Sunday, May 27, 2018

Cosmic Fruit Smoothies Strawberry Banana Fruit Smoothie (Dollar Tree)


Not only is this "not bad", it's actually genuinely good!
I was at Dollar Tree with my wife the other day, and was bored. We had just bought a present for a one-year-old girl (the daughter of our good friends) and were looking at some inexpensive ways to wrap/present it. Actually, that line translates to, “My wife was looking for inexpensive ways to wrap/present it while I was wandering around the store.” Wrapping is certainly not my forte, as anyone who has ever seen one of my presents can attest. 

I had actually just received the go-ahead that we were ready to go when my eyes locked up on this product, almost tucked away on the top shelf of a cooler. I had walked by this area three times and somehow missed it every single one of those times. I went in for a closer look—what was in that small plastic bottle with the unassuming label? Just a juice? As I got closer, I got noticeably excited...this wasn't “just a juice”, but rather a fruit smoothie! The label itself even listed out the fruit contents contained in the bottle, just as the national brand does (in this case, we have 8 strawberries, ½ a banana, and 1 apple)! It was probably going to be terrible, but I just had to give this a “go”. And as soon as I got home, I cracked this one open.

As my wife noted, texture-wise this is about on point with the brand name “smoothie” drink, in that it's not very thick at all. It's a little thicker than a juice, but still runs freely and pretty quickly when tipped over, rather than the slower chug that a real smoothie would have. This is a deal-breaker for my wife, and the main reason she dislikes even the name brand; it is slightly annoying to me (why can't they just find something else to thicken it up a bit more?) so I see where she's coming from, but I still enjoy getting them from time to time, especially when I can get them for cheap. A quick whiff of the concoction had me even more excited: it smells good, and almost entirely accurate. Could this be the product that it's purporting to be for once?

I was expecting this to be where the similarities end—for the most part, edible things just already don't tend to do well at Dollar Tree; “healthier” things seem to fare even worse. But imagine my genuine surprise when the taste matched up almost perfectly to the name brand. There are no bitter or weird aftertastes, no weird smells, no bizarre or unexpected texture changes—it's one of the better knockoffs I've ever tasted at “The Tree”, and for someone who is terrified to try almost everything edible they offer, that is certainly saying something. The flavor here is very sweet, another similarity, but also tastes strongly (and authentically) of both strawberries and bananas, as it should. It goes down smooth without any artificial aftertastes...it's shockingly spot-on, at least where appearance, smell, and flavor are concerned, and that alone makes it a great buy for $1.

Now, of course all of this is going to come at a “cost”: A quick search of the label indicates that there are a few more ingredients added than what you will find in the main brand. For example, the number one ingredient is “filtered water”, something that isn't found in more expensive brands at all. There are also added thickening agents (xanthan and guar gums). But perhaps the biggest disappointment is the addition of “natural flavors”, that mysteriously-defined legal ingredient that's basically just lab-created flavor. Granted, it is the final ingredient listed, which should mean it's used the least out of all the others, but still it's kind of sad to see in an otherwise "all natural" beverage.

Oh, but there's more: There are also way fewer vitamins than you will find in the national brand, with just 2% iron, calcium, and 15% potassium per single serving in Cosmic's version. Curiously, vitamin C is missing out entirely, something that can generally be found in abundance just about everywhere in the juice world. Sugars are also pretty high, at a whopping 40g per bottle (12g more than the national brand); however, these must all occur naturally within the fruit, because according to the label, no sugar is added.

Also an oddity that I have pointed out before, but that is by no means confined to this beverage: I don't like how products that have water added, can still be considered 100% juice. How is that possible? Here we have an item where "filtered water" is the number 1 ingredient, and it's still labeled 100% juice, putting it in the same boat with fresh-squeezed juices, and the like. Yeah, if you really dig down and look at the ingredients, you'll see that the apple juice is "from concentrate", but that takes reading some fine print--right abobve the nutrition label, in a bold and clear font, reads "100% Juice", with no asterisks or other footnotes to let you know it's "from concentrate". This is more a rant and a general gripe than a knock against this particular product, but it's something that irks me nonetheless.

Anyway, this “research” isn't presented to bad-mouth this product, but rather just me thinking out loud. Even despite all its shortcomings, I would still gladly recommend this product. There are very few options for 100% juice products at Dollar Tree (though 32 oz. bottles of name brand apple juice have recently made an appearance), and the fact that this also happens to be non-GMO, gluten free, AND vegan makes this feat even more impressive. Price-wise, and I'm only going off Aldi prices because I can't for the life of me remember how much the national brand is at other supermarkets, this even manages to be a slightly better deal: Each 12 oz. bottle of Cosmic is $1 at Dollar Tree, which means 36 oz. would be $3. Aldi has 32 oz. bottles of the name brand for right around $3, which basically means you're getting 4 oz. for free. Of course, the national brand is more “natural” and without some added filler, but this is still, at least in my eyes, quite a fantastic deal.

Overall: 8/10. Mind-blowing for its price, this is an almost perfect knockoff of the national brand, at least in terms of flavor, and at a price that represents a very solid deal. There are some caveats to bring the price down to the required price point—natural flavors are added, as well as thickening agents, filtered water is number one on the ingredient list, and a notable absence of many vitamins—but it still manages to be 100% juice (from concentrate) with strawberry and banana puree listed right underneath water. The flavor is very sweet, but consists almost entirely of strawberry and banana. It's still not very thick, but neither is the national brand, so no points deducted for that. Any way you look at it, this is a fantastic product, and one that's highly recommended.

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