Best baked cheese crackers? We rank the house brands
It's crunch time for many college students, so how fitting that Store Brand Scorecard tried out baked cheese crackers this week, at the recommendation of reader/friend Allison Enright.
Allison insists that CVS/pharmacy's brand variation of Cheez-It actually tastes better, and yes, it happens to cost less, too. So are these pharmacy-brand snacks all they're crackered up to be? Or is the claim a bit cheezy?
Wanting to find out myself (and hungry for a cheesy, crunchy snack), Store Brand Scorecard sampled CVS cheese crackers, Cheez-It, and two other store brands, to see which brand is the Big Cheese when it comes to flavor and price.
All brands were purchased at Chicago-area stores on April 17, and prices are subject to change based on region and date of purchase.
One lesson from this edition: Make sure you read the fine print on freshness and weight when shopping for products. Store Brand Scorecard actually bought a brand of crackers from Target with an expiration date of August 2009. Similarly, a Jewel-Osco store sold boxes of crackers that expired last week and last month. And while CVS' crackers come in the biggest box compared to its challengers, it actually offers the least amount of crackers by weight. You wouldn't tell, of course, if you don't read the box.
Brand Name: Cheez-It
Cost: $2.54 at a Chicago-area Target (on sale from typical price of $2.99); $3.59 at a Chicago-area grocery store
Size: 9 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (For 27 crackers) 150 calories (70 from fat), 8 grams of fat (12% recommended daily value), no cholesterol, 250 milligrams of sodium (10% recommended daily value), 17 grams total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: A bit dry and plain on first bite, but a rich, Cheddar flavor emerges strong and succulent for the aftertaste.
The Big Box Store: SuperTarget
Store Brand Name: Market Pantry
Cost: $1.99 (on sale from typical price of $2.24)
Size: 10 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (For 32 crackers) 150 calories (50 from fat), 6 grams of fat (9% recommended daily value), no cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium (15% recommended daily value), 19 grams total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: Like Cheez-It, Market Pantry is also a bit underwhelming upon first taste. Trouble is, it doesn't get that much better from there. The late-blooming cheese flavor is far too meek and murky to compensate.
The Grocery Store: Jewel-Osco (a Supervalu Inc. store. Supervalu, number 47 on the Fortune 500 list this year, owns Albertsons, Acme, Shaw's and other grocery stores and pharmacies)
Store Brand Name: Jewel
Size: 16 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (For 32 crackers) 150 calories (50 from fat), 6 grams of fat (9% recommended daily value), No cholesterol, 370 milligrams of sodium (15% recommended daily value), 19 grams total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: Jewel's batch matches Market Pantry ingredient by ingredient, and the nutritional stats are identical. So is the bland flavor.
The Convenience Store: CVS/pharmacy
Store Brand Name: CVS Gold Emblem
Size: 7 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (For 24 crackers) 140 calories (45 from fat), 5 grams of fat (8% recommended daily value), 5 milligrams of cholesterol (2% recommended daily value), 280 milligrams of sodium (12% recommended daily value), 21 grams total carbohydrate (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: Whereas Market Pantry and Jewel try, and fail, to replicate Cheez-It, CVS' brand takes the baked cheese cracker category to a new level. Besides each cracker being nearly twice as big as the Cheez-It and copycat squares, the crackers are much crunchier, much like a baked pita chip, and feel less greasy too. And that cheddar flavor, while not as pronounced as Cheez-It, is still tangy on the tongue.
Greatest Value: If you feel like eating baked cardboard squares, help yourself to Market Pantry or Jewel. True, the brands have less calories and fat than Cheez-It, but what's the point of eating a cheese-flavored cracker without much cheese flavor? While Jewel brand actually offers more ounces than any of the competitors, its penny per ounce ratio is equal to Target's Market Pantry pre-sale. But since the savings post-sale for Target was only two pennies an ounce, I'm going to give both brands value scores of 4 (on a scale of 0 to 10).
That leaves Cheez-It and CVS, each with their own pros and cons. Cheez-It crackers are definitely the cheesiest – but aside from the sale price at Target, when the cost matches CVS penny for ounce, the brand's the most expensive. CVS packaging offers the least amount of crackers, even though the box is the biggest (misleading CVS!). But, I've got to admit, CVS' crunchy, Cheddary crackers were my favorite. I'm giving Cheez-It a value score of 7 and CVS Gold Emblem's baked cheese crackers a value score of 8, making the pharmacy brand the winner of this challenge. You're right Allison – CVS' crackers were the best.
No doubt that as Money College readers you're plenty busy with classes, extracurriculars, what have you, but should you ever get a spare moment, I'd love it if you could help me help you.
Each week, Store Brand Scorecard samples a major label food or beverage product and three store brand variations to see which product provides the best taste for the price. Typically store brands cost approximately 30% less than regular brand products – and sometimes, they taste identical, or even better, than the brand product. Other times – like when it comes to bacon – store brands don't even come close.So if there's any product you're dying for me to try, let me know. E-mail me suggestions to email@example.com, or find me on Twitter (@PietLevy). Maybe I'll find a store brand variety that tastes better than the national brand, saving you money in the process.
Piet Levy's Store Brand Scorecard tests a major label food product and three private label equivalents to see which brand offers the best value for the price. It appears every Monday on Walletpop's Money College page. Send suggestions, including items you want Piet to try, to firstname.lastname@example.org.