tater totsPeople, it's time for a potato revolution. When you go out to eat and want a hot, salty, potato-based side for your sandwich, basically your only option is French fries. And that's all fine and good -- fine French fries do rock -- but as you've learned in school, a little diversity can be a good thing.

That's why we're raising our fists in the air and screaming for Tater Tots, or some other brand, to make a comeback beyond school cafeterias and Sonic Drive-Ins. Kids' stuff you say? Maybe, but they're not kid exclusive. It's not like they're shaped like dinosaurs or anything. Concerned that they're too nerdy? Well, just because they're the snack of choice for Napoleon Dynamite doesn't mean you're a nerd if you like them. And Napoleon's a pretty neat guy, despite the dorky demeanor.

Well, until more restaurants get on board and start serving Tater Tots, you may have to settle with buying taters at the store. But that's a fine proposition -- there are plenty of great tasting tots, and the price is right, too. Store Brand Scorecard sampled Ore-Ida and three store brand varieties to see which brand is the best value. All products were purchased Sept. 18 in the Chicago area. Prices are subject to change.

Brand Name: Ore-Ida (The H.J. Heinz Company)
Cost: $2.50 at SuperTarget; $3.50 at a Chicago-area grocery store
Size: 32 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 9 pieces) 170 calories (70 from fat), 8 grams of total fat (12% recommended daily value), 420 milligrams of sodium (18% recommended daily value), 20 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: These are some tasty tots, thanks to some savory seasoning that enhances, not suffocates, the punch of potato.

The Big Box Store: SuperTarget
Brand Name: Market Pantry
Cost: $2.34
Size: 32 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 10 pieces) 160 calories (80 from fat), 9 grams of total fat (14% recommended daily value), 390 milligrams of sodium (16% recommended daily value), 18 grams of total carbohydrates (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: Without as much salt or carbohydrates as Ore-Ida, these tots aren't as tantalizing, but they're still plenty good, crisping up nicely, with a warm, soft potato center.

The Grocery Store: Dominick's (a Safeway Inc. store. Safeway is number 52 on this year's Fortune 500 list and parent to Tom Thumb, Vons and its own namesake grocery retailer, among others.)
Brand Name: Safeway
Cost: $2.25
Size: 32 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 9 pieces) 160 calories (70 from fat), 8 grams of total fat (12% recommended daily value), 290 milligrams of sodium (12% recommended daily value), 19 grams of total carbohydrates (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: With the least amount of sodium, these tots have the least amount of flavor.

The Mini Market: Trader Joe's
Brand Name: Trader Joe's
Cost: $1.99
Size: 32 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 10 pieces) 190 calories (100 from fat), 11 grams of total fat (17% recommended daily value), 350 milligrams of sodium (15% recommended daily value), 19 grams of total carbohydrates (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: On par with Market Pantry, even though the sodium levels are less (calories from fat are greater though).

Greatest Value: Instantly out in this contest is Safeway's brand of tater tots, one of the most expensive of the private labels tested, and also the blandest. On a scale of 0 to 10, Safeway gets a value score of 4.

Market Pantry's potatoes have a mighty fine flavor, but they are the most expensive store brand, and Trader Joe's is an equal in taste and goes for a better price. SuperTarget's comes in third with a value score of 5.

That leaves Trader Joe's and Ore-Ida, and friends, this is a tough one. Trader Joe's tots are very good and very cheap for $1.99, but Ore-Ida's flavor is noticeably superior. (What can we say, we're suckers for salt, and Ore-Ida's got a lot of it.) Having a $1.50 higher price tag at a grocery store is admittedly hard to swallow, but we'd say the quality justifies the price difference. Get 'em from SuperTarget and you've got a great deal. So while Trader Joe's brand earns a very respectable value score of 7, Ore-Ida squeaks by with the win with a value score of 8.

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 on WalletPop's
Money College page. Send suggestions, including items you want Levy to try, to moneycollege@walletpop.

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