Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Boulder Flex Extra Strong Drawstring Trash Bags (Aldi)

The packaging to Boulder Flex Extra Strong Trash Bags, from 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

A box of Kroger Honey Nut Toasted Oats Cereal
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)

A stock image of Kroger Chocolatey Cocoa Crisp (Cocoa Crispy Rice) Cereal
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)

A nearly-empty package of Baker's Treat Cheese Danish Pastries, from 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.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Millville Honey Grahams Cereal (Aldi)

A box of Millville Honey Grahams cereal
It's a good knockoff.
Y'know, despite being one of my favorite cereals as a youngster, I don't have quite the same fondness for honey graham cereal as an adult. I mean, a honey-based cereal is one thing, but a cereal that's made to taste like graham crackers, one of the most boring of all things (on their own; s'mores are a different story) is just a very weird idea to me. I guess maybe it's a sweet “honey” cereal for those that don't typically like that kind of thing...I don't know, and I guess, come to think of it, I really don't give a shit, either.

But even though they lack the same appeal that they held throughout my childhood years, sometimes I still get a craving for them, particularly when I'm looking for a cereal that I haven't had a million times before. And thankfully, this is where my cereal-hating wife comes into play: she buys a box of this stuff a couple of times a year, before either forgetting about it, or completely losing interest in it a short while later. This means there is a box that's three-quarters full in our pantry for a few weeks at a time, ready for me to polish it off when I get in the mood. And that's what brings me here today.

It's been a long time since I've had the national brand, but I have to say that this tastes very similar to the taste I remember. There's a very slight hint of sweetness, but then it's overpowered by a “cracker” taste that would probably completely turn me off, if I didn't have the sweet air of nostalgia on my side. It doesn't fit my definition of a good cereal at all, especially since it tastes like the formula hasn't been changed since it debuted in the 1970s, but there's just something about it that's...edibly intriguing, and this version hits those same mysterious notes.

But there's one area where I've always been disappointed by even the national brand: sogginess factor. The individual cereal pieces are rather thick and heavy, making it seem like the perfect kind of cereal to resist the pull of milk for at least a little while. Instead, these seem to go limp almost immediately, absorbing in the white liquid and making the whole thing a soggy mess within a couple of minutes. Obviously, I get that all cereals are prone to this, but usually the thicker ones manage to last a little while longer, and that just doesn't seem to be the case here.

While every cereal is prone to breaking down in a bowl full of liquid, I do feel like the mushiness also affects another quality: flavor. As the cereal gets softer, it's like it also erodes the honey flavor off the cereal and into the milk, leaving just the underwhelming graham cracker taste on the remaining pieces...in other words, the cereal seems to get slightly worse—and maybe even a little more bitter—the soggier the cereal gets. Maybe that's just a mental thing for me, but I've always seemed to notice that, even as a youngster, which always lead me to down the bowl as quickly as possible.

After being relegated to "special buy" cycles for years, this cereal has since been upgraded to a part of the store's permanent inventory around the same time they remodeled our Aldi store in late, 2019. I can think of a dozen cereals more deserving of a constant spot on the shelf, especially considering the $2.19 price tag, which is certainly cheaper than the national brand, but not a value I'd really shout about from the mountaintops. At any rate, if you're a bigger fan of the national brand than I am, it's worth a look.

Overall: 6/10. If it weren't for the nostalgic memories of eating this as a youngster, I don't think I'd be even halfway impressed with Millville's Honey Grahams as an adult; nevertheless, it hits the same weird flavor profile of the national brand, serving up an unnecessary combination of slight honey sweetness, with strong notes of graham cracker that seems to get stronger the soggier the cereal gets. Meanwhile, the $2.19 price tag makes it one of the more expensive offerings in Aldi's cereal aisle although, to be fair, it's still a good chunk off of the national brand price. At any rate, it's a good knockoff, and one that should impress bigger fans of the original cereal more than it did me.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Lunch Buddies Vanilla Pudding Cups (Aldi)

A stock image of Lunch Buddies Vanilla Pudding Cups, from Aldi
Like finding a long lost friend.
As a kid, I never really paid attention to vanilla pudding cups. I mean, why would you, when there’s a perfectly good chocolate version right next to it? (I did do the swirled version, from time to time.) That’s actually a mindset that has stayed with me throughout the years: Outside of ice cream, I rarely eat vanilla anything, preferring chocolate whenever applicable. Hell, even when eating vanilla ice cream I tend to put cookie chunks, or hot fudge on it...anything to prevent just the plain ol' taste of vanilla.

