Sunday, August 28, 2011

Malt-O-Meal's Honey & Oat Blenders (Various)

A quiet, unassuming box of Malt-O-Meal's Honey & Oat Blenders
Well the purpose of this blog was to focus more on the private label brands within dollar stores and discount grocers.  With that in mind, I’ll admit that I’m bending the rules a little bit, because Malt-O-Meal, while definitely a small-ish brand, is just about everywhere.  It’s in drug stores, convenience stores, supermarkets, dollar stores, and stores that deal in closeouts (Big Lots, I’m lookin’ at you).  It’s also the fifth largest cereal manufacturer in the United States, and was even involved in a movie campaign for The Simpson’s Movie, where they rebranded one of their cereal’s as Krusty-O’s.  So yeah, maybe including this is a bit of a stretch.

But let’s not forget that Malt-O-Meal cereals can be a great buy, and in the end that‘s the main thing this blog is about:  value.  In fact, I’ve long held that it was my favorite cereal brand, because of its almost exacting flavors mixed with its low prices.  They are also the main purveyor of the cereal bag, having acquired that business from Quaker way back in 2002.  And who can’t appreciate getting a ridiculously, unnecessarily large bag of cereal for roughly the price of one box of the national brands?

With that in mind, I present to you Honey and Oat Blenders, the company’s version of Honey Bunches of Oats.  If you’ve been to this site before, or even spent a couple seconds perusing my previous reviews, you may have noticed that I’ve already reviewed Aldi’s Millville brand (Honey Crunch ‘n Oats), and gave it a perfect score.  That brand’s lightly sweetened corn flakes, mixed with the strong, delicious flavor of the honey clusters makes it an absolute winner in my book.  So how do the Blenders fare?  Let’s take a look.

The first thing I did notice is the smell.  There is no doubt in one’s mind that there is honey in that box.  And lots of it.  In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if there’s actually any cereal in there.  In other words, it’s pretty strong.  This is in sharp contrast to Millville’s Oats, which may have a faint honey smell, but otherwise just smell like corn flakes. 

The second thing Blenders have going for it is the color:  Whereas Millville features some pale, colorless corn flakes in a supporting role, Malt-O-Meal’s flakes are bright and colorful.  They just look like they’re covered in honey, and that is definitely an inviting thing, as far as a honey cereal is concerned.  Speaking of which, my only concern is:  Where are all the clusters?  The flakes are so big that the clusters seem to be non-existent.  Right now, Honey Bunches of Flakes seems to be a more accurate title.  Millville’s version has some big, delicious, inviting clusters hidden among the small, sad-looking (but perfectly sweetened) flakes.

Enough about the descriptors…now it’s time for the part that matters most.  Taste.  I dig in to my bowl of Honey and Oat Blenders…and am smashed in the face by the strong taste of honey.  These flakes seem to be triple-dipped in the stuff!  Not bad, not bad at all.  Next bite…honey.  And the next…honey.  Where are all the clusters?  Oh, there’s one.  Hmmm….tastes like honey.  And that right there is this cereal’s main problem:  Every bite tastes pretty much the same.  In fact, I couldn’t even detect a change in flavor whenever I hit one of the oat clusters, which is usually my favorite part of the entire cereal.  Again, this is in sharp contrast to Aldi’s offering, which feature lightly sweetened corn flakes that are a perfect contrast to the sudden flavor explosion of the oat clusters.

Now, this isn’t to say that Malt-O-Meal’s cereal is a failure.  If you have kids, they will probably prefer this.  If you really, really like the taste of honey, you will definitely prefer this.  And let’s not forget, like all of Malt-O-Meal’s offerings, the price is really, really good.  I paid $1.99 for the box, which isn’t much more than what I would pay for Aldi’s version…and I bought the Blenders from a drugstore.  But in the end, while the Blenders are a good bang for the buck, the repetitive flavor is what ends up being its main downfall.

