Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Kroger Frosted Flakes Cereal (Kroger)

Stop that bunny! He's using his magic wand to remove the anti-milk coating from each piece of cereal!
Frosted flakes are one of my favorite cereals, so let’s see how Kroger’s version stacks up to those I’m used to, shall we?

Well, before we get to that, what is going on with the box design? Most cereals have one cartoon character who functions as a "mascot" to entice children into buying it. Fair enough...that's just modern marketing. This one not only features four cartoon characters, but also some type of attempted storyline, in which a Harry Potter-esque...bunny?...uses magic to blast a piece of cereal for no discernible reason. Now, really, only the bunny is needed for this scene, and yet there's a knight character holding the "magick-ed" (presumably so the inanimate cereal piece doesn't get away?) piece of cereal, while two random ding-dongs just watch from the background. Looks like someone's trying a little too hard to sell this cereal, which is a red flag right from the start...

From the bag to the bowl, I was pretty impressed: The flakes appear to have the same consistency as just about every other frosted flakes knockoff I’ve seen, and each one seemed to have just the right amount of sugary sweetness covering them. I was also pretty excited with the price: I still think Kroger's a piece of shit overall, but they've (mostly) been doing a good job of hanging near Aldi in terms of cereal prices. Aldi usually beats them by a dime or two, but certainly not enough to where it's worth making an extra trip if you're already shopping here. Case in point: Kroger's version of Frosted Flakes, which retails for $1.49 (per 15 oz. box); that's some solid value right there. With a look of excitement and anticipation, I decided to dive right in!

The first couple of bites were okay, although it quickly became pretty evident that the flakes were not as generously coated as I originally thought. Just like their own honey nut O's knockoff, I found the flakes to be, at first, barely sweet, with more of a corny taste than anything else. Still, as pale an imitation of the national brand as it was, it was something I could probably get used to. However, by the fourth or fifth bite, it was as if the milk washed off most of what little sweetness there was, and all I was basically left with was a bowl of corn flakes, with some slightly-sweet milk. And by “fourth or fifth bite”, I don't mean I got sidetracked by something and had a ten-minute lull in between...I'm talking fourth bite within two minutes. This “sogged-up” way quicker than other brands, and quickly lead to an unappetizing, tasteless pile of mush.

In all honesty, if you’re thinking of grabbing a bag of this cereal, you might as well just grab a box of corn flakes and add sugar like you used to do when you were a kid, because that’s pretty much what it tastes like. Now, obviously, any cereal placed in milk for extended periods of time is going to get soggy. That’s just the nature of the beast. But I can’t recall another store version of this cereal that succumbs to the liquid so fast…usually the white, sugary coating at least provides some resistance to the milk, keeping it crunchy for a few minutes--but not here. It became a mass of soggy mush within seconds.

And now, thanks to the packaging art, I'm lead to believe it's because of some evil bunny who uses his magic wand to remove the milk-resistant coating from each piece of cereal. Why won't Knight Fox stop him instead of grinning like an idiot...is he an accomplice? And why is Suspiciously Well-Dressed Dog Boy and Old-Fashioned Cat Girl even there at all? The public needs answers!

Overall: 5/10. The value is great, with a 15 oz. box retailing for just $1.49, but even factoring that in, I‘m not recommending this stuff. It gets soggy way too quickly, thanks to the milk washing away its sugary coating, and loses most of its flavor by the fourth or fifth bite, instead becoming little more than a bowl of mushy corn flakes in slightly-sweetened milk. Although the flavor is already a little too weak for me to begin with, even just a slight upgrade in “milk resistance” could add two or three points to the total score; as it stands, though, value aside, there's not much here to recommend, especially since there are similar deals for better cereals within the same aisle. Even at Kroger.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Millville Kookies Cereal (Aldi)

Childhood: ruined.
I always enjoyed the national brand cookie cereal when I was a little one, but that's one cereal brand that kind of fell off my radar the older I got: even though Aldi has carried it for as long as I can remember, I've never had much of an urge to give it a try. But then a thought suddenly hit me: I have a son. Well, that wasn't really the revelatory part, because I've had him for three years and kids are pretty unforgettable, for a variety of reasons (both good and bad). The main revelation was that he's never tried this cereal before. And considering eating cereal together is almost a daily bonding activity for the two of us, and considering he loves cookies just as much as virtually everyone else in the world, I figured it would be a good time to pass my old cereal traditions onto him.