Our son used to be the exact opposite of me, favoring vanilla pudding to the chocolate. But then, when he decided—quite literally almost overnight—that he just didn’t like vanilla pudding anymore, someone needed to step up to the plate to make sure the entire 4-pack wouldn’t go to waste. It took a lot of arguing back and forth with myself, before I finally just…okay, I was excited that he didn’t want it, because I really wanted to try it. And while I’m not opposed to stealing his food on occasion, even I'm not gutsy enough to touch his pudding...if he ever found out, I'd be banished from my own home.

Oh man, this is rich and creamy goodness. It’s got a strong vanilla taste that actually reminds me a lot of the flavor of tapioca pudding, but without the weird globby bits in it (maybe I’m way off base though, because I haven’t had tapioca pudding in forever). It’s very sweet, but in a good way—I mean, it’s a kids snack for goodness sakes, and there’s a reason pudding is a main ingredient in a variety of desserts.

The texture is soft and rich and…well, like most puddings, let’s just say it goes down all too easy. Have my taste buds evolved, or has vanilla pudding always been this good, and I’ve just been neglecting it all these years? In fact, in the ultimate irony of life, I went back and tried a chocolate one, too, and found it to be a little bitter, and not nearly as delicious as I remember it being.

So...is vanilla this good? Will I be buying vanilla milkshakes and swearing off chocolate forever? Not even close, but this is a great-tasting occasional treat, and at $.95 per 4-pack, one that won't come anywhere near breaking anyone's bank.

Overall: 8/10. Is this what my life's been missing? After eschewing vanilla pudding in favor of chocolate for years, I finally tried some after our three-year-old son literally decided to hate it out of nowhere...and actually think I prefer the white stuff. It's very sweet, but rich and creamy, with a strong (and probably fakey) taste that kinda reminds me of tapioca pudding, minus the random globs scattered throughout. And at $.95 per 4-pack, you really can't go wrong in the price department. Great for lunches, dessert, or just a quick snack on the go. Consider me impressed!

Friday, June 12, 2020

Meijer Dipped Peanut Butter Granola Bar (Meijer)

A box of Meijer Dipped Peanut Butter Granola Bars
Tastes like other brands of dipped bars and at a decent value. 
Well, like I told an uncaring audience in a previous review, my wife has been doing almost all of her "self-isolation" shopping at  Meijer lately, so now I've been getting a chance to try their versions of products I typically get elsewhere. And today, we've got dipped granola bars, which are a nice, quick snack. 

I’ve tried these from a couple of different store brands, so why not see what Meijer’s have to offer?
Well first of all, what is it with almost all of these having generic, colored wrappers? The individual wrapping on each individual bar is green, with white lettering that says “dipped bar”, but with no identifiable brand information. I’m not too sure about Aldi, but I’m pretty sure Kroger’s version also come in this off-putting packaging—probably a good chance both of them come out of the same factory, if this is the case. And if that is the case, which it probably is, then that means this is probably almost the same product offered elsewhere, too. And if that is also the case, which it very well might be, then that would mean that a comparison between all of these private labels would more or less all come down to taste, considering they would be using roughly the same recipe.

This is just pure speculation on my part, though, so don't go taking it as fact—maybe some day I will gather up enough interest to do a blind taste test off different items across different store brands to finally put some of these to rest. But until that day, "pure speculation" is all that we have.

Also very similar to other versions of this bar is the size: they are really, really small. Smaller than the average granola bar. I don't know if this is to keep the caloric content to a minimum, or what the reasoning is, but all of the dipped granola bars that I've tried are this same teeny size. Then again, I guess you don't need to load up on chocolate and peanut butter first thing in the morning.

After digging in, I've got to say that my above theory could very well be true: The taste is good, but standard for this kind of bar. There’s a soft layer of enticingly melty chocolate on top that gives way to another gentle layer underneath, but this time it’s peanut butter. The story with the peanut butter is the same: it's got a great, soft, pretty creamy texture (at least, for a mass-produced chocolate bar), with a straightforward peanut butter flavor to match. Combined, you get what you should probably be expecting: creamy peanut butter combined with the taste of dollar store chocolate, with some granola thrown in so it can give the slight appearance of healthiness. The granola bar might also be flavored, but I don't think it is: there's so much chocolate and peanut butter covering it that I'm thinking it's to cover the “boring” taste of granola.

