When it comes to breakfast, kids can be real cereal killers. Unfortunately, for those of us trying to lower our grocery bill, name-brand cereals can be a very expensive proposition.
That got me thinking: Can kids really tell the difference between those pricey name-brand cereals and their far-less expensive generic counterparts?
Well, I was determined to find out! So I ran down to my local grocery store and purchased six popular name-brand kid cereals and their generic counterparts.
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 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:
Favorite Color: Purple
Favorite Color: Purple
Favorite Color: Midnight Blue
Favorite Color: “Can I pick two, Mr. Len, because I really like red and blue.” No, Rohaan. You can’t. (Trouble maker.)
Favorite Color: Black
Favorite Color: Red
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Color: Red
Age: 7 (and a half!)
Favorite Color: Pink
Favorite Color: Red
Favorite Color: Pink
Grade: Dropped-out (but promises to start working soon on his GED)
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 are the results, based upon the inputs received from my distinguished panel of experts:
1. Kellogg’s Corn Pops vs. Golden Corn Nuggets
Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $5.47; Generic, $2.43 (a savings of 56%)
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.
Kellogg’s Corn Pops has had more face lifts than Joan Rivers. The cereal was called Sugar Pops when it debuted in the early 1950s. Eventually, they changed the name to Corn Pops. In 2006 the name was shortened to Pops; but Kellogg’s restored the Corn Pops label only a few months later. As for the panel, of those showing a preference, Keiva and Makayla liked the store brand better because it tasted sweeter. However, Mariah and Jordyn disagreed — they thought the name-brand pops were sweeter. My daughter, Nina, agreed; she said the store brand Golden Corn Nuggets 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. Magic Stars
Price Comparison: General Mills, $3.89; Generic, $2.43 (a savings of 38%)
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?” The kids were 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. The younger panelists focused on the marshmallows; MJ and Rekshne both said they chose the Lucky Charms’ because they had a better taste. Jameson piled on, dinging the Magic Stars’ marshmallows because they were “too crumbly.” On the other hand, Makayla thought the generic brand marshmallows “melted in your mouth better.” I give up.
3. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies vs. Crispy Rice
Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $5.72; Generic, $2.50 (a savings of 56%)
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.
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 generic brand. For the most part, the kids were indifferent. The only passionate response came from my son, Matthew, who complained that the store-brand Crispy Rice was “gag-me bad.” Considering the store brand offers a savings of 56%, 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. Apple Dapples
Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $4.71; Generic, $2.43 (a savings of 48%)
Panel Scoring: 11-8 in favor of Generic
The Verdict: The Dapples were the apples of the experts’ eyes.
Apple Jacks, like grape candy, is one of those gastronomical enigmas. Neither tastes like the fruit they proclaim to imitate. Recognizing this, Kellogg’s had a marketing campaign a few years ago that asked, “Why are they called Apple Jacks if they don’t taste like apples?” Frankly, I don’t really care — they’ll always be my favorite cereal. As for the expert panel, a slim majority said they preferred the generic Apple Dapples. By the way, I did my own blind taste test and still preferred the Apple Jacks.
5. Quaker Cinnamon Life vs. Crunchy Oat Squares with Cinnamon
Price Comparison: Quaker, $4.14; Generic, $2.80 (a savings of 32%)
Panel Scoring: 7-6 in favor of Generic
The Verdict: Too close to call. Neither cereal was oat of the ordinary.
The expert panel deadlocked on this one — at least until the dog stepped up to the plate (pun intended). It turns out that Major clearly disliked the Life cereal. He chewed it a few times, then spent the next 46 seconds trying to dislodge the apparently irritating shards of oats from off his tongue. On the other hand, the dog did gobble up the generic oat squares — to the horror of the executives at Quaker, I’m sure. As for the kids, Keiva preferred the Life because it was “more ‘cinnamony.'” Nina preferred the Life too; she said the generic brand was “too hard.” Not everyone agreed; Makayla said Life was “bland.” As for the generic brand, those who praised it used terms like “thicker” and “not as fluffy.” I guess Major doesn’t like fluffy oats either.