Only it wasn't, because this cereal sucks. It's literally been years since I've had the “original”, but I remember it enough to know that this is only the palest of imitations. Sure, even the national brand tastes absolutely nothing like the chocolate chip cookies they're supposedly imitating, but Aldi's version foregoes the nostalgia by delivering a cookie that, at least to me, tastes more like vanilla, with no hints of chocolate in sight, despite the prominent appearance of chocolate chips (which seem to be bigger than I recall seeing in the national brand variety). It's appropriately sweet, without being too sweet...just not at all in the right way. I'm completely baffled how this is even still on store shelves, in all honesty, though I guess it's possible that I'm in the minority on this one.

But no matter how outside of the majority I am on this issue, I'm not the only one: “I don't like cookies,” are the words uttered by my own cookie-obsessed son every time I offer him a bite of this cereal. (And no, he's not referring to actual cookies, because he could still eat those for hours.) I seriously can't recall one other cereal that he absolutely refuses to at least take a bite of if it's offered to him, making his opinion more validating to me than even my own.

I'll end this review on a positive note, no matter how slim it may be: it's not so awful that I can't eat it. In fact, it's technically not even close to that threshold. There's nothing “vulgar” or “offensive” about the taste other than how far off it is from what I was expecting (and hoping for). I don't like wasting cereal, so I managed to polish off the rest of the box with little issue, although I didn't enjoy a single minute of it. But this one box is as far as my relationship goes with Millville's Kookies, because I can almost guarantee that I won't buy another one ever again.

Overall: 2/10. It's nothing at all like the national brand cereal that it's ripping off (or at least, nothing at all like my childhood memories of it), which is strike one. Beyond that, it's just bad, with more of a vanilla-y flavor and really no chocolate to speak of, despite the appearance of rather large chocolate chip pieces spread throughout; that's strike 2. But the most unforgivable strike of all—the one that takes it over the edge to irredeemable territory—is that my son, who will eat virtually any kind of cereal as long as I'm eating it with him, won't even touch these, claiming, “I don't like cookies” every time he sees these in a bowl (despite that statement not even being remotely true). The only plus: they're not offensively bad, so I was able to polish the rest of the box off myself (I hate wasting anything, but especially cereal). Still, there must have been a reason that I've never bought a box of these before, despite liking the national brand as a kid...and I sure as hell won't ever buy another one again.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

One of the Best Survey Sites Available? An In-Depth Look at YouGov (Online/App)




WHAT IS IT?
YouGov is another GPT site, where you get paid to fill out surveys. But before you go casting it aside, know that it has at least one thing going for it: some of the lowest disqualification rates in the business. I've taken close to 40 surveys total over the span of a year and have only been disqualified twice. That's a way better acceptance rate than any other survey site not named Prolific. This is because, like Prolific, their surveys aren't so much about finding the right demographics to support the research of a specific brand, but rather gaining insights about people's behaviors and ideas in general.

So what can you expect from the site? And is it right for you? Well, read on and let's find out!

SIGNING UP AND TAKING SURVEYS


Signing up is as easy as filling out this form and verifying your email address.
The sign-up process with YouGov is shockingly straightforward: fill out your email address, create a password, verify your email address, and voila! You're done! That's right, unlike other websites that ask you for all of your info and promise to keep it private (yeah right), YouGov doesn't ask you for any specific details up front, and will only ask you for the typical cluster of broad demographic information (race, household income, zip code, etc.) at the end of every survey. Other sites promise that this information is used to “pair” you up with surveys that pertain to you, but given the incredibly high disqualification rates for those sites, that’s clearly just a load of BS used to set your mind at ease.

YouGov, on the other hand, really is different: their DQ rates are among the lowest in the industry. And they do this because of the way they operate: whereas most of these questionnaire companies are paid by specific brands or industries to target the opinions of people that fit the specifics of a certain demographic (an athletic shoe company releasing a line of hip sneakers, for example, won't care about the thoughts of some 40 year old who only buys one pair of work boots a year), YouGov just looks for people's general attitudes on a wide variety of (usually trending) topics.