To be clear, I actually don't mind the overall flavor—in fact, it was pretty much exactly what I was expecting from trying similar bars—but it’s nothing that's going to make you go out of your way to get these from Meijer versus virtually anywhere else that offers them.

Value here is pretty good, though nothing outstanding, with each 6-ct. box retailing for $1.69. This puts it lower than Kroger's own private label brand, which retails for an excessive $1.99, but far behind Aldi, which offers theirs for $1.29. It's middle-of-the-road, but still cheaper than the national brand, which retails for over $2 when not on sale.

Overall: 7/10. In terms of flavor—and based completely off memory as I did not directly compare them—these are pretty equal to every other similar brand out there, with a combination that plays out like dollar store chocolate (albeit with a nice, melty texture) meets standard peanut butter, meets granola thrown in as an afterthought. About the only differentiator is the price: $1.69 for six bars, which isn't outstanding (and higher than Aldi's $1.29 price tag), but cheaper than other store brands, making it a decent value proposition. It's certainly not worth going out of your way for, but it's a good option if you find yourself already inside a Meijer store, with a desperate craving for a mass-produced granola bar.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

UPDATE #2: A Great Idea With Room for Improvement In Execution: An In-Depth Look at GetUpside (App)

NOTE: This app was reviewed on our radio show! If you'd rather listen than read, click here.
The GetUpside logo, circa 2020
UPDATE #2 (6/11/20): Following the issues highlighted in the previous updated review, I cashed out my balance and was just about to be done with the app forever...and then a pending receipt went through almost immediately. Then another...in all, I've had four straight receipts go through with no issues. That's enough for me to re-recommend looking into the app, as the check in issues they claimed to be having seem to have been fixed. For now, at least.

UPDATE (4/4/20): Be careful what you wish for, because even though GetUpside has now gone receiptless, the transitioning process has made it even worse...and with little to no recourse when things inevitably go wrong.

A very, very stupidly named app, based out of Washington, D.C, and available for both iOS and Android. I even hate saying it out loud because it’s so dumb…what the hell does it even mean? And, I feel like it’s pretty terrible from a business perspective because you can’t even begin to tell what the app does just from the name, which is probably some kind of rule in Business 101.

Rant aside, this is a money-saving app that purports to save users quite a decent chunk of change at gas stations—and a random smattering of restaurants--across the U.S. Right now, availability is fairly limited, but with a couple deals with nationwide companies (Circle K chief among them), it seems to be spreading fairly quickly. If it happens to be near you, is it worth your time? Let's sit down and hash this one out, shall we?

An Android mobile screenshot of GetUpside's navigation menu
The navigation menu.
GetUpside is very easy and intuitive to navigate, with the ability to track local deals based on location settings, or via a city or zip search. The basic setup is very much like other “local savings” apps, in that the main screen is essentially a map of your current area, with nearby offers clearly marked.

A big annoyance to me is that the app requires you to have location on in order for it to even open. I get that if you’re trying to claim an offer, but why can’t I just punch in a zip or browse for things without the location service enabled, just to get an idea of what might be available? It might seem kind of nit-picky, but I don’t recall another app that I have that’s so stringent on their location standards. I'm not one to really care about the whole “tracking” angle (face it, we're being “watched” by anyone who wants to watch at any given time), but I get annoyed because I always forget to turn location off after using it, and that can suck battery life down a little bit quicker.
A screenshot of GetUpside's refusal to work if you don't grant it location permission
Don't want to grant GetUpside location permission? Sorry, can't use it at all.
Otherwise, everything is pretty well straightforward, with all available offers listed in order from closest to farthest away, along with how much of a discount they are offering at any given time. Should you need any information besides current deals, it's just a menu tap away, with the menu tucked neatly away in the top left corner—again, pretty standard stuff. If you have ever used an app before, you should have no troubles navigating through this one.

Lately, there has been an unnecessary addition, in the form of a mandatory 5-second splash screen that urges you to refer friends to the service, so that they can continue to offer it for free. It doesn't pop up every time, but it pops up enough to make it annoying as hell, especially since I know of no one that would want to sign up.

An Android screenshot of the annoying referral pop-up you get every time you use the app
Don't have anyone to refer? Then get used to seeing this dumbass screen.
UPDATE (6/11/20): Holy Lord I've never had a more frustrating overall experience with an app before--but hopefully those days are behind. After the below update, in which four straight receipts of mine were declined, I cashed out my $30+ balance and was about to delete the app for good. Then, a pending Check-In transaction I had forgotten about went through, so I tried it again, and again...in all now, four straight Check-Ins have been processed, with no issues. I don't know what the difference is (I'm using the same card at the exact same gas station I've used for months), but at least as of now, it seems the issues have been resolved. I did, however, still lose cashback for the four receipts that caused me an issue prior to the app all of a sudden working again.