Overall: 7/10.  As always, Malt-O-Meal provides some great value, especially when compared to the national brand.  The smell, which is strongly of honey, is definitely inviting, as is the strong orange color of the corn flakes.  However, it slightly falters in the taste department, in which every bite, no matter what’s on the spoon, tastes like honey.  This might not be a bad thing to you, but I much prefer the muted, slightly sweetened corn flakes and the cluster flavor explosion of Aldi’s brand.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pull-Tie 30 Gallon Large Trash Bags (Dollar Tree)

What a rip-off looks like.
As I mentioned in my review for Pacific’s multi-color razors (see above), there are certain things I hate buying when I go to the grocery store.  And it just so happens that trash bags are also among them.  Even though a typical $5 trash bag investment will last my wife and I a good few months, does it really cost that much money to make things that are essentially over-sized plastic bags?  Surely they can be had for much cheaper, right?

So on a recent visit to my local Deal$ store (a place that is owned by Dollar Tree, but also has things that are more expensive than a dollar), I looked for some value trash bags.  And hidden among the nearly-name brand items, which were closer in cost to the Glad’s of the world, I found exactly what I was looking for.  A pack of eight 30-gallon trash bags for the ultra-low price of $1.  As an added bonus, they even came with a  drawstring!  Surely they couldn’t be that bad, right?

I’ll just cut right to the chase on this one:  They suck.  Avoid these like the plague.  The first problem arises right when you take the first one out of the box and realize they are not at all made of the same materials that most thirty-gallon trash bags.  For starters, they are not glossy, but rather a dull, matte black.  In fact, just from picking them up you feel like you’re going to rip them, which is not really a reassuring feeling for something that you’re going to be putting uneaten food and liquids into.

The problem is only compounded when you start putting things into it.  If anything even remotely has an edge to it (like an empty frozen food box), chances are it’s going to cut its way through.  In fact, I had to go ahead and double bag the first load before throwing it away because the original bag looked like Swiss cheese by the time I was ready to get rid of it.  And even then I was sweating the long walk from my condo to the dumpster, checking the ground every few steps and praying that what I thought was going to happen, wasn’t really going to happen.  It didn’t, but no product should really leave you with such heavy doubts.

Overall: 0/10.  I’ve found that many times, dollar stores and discounters will at least offer a product that, even if shy of national-brand quality, is at least a valiant attempt to blend quality and value.  This is one of those rare products that, even at a dollar, are a complete rip-off.  The bags rip at the slightest hint of pressure, and often have to be double-bagged just to get them to the dumpster.  As a huge fan of dollar stores, I tend to have a positive bias toward their products, or at least try to find a silver lining in their attempts.  This one is just a blatant misfire that should be pulled off the shelves immediately.  But don’t just take my word for it.  Check out the 1 ½ star rating (out of 5) of them on Dollar Tree's own website. (NOTE: Product has since been removed.)

Pacific Multi-Color Twin-Blade Razors (Dollar Tree)

If looks could cut, these might be decent razors.
There are certain things that I generally hate buying, but that are necessary, and razors are among them.  Back in my younger days, I used to use a Schick Quattro, but found the cost of replacement blades, which were about $2 apiece if memory serves me correctly, to be an unnecessary addition to the budget.  And so I searched for a much cheaper alternative.

This search obviously lead me to disposable razors, which are certainly not a new thing.  I’ve used the brand carried at Big Lots, which are $1.90 for twelve (again, if memory serves me correctly).  Those razors are actually really good for the price.  But like any true “bargain hunter“ (or in my case: broke-ass), I wasn’t satisfied.  What if I could get the same quality disposable razor, or better, for even cheaper?  Well, the hunt took me to the place where I always go when looking for such deals:  Dollar Tree.  And what did I end up with?  A ten-pack of Pacific Multi-Color razors, which retail for, like the name of the store implies, one single dollar.  But how did they stack up to the Big Lots razors?  Keep reading.  I’m getting to that.

The first thing that sticks out about the Pacific razors are, obviously, the colors.  Whereas the blades I was used to were a thin, cheap-looking gray plastic, the Pacific’s are much thicker around the handles, and adorned with beautiful, almost neon colors ranging from purple, to yellow, to pink.  When all is said and done, there are five total colors (green and orange round out the assortment) in each bag, and since you get ten razors in a pack, you get two of each color.

