We're quickly approaching every kid and confectionery company's favorite day of the year -- Halloween. Some of you might think you're too old to dress up or go trick or treating. Never, we say. Halloween visits to the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Yale remain some of the fondest memories of Store Brand Scorecard's college experience.
Now at Yale, the kids didn't go trick or treating, but Liquor Treating, which based on our morning-after experiences, we wouldn't recommend. But should you need a sweet treat to go with your the door-to-door boozing, or some candy to dish out to traditional Halloween revelers, peanut butter cups are a good, safe bet, a chocolate candy enriched by salty sweetness.
But the ultimate treat is buying a great-tasting brand of peanut butter cups that actually costs less than the national brand. Store Brand Scorecard sampled Reese's and three store brand varieties of peanut butter cups, to find the best tasting product for the price. All products were purchased this fall in Chicago-area grocery stores. Prices are subject to change.
Brand Name: Reese's Miniatures
Cost: $3.24 at Walmart; $3.99 at a Chicago-area grocery store
Size: 12 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for five pieces) 220 calories (110 from fat), 13 grams of total fat (20% recommended daily value), Less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol (1% recommended daily value), 130 milligrams of sodium (5% recommended daily value), 26 grams of total carbohydrates (9% recommended daily value)
Taste: There's nothing miniature about the rich chocolate taste, but there wasn't enough punch from the peanut butter.
The Big Box Store: Walmart
Brand Name: Great Value
Size: 12 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for four pieces) 190 calories (100 from fat), 11 grams of total fat (17% recommended daily value), Less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol (1% recommended daily value), 115 milligrams of sodium (5% recommended daily value), 23 grams of total carbohydrates (8% recommended daily value)
Taste: The chocolate is creamier than Reese's, but far less flavorful, and the peanut butter's indistinct. By the time everything melts together, this candy's flavor is a muddy mess.
The Grocery Store: Dominick's (owned and operated by Safeway, number 52 on the Fortune 500 list, and parent to such grocery retailers as Tom Thumb and its namesake store).
Brand Name: Safeway
Size: 11 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for three pieces) 190 calories (100 from fat), 11 grams of total fat (17% recommended daily value), Less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol (0% recommended daily value), 50 milligrams of sodium (2% recommended daily value), 22 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: Other cups may not have had a distinct enough peanut butter taste, but this brand's got way too much peanut butter -- and it's terrible tasting peanut butter at that, with a gross aftertaste. My wife saw me sample one and observed, "You shouldn't be making a horrified face when you're eating candy."
The Mini Market: Trader Joe's
Brand Name: Trader Joe's
Size: 16 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for three pieces) 180 calories (100 from fat), 11 grams of total fat (17% recommended daily value), Less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol (0% recommended daily value), 55 milligrams of sodium (2% recommended daily value), 20 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: Hands down the best peanut butter cups of the batch (and some of the best we've ever tasted). The chocolate is rich and smooth, and the salty peanut butter lends complexity without overwhelming the flavor. Even Reese's pales in comparison.
Greatest Value: One peanut butter cup brand is truly a nasty trick -- Safeway. Not only does it taste horrendous, but it's sold in the smallest package, and at a penny for ounce it's the most expensive store brand (matching Reese's penny for ounce price at Walmart). On a scale of 0 to 10, this one gets a value score of 0. If you choose to dish these out at Halloween, only give them to your worst enemy. Even then, it's cruel punishment.
Great Value comes in third place with a value score of 4. It's the cheapest brand, and it's not awful like Safeway. But even with the low price, it's still not good enough to recommend.
Reese's makes a classic cup with a good chocolate flavor and for a seemingly fair price, matching Trader Joe's price at a Chicago-area grocery store, and costing less than Trader Joe's at Walmart. Aha, but here's the thing: Trader Joe's 16 oz. package is actually a better deal, costing you 25 cents an ounce (only Great Value is cheaper, penny per ounce). At Walmart, a 12 oz. bag of Reese's goes for 27 cents an ounce, and at the grocery store, 33 cents an ounce. And there's one more thing going for Trader Joe's brand -- it tastes so much better than Reese's and everything else, it's scary.
So in the end, Reese's earns a value score of 6 and Trader Joe's earns a perfect score of 10, making Trader Joe's brand of cups the champion.
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.
Best peanut butter cups? We rank the house brands