UPDATE (4/4/20): Interestingly they have now gone receiptless, which I thought would fix all of the receipt-related issues I had. It has not. For starters, the card number it auto-saved for me for Check-In (which was different than my actual card number, yet was the only one I've ever used with this app) worked perfectly the first time, leading me into a false sense of security...it didn't work the second time, nor the third, and both of those receipts are still in limbo.

Even worse: once you opt in to the Check-In option, you cannot revert back to uploading receipts. I guess I kind of understand this mindset down the road - you know, when a virus isn't ravaging the globe, and when the system's bugs have been ironed out - but to not allow it as a fallback option, even when the customer service rep acknowledged that the Check-In process is falling well short of expectations, is a pretty curious decision akin to shooting themselves in the foot. 

MY ADVICE TO YOU: Do not accept the Check-In offer at this time, because you can't go back to uploading receipts should there be a problem. And there probably will be, with no recourse to fix them. Thus, the $4+ dollars I should have pending, have just expired. 

Assuming you’ve used an app like Ibotta before, the basic process for earning money back in GetUpside is pretty similar: find your gas station in the app, “claim” the offer, and then you have four hours to submit a receipt through the app to get your money back, which is done via your phone's camera. One small difference that I appreciate is that you can upload a photo from your photo gallery, rather than being forced to take a picture through the in-app camera. That's something you can't do with many similar apps, and a nice feature to have (although personally, I have no problems using the phone's camera to upload direct).

An Android screenshot detailing how easy it is to claim deals in GetUpside
Claiming deals is as simple as clicking on that orange "Claim" button.
The processing time can take anywhere from mere minutes to 48 hours. My personal experience is rather clouded, because I have to contact customer support after every single receipt upload due to a difference in the address used in their app, versus the one that prints on the receipts, at the gas station near me (more on that later). In other words: I have no idea how long processing typically takes.

An outdated Android screenshot detailing how to submit receipts (no longer necessary)
Submitting receipts is a pretty straightforward process.
Intriguingly, they keep mentioning in social media comments that they will be going receiptless in the near future—something that would make earning money back through this even more passive...and making this a no-brainer for virtually anyone who buys gas. (And fixing the issue many users seem to have where even clear receipt uploads seem to frequently be declined; or, as the one I have, where a location's address doesn't match the one on the receipt.)

In theory the answer to this question is yet another question: how much gas do you buy? Considering there isn’t a limit (outside of 50 gallons per fill-up), and the offers are generally pretty good (around me, it averages around 10 cents off per gallon), the possibilities are endless. Between my wife’s gas-guzzling SUV and my moderate-sized car, we each fill up about once a week, and that would be enough to earn at least a couple bucks back each time.

But, savings can depend on the “wholesale value” of gas: there are times where GetUpside only offers 1 cent savings over the retail price. I’ve seen several complaints of this on their Facebook page, where people think they’re being “slighted”, or their savings “capped”; I thought this myself, at first (it was right after getting a large discount that the offered savings dropped significantly), but sure enough, it was back to 12 cents off a little less than 24 hours later. That’s unfortunately the nature of the beast—obviously these gas stations want to drive some business, but not at the expense of losing money, or negatively affecting their bottom lines. As such, depending on where you live, the offers might hover around the penny mark more than others in other areas...again, it just depends on a variety of variables to ensure that gas station revenues (and GetUpside's own) take top priority over consumer savings.

An Android screenshot showing GetUpside's referral screen, along with my referral code (AARON32226)
I don't typically do this, but feel free to sign up
via the above referral code.
There are a couple of additional caveats that might prevent you from earning your maximum: 1.) Outside of recently forging a partnership with Circle K, the app hasn’t rolled out to all gas stations nationwide yet, so there’s a good chance you might not have any valid gas stations near you; 2.) Your possible savings are cut down if you use this in conjunction with a gas station's reward program; and 3.) Their support team is wildly uneven: sometimes they get back to you quickly, and sometimes they don't get back to you at all. Even though, in my experience, they eventually do get back to you, it can be a very discouraging experience for those trying out the app for the first time.

You can also make money with referrals: you get $7 the first time someone you refer uses the app, while they get an extra $.20 off per gallon. On that topic: feel free to use mine, which is "Aaron32226". I don't typically do this, but hey, they're virtually begging me to with that stupid 5-second splash screen, and I would love to make that go away.

