If you're a college student, you're in one of two predicaments right now. Situation A: You're gearing up for that hellish week that is finals. Situation B: You're done with school and it's time to celebrate.

Either way, you could use some cola. If you're up all night cramming for exams and writing term papers, that soda will set you straight and keep you up. And if you've already taken your exams (and are 21), you can do a little celebrating with your friends with a rum and Coke.

Now Coca-Cola is the big brand leader in this category, and frankly one of the strongest brands in the world. But we were wondering if that was all hype. Is there a chance that cheaper store brand varieties could provide the greater value?

Store Brand Scorecard sampled Coca-Cola and three store brand varieties – one each from a big box store, grocery store and convenience/drug store – to find out. All products were purchased between late April and early May in the Chicago area. Prices are subject to change.

Brand Name: Coca-Cola
Cost:
$1.48 at Walmart, $1.99 at Chicago-area grocery store.
Size: 2 liters
Nutritional Facts: (Per 8 fluid ounce serving) 100 calories, 30 milligrams of sodium (1% recommended daily value), 27 grams of total carbohydrate (9% recommended daily value)
Taste: Sweet and fizzy with a syrupy aftertaste. It's a classic.

The Big Box Store:
Walmart
Brand Name:
Sam's Cola
Cost: Sale price of 66 cents (typically 78 cents)
Size: 2 liters
Nutritional Facts: (Per 8 fluid ounce serving) 110 calories, 25 milligrams of sodium (1 % recommended daily value), 29 grams total carbohydrate (10% recommended daily value)
Taste: A fine cola, although it's not as sweet, doesn't have as much fizz, and doesn't go down quite as nice as Coca-Cola. The main difference comes with the aftertaste – Coca-Cola's flavor lingers on the taste buds, but Sam's flavor fizzles out rather quickly once swallowed.

The Grocery Store: Dominick's (a Safeway Inc. store. Safeway is number 52 on the Fortune 500 list, owning and operating multiple grocery retailer chains, including Tom Thumb, Vons and its namesake store.)
Brand Name: Go 2 Cola
Cost: Sale price of 99-cents (typical price $1.49)
Size: 2 liters
Nutritional Facts: (Per 8 fluid ounce serving) 110 calories, 25 milligrams of sodium (1% recommended daily value), 29 grams of total carbohydrate (10% recommended daily value)
Taste: Item for item, ingredient for ingredient, this is identical to Sam's in practically every way, and tastes just like it.

The Convenience Store: Walgreens
Brand Name:
Walgreens Refreshing Cola
Cost: 99-cents
Size: 1 liter
Nutritional Facts: (Per 8 fluid ounce serving) 90 calories, 35 milligrams of sodium (1% recommended daily value), 26 grams of total carbohydrate (9% recommended daily value)
Taste: Compared to the other store brands, this has the strongest flavor (seems that little extra sodium goes a long way), but the flavor doesn't have the same impact as the name brand.

Greatest Value:
Sam's Cola isn't as sweet as Coca-Cola, but its price is most definitely sweeter. 78 cents for 2 liters? You can't even buy a 16-ounce bottle of soda from a vending machine for that. For that reason (and because the cola's flavor, while not best, isn't bad), we're giving the Walmart brand a value score of 8 (on a scale of 0 to 10).

Safeway's Go 2 Cola tastes just like Sam's. The only difference really is the price. Typically you save just 50 cents going with Go 2 versus Coca-Cola at a grocery, while at Walmart you save 70 cents. But again, Go 2 Cola's not that bad, so the value score here is a respectable 7.

Walgreens Refreshing Cola was better tasting than the Walmart and Safeway varieties, but not as good as Coca-Cola's. And if you buy two bottles to get 2 liters of pop, it'll cost you more than buying a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola at Walmart, and cost the same as the one you'd get at the grocery. Value Score: 7

That leaves Coca-Cola – the best tasting, and costliest, cola. But I say the flavor is strong enough to justify the added expense compared with the store brands. That's why Coca-Cola is the winner of this challenge, earning a value score of 9.

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 moneycollege@walletpop.com.

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