6. Kellogg’s Froot Loops vs. Fruit Rings
Price Comparison: Kellogg’s, $4.99; Generic, $2.43 (a savings of 51%)
Panel Scoring: 10-7 in favor of Kellogg’s
The Verdict: Kellogg’s ran rings around the competition.
When I was a kid, I had a pediatrician named Dr. Papazian; he was a wondrous man to me. I remember the time Dr. Papazian was pushing on my sister’s abdomen during a routine physical; when he was done, he asked her if she had Froot Loops for breakfast. Guess what: She did! How did he know? But I digress. Anyway, the Froot Loops were 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. Somewhat ironically, all of the kids that preferred the Froot Loops said they liked them because they were less sugary. I bet Dr. Papazian wouldn’t guess 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:
Even though the name-brand cereals won more challenges, I think the generic labels 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 the high price premiums. In fact, even in the case of the Froot Loops, the victory was nowhere near decisive enough to justify paying twice as much as the generic brand.
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 generic brands, you can eventually let them in on your little secret — and enjoy drastically lower grocery bills in the process.
Photo Credit: Jeepers Media
(This is an updated version of an article that was originally posted on March 29, 2010.)
Mr Credit Card says
Have you checked which has more sugar content? Bet the kids are more “addicted” the the ones with more sugar!
Len Penzo says
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.
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!
I’m curious to know if these cereals are made at the same plant even though they have different labels. I suspect they are.
David @ VapeHabitat says
Haha! Very cool experiment! Read it in one breath.
Barbara Friedberg 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!
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.
Len Penzo 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!
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?
Len Penzo says
Thanks, Ed! Regarding the math: The savings are in relation to the name-brand item. A savings of 100% would be free.
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?
* Yes, Grape Nuts can replace rock salt in a shotgun, but I’m talking versatility.
How did you determine the dog’s preferences?
Len Penzo 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!
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.
Len Penzo 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.
Wojciech Kulicki 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.”
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!! 🙂
Love generic brands.. great post!
Little House 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. 🙂
Mr Credit Card 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)!
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.
Len Penzo 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.
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.
Len Penzo 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!
I’m curious to know if the generic cereals are made at the same plant even though they have different labels. I suspect they are.
Len Penzo 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.
This helped me a lot on my science fair project about the same type of cereals but different brands. 🙂 Thanks
Sheila Laurence says
We don’t buy cereal like that (we eat plenty of other processed, unhealthy things, though!), so I didn’t really care about the study, but what cute kids! 🙂 We buy quite a few generic products. There are not many things where I have felt strongly about the brand name.
Alicia @ Monster Piggy Bank says
This is amaaaazzziinnngg!! 😀 Would love to try this with my kids at home. (Can’t wait to see their reactions!)I must also share this to my friends.. Thanks Len!
Hahaha your panel is great! So far I have really only been buying main brands when they are on 50% off or BOGO sales, maybe I should just try some generics in the mix as well, clearly it shouldn’t be too much of a difference! Beside I use generics for almost everything but cereal, so why not one more?
Actually, a taste testing technique for cereal requires more than flavor. The experience has to include mouth feel and bowl life (time till soggy). How to help identify the differences: pinch your nose when you take a bite of dry cereal and breath through your mouth. Notice the basic feel and flavors. Breath in through your mouth, let go of your nose, and exhale. You can get the different levels of toast with brand names vs generic.
Unless it is a small volume cereal, the brand names and generics are not produced at the same plant. This represents less than 10% of the market.
I really can taste no difference when it comes to name brand and generic. Especially when shopping at Walmart, they have tuna/pasta Walmart brand which tastes the exact same as brand to me.
Yeah, I’m going to do my own study and replace the girlfriend’s birth control with generic. 🙂
Great idea to make this kind of experiment. The results are very astounding. Did you use the same milk? Or is it the cereals itself? Gonna buy one branded product and one generic to test my kids. I’m so excited if I would get similar results.
You’re a wise man, Len. I think everything you say makes a lot of sense!
Great article, Len! I really love your blog and I just signed up to be a Len Penzo dot Com Insider too!
Sophie Breeze says
Way cool! Such a clever post! Keep up the great work, Len.