Chances are if you're away for school, you missed out on a personal visit with your ma on Mother's Day. Of course, you also missed out on Mom's fine home cookin'. (She still slaves over a stove, even on Mother's Day, bless her heart.) So feeling particularly nostalgic, Store Brand Scorecard this week decided to sample the ultimate Mom meal – meatloaf.
The question was, would these branded takes on comfort food make up for missing out on a dish made with love, or would these factory-processed meals make us cry for you know whom?
It turns out some of the brands weren't half bad, although one in particular was very, very bad. And the savings we made with the store brand varieties were so good, we just know Mom would be so proud.
Now, typically Store Brand Scorecard tries out a branded product and three private label equivalents to see which one offers the best taste for the price. When it comes to meatloaf, however, there weren't enough equal store brand offerings to make this a four-way competition. So for this edition, we have two mini-matches. In round one, we have two refrigerated meatloaf contenders. In round two, we have a name brand/store brand frozen meatloaf meal face off (complete with mashed taters).
Round One: Refrigerated Meatloaf
Brand Name: Hormel
Cost: $4.99 at Walmart on date of purchase (typically $5.68); $7.99 at Chicago-area grocery store
Size: 17 ounces
Nutritional Facts: (Per five ounce serving) 260 calories (120 from fat), 13 grams of total fat (20% recommended daily value), 60 milligrams of cholesterol (20% recommended daily value), 870 milligrams of sodium (36% recommended daily value), 13 grams total carbohydrate (4% recommended daily value)
Taste: Hormel is one of the most iconic meat brands out there, which is why it was so shocking that its meatloaf was so terrible. I felt like I was cutting into a rubber ball, given the alarmingly springy texture, and the taste wasn't much better. To make matters more abysmal, the tomato sauce was just a little pool of bland tomato paste slapped on top of the middle of the meat. All in all, disgusting.
The Mini Market: Aldi
Brand Name: Bremer
Size: 17 ounces
Nutritional Facts: (Per five ounce serving) 240 calories (130 from fat), 15 grams of total fat (22% recommended daily value), 75 milligrams of cholesterol (25% recommended daily value), 340 milligrams of sodium (14% recommended daily value), 11 grams total carbohydrate (4% recommended daily value)
Taste: Admittedly I had very low expectations going in, given my disappointment with Aldi products in the past. But this batch of meatloaf actually tasted like meatloaf – pretty decent meatloaf at that. The onions and peppers mixed in the meat that were so sorely lacking in Hormel's brand gave the meatloaf some life, and the abundant tomato sauce, blended with Worcestershire sauce and light brown sugar, was sweet and full-bodied.
Greater Value: This one's clear as crystal. Hormel's meatloaf isn't just bad, it's the worst name-brand product Store Brand Scorecard has tasted so far, and it's outrageously expensive too at the grocery. Out of a value score of 0 to 10, Store Brand Scorecard's giving this one a 1.
Aldi's on the other hand ain't like homemade, or, for that matter, that of Milwaukee's Comet Cafe, home of the greatest meatloaf this here writer's ever tasted. (Sorry, Mom.) But for a hearty dinner you can just zap, Aldi's is more than passable, especially since it costs just 4 bucks. Less than half the sodium of Hormel's too, although cholesterol and total fat is higher. Value Score: 7.
Round Two: Frozen Meatloaf Dinners
Brand Name: Stouffer's
Cost: $2.50 at Walmart; $3 at a Chicago-area grocery store (typically $3.99)
Size: 9.88 ounces
Nutritional Facts: 340 calories (170 from fat), 19 grams of total fat (29% recommended daily value), 80 milligrams of cholesterol (27% recommended daily value), 780 milligrams of sodium (33% recommended daily value), 20 grams of total carbohydrate (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: The loaf itself is pretty decent, the sauce acceptable, but nothing all that special. The accompanying mashed potatoes however are the worst I've ever eaten, dry and chalky.
The Grocery Store: Dominick's (a Safeway Inc. store. Safeway Inc., number 52 on the Fortune 500 list, owns and operates Safeway, Vons, Tom Thumb and other grocery retailers.
Brand name: Safeway SELECT
Cost: $2 (typically $2.99)
Size: 9.85 ounces
Nutritional Facts: 340 calories (150 from fat), 17 grams of total fat (26% recommended daily value), 65 milligrams of cholesterol (22% recommended daily value), 980 milligrams of sodium (41% recommended daily value), 32 grams of total carbohydrate (11% recommended daily value)
Taste: Again, the meatloaf's fine, but the sauce is swell, enhanced by Chablis wine. Those potatoes were better than Stouffer's – that's not saying much – but they were still powdery.
Greater Value: Stouffer's meal's a decent price, but it's not going to be all that filling, unless you eat those poor potatoes. Same situation with Safeway SELECT. But the Safeway SELECT sauce is superior, and cheaper, so the store brand again is the winner of this challenge. Stouffer's gets a value score of 5, Safeway SELECT a 6.
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 email@example.com.
Best meatloaf? We compare Stouffer's, Hormel to the house brands