Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wise Onion Flavored Rings (Big Lots)

If you like this kind of snack, then you would be "wise" to pick up a bag!
I love onion-ring flavored snack “chips”; growing up, the national brand was my favorite, but it was only an occasional treat because they cost so much.  I’m now 32, and the national brand is still an occasional treat, because they cost so much (come on, I’m not paying upwards of $4 for junk food).  Thankfully, as I’m learning, there are lots and lots of private labels eager to earn the business of hardworking folks like myself, and Wise is one of them.

Wise is actually one of the more well-known brands that I review.  It isn’t a private label, and their foods can be found at a variety of places, from Big Lots, to Dollar Tree.  But while they may not officially meet the criteria for a “private label” brand, their much lower price points put them in a similar price bracket as the more inexpensive knockoffs.

This particular onion ring avoids taking the “sweet” route, which we have seen from other off-brands; instead, it goes for straight-ahead onion flavor.  It’s a little bit of an overload at first, but assuming you can get used to it--and, assuming you really like onion--it gets a little better the farther into the bag you go.  Unfortunately, what also gets stronger is the sodium content, which kind of takes away from the main flavor, and throws everything off a bit.  In fact, after downing several more than I should have, it wasn’t the onion taste that was lingering in my mouth, but that of salt.  Honestly, I think this problem is also inherent with the national brand too, but I still would have liked to have seen it “corrected”.

Visually, these are kind of similar to the national brand, only these rings are much thinner and smaller; it’s kind of strange, because this seems to be the appearance that the vast majority of off-brands share.  Is it cheaper and less labor-intensive to make these rings smaller, as opposed to the larger, thicker variety in the main brand?  Obviously, the size of the ring doesn’t matter, but I’m just curious and thinking out loud.

Now it’s math time, kids!  I can hear collective groaning, but it’s necessary to see if we’re actually saving any money by opting to go for the cheaper option.  The size of Wise’s Onion Ring bag, which I picked up at Big Lots for a mere $1 (the original retail price is $1.79) is 3.5 oz.  For the sake of comparison, the large bag of the national brand stuff is 6.5 oz., which is slightly less than double Wise’s.  Thus, we can compute that it would take a mere two bags of Wise’s onion rings to cover the size of one bag of the national brand, which would give us 7 oz. for just $2; unless you’re a couponer, chances are you won’t be getting the “actual” stuff for that price.

Wise’s attempt at onion rings aren’t without fault, but they provide a tasty little snack at some excellent value, especially if  you can catch them at Big Lots stores.

Overall: 7/10.  There’s a headlong onion flavor right out of the gates that goes straight for the taste buds, and that can be rather surprising at first, but once you get used to it, it gets a lot more manageable.  The only problem is, there’s also a ton of salty flavor, that eventually manages to overpower the onion taste the more you eat, causing the lingering taste of salt to stick around.  This is a big turnoff for me (even though, if I recall correctly, the national brand also has the same problem).  Value is present, as each 3.5 oz. bag is just $1 at Big Lots stores, meaning you’d just need two of these to cover the size of the large package of the national brand onion ring snacks (with .5 oz. to spare).  This would only cost you $2; chances are, short of couponing, you wouldn’t be able to get the real stuff for that price!  Worth a look.

Wise Barbecue Flavor Corn Chips (Big Lots)

A word to the "wise": these are pretty good!
I was craving a junky snack and perusing the Big Lots chip aisle when I came across a 5 oz. back of Wise BBQ Flavor Corn Chips retailing for just a buck.  After much mental debate as to whether or not I wanted to force-feed myself that much sodium for just a snack, I finally relented, and bought a bag.  The following are my thoughts on this particular product.

I didn’t do a side-by-side taste test, but from what I recall, these taste pretty close to the national brand, which is to say that they’re incredibly salty with a slight barbecue tang in there somewhere.  In the realm of all things barbecue, these chips, like the main brand counterpart, are pretty bad; they only slightly resemble the titular condiment.  And yet they’re one of my favorite salty snacks (along with the equally mislabeled ‘Chili Cheese’ version, which tastes nothing like either chili or cheese and yet I can down a bag with minimal effort).  The texture is spot on, and there’s a generous helping of “barbecue” seasoning covering each chip, to the extent that most of them are covered in a red hue.

If you like the national brand corn chip, and stumble upon these at your local Big Lots, I recommend you pick these up.  They’re very similar, and quite a bit cheaper, too, which is all you can ask for in a knockoff.  Wise products also appear at Dollar Tree, and some of their chip offerings can be hit-or-miss, but these are definitely a “hit”.