Which brings me to another plus: many of these surveys are actually somewhat interesting. I say “somewhat” because there are a lot of political-themed questionnaires (I find politics to be on the same plane as religion: something people can argue for hours about despite there often being no provable “truth” either way), but you at least won't get the mind-numbingly boring “watch this advertisement and tell us if you'd buy this product” types offered up by other questionnaire sites elsewhere. Instead, you'll get a lot of questions about your thoughts and opinions concerning current events, with multiple choice answers ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”.

These are the kinds of questions you can expect.
Furthermore, these surveys rarely last longer than 10 minutes, meaning you can be back to your regular day without being bombarded by studies that say they'll only take 5 minutes, but drag on for 20 or more. I'd say this is a survey site for people who usually hate survey sites, simply because it functions in a way all of them should (but very few actually do).

Another great feature is the website's “lax” attitude: you often have days to complete surveys, versus the hour or less you get with other popular sites, who offer them up on a “first-come-first-served” basis and then close them down once they hit the desired number of responses. With YouGov, they'll send you the initial survey offer, and then follow up with a reminder either 24 or 48 hours later (I forget which). And just because they don't notify you any more after that, it doesn't necessarily mean it's not available to take: I've seen a few surveys stay active for a week or longer in my dashboard. This is yet another way they stand out, and a great option for people who are too busy to actively participate in sites that seem to hit their threshold by the time you get the email.

Of course, it can't all be unicorns and rainbows, so you know there has to be some kind of “catch”...and there is: the frequency (or rather, infrequency) of the surveys. On average, I’d say I usually get around three per week, but keep in mind that this number can fluctuate—there are some weeks where I might get only one or two, and I'm sure some where I get none (I don't really pay much attention, honestly). It all just depends on what's happening around the world.

NAVIGATION
If you can get lost here, please quit the internet.
For me, perusing their site is very simple, because I don't: Available surveys are delivered straight to my email, and I just take them from the invitation there. Once it's done, I close out, delete the email, and move on with my life.

But if you actually have to navigate through the site, doing so is super-easy: all your information can be accessed from the “My account” button at the top right of the homepage, save for your points balance, which are in huge numbers that blast you in the face from the middle of the screen the moment you sign in. You can also view your account history, including surveys you've taken, when you took them, and how much you received for taking them.

You can see how you've responded to virtually every
question they've ever asked.
In the most intriguing bit of info, you can also find out who you are as a person: I never knew this until I happened to snoop around, but they keep track of every response you've ever answered to any of their opinion questions. And you can even go back and see the specific questions that lead you to answer in that certain way. For example, you can click “strongly disagree” to pull up every question that you answered that to, completely separated by the date you answered it. Most people won't care about this, but as a fan of statistics and aggregate data, I think it's pretty fun to see how my attitudes and opinions on various topics (might) have changed over the preceding months. Plus, this is the information that they're submitting to other parties, so it's kind of refreshing to see all of that together in one place; it really gives you an idea of how you look as a person to the companies requesting this info.



What's also cool is that they at least give you the perception of privacy: I've been a member for over a year and have cashed out twice, yet have never filled out my YouGov profile. That means they don't have my name, address, or any other information on file. Now, I'm sure they have a way to get it if they want it, but it's neat that no individual surveys will ever ask you for that information, and neither do they, nor is it required information to cash out. This makes them seem a little more trustworthy when compared to other sites who say they keep everything private, yet still have you fill out every single little detail about your life.

Here's how my personal profile looks after a year and two cashouts.
Now, I'm not saying they are more honest and trustworthy than any other data-collecting agency, because no one knows what goes on behind the scenes or even what most of this data is used for. All I'm saying is that they require less information upfront than other sites, and don't hound you to keep everything up-to-date (like Swagbucks does).