UPDATE (6/11/20): Although the app is working again, I'm not sure what (if anything) it has to do with their support staff, who I continue to have little faith in. I seem to always get some off-the-cuff statement from them that usually contradicts what someone else in the same department has told me before. The last discussion I had with them, they told me that GasBuddy can't be stacked with GetUpside due to a "long-standing partnership", even though I'd been stacking both with no mention of that being an issue for six months. Then, ironically, after that conversation, all my Check-Ins have gone through with no problem. All I'll say is: I'm relieved it's back to working again. For now.

UPDATE (4/4/20): Support is back to being a complete sack of shit. I understand the poor timing, and reduced staff due to the virus catching the world off guard, but that might be a great excuse to allow users to "downgrade" back to receipt uploads, especially if a majority of the support tickets are Check-In related. 

I have two receipts, one dated March 15th and one from March 22nd, that haven't gone through. On the one for the 15th, my Check-In was declined as soon as I tried it, and the app instructed me to upload the receipt. I did, and despite assurance that GetUpside support resubmitted it over a week ago, it still is sitting in a processing state. 

The second one might be my fault, as the credit card number it auto-saved for me was wrong, but still went through once, leading me to believe that things would be good going forward. However, it did not, leaving me no recourse but to send in a photo of my bank statement showing the specific transaction from the specific location that I got my gas...something that would still be declined, because, as I have told them a thousand times, the address the gas station uses on their receipts (and thus, likely, bank statements) isn't the same one that they supplied to GetUpside.

This is where apps either succeed or fail, and GetUpside's support is...very inconsistent, to say the least. I've had numerous problems, all stemming from - at least what I would consider to be - a relatively minor problem: a local Circle K uses a different address on their store locator (which must be where GetUpside takes their info from), than they do on their receipts (where GasBuddy must take their addresses from). As such, my receipts are frequently denied because I "went to the wrong location", even though it's very clearly the same exact place.

An Android screenshot of GetUpside's in-app support page
Need in-app support? It's conveniently hidden...and
doesn't do much good anyway.
For starters, don't use the in-app support option, which is actually way harder to find than it should be (solution circled in above picture). The first time I had an issue, I sent in a request through there first, and still had no responses after 72 hours, so I decided to follow up via email (support@getupside.com)...and got a response within hours. That started to be my go-to option, but then in early November, I had several support requests (all placed at least 48-72 hours apart, mind you, and all of them completely friendly in nature) fall through the cracks; the only response I got within that time was someone who just sent a canned explanation about how addresses need to match and that was the reason my receipts were declined. It was very frustrating, to say the least, and I was seriously contemplating getting rid of it, despite all the potential...upside(s).

Thankfully, since that fiasco, support has been much quicker, and much more consistent, in getting back to me within 24 hours. I understand it's probably a frustrating issue for them, as well, but I was also notified that there's nothing they can do about the address snafu, so contacting them after every receipt is auto-declined is literally the only way I can get my receipts approved...at least, until they go receiptless, which can't come soon enough for either party.

PROS (+)
+Under the right circumstances, it's an almost passive way to earn a good chunk of money back on something that you're going to have to buy anyway.
+Claiming and redeeming offers is pretty simple and straightforward.
+They will be going receiptless soon, which should eliminate the current issue many users have with them.
+Forged a recent partnership with Circle K, helping to spread the app to many of their locations nationwide.
+Pair it up with GasBuddy for additional savings.

CONS (-)
-Email support response times can be pretty inconsistent (though they do seem to be getting better).
-In-app support seems to be very, very low priority.
-Outside of Circle K partnership, nationwide availability seems pretty scattershot.
-The receipt resubmission process doesn't offer a way to explain why you're resubmitting; thus, you're probably going to be re-declined, and have to contact support anyway.
-Only a four-hour window to claim offer and upload receipt.
-Address issues apparently can't be fixed, forcing me to contact support for every single receipt I submit.

I was very eager to check this app out after hearing glowing things about it online, and the potential for this to be a great app is there, but my limited time with it has been racked with constant, minor annoyances that somewhat detract from what should be an excellent, simple experience. If they can expand at a manageable but steady clip, GetUpside could end up being the go-to app for savings; as it stands now, it's definitely worth looking into, but should you find a need for support, or find yourself in an area with zero offers, there's a chance you may GetDownside instead.

