Best Hot Cocoa Mix? We Measure Swiss Miss Against the House Brands

Store Brand Scorecard hot cocoa best Baby, it's cold outside. Bitterly cold. All the holiday cheer in the world can't change that. But hot cocoa can. A steaming cup goes down smooth and keeps you warm, whether you opt for marshmallows, whipped cream, both or neither. It's a nice little luxury at a time like this.

Your budget may not afford many luxuries these days, given all the gifts you still need to buy, the food you need to prep for parties, and naturally the bars you've got to revisit before the semester ends. Fortunately, there's one retailer offering a national brand of hot cocoa mix dirt cheap this season, as well as three solid store brand varieties.Which hot cocoa mix brand is best for the cost? Store Brand Scorecard sipped Swiss Miss and three brands from Walmart, Safeway and Aldi to find out. All products were purchased on the weekend of Dec. 3 in the Chicago area. Prices are subject to change.

Please note that we sampled these mixes with water, not milk. The nutritional facts below reflect hot cocoa made with water.

Brand Name: Swiss Miss (ConAgra Foods)
Cost: $1 at Walmart; $2.79 at a Chicago-area grocery store
Size: 10 1 oz. packets
Nutritional Facts: (for one packet) 120 calories (20 from fat); 2 grams of total fat (4% recommended daily value); 160 milligrams of sodium (7% recommended daily value); 23 grams of total carbohydrates (8% recommended daily value)
Taste: Like a liquid blanket, this cocoa was ultra comforting, and very chocolatey, even when mixed with water.

The Big Box Store: Walmart
Brand Name: Great Value
Cost: $2.42
Size: 20 oz.
Nutritional Facts: (for 1/4th cup) 140 calories (10 from fat); 1.5 grams of total fat (2% recommended daily value); 190 milligrams of sodium (8% recommended daily value); 30 grams of total carbohydrates (10% recommended daily value)
Taste: The Great Value site suggests that Walmart's hot cocoa comes in a box with 10 1 oz. packets, but we went to several stores and only found this 20 oz. container. Unlike Swiss Miss, where 6 oz. of water are mixed in with 1 oz. of mix, Great Value calls for 8 oz. of water and 2 oz. of mix (twice the cocoa, only 25% more water). Consequently, this is a rich blend ... but it's still not as sweet as Swiss Miss.

The Grocery Store: Dominick's (owned and operated by Safeway, No. 52 on the Fortune 500 list, and parent to its namesake store, Tom Thumb and other grocery retailers.)
Brand Name: Safeway
Cost: $2.29
Size: 10 1 oz. packets
Nutritional Facts: (for one packet) 110 calories (15 from fat); 2 grams of total fat (3% recommended daily value); 160 milligrams of sodium (7% recommended daily value); 22 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: A decent cup, but compared to Swiss Miss and Great Value, rather weak. (The instructions, like Swiss Miss, call for 6 oz. of water and 1 oz. of mix.)

The Mini Market: Aldi
Brand Name: Beaumont Cocoa
Cost: 99 cents
Size: 10 1 oz. packets
Nutritional Facts: (for one packet) 110 calories (15 from fat); 2 grams of total fat (3% recommended daily value); 160 milligrams of sodium (7% recommended daily value); 22 grams of total carbohydrates (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: We suspect that Beaumont Cocoa and Safeway's hot cocoa mix are one and the same. The nutritional facts are identical, and so is the pleasant, if underwhelming, taste.

Greatest Value: Dominick's Safeway brand and Aldi's Beaumont Cocoa are identical in taste, and both taste fine. What's hard to swallow is that Dominick's costs more than twice as much as Aldi's brand. We don't see how that provides much value, so on a score of 0 to 10, Dominick's Safeway brand earns a value score of 3.

Aldi's brand makes a solid cup of cocoa (10 actually) for a very low price. Value score: 7.

But Walmart's Great Value and Swiss Miss taste better, so it's between these two brands for first place. Walmart's hot cocoa mix is distinct in that it's offered in a canister, whereas the other three brands offer 10 single serving packets of cocoa mix. We prefer the ease and convenience of the bagged variety, but Great Value does provide twice the amount of mix.

That said, Swiss Miss still tastes better, is offered in more convenient serving sizes and at Walmart, is way cheap, just a dollar. Two boxes of Swiss Miss offer the same amount of mix as a canister of Great Value and, combined, still cost less.

At Dominick's, however, that Swiss Miss box will cost you a comparatively steep $2.79. But we'd argue that's a fair price for 10 succulent cups of hot cocoa. For $1, as offered at Walmart, it's practically a holiday miracle.

So Swiss Miss wins the competition, earning an overall value score of 9. Walmart's Great Value brand comes in second 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 every Monday on WalletPop's Money College page.

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