MOBILE APP
For those “on the go”, YouGov is available in a mobile version, for both Android and iOS. Admittedly, I have never used it, and don’t ever plan to, because the browser version works just fine on my phone: I just click on the email link, am taken to the survey, and then close out when done, a process that works just as well on both desktop, and mobile devices. Considering the lack of other paid activities on the site, I can’t see the app offering up any more functionality than that, but for those that just enjoy having apps on their phone, it’s there for you if you want it.

GETTING PAID
It's a slow slog, but it is legit.
Each survey you complete generally pays out 500-750 points, which are banked immediately upon completion. At the end of many surveys, you can also get a chance to take a part in YouGov ratings for an additional 100 points, which has quickly become my favorite aspect of the site. In it, 30 random things pop up, ranging from athletes, to actors, to musicians, to brands, and anything else that might be considered “popular”. You are then to rate that person or band or brand, from “strongly dislike” to “strongly like”, or if you've never heard of them, there's a marker for that. It's pretty fun being able to show your support (or hatred) for a certain person or brand, and while it makes no difference in the long run, getting some extra points for it is pretty nice. Sure, 100 points isn't a lot at all (it would take 250 sessions of this just to get to the minimum for cashout), but it's more than the usual 0 you'd get if you just went through them for fun, and it really does add up.

Once you hit enough points to cash out (as of June, 2020 the minimum amount is 25,000 points, which is good for a $15 Amazon card) you can navigate to the “Redeem” page. Redeeming a gift card is as easy as clicking on it, and then clicking “Redeem”, at which point the points will be subtracted from your balance.

These are all of the "cheapest" gift card options.
Payouts are one area where YouGov trails behind others, as it can take up to three weeks to receive your gift card code—that's quite a while compared to the usual 7-day maximum waiting period offered by other sites. From my own experience, it has taken over a week, but less than two, both times I requested payout, so you probably won't have to wait the full three weeks most of the time, but keep in mind that holidays and other high-traffic times can push it closer to the three-week limit (and maybe even beyond).

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
I say it every time, but I’m going to continue to do so: You’re not going to make a living wage. While I think most people know that going in to any of these endeavors, there are a small amount who might think it's possible—put that thought out of your head right now.

Each survey you take usually awards you somewhere in the ballpark of 500-750 points, with a minimum cashout requirement of 25,000 points to get a $15 Amazon gift card (yes, that is the only option). At the minimum 500 point rate, it would take 50 surveys to hit that goal. In reality, though, they will probably accrue much quicker than that: according to my dashboard, I've “only” completed 35 surveys, and have already been able to cash out for $15 gift cards twice.

However, what that information doesn't provide is just how long it's taken me to complete those 35 surveys, and since YouGov's detailed stats only seem to cover the last couple months—and oddly enough, don't include a sign-up date—I'm unfortunately unable to provide that info. I'd say I've definitely been a member for at least a year, and taking into account the couple of month-long breaks I took from all GPT sites, I'd say I've completed about 85% of the total surveys they've sent me within that time.

Factoring that in, I might have been able to cash out an extra time had I completed those neglected surveys, but that would only take me up to $45 in total earnings in over a year, which sounds about right in terms of what to expect.

They do offer one other paid option, though you have to be invited via survey to use it: YouGov Pulse, which downloads an app to your phone and then pays you $50/year (in point value) to keep it on there. As can be expected, the program tracks what apps you use and what websites you visit, and is supposedly anonymous. I was actually invited, but turned it down because I hate the thought of random apps running in the background (plus, my Huawei phone would probably shut it down anyway); judging from the poor scores on Google Play, I made the right call, with many users complaining of battery drain, and general usage issues stemming from the fact YouGov Pulse basically runs as a VPN (the usage of which on virtually all survey sites can get you permanently banned), and submits large amounts of your usage data in the background.

Personally, I don't find the monetary gain worth it, but if you don't mind it, or you have an extra phone laying around that you rarely use, you can chuck it on there and make a few extra bucks per month. It's still not a lot, but it's something more than you'd get from just sticking to surveys.

