Here's the lesson of the day, Money College readers: Listen to those with more life experience.
Kathy Birk, a self-described "snowbird" living in Indiana and Arizona, wrote Store Brand Scorecard saying that Aldi's brand of wheat thins was great tasting and a good deal. She asked if I would compare Wheat Thins to some store brands to see which one offered the best tasting thin wheat cracker for the price.
Now the lesson is you should listen to those with more life experience. That doesn't mean you have to agree with them on everything. And going into this challenge, I had some doubts. I've tried out a number of Aldi products since this blog started up and only one has won the Greatest Value challenge (that was for refrigerated meatloaf, for those keeping score). In almost every case Aldi products are the cheapest, but often they're the poorest quality, too.
But Store Brand Scorecard tried out wheat thins, the Aldi variety, and a brand each from a big box store and grocery store, respectively. Was Kathy right, or did Aldi disappoint again? Read on.
Brand Name: Wheat Thins (Nabisco)
Cost: $2.04 at Super Target; $3.99 at a Chicago-area grocery store.
Size: 10 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 16 crackers) 140 calories (45 from fat), 5 grams of total fat (8% recommended daily value), 230 milligrams sodium (10% recommended daily value), 22 grams of total carbohydrate (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: Good crunch, exactly what I like in a cracker. But this brand's too salty-sweet for my tastes; sodium and sugar were the two primary flavors that stood out.
The Big Box Store: Super Target
Brand Name: Market Pantry
Size: 16 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 16 crackers) 150 calories (50 calories from fat), 6 grams of total fat (9% recommended daily value), 260 milligrams of sodium (11% recommended daily value), 20 grams of total carbohydrate (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: True this brand has more fat and sodium than Wheat Thins, but surprisingly, it tastes like a whole lot of nothing. After a couple, it felt like I was gnashing crunchy paper. It certainly tasted like paper.
The Grocery Store: Dominick's (owned and operated by Safeway Inc., parent to Tom Thumb, Vons and its own namesake grocery retailer, among others. Safeway is number 52 on this year's Fortune 500 list)
Brand Name: Safeway
Size: 10 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 16 crackers) 130 calories (40 calories from fat), 4.5 grams of total fat (7% recommended daily value), 290 milligrams of sodium (12% recommended daily value), 19 grams of total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: Now this is my kind of cracker. Great crunch. Good flavor. Not too salty, not too sweet. Is that so much to ask for?
The Mini Market: Aldi
Brand Name: Savoritz
Size: 10 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 13 crackers) 140 calories (50 calories from fat), 6 grams of total fat (9% recommended daily value), 140 milligrams of sodium (6% recommended daily value), 19 grams of total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: One would assume you buy wheat crackers, as opposed to any other kind of cracker, to taste the wheat, and that's exactly the dominant flavor you get with this brand. Aldi gets this thin wheat right.
Greatest Value: Target offers a 16 oz. box versus the standard 10 oz., but the quantity can't make up for the lackluster quality. On a scale of 0 to 10, Market Pantry's thin wheat's get a value score of 4.
Wheat Thins are so popular the brand name has practically become the standard name for this kind of cracker, like Kleenex is used to describe tissue paper. (I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone calling these snacks "thin wheat crackers.") It may be a popular choice, but it's not my pick in the taste category, not to mention it's the costliest. Value score: 4.
The Safeway brand is one of the tastiest, and at $1.99, cheaper than the same size box of Wheat Thins at Target, and significantly cheaper than the product at a typical grocery store. Value score: 8.
But Savoritz does what the other crackers don't do – it actually tastes like a wheat cracker. And it's still got the crunch. That makes Aldi's brand of thin wheat crackers the winner of this challenge. Value score: 9. Good call Kathy!
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.
Best wheat crackers? We rank the house brands