best pumpkin pie rankedOf all the columns Store Brand Scorecard has done, tasting different brands of food for you, the dear people, this was one of our most anticipated -- we were sampling pumpkin pie!

For the last few weeks we've been trying out different brands of classic Thanksgiving sides such as cornbread stuffing and jellied cranberry sauce, discovering that store brand versions from Walmart and Aldi not only tasted better than Stove Top and Ocean Spray, respectively, but they cost less too. Every saved penny helps this time of year, when college kids' budgets are tighter than usual from buying presents for loved ones (and drinks for end of semester shindigs).

This week, pumpkin pie is on our plate -- that sweet, reassuring co-star to the big bad turkey. Without it, Thanksgiving just wouldn't be the same. But we were extremely dismayed that of the five pumpkin pies we tried, only one was superb. The rest were subpar or, sad to say, terrible.Nevertheless, we're grateful to have a gig that asks us to sample five pumpkin pies. (This is definitely the sweet life). And hopefully we're helping you with our recommendation for a perfect (and perfectly priced) pumpkin pie to bring to Thanksgiving dinner.

Normally Store Brand Scorecard compares store brands to national brands, but the nationally-branded pumpkin pies are frozen, while a vast majority of the store brand varieties are freshly baked. We didn't feel that was apples to apples (or pumpkins to pumpkins). So this week we're featuring five store brand pumpkin pie varieties made fresh at two big box stores, two grocery stores and a mini-market, respectfully. All products were purchased in the Chicago area the weekend of Nov. 5. Prices are subject to change.

The Big Box Store: Walmart
Brand Name: The Bakery at Walmart
Cost: $3.48
Size: 24 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/5th of pie) 340 calories (110 from fat); 13 grams of total fat (19% recommended daily value); 40 milligrams of cholesterol (13% recommended daily value); 480 milligrams of sodium (20% recommended daily value); 51 grams of total carbohydrates (17% recommended daily value)
Taste: A pumpkin pie that barely tastes like pumpkin -- the only ingredient we could distinguish from the filling was cinnamon. The crust was equally disappointing, dense and flavorless.

The Big Box Store: SuperTarget
Brand Name: Market Pantry
Cost: $4.99
Size: 21 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/6th of pie) 310 calories (110 from fat); 12 grams of total fat (18% recommended daily value); 35 milligrams of cholesterol (11% recommended daily value); 180 milligrams of sodium (7% recommended daily value); 37 grams of total carbohydrates (12% recommended daily value)
Taste: No one will mistake this brand for a fresh baked pie from Ma's oven, but SuperTarget's pie gets the job done. The pumpkin flavor is more prominent, with a slight kick (not an overpowering blow) of cinnamon. Crunchy crust nicely contrasted with the pie's soft center.


The Grocery Store: Dominick's (a Safeway store. Safeway is number 52 on the Fortune 500 list, and parent to its namesake store, Tom Thumb and other grocery retailers. )
Brand Name: Dominick's
Cost: $6.99
Size: 33.9 oz.
Nutritional Facts: Nutritional facts not listed
Taste: The smell emanating from this pie's box was heavenly, a sweet waft of pumpkin that conjured up many a Thanksgiving past. But the pie itself was surprisingly bitter, and given the consistency of the filling, it felt like we were eating clay. The crust was flavorless. How could something that smells so amazing taste so bad?


The Grocery Store: Jewel-Osco (a Supervalu store, Supervalu owns grocery retailers such as Shop 'n Save and Albertsons, and is number 47 on the Fortune 500 list)
Brand Name: Jewel
Cost: $4.99
Size: 24 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/5th of pie) 340 calories (110 from fat); 13 grams of total fat (19% recommended daily value); 40 milligrams of cholesterol (13% recommended daily value); 480 milligrams of sodium (20% recommended daily value); 51 grams of total carbohydrates (17% recommended daily value)
Taste: We went through a lot of poor pies to finally be rewarded with an exceptionally tasty pie. The pumpkin filling was delicious, as good as any restaurant or freshly baked pumpkin pie we've tasted, and the crust was pleasingly buttery. Thank goodness we had this pie when we did -- our taste buds couldn't handle much more disappointment.

The Mini Market: Trader Joe's
Brand Name: Trader Joe's
Cost: $4.99
Size: 17 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/6th of pie) 150 calories (50 from fat); 6 grams of total fat (8% recommended daily value); 35 milligrams of cholesterol (12% recommended daily value); 125 milligrams of sodium (5% recommended daily value); 20 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: The runniness of this pie's filling made it seem like this pie wasn't complete, and the flavor reflected that as well. The crust was a bit sweet at least.

The Greatest Value: We think you can guess which pie we're most grateful for, but let's be official about this and rank the pies from worst value to greatest.

Coming in fifth: Trader Joe's, penny for ounce, the most expensive. Compared to the others, you don't get a lot of pie for $4.99. Not that we would ever advocate buying this, since it's one of the worst-tasting pies we had. On a scale of 0 to 10, its value score is a 2.

Fourth place goes to Dominick's. No pie made us more disappointed, its alluring aroma a complete sham, masking what was in actuality a very poor-tasting pie. The only reason this didn't take last place is because this pie is by far the heaviest, and penny for ounce, cheaper than Trader Joe's and Target. Value score: 3.

Third place goes to Walmart, the cheapest pie of the bunch. But we'd happily pay a dollar more for a SuperTarget or Jewel pie that actually tastes like pumpkin pie, not just a bunch of orange goop smothered with cinnamon held together by a crummy crust. Value score: 4.

Second place is SuperTarget, which serves up a passable pie, although it's nothing too special. True this is the second most expensive pie penny for ounce, but its flavor still makes it a worthy number two. Value score: 6.

And, as we're sure you've predicted, the blue ribbon goes to Jewel's excellent pumpkin pie. No other pie came remotely close to tasting as good, and at 21 cents per ounce, this is one of the cheaper ones you can get. This is a great pie for your Turkey Day feast, and a great value too. Value score: 9.

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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