SUPPORT
By virtually all accounts, this is YouGov's Achilles heel.
I've never had to contact YouGov for any support-related reason, so once again, I'm of no help to anyone here. However—and I'm actually kind of surprised here—ratings on Trustpilot are incredibly negative, with many users claiming their account(s) were shut down right before hitting their cashout limit, and with no response from the company. Bear in mind that most of these issues seem to affect users in the UK a lot more than US users (they are run as separate companies), but any review that mentions “support” on either side of the ocean pretty much unanimously agrees that it's nonexistent. That's a terrible shame, because outside of this, they really seem to be trustworthy; despite my experience, it's certainly something to keep in mind if you're thinking about signing up.

For the record, I've cashed out for Amazon gift cards twice with absolutely no problems either time, and have never had an issue banking my points (or at least, with no problems that I've ever noticed). But it does kind of make me pause knowing that, should something go wrong, there might be a chance that I can't get a hold of them, and that's not really a confidence-building feeling.

OVERALL
PROS (+)
+Very few survey disqualifications
+Most surveys last 10 minutes or less
+YouGov Ratings can boost your point total over time
+Email notifications bring surveys to you
+Technical issues are a rarity.
+Only need a verified email address to sign up.

CONS (-)
-Virtually unanimous complaints of nonexistent support 
-Can take a while to receive gift card after redemption
-Infrequent surveys limit maximum earning potential
-No other paid activities to earn additional cash

YouGov works as a no-frills survey site, with very few disqualifications, since most of the surveys are opinion-based, and concerning current world events. This means they're usually a lot more interesting than the advertiser-based surveys found on other sites. It also gains points for privacy, requiring only an active email to sign up (with basic demographic information collected at the end of every survey).

However, infrequent surveys and a lack of other paid activities severely limit the amount of money people can earn. That, along with nonexistent customer support (note: I never experienced this, but this is a virtually unanimous consensus across the board according to online reviews...even among fans of the site) can bog down what could otherwise be a near-perfect experience. It's still recommended, but not as enthusiastically as it should be.

RATING: 7/10

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Boulder Flex Extra Strong Drawstring Trash Bags (Aldi)

Not worth the price. Or any, really.
There seem to be a wide variance in the quality of trash bags. I guess it makes sense, given that more expensive bags tend to use materials that are more resistant to tearing and ripping than the cheaper things; let's just say I bought dollar store trash bags once in my life, and that was the only time I ever made that mistake.

But even a lot of store brands seem to struggle with quality issues, as if the national brands are the only ones with a patent on anti-rip technology. And one of the worst offenders in recent memory comes in the form of Boulder Flex Drawstring trash bags, which actually begs you to compare them to the national brand right there on the packaging.

Now, for starters, I'll admit that I could come off as somewhat biased, because I think drawstring trash bags are a complete waste of money. It was actually Aldi that put it into perspective for me when comparing prices one day at one of their stores: while on the shelf the prices between both drawstring and flap versions are exactly the same ($4.99), a quick glance at product count just about literally blew my mind: 80 bags of the flaps, versus just 45 of the drawstring. That means you are almost getting twice as many flap bags as you are drawstring, and for the same exact price.

My wife has always been a proponent of the drawstring bags, and I get why: they're much easier to deal with. Just pull the bag shut, and they're pretty much ready to go. Some of them also put fragrance in the drawstring part, helping to mask the smell of disgusting garbage that's been sitting around for far too long, which can be another benefit. But, to me, taking an extra 5-10 seconds to tie off a flap bag just doesn't seem like enough of a justification to spend that much more on drawstrings. If it were a five or ten bag difference, fine, but 35 bags?! Nah.

Well, one day my wife ended up going to Aldi to grab some things without me, and so of course, we ended up with a box of drawstring trash bags. I was incredibly disappointed with her, and immediately condemned her decision as she knew I would (she couldn't have cared less, for the record), but figured that the damage had already been done—she had bought them and we were going to have to use them. So we did.
And it's fitting that they are garbage bags, because these things are absolute trash.
Now, we do have one of those garbage cans with a “swinging” lid on top, so maybe that has something to do with it (although I would also assume that just about everyone using these puts them in some kind of confined container), but at least two times now, the entire drawstring part just rips off when we go to take them out of the trash can. I mean, I stop pulling before the entire top is taken off, but what good is a drawstring trash bag with only half of a drawstring by the time you go to throw it out?

