Best maple creme cookies and sparkling lemonade?

maple creme cookies and sparkling lemonade reviewStore Brand Scorecard has done enough studying to know that store brands aren't just knock-offs anymore. You can get cheap, quality private label products in place of national brands (oftentimes, we recommend it), but the grocery stores are wising up. They're tired of playing copycat. In some cases, store brands are the only brands you're going to see for certain products.

Two cases in points: maple-flavored cream sandwich cookies and French sparkling lemonade. We've been to many a store and have yet to find national brands carrying these products (at least in the Chicago area, where we are). But both types of products are sold at Safeway company stores and at Trader Joe's locations. Typically Store Brand Scorecard pits four brands of a type of food or drink against each other. In these rare cases, there were no national brand equivalents and in fact, no other store brand varieties.

With fall starting to set in, now seemed like a great time to try these unique cookie treats, and with summer not too faint of a memory, wash 'em down with a cool, refreshing drink, to see which store brand is the best brand for your money. All products were purchased Sept. 18 in the Chicago area. Prices are subject to change.

Maple cookies

The Grocery Store: Dominick's (a Safeway store. Safeway, number 52 on the Fortune 500 list, owns and operates its namesake store, as well as other chains such as Tom Thumb.)
Brand Name: Safeway Select
Cost: $2.59
Size: 14 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for two cookies) 170 calories (60 from fat), 7 grams of total fat (11% recommended daily value), 65 milligrams of sodium (3% recommended daily value), 25 grams of total carbohydrates (8% recommended daily value)
Taste: Two crisp leaf-shaped cookies sandwich a size-appropriate smearing of brown cream with a subtle maple flavor.

The Mini Market:
Trader Joe's
Brand Name: Trader Joe's
Cost: $2.99
Size: 11.4 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for one cookie) 110 calories (45 from fat), 5 grams of total fat (8% recommended daily value), 45 milligrams of sodium (2% recommended daily value), 16 grams of total carbohydrates (5% recommended daily value)
Taste: These cookies have the same maple leaf look as Safeway Select, but they're noticeably bigger, the ample cream is white instead of brown, and the cookies are significantly sweeter, and yet still maintain a maple taste.

Greatest Value: Dominick's maple cookies cost less, and you get more (24 to Trader Joe's 15). But Trader Joe's cookies are bigger, in terms of size, and also taste. For the latter reason especially, the difference is significant enough to warrant a win for Trader Joe's, even if it costs 40 cents more. On a scale of 0 to 10, Safeway Select maple cookies get a score of 7 and Trader Joe's a score of 8.

Sparkling lemonade
The Grocery Store: Dominick's
Brand Name: Safeway Select
Cost: $2.99
Size: 33.8 fluid oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 8 fluid ounces) 90 calories (0 from fat), 0 grams of total fat, 1 milligram of sodium (0% recommended daily value), 22 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: Don't lap up this lemonade expecting something sweet, bitter or tangy. The taste is mild, satisfying, subtle -- with the carbonation lending a good bit of bubbliness.

The Mini Market: Trader Joe's
Brand Name: Trader Joe's
Cost: $2.99
Size: 33.8 fluid oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 8 fluid ounces) 90 calories (0 from fat), 0 grams of total fat, 0 milligrams of sodium (0% recommended daily value), 22 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: These drinks allegedly are exclusive to their stores, but the nutritional facts are completely identical, as is the taste.

Greatest Value: Folks, we have a complete tie. The brands have the same nutritional facts, the same taste, the same serving and the same price. Value score for Safeway Select and Trader Joe's: 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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