Overall: 8/10.  A solid knockoff of the name brand barbecue corn chip, Wise’s version is almost exact in every way, from appearance, on down to taste.  Of course, these are pure junk, loaded with sodium and God only knows what else, but they’re one of the few salty things I could eat all day.  And with a 5 oz. bag retailing for just $1 at select Big Lots stores, it’s nice to know that high blood pressure can be so affordable!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Power Stick 3-in-1 Shampoo, Conditioner, Body Wash for Men: Cool Blue Water (Dollar Tree)

This is stuff is pretty...well, excellent for the price.
Here's another 3-in-1 that I've had in my shower for months! It, too, is available from Dollar Tree. Normally, these bottles are 12 oz., making them three ounces less than the White Rain version I reviewed above, but I happened to get lucky and get this when it was a “Bonus Buy”, so I got 16 oz. for the same price! Double win!

That win gets compounded even more with actual performance, because it improves upon White Rain's version in almost every way, at least when compared to my preferences. For starters, it comes out nice and smooth, just like the bottles that cost five times (or more) as much, and it doesn't take much at all to get a nice lather going. It's the standard lather you would expect, with a nice, thick layer of foam arising with a minimum of required effort, and it goes on the skin smooth and easy. It's one of those things that would be a decent deal at even three times the price, so for just a buck, it's a no-brainer!

About the only area where there is no improvement over White Rain's product, is the smell...while I would slightly prefer this one, and the strong chemical scent is missing, it's still a pretty lame, fake “ocean” aroma that I don't find all that enticing. But if a dollar body wash is going to come up short on something—and at that price point, it's pretty much a requirement—I would rather it be in the scent than in performance or anywhere else, so there are no hard feelings on this end.

Even with the standard 12 oz. size (3 ounces less than the similarly-priced White Rain), I would prefer this one by far, as it's the perfect mixture of price and performance.  At 16 oz., it almost comes down to "if you don't pick this up, you're an idiot" territory. In fact, I'll probably pick up a different scent next time just to try it out. They say you can't have your cake and eat it, too, but this gets you pretty darn close to proving that saying completely wrong. A great buy here! And what do you have to lose?  Even if it's not your cup of tea, it's only a buck.

Overall: 9/10. The scent is the only thing that prevents this from getting a perfect score, because Power Stick's 3-in-1 is the perfect combination of texture and lather, all for just a buck! I happened to get a 16 oz. “Bonus Buy”, which makes it even more of a no-brainer, but even in its standard 12 oz. variation, I wouldn't hesitate to pick this up again. On the skin it lathers up real nice and leads to a fresh-skin feeling, while it also feels right at home as a shampoo, easily foaming up in the hair and making everything feel fresh and clean. Great for travel, too, so you can just take one thing instead of three separate products! Excellent buy.

White Rain Cool Ocean Wave 3-in-1 Shampoo, Conditioner, and Body Wash for Men (Dollar Tree)

A pretty gross, unappetizing picture of an underwhelming product.
I don't use body wash very often, instead opting to frequently use bar soap, just as I always have...guess you could call me old-fashioned! But I do keep at least a bottle of “three-in-one” (shampoo, conditioner, body wash) on hand at any given time, either for when I run out of soap and forget to buy more (happens way more often than it should), or for when we go traveling, so I don't have to take three separate products. Other than that, it just tends to sit in the shower for long periods of time to frequent inactivity, and it was having two bottles sitting in there now that made me think to finally do a review of them!

The first one we'll take a look at is White Rain for Men, in the Cool Ocean Wave scent. The smell itself doesn't do much for me...there is a “cool” watery side to it, and it's not terrible, but I think it mostly smells like cheap chemicals. Oh well, it sure smells better than BO, so not having the best scent in the world doesn't bother me all that much. What I don't like is its performance: it's very thin and putters out of the bottle in sad little gel clumps...not exactly my ideal texture in a body wash. Then it gets even worse.

There's very little lather to speak of. I like my body wash to really get nice and lathery with a minimum of product, and I like to think I'm in the majority in this opinion, but this stuff never really gives me that ideal fresh, clean feeling. It foams up a little bit, and for some that will no doubt be enough, but it doesn't even come close to cutting my mustard. I've even tried doubling up the amount of it I use, and it still didn't produce the results I was looking for...then you just get a large amount of partial foam falling all over your bathtub and creating a slipping hazard.

By the same token, I can't really be too hard on it, because a large 15 oz. bottle is merely $1, which is great in a disgusting world where similar products can be (and frequently are) $5 or more. And it gets the job done and beats walking around sweaty, no matter how disappointed I am with the texture. That's why I don't throw it away, because some day I'm sure it'll help me out in a pinch; until then, it's pretty much relegated to backup duty in my shower.

Overall: 5.5/10. It's got a chemically scent, and its texture is very thin, which I don't like. To boot, it doesn't lather up very well, even when I use twice as much product as I normally would, so it never gives me that “ultra clean and fresh” feeling when I step out of the shower. But on the plus side, it does the bare minimum that it's supposed to do, and at only $1 for a 15 oz. bottle, provides some pretty solid value. It's not my favorite stuff in the world, but I keep it on hand as a backup for those frequent times I run out of soap. Okay, but nothing noteworthy.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kroger Peanut & Chocolate Xtreme Trail Mix Chewy Bars (Kroger)

I wouldn't wish a shopping trip to Kroger on my worst enemy. This bars are alright, though.
I'm not big into trail mix (again, my wife picked these up for me), so you'll probably need to adjust the final score accordingly: if you love the stuff, add a couple points, while if you hate it even more than I do, then stay away.