This is unfortunate, because performance does seem to be increased across the rest of the bag: from past experience, the lower half of Boulder's trash bags seem to rip pretty easily in certain situations, although never so bad that we have completely sworn the brand off. These bags actually do seem to be much sturdier toward the bottom—they have that "ribbed" material that allows it to expand while resisting tears--and it definitely seems to help. In fact, it would seem that the only issue with these is that pesky drawstring.

But...that drawstring is literally the only thing you're paying extra for versus their cheaper “regular” bags; to have them fail like that is a pretty big issue. And if it happened once, whatever, maybe it's just a freak accident, but twice—and within the first ten bags we used overall—is a pretty big indicator that these just suck. 

Overall: 2.5/10. The bottom half of the bags—which is where we tend to have the most problem with Aldi trash bags—have actually held up really well. Unfortunately, it's the whole “drawstring” part that has given us problems, with the strings to two bags ripping almost completely off when we go to take them out of the trash can. One time, could be just a fluke accident, but twice? And within the first ten bags we've used overall? Not really a confidence-building occurrence. Especially considering that drawstring is what jacks up the per-bag price over their “regular” flap bags. We definitely won't be grabbing these again anytime soon...or probably ever.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Kroger Honey Nut Toasted Oats

This is a solid, value-packed knockoff of a classic original.
Who doesn't like Honey Nut O's cereal? I usually stick to Aldi's Millville brand for these, since they're ultra-cheap and pretty tasty, but as I've rambled on at great length in previous reviews, my wife has done a bulk of the grocery shopping lately; thus, I have to “settle” for private label versions from other stores. And today, we will be taking a look at Kroger's version, which actually costs a respectable $1.49 per 12.25 oz. box.

Based on appearance, these look a lot like the national brand, with lightly-colored “O's” that are almost all uniform in size and shape. Also like the original, they seem to have a light “glaze” on the outside, which is most likely the “honey nut” flavor (and if it's not, I don't want to know what it really is). Another plus to the glaze-like coating is that it provides an extra layer of milk resistance, preventing it from becoming a soggy mess the moment it comes into contact with the white liquid.

Yep...I like the flavor here a lot. It delivers a nice crunch with a lighter honey taste that doesn't even approach the cloying sweetness of many cereals aimed at children. It's also a little bit different to Millville's version, which gives me a similar flavor profile to caramel corn (don't ask...it's just what I picture when I take certain bites); it's been a long while since I've had it, but I would peg this as more true to the national brand in terms of taste.

I tend to douse my cereal in way too much milk (personal preference), which has the unfortunate consequence of sogging it up even quicker (not a personal preference). Kroger's version manages to stand on its own: of course, it gets soggy like any other cereal does in milk, but it doesn't “break down” as quickly as some, and only falls apart in the most extreme of circumstances. The flavor is also maintained even as it gets very soggy, which is a good thing (the worst part of soggy cereal is when it becomes tasteless soggy cereal). Before the milk does its thing, the texture is on point, delivering a satisfying crunch to match with its great taste.

And at the aforementioned $1.49 per 12 oz. box, there's some good value to be had here. Especially since Aldi seems to have gone the route of offering only a “family size” box for their version (which, to be honest, I can still singlehandedly down in a few servings, but some families just don't want that much cereal, and sometimes I don't want that box taking up a few precious centimetres of much-needed space).

Overall: 8.5/10. This is a great cereal, with an excellent value to match. The honey flavor is light enough that it should appeal to most adults, yet sweet enough that kids will take to it, as well.  The texture is appropriately crunchy, while each piece seems to have a light glaze (probably the flavor coating) that also doubles as a milk-resistant layer, meaning it won't go soggy the moment milk hits it. And at $1.49 (per 12.25 oz. box), there's quite a bit of value here, as well. In other words, if you're a fan of the national brand, you should dig this one just as much; maybe even more.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Kroger Chocolatey Cocoa Crisp Cereal (Kroger)

This is pretty darn delicious.
NOTE: This was previously available in Kroger stores under the name "Cocoa Crispy Rice". It's the same thing.

