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Frugal fun: Have a blind taste test

It's a throwdown between name- and store-brand kielbasa, canned corn, chunky salsa and more. The winners may surprise you.

By Karen Datko Mar 2, 2010 7:32PM

Let’s tootle on over to the Penzo house where, if we’re lucky, Len and other members of the Penzo clan will be engaged in their new brand of family fun.


They’ve become masters of the blind taste test -- a safe and inexpensive activity you can try at home. Their taste tests pit name-brand foods against cheaper, store-brand equivalents. Whenever the store brand wins, that can end up saving lots of money.


Plus, Len’s posts are the most entertaining blind taste test accounts we’ve ever read. (“Too close to call,” Len exclaims at one point. “Nobody can accuse the Albertsons soup of being a laughing stock.” For a more staid approach, check out those done by Consumer Reports.)


Here’s what they’ve tested so far, as reported at Len Penzo dot Com (we’ll get to some results below):

  • Blind Taste Test No. 1: Name-brand vs. store-brand cookies (Oreos vs. the Albertsons version), sliced provolone, canned peas, kielbasa, tortilla chips and chunky salsa.
  • Blind Taste Test No. 2: “Everything from soup to nuts” -- including crackers (Ritz vs. Albertsons), spaghetti sauce, fruit cocktail, canned corn, soup and nuts.
  • Blind Taste Test No. 3: Name-brand bottled water vs. store-brand bottled water vs. filtered aqua from the tap.

Len’s “distinguished panel of experts” is composed of members of his extended family, including Aunt Doris (favorite movie: "Last of the Dogmen"; age: “None of your business”) and Uncle Paul (movie: "The Wizard of Oz"; age: 80), Aunt Mary Jane (whose photo looks amazingly like Marilyn Monroe), Mom, Dad, “The Honeybee,” the kids, Major (the family dog) -- as many as 14 judges in all.

Here are Len’s rules:

To ensure the taste test was a blind comparison, each sample was marked only as “A” and “B.” The panel was then asked to taste and record which product they preferred; they were also free to note any accompanying comments they had regarding a particular product. When comparing products, panelists that could not discern a clear winner were allowed to give a vote for both products.

Some of the results:

  • Oreos ($3.29) vs. Albertsons clone ($2.29): Hold on to your hats! The vote was 8-7, with Oreos winning by a tiny margin. Some of the judges who favored Oreos said the Albertsons cookie was “chalky,” with filling that was “too pasty.”
  • Del Monte vs. Albertsons canned peas (89 cents vs. 75 cents): Albertsons slammed the competition 9-1. (The dog and another family member do not like peas and sat this one out.)
  • Tostitos white corn tortilla chips ($3) vs. Albertsons brand ($1.69): Tostitos won 10-3. Some judges complained that the store brand was too salty.
  • Campbell’s vegetable beef soup ($1.49) vs. the Albertsons brand (89 cents): Campbell edged out the store brand 9-7. Len concluded, “If Campbell’s soup is, as the old commercial goes, ‘mmm, mmm, good!’ then one can credibly argue that Campbell’s store-brand counterpart is at least ‘mmm, good!’”
  • Ritz ($2.79) vs. Albertsons round crackers ($1.59): Ritz and its buttery goodness won 13-2. (We can't say we're surprised.)

Overall, Len found that there was no clear preference between name brand and store brand. It depended on the individual item. But many of the store-brand items more than held their own in these Penzo family taste tests.

Want to save money on groceries? Len says, “You should never assume the name-brand product is always superior and I highly recommend that you take a chance and try the store-brand products so you can see for yourself.”


Are you losing your loyalty to name brands in this economy? Are there brands you won’t give up no matter what the price? For instance, we're a native of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the only ketchup that will pass our lips is Heinz. But if we can combine a Heinz coupon with a store sale, even better.


Related reading:

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