That being said, this is a decent little bar, which I took to work with me and basically ate as a breakfast in the mornings. The main reason I don't like trail mix is because of the raisins...when I was younger, I was huge into the dried fruit, but ever since I was around 10 years old, I just couldn't eat them much anymore. The flavor of the raisins is strong enough to overpower almost everything else in these bars. I don't appreciate that so much, but again, that just comes down to personal preference.

On the flip side, there are two different kinds of chocolate, which does help to at least neutralize the raisin flavor somewhat. Neither of the chocolates (chips and circular candies) are all that sweet, which is also a good thing, because it prevents it from being almost overwhelmingly so, like the above almond bars. If you like trail mix, chances are you are really going to like these.

The same issues for the almond bars apply however: despite the even simpler setup (there's no coating at the bottom), the ingredient list is incredibly long, and the bars somehow have even higher fat and sugar content than the almond bars! Talk about a surprise! We can expect some fat and sugar to derive from the chocolate, but I wouldn't have expected it to be that much considering the lack of intense sweetness. The sticky binding agent is also a bit of a problem, as it sucks away any feeling that this may be “all-natural” (and is probably the main culprit behind the dozens of seemingly-unnecessary ingredients).

It's a decent bar that once again comes down to price...assuming these are $1.99 or less (again, my wife picked these up so I'm unsure) then I'd consider these a worthy value; anything more and they're completely overpriced. Either way, I probably wouldn't get these again, but they were worth a try.

Overall: 6/10. I'm not really into trail mix, so adjust my score accordingly to your tolerance for the peanut/chocolate/raisin mixture, but these bars are pretty decent for throwing something in your stomach first thing in the morning. I thought there were too many raisins, which was the overwhelming flavor, but there is a good amount of chocolate, thanks to both chocolate candies and chips. The bar feels unnecessarily sticky thanks to the binding agent used, which kind of disrupts the feeling that this might be a “natural”, “healthy” bar (it's not), but it's edible and that's sometimes all I'm looking for in a snack.

Kroger Sweet and Salty Almond Granola Bars (Kroger)

God, I despise the experience of shopping at Kroger. But these are pretty tasty little bars.

My sweet, loving wife picked me up a box of these to take to work as a snack, so I eagerly dug in. Without a big lead-in, let's delve into the details:

I've had the national brand before, but only in the peanut variation...I've tended to stay away from almonds because I'm not really all that into “serious” nuts. Well that was my loss, because this is even better than the peanut version. For starters, that tends to be a nut overload, because the peanut one is dipped in peanut butter, which then leads to a lot of peanut. I really like that one, but I have to be in the mood. This one is still super-sweet, but the almond is joined with a layer of “yogurt flavored coating”. Okay, why they couldn't use something real instead of something made up of "yogurt flavoring" is beyond me, but that's not for me to decide.

Both flavors compliment each other very well. It's very sweet, and don't think for a second it's healthy just because it has “almond” and “granola” in the title, but as a little pick-me-up, it's a great little treat. The almond also seems to be covered in some kind of sweet glaze, so it's not as dry (or healthy) as normal, but I'm not going to complain about that, because I hate plain almonds. I would definitely get these again.

On the flipside, the ingredient list is somehow five miles long, and filled with a plethora of weird ingredients. I'm sure they all serve a purpose, but it's definitely eye-opening, considering oat bars seem to be one of the easier ones to make “all natural”. (Don't you just need oats, toppings, and a binding agent?) There's also a plethora of sugar and fat, with brown sugar (via the oats), sugar, AND high fructose corn syrup appearing relatively high in the list, culminating in a total of 12g for the entire bar. That might not sound like much, and there are certainly things with much more than that, but given the size of the bar, it's not great.

Still, “healthy” isn't always on the list of criteria when selecting something to eat, so despite its weaknesses, I would definitely get these again. If you just want a great-tasting bar that will put something in your stomach to tide you over until you can eat a full meal, this one will help do the trick.

Overall: 7.5/10. It's very sweet, so if you're not in the mood for sweets, stay away, but this blending of granola, almond, and yogurt “flavored” coating is pretty darn tasty. Great texture, too, as it's all so deliciously chewable. Definitely worth a look if you're into this sort of thing; I would gladly get it again in the future. The only unknown variable is the price, as I was not with her when she bought it...assuming these are $1.99 or less, and I'm sure they are, they provide decent value for six bars. Also of note: there is quite a bit of fat and sugar in each bar, so don't think that it's “healthy” just because it has “granola” and “almond” in the title...manufacturer's cleverly try to cash in on health fads by including such keywords in the titles, despite the product being loaded with unhealthy ingredients. But if “healthy” isn't in your criteria and you just want a great-tasting snack to tide you over, this is an excellent choice.