

    Looks like you are pretty thorough. I just brought it up after watching the “food revolution” and what Jamie Oliver said about the food industry putting in more stuff like salt and sugar to “get us hooked”….But I guess Kelloggs does taste better on some of their cereals (to the kids at least)!
    .-= Mr Credit Card´s last blog ..Airlines And Credit Cards =-.

  4. 7

    Kelly Browning says

    These taste test experiments are really awesome Len! You’re right too – I’d much rather read this than some dry article at Consumer Reports! lol

    My kids have been eating the store brand cereals for as long as I can remember and they don’t miss a thing. But for kids who are heavily influenced by commercials, it would probably help counter that marketing push if new parents started their kids on the store brand stuff before they get used to the name brand products. Just a thought.

    Can’t wait for the next experiment!

  5. 8

    TFD says

    I’m curious to know if these cereals are made at the same plant even though they have different labels. I suspect they are.

  6. 9

    says

    omg First off, I am so impressed with the organization of the study, the kids pictures, and the excel chart. And of course the content was also FABULOUS. There are only a few non-generic brands we use in our home, so I absolutely loved this empirical study!! BTW do you have a Aldi’s where you live? They are the most reasonable grocery I’ve ever seen and their cereal is great. Len, one final question, did this post take you forever to put together? It looks like a lot of effort went into it!

  7. 10

    says

    Forget the results, I’m just impressed you could corral that many kids!

    Seriously, though, Little House is right about sales. My husband LOVES the sugary crap that passes for kids cereal. So I’m constantly buying up big sales.

    My mom tends to send me coupons for things like that, since she doesn’t use them. In a pinch, I’ll send away to Coupon Clippers for some extras.

    But yesterday I got 17 boxes (17.2 oz each) of Apple Jacks and/or Corn Pops for just over $20 total. I’ve actually gotten to the point that I get annoyed if I pay more than $1.50 a box!

    Of course, I have the benefit of double coupons BUT even without that factor yesterday, I would have paid only about $1 more.

    In other words: People who go generic may actually end up paying MORE than couponers do for brand name stuff.
    .-= Abigail´s last blog ..A bankruptcy story… redux =-.

    • 11

      says

      @Kelly: Thanks for the suggestion. I agree with you – starting the little ones on the store-brand stuff certainly can’t hurt. I’m also glad you enjoy the experiments! I know I certainly enjoy conducting them. :-)
      @TFD: After looking at my remaining boxes of Albertsons brand cereals, I see they are all distributed by Supervalu Inc. out of Eden Prairie, Minnesota. I’m not sure if that is the same as manufactured though. I’ll try and find out for you.
      @Barbara: Thank you! There are a few Aldi’s in the Los Angeles area, but not many – and none close enough to where I live for me to go check them out. Yes, these experiments do take a bit of effort (not to mention $$), but it is a labor of love – so I don’t mind! This is my fourth one, so I am getting pretty efficient now. :-)
      @Abigail: LOL! Logistically, this WAS the toughest experiment of the four to pull off so far. I guess I should expect that when conducting the experiment it WAS going to be just a bit different working with kids and getting them to stay focused. LOL As for cereal purchasing strategies… Maybe I need to be clipping coupons more often. My problem is, our family tends to go on an off cereal kicks – so we may eat a lot of cereal for a couple months and then not so much for another few months. I’m afraid if I bought like 17 boxes some would go stale before I even opened them.

  8. 12

    Jill says

    LOL!! :-)

    The picture in my mind of your dog trying to get that Life cereal off his tongue is still making me laugh! How about a coffee taste test between Starbucks and Folgers.

    • 13

      says

      You should have seen the dog, Jill. It was pretty comical. It was kind of similar to when you give a dog some peanut butter. :-)

      You’re not alone on the coffee challenge request – I’ve had a couple other folks make the same suggestion. I’ll see what I can do!

  9. 14

    says

    This is an excellent post. It is crazy how little kids get conditioned on this brand name stuff already. No wonder that we adults suffer from the same conditioning.

    It would also be interesting to find out whether the price difference is worth it to the people who liked the brand name cereals. If they find out how much more expensive it is, they may opt for the cheaper product because the store brand product is “not 33% worse”. I for one do that when I buy wine. The extra flavor I get for buying a more expensive bottle is normally not worth it to me. I settle for less and still enjoy the wine I get. If I knew that each gulp cost me $1 for example, I don’t think I would enjoy any gulp of any wine no matter how good it was.
    .-= ctreit´s last blog ..The Personal Finance Story of the Movie UP: Ellie and Carl Fredricksen =-.

    • 15

      says

      @ctreit: Funny you should mention not being a stickler for the more expensive wines. I have a friend who has some neighbors who pride themselves on being wine connoisseurs to the point of snobbery. One day he took an empty bottle of a very old vintage wine he had cracked open the night before for a special celebration and filled it with wine from several half-empty bottles of some very average wines he hadn’t finished. He then gently mixed the wines together and inserted a new cork. With the ruse now on, he gathered his wine-expert neighbors and told them he had a surprise for them. As you probably can guess, my buddy poured the wine and all of his neighbors proclaimed that the “vintage” wine they were drinking was among the best they ever tasted!

  10. 16

    ed bates says

    Good experiment. Cannot find any difference myself. However I hope your skill at conducting this test was better than your math skills. Percentages are way off. How can something costing twice as much be only 60% more?

  11. 18

    Calidore says

    You left out one important thing re. Corn Pops: Their shape and weight easily gives them the best ammo factor among cereal.* So does the original or store brand fly farther when slingshot?

    Best,

    Calidore

    * Yes, Grape Nuts can replace rock salt in a shotgun, but I’m talking versatility.

    • 20

      says

      @Calidore: So now I know why the original mascot for Sugar Pops was a gun-slinging cowboy. Although I didn’t weigh them, the name brand pops seemed to be slightly larger and heavier which would suggest they would also be better in a slingshot. I’ll see if I can get my son to do some proper testing… :-)
      @XXL: Nothing earth-shattering… If he ate the sample, then I assumed he liked it!

  12. 21

    says

    There is a great website.. great sharing…
    Thank you very much…

    I’m curious to know if these cereals are made at the same plant even though they have different labels. I suspect they are.

  13. 22

    Archirat says

    I know I am responding to something posted a year ago, but I was just wondering about the psychology of the experiment.
    What if you supposedly had multiple cereals, but instead offered the same cereal twice? (Or three cereals, two being the same and the last being different) I wonder exactly how much of the difference in taste preferences is determined by our perception that something is supposed to be different.

    • 23

      says

      Well, that would be interesting to find out! Of course, my test was a blind experiment, so the kids had no preconceived ideas as to which cereals were *supposed* to taste better.

  14. 24

    Rooster says

    I love Kelloggs Raisin Bran. I decided to try Walmarts store brand. First I found that the store brand with extra raisins was the same price as the Kellogg’s regular raisins. I gave it a shot and I cannot tell the difference. I’ll go with the store brand! It pays to read labels, shop around, and compare. Name brands are not always superior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>