From there, the specs between my normal razor, and the Pacific’s, are pretty much exactly the same:  Both feature twin blades, and both of them have those lubricating strips above the blades.  Now it just all came down to performance…

…and the Pacific’s leave quite a bit to be desired.  I do not have thick facial hair, so when I grow mine out (which I tend to do thanks to laziness and unmotivation), it’s the wiry, almost transparent type that you see frequently being flaunted by those white-trash types, who honestly believe their childish peach fuzz makes them look cool.  Worst-case scenario:  I’ll wait about a week-and-a-half between shaves, and by then I have about an inch facial hair built up.  Even by those standards, my usual razor had no problems cutting through the thick jungle brush all in one sitting.  In fact, I could usually get two shavings in using a single razor, without much of a problem.

The Pacific’s, on the other hand, start off well enough, but usually by the time I get to my neck (the one area, ironically, where hair actually seems to grow with any kind of consistency), the twin blades are starting to sputter; the backed-up hair between the blades weaken the razor’s effectiveness, and it quickly starts to feel rather uncomfortable.  The solution?  Throw away the razor, and take out a new one.  This finishes the job, but at what cost?  Well, now I have gone through two razors in one sitting.  So essentially, I’m getting only five razors for $1.00, which isn’t nearly as appetizing as ten, or even the twelve for $1.90 that I am accustomed to.

To end on a positive note, I will say that the grip is better on the Pacific’s, as they feature a ridged handle for easier control.  But that’s like food that looks good, but tastes like crap--it’s ultimately meaningless.

Overall: 4/10.  It’s a razor, it’s only $1 for ten, and it cuts, so it can’t get too low of a score.  But when you have to go through more than one in a single sitting (for just one area of your body, mind you) when you don’t get much facial hair to begin with, there’s a problem.  The razors are weak, and last a good deal shorter than the ones I am used to.  I would stay away from these if at all possible, though they will work in a pinch.

NOTE: In scouring Dollar Tree's own website, I've found that they also carry the brand carried at Big Lots that I mainly use.  The brand is Personna, and they also retail 10 for $1.  I'll probably give a much more in-depth review of those razors in the future, but it's nice to know there is an alternative to these.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Clancy's Chili Cheese Corn Chips (Aldi)

These are pretty darn good.
I’m a sucker for Frito’s Chili Cheese Corn Chips, one of about two things that make my mouth water at the mere sight of them (the other being Funyuns).  So when I saw an off-brand bag at my local Aldi, I knew I had to scoop it up.  So I did.

The first thing that struck me was the smell.  It’s pretty off-putting.  Whereas Frito’s smells like…well, delicious, Aldi’s smells like it was manufactured in a factory.  I think “rank” might be too strong a word, as it’s not pungent…but “musty” might be a good choice.  Definitely not what I was expecting, and all of a sudden my excitement at trying something new was quickly fading.  But hey, I’ll try anything once, so a crappy smell wasn’t going to entirely dissuade me!

And I’m glad it didn’t, because thankfully these things taste twenty-times better then they smell.  The more and more I eat these things, the closer to Frito’s they become.  They even give you that same “sodium burn” (the burn you get in your mouth after eating way too much salt) after you down half the bag, and are every bit as addicting as the national brand:  It’s easy for me to eat half a bag of Frito’s before I know what even happened, and I found myself doing the same thing with Clancy’s.

Extra points must also be given to value.  A 9.25 oz. bag of Frito’s version retails for $1.99, which in and of itself really isn’t a bad price (especially compared to bags of potato chips, which can go for $3.00 and up).  But Clancy’s can be had for a very reasonable $1.19, and we all know that saving some money can make some things taste just a little bit better.

Overall: 8.5/10.  Its scent is rather off-putting, but taste-wise, Clancy’s Chili Cheese Corn Chips are pretty darn close to the national brand.  To me, Clancy‘s seemed just a little less flavorful at first.  But after inadvertently downing half of the bag in one sitting, I found that they are every bit as addicting.  They even leave you with that “sodium burn” that I’ve come to expect from the Frito’s version.  While it may not be an exact replica of Frito‘s Chili Cheese Corn Chips, Aldi’s version, when paired with its very reasonable $1.19 price tag, is more than a solid choice for those on a budget, or for those that simply want to compare to their own tastes.