Iron Man, Shrek and Carrie Bradshaw are all back at the movies, kind of like those high school friends you bump into during your summers off from college. And so in honor of the summer movie season, Store Brand Scorecard decided to sample the staple dish at cinemas everywhere – butter popcorn.
Which brand's a hit with this critic, and which one's a disaster? Read on for my taste and price comparison between Orville Redenbacher's microwave butter-flavored popcorn and three store-brand equivalents, one each from a big box store, grocery store and mini market respectively.
Quiet everyone. Ready? Lights, camera, munching!
Brand Name: Orville Redenbacher's
Cost: Sale price of $2.99 at a Chicago-area grocery store (typically $3.39); not sold at Chicago-area Super Walmart and Super Target stores visited.
Size: 9.9 oz. (3 3.3-oz. bags, 30 cents per ounce on sale; regular price 34 cents)
Nutritional Facts: (For two tablespoons unpopped) 170 calories (110 from fat), 12 grams of total fat (18% recommended daily value), 260 milligrams of sodium (11% recommended daily value), 17 grams of total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: Downright addictive, with just enough salt and butter flavoring to keep me coming back for more. I had three more bags of popcorn to sample, and yet I was struggling to put this batch aside. This one's a blockbuster.
The Big Box Store: Super Target
Brand Name: Market Pantry
Size: 23.8 oz. (8 2.97-oz, bags, 11 cents per ounce)
Nutritional Facts: (For two tablespoons unpopped) 150 calories (70 from fat), 7 grams of total fat (11% recommended daily value), 230 milligrams of sodium (10% recommended daily value), 21 grams of total carbohydrate (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: Nice and crisp, but a bit bland. There isn't enough salt and butter flavoring to keep me interested. Not a hit, but not an outright flop, this batch is basically forgettable.
The Grocery Store: Dominick's (owned and operated by Safeway Inc., number 52 on the Fortune 500 list, which also owns and operates its namesake grocery chain, as well as Tom Thumb and other retailers.)
Brand Name: Safeway
Cost: Sale price of $2.39 (typically $2.79)
Size: 9.6 oz, (3 3.2-oz, bags, 25 cents per ounce on sale; 29 cents typical)
Nutritional Facts: (For two tablespoons unpopped) 130 calories (40 from fat), 4.5 grams of total fat (7% recommended daily value), 350 milligrams of sodium (15% recommended daily value), 19 grams of total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: An intense butter flavor makes this brand a delight on first bite. But then the taste buds wisen up to the artificial taste, and the flavor is so strong, with each mouthful, I felt queasier and queasier. It's like one of those shaky-cam action movies that overstays its welcome.
The Mini Market: Aldi
Brand Name: Corntown
Size: 16.8 oz. (6 3.5-oz. bags, 9 cents per oz.)
Nutritional Facts: (For two tablespoons unpopped) 120 calories (45 from fat), 5 grams of total fat (8% recommended daily value), 260 milligrams of sodium (11% recommended daily value), 17 grams of total carbohydrates (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: What a bomb; Aldi's popcorn is the worst I've ever eaten. The expiration date for my sample was October 2011, but fresh out of the bag, it tasted stale.
Greatest Value: I don't care that a pound of Aldi's Corntown brand popcorn is $1.49 – that's a total waste of $1.49. If you want to spend money on popcorn that essentially tastes like cardboard nuggets. It's the Ishtar of popcorn brands – a total flop. On a scale of 0 to 10, I give this brand a value score of 2.
Safeway butter popcorn, on the other hand, is kind of like the "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Jaws," or "Shrek" franchises. It's pretty good the first time around, but with each passing bite, it gets cornier and more disappointing.
Target's Market Pantry popcorn, meanwhile, is a lot like "Iron Man 2" – it's good for some cheap thrills, and for 28.8 ounces for $2.50, there's plenty of pop for the price. But it leaves you wanting more. Value Score: 7.
Orville Redenbacher's corn, then, is like seeing a 3-D showing. Sure it's kind of costly compared with the store brands, but the wow factor in the taste is strong enough to justify the cost of admission. Two thumbs up! I give this brand a value score of 8, making this the winner of the challenge.
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.
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