We're in August now people, the dog days of summer, typically the hottest month of the year. And to make matters worse, school starts up for many students in the next couple of weeks. Bummer circumstances all around.

So take the sizzling heat off with a little frozen treat. And one of our favorite flavors is a classic – good ole vanilla. Sampling vanilla ice cream is also a good way to gauge a brand's ice cream quality. If you can't get vanilla right, how good can Rocky Road or Cookies n' Cream be? But if you can find some great store brand ice cream and save money, well, that's an ice cream deal that will really make you scream.

Store Brand Scorecard sampled a national brand of vanilla ice cream and three store brand varieties, one each from a big box store, grocery store and mini market, to give you the inside scoop on the best vanilla ice cream for the right price. All products were purchased in the Chicago area on July 11th and are subject to change.
Brand Name:
Dean's Homemade Vanilla (Dean Foods)
Cost:
$3 at Walmart; $4.99 at a Chicago-area grocery store
Size: 1.5 quarts
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/2 a cup) 150 calories (70 from fat), 8 grams of fat (12% recommended daily value), 50 milligrams of cholesterol (17% recommended daily value), 35 milligrams of sodium (2% recommended daily value), 19 grams of total carbohydrate (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: Like something served from that childhood soda shop I wish I had experienced, Dean's is a creamy blend rich with vanilla flavor. Classic.

The Big Box Store: Walmart
Brand Name:
No specified brand; the box just says vanilla flavored ice cream
Cost: $1.98
Size: 1.75 quarts
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/2 a cup) 140 calories (60 from fat), 7 grams of fat (11% recommended daily value), 30 milligrams of cholesterol (10% recommended daily value), 55 milligrams of sodium (3% recommended daily value), 16 grams of total carbohydrate (5% recommended daily value)
Taste: Where's the vanilla? The flavor was so muted, the ice cream tasted like ice-cold milk.

The Grocery Store: Dominick's(a subsidiary of Safeway. The company, number 52 on the Fortune 500 list, also owns and operates such grocery retailers as Tom Thumb and its namesake store).
Brand Name: Lucerne
Cost:
$2.49
Size: 1.5 quarts
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/2 a cup) 130 calories (60 from fat), 7 grams of fat (11% recommended daily value), 30 milligrams of cholesterol (9% recommended daily value), 55 milligrams of sodium (2% recommended daily value), 15 grams of total carbohydrate (5% recommended daily value)
Taste: Not quite as creamy as Dean's, but there's definitely a lovely, noteworthy vanilla taste in this ice cream.

The Mini Market: Aldi
Brand Name: Sundae Shoppe
Cost:
$1.99
Size: 2 quarts
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/2 a cup) 130 calories (60 from fat), 7 grams of fat (11% recommended daily value), 25 milligrams of cholesterol (8% recommended daily value), 40 milligrams of sodium (2% recommended daily value), 15 grams of total carbohydrate (5% recommended daily value)
Taste: There may be fewer calories and cholesterol than Walmart's vanilla, but the taste is essentially identical. So that makes another brand of vanilla without enough flavor.

Greatest Value: It concerns me when ice cream that's supposed to have just one distinct flavor can't get that one flavor right. But that's the big problem with Walmart and Aldi's brands. The only people these batches of ice cream will please are those who think vanilla is too exciting. Can't imagine how they'd handle more complex ice cream. On a scale of 0 to 10, Aldi edges out with a value score of 4 over Walmart's score of 3 just because you get an extra half a quart with Aldi for essentially the same price.

Now Dean's delicious vanilla is definitely best, but it also costs anywhere between $1 and $3 more than Aldi and Walmart. Safeway's Lucerne ice cream brand isn't as nice, but the vanilla flavor is nearly as pleasant, and the brand is plenty creamy, while costing just $2.50. That's a 50-cent savings compared with Dean's at Walmart and $2.50 savings over buying Dean's at Dominick's. Taste and price combined, Dominick's Lucerne brand is the winner of this challenge, earning a value score of 9, compared with Dean's value score of 7.

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.

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