A random thought that just popped in my head: they have puffed rice in candy bars, but why hasn't chocolate puffed rice been added to any? I mean, I'm sure it has at some point in time, but I'm not aware of any popular candies that contain it...and that could be a million dollar idea.

Anyway, with self-isolation being a thing that my wife takes seriously (and that I've been self-practicing as much as possible for years), she has deemed herself the sole errand-runner as of late. While I love not having to leave the house for anything, the one big drawback to this setup is that, while she likes the store, she is not much of an Aldi fan for solo trips, inexplicably preferring to go elsewhere. Recently, she thankfully had a revelation, opting to spend most of her time (and our money) at Meijer, but she still goes to Kroger once in a while to mix it up. Gross.

Well, while I'm not typically a “silver linings” kinda guy, there is one obvious plus to this whole (hopefully very temporary) setup: I can take a look at products from stores that I wouldn't normally waste much time on. With that in mind, let's take a look at Kroger's version of the “cocoa small stones” national brand cereal!

The first thing that jumps out at me is the appearance: each “puff” is dark, and seems to be filled with a generous helping of cocoa flavor. I don't have Aldi's brand (Millville) here for reference, but I'm pretty sure Kroger's gets closer to the look and feel of the “original” version a little bit more, at least right out of the box. The smell is also as it should be, suggesting a large dose of chocolate flavor, akin to the national brand.

Sure enough, the taste follows suit, living up to my distant memories of eating the “original” version all those years ago as a youngster: the cocoa taste isn't overly strong, but it is pretty sweet, as one should probably expect from a cereal predominantly aimed at children. Still, I don't think it's so much so that it would turn off most adults looking for a breakfast-themed chocolate fix; it strikes a solid balance of offering a sweet taste that kids will love, with one that can also appeal to most adults, short of the “dark chocolate” snobs.

The biggest complaint I have—and it pertains to this kind of cereal in general and not just this brand—is that the teeny little cereal bits are prone to getting super soggy, super quick. In the past, when I could focus on finishing a bowl in one sitting, it wasn't that much of a deal. But now, with a kid at home, all it takes is an unexpected spill, or potty break, or any number of other potential distractions that will force me to put my bowl down for a couple minutes. And “a couple minutes”, in turn, is all it takes for the cereal to go from an appetizing treat, to a sludgy mess. Don't get me wrong, I'll still eat it no matter what, but it's certainly less enticing from a textural standpoint when it starts feeling like you're eating chocolate boogers.

But what is a great flavor without some added value? This is the main aspect of this blog: lots of products in stores taste great, but a lot of them are also overpriced to all hell (unless you get them on sale, which is another story). This is also where some store brands can falter, by offering similar results, but for savings that don't amount to much. Well, I have to say that this offering from Kroger is the real deal, with each 15 oz. box retailing for just $1.49. How can you go wrong with that?

One thing I am a little surprised about is the milk at the end of the bowl: maybe it's just nostalgic memories of yesteryear (or artificial coloring), but didn't the milk used to turn a pretty dark shade of brown by the time you finished eating the actual cereal? Despite the much darker appearance of the cereal itself, the milk at the end only turns a slight shade of brown, though it does still pack in a pretty tasty chocolate flavor (much moreso than Aldi's version, which is even lighter). This is just a rather nit-picky observation that doesn't affect the overall score, but I always thought it was more of a darker hue. After all, isn't that one of the main reasons you want to eat a bowl of chocolate cereal to begin with?! Besides, it's certainly cheaper than paying $2 for a half-gallon of the pre-made stuff at the store these days. (Which brings me to another million-dollar idea: why has a chocolate cereal brand not released a chocolate milk, which aims to capture the flavor of drinking the remaining milk after all the cereal is gone?)

