Store Brand Scorecard bagel testWheaties may be the breakfast of champions to some, but to Store Brand Scorecard, the real breakfast of champions is a fat, doughy bagel. (That may explain why I look more like Jack Black than Michael Phelps.) No other breakfast item is so simple to make (toasted or not, either way it's easy) and still so filling, making it the meal of choice if you're running late to class, or for us graduates, to work.

But who says a convenient bagel can't also be cheap and tasty? Store Brand Scorecard sampled Thomas bagels and three store-brand varieties from a big box store, grocery store and mini market, to find the best bagel for your dough. All products were purchased on Sept. 18 in the Chicago-area. Prices are subject to change.

Brand Name: Thomas (Bimbo Bakeries USA)
Cost: $2.89 at Target; $4.99 at a Chicago-area grocery store.
Size: 20 oz. (6 bagels)
Nutritional Facts: (for one bagel) 260 calories (20 from fat), 2 grams of total fat (3% recommended daily value), 500 milligrams of sodium (21% recommended daily value), 51 grams of total carbohydrates (17% of recommended daily value)
Taste: Dense and doughy, but with a taste that's more evocative of standard white bread than a bagel sold at a New York deli.

The Big Box Store: SuperTarget
Brand Name: Market Pantry
Cost: $2.99
Size: 22 oz. (6 bagels)
Nutritional Facts: (for one bagel) 250 calories (5 from fat), 1 gram of total fat (1% recommended daily value), 490 milligrams of sodium (20% recommended daily value), 53 grams of total carbohydrates (18% recommended daily value)
Taste: These extra chewy bagels aren't as thick, but they are wider, and they carry some heft and a nice taste, too, enhanced by a tinge of tang.

The Grocery Store: Jewel-Osco (a Supervalu store. Number 47 on the Fortune 500 list, Supervalu owns and operates such grocery retailers as Shop 'n Save and Albertsons.)
Brand Name: Jewel
Cost: $2.99
Size: 18 oz. (6 bagels)
Nutritional Facts: (for one bagel) 230 calories (10 from fat), 1 gram of total fat (2% recommended daily value), 480 milligrams of sodium (20% recommended daily value), 48 grams of total carbohydrates (16% recommended daily value)
Taste: They look like bagels, but the plain-Jane taste is a tip-off that these ain't authentic. As a (stereotypical) New Yorker might chime, "Fugheddaboudit!"

The Mini Market: Trader Joe's
Brand Name: Trader Joe's
Cost: $2.29
Size: 18 oz. (6 bagels)
Nutritional Facts: (for one bagel) 210 calories (10 from fat), 1 gram of total fat (2% recommended daily value), 290 milligrams of sodium (12% recommended daily value), 42 grams of total carbohydrates (14% recommended daily value)
Taste: This crumbly bagel threatened to fall apart when sliced, but the taste itself isn't crummy. It's not all that spectacular either.

Greatest Value: None of these bagels were bad, per se, but none were spectacular. That said, Jewel's take was the most boring, and at $2.99, one of the priciest store brands. On a value scale of 0 to 10, it earns a 5.

Trader Joe's are the cheapest bagels, and while better than Jewel, they're not as good as Thomas or Market Pantry. They're also docked points for not being pre-sliced, which wouldn't be a huge deal, if the bread didn't crumble so easily at the cut of a butter knife. Value score: 6.

Thomas bagels come in second in taste, but at Target, they're actually cheaper than the Market Pantry brand. Quite a good deal. Yet Target's brand, while 10 cents more, is worth the extra pennies, considering too that you get two extra ounces than you do from Thomas. Target's Market Pantry, therefore, wins the bagel contest with a value score of 8. Thomas earns second place with a 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 Levy to try, to moneycollege@walletpop.

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