Overall: 8.5/10. This is a tasty cereal that packs in a good amount of sweet, delicious cocoa flavor, without going overboard. It might be a little too sweet for those that like their chocolate bittersweet, but it certainly isn't as cloying as some kids cereals can get, and in my opinion, strikes a good balance between “kid” and “adult” palates. Like all brands of similar cereals, it does get very soggy very quick, which takes the appeal down a bit, but this is a pretty spot-on imitation of the national brand (at least, from what I remember), while the $1.49 price tag makes it an outstanding value. You really can't go wrong here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Baker's Treat Cheese Danish Pastries (Aldi)

Why do cheese danishes even exist?
I'm an adult now, and I'm still unable to answer one question that has hounded me since my childhood: do I like cheese danish? It's not from a lack of trying that I can't work out a solution to this ongoing problem, because I've tried a few in my day, but there are a couple of reasons why I can't seem to come up with an answer: 1.) I've only tried mass-produced danishes, and they all seem to taste the same, and 2.) I don't think I've ever even seen a homemade danish. They're like the red-headed stepchildren of the pastry industry, apparently selling enough to justify their existence, but relegated to being that food that no one really cares about enough to replicate in the kitchen. I mean, think about it: have you ever gone anywhere and seen a homemade cheese danish? Didn't think so. (And if you did, did you try a piece? Didn't think so.)

So why do we have some individually wrapped ones from Aldi hanging out in our kitchen? Well, that's what happens when you send your wife to do grocery shopping with free reign to get whatever tickles her fancy. I mean, I'd rather have just saved the $2 and put it toward something else, but hey, here we are, so we might as well eat one, right? After all, they've been sitting here for a few days now, and no one else has made the first move...

One thing I don't like about them - and this applies to every one that I've tried - is that they can't seem to decide if they want to be moist or dry; it's just a rather unappealing texture to me. They remind me a lot of scones, which are intentionally dry (whose idea was it to make a dry pastry; if I want dry bread, then I'm just going to make toast), but with danishes, most of them have a tinge of moisture in them, just long enough to get your hopes up, before dashing them a couple seconds later. Like, are you trying to be a cake, pastry, or a scone? I don't know...this is a food item with a terrible identity crisis. 

Anyway, this Baker's Treat danish offers up that exact same confused texture as all the others: As your teeth initially enter the pastry, it gives off a nice hint of moistness that had me excited—but the further your teeth sink into it, the dryer and dryer it gets, until you're just chewing on sadness. Dry, empty sadness. Who invented these stupid things? All of the good stuff is on the top, leaving you absolutely no good reason to dig any deeper. I just don't understand the appeal of that, but of course, to each their own.

The taste here is also true to form, coming off like just about every cheese danish I've ever had before it...and I still can't tell if that's a good thing. There's the trademark...danish sourness(?) that shines through, especially when you hit what I'm assuming to be the “cheese” part of the title, located in the middle. That's where the flavor “explodes”, although I use that term relative to the remainder of the danish; the rest of it is rather bland, with that trademarked sourdough-style flavor profile lingering on the outer edge, counterbalanced with a(n all-too) slight touch of sweetness thanks to the icing that is drizzled across the top.

I do like that these have a very similar taste to “standard” cheese danishes, but are individually wrapped, which helps to keep them fresh for far longer. The $3.29 price tag is admittedly a turn off (for six pastries), but helping to justify that are the size: these are pretty darn large...almost too large for a serving, if you ask me, because my tastebuds fall asleep somewhere around the midway point.

These are really an enigma to me: that one product that, thirty years on, leaves me unable to form a solid opinion of. They're not all that good, but they're also edible and not all that bad...it tastes like what I imagine everything tasted like back in the 1800s. Come on marketers, where are the “edgy”, “woke” cheese danishes for the millennial crowd? If there's any one food item actually deserves such an update, I think we can all agree that this would be it.

Overall: 5/10. It's a cheese danish. If you like them, you will like this, if you don't, you won't: it's really that simple. The pastry hints that it might have a nice, moist texture at first, before giving way to the standard dryness that must be a requirement set forth by the International Danish Commission, or whatever the governing body is called (and I'm sure there is one). The taste has that standard bizarre sourness, but isn't entirely off-putting, thanks to the icing drizzled across the top. Meanwhile, the middle, which is where the “cheese” part is located, offers up an “explosion” of flavor, that tastes like what life was like in the 1800s. On the plus side, the fact they're individually wrapped is nice, and helps keep them fresh longer over the typical “bakery-style” danish. I also like that they're individually wrapped, helping to ensure that they will last long enough to gather a layer of dust in your pantry before you finally decide to throw them away.