RATING: 7/10. (+2) (UPDATE: 6/11/20): Holy Lord what a bizarre overall experience. After two straight months of rejected Check-Ins and physical receipts, and right after a conversation I had with support that said GetUpside and GasBuddy deals can't be "stacked" together (despite me having done that for six months and with no indications of that rule anywhere else online), all four of my last Check-In transactions have gone through with no issues. This is leading me to believe that, as an earlier customer service rep told me, it might have actually been a glitch with their Check-In program after all. I did lose out on the cashback for the four receipts I had pending through March and April, which is stupid, but as long as it keeps working going forward, I'll keep using it. Especially since the Check-In process makes everything even easier (assuming you remember to actually check in, that is.) 

Note: App reviews are ongoing, and are subject to change as the apps are either updated or abandoned.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Meijer Fruit Punch Drink Mix Sticks (Meijer)

Outer packaging of Meijer Fruit Punch Drink Mix Sticks
Good, but way overpriced compared to the competition.

I'm not typically a silver-lining kinda guy, but this damn viral outbreak has at least done some good for our family: It lead to my wife having a bit of an epiphany on the grocery store front. After inexplicably favoring Kroger over everything else for the better part of ten years, she changed her tune once she deemed herself the sole grocery shopper for the household during the coronavirus outbreak, in an effort to limit our possible exposure to the pandemic. (I didn't argue, as I've been trying to practice social distancing my entire life.) This is good for three reasons: Meijer generally has good prices, I haven't tried many private label items from there, and Kroger sucks complete asshole. If I never set foot in one again I'd be more than happy (although that's, unfortunately, not much of a possibility given their convenience).

And that is how we ended up with Meijer drink mix sticks, which I've never had the pleasure of ingesting. And in fruit punch, no less, which is one of my favorite overall flavors, despite its vague connotation. Let's see how their version stacks up to the competition, shall we?

I tried halving the stick - spreading one out into two servings, as I am wont to do - but since I haven't had this kind before, I didn't really have a good idea of how much to put in, which gave me an undersweetened, light-red hue of grossness. So I just said "screw this" and threw in a whole packet, which usually results in the direct opposite problem: oversweetness. Immediately, I could smell the artificial sweetness pouring out of the bottle; it's pretty strong, but inviting to me, because I love fruit punch of all artificialities.

Yep, this is about what one would expect here, with a taste akin to a jumbled mass of unidentifiable fruits jostling together with a bunch of sugar (I know these are sugar free, that's just the flavor profile). There is a weird texture that accumulates in the back of the throat after taking a few drinks, along with a weird aftertaste—I don't know, maybe that's in all of them and I'm just so used to it that I haven't noticed, but I definitely notice it here. It's not gross or anything, mind you, just some sticky saliva that collects in the back of the throat, along with a kind of medicinal, cough-syrupy flavor that sticks along with it. Granted, I've also gotten used to stretching out one stick into two servings, so maybe it's just the overload of flavor that's making me notice it a bit more. 

This is one of those things that you already know what to expect going in, and it doesn't deliver anything more or less than those expectations: it's a nice, potentially refreshing (if halved), overly sweet combination of fakeness that I tend to like. If you're not a fan of typical fruit punch concoctions, then you won't be a fan of this one. It's that simple. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, it just gives you a standard wheel, which makes sense, considering if you want a wheel you wouldn't want a different version of a wheel, or...whatever.

However, despite the familiar, expected taste, there is one huge caveat: the price. And, of course, this is ironically after I harped on how inexpensive Meijer generally is, at least when compared to Kroger: each 10-pack costs a whopping $1.99. Now, that's not a whopping, outrageous number by itself, but considering both Aldi and even Kroger routinely offer theirs for around $1.29, that's enough of a markup to pretty much negate the value proposition, especially considering these are no better than any of the others out there. I'd get them if I saw them on sale in the future, but otherwise, I'm making a mental note to steer clear from Meijer powdered beverages for the time being.

Overall: 5.5/10. It's strongly sweet in its full-flavor form, as many of these drink mixes tend to be. It's also incredibly hokey, with what seems like a jumbled mess of a handful of artificially-flavored fruit flavors blending together to form one even larger indiscernible mass of flavor. All that said, it's pretty much a typical fruit punch, meaning chances are good that anyone picking this up already knows what to expect. However, $1.99 for the standard amount of ten sticks? Considering Aldi and Kroger routinely offer theirs for $1.49 or less, that makes this a pretty high markup which certainly negates the value proposition, especially considering the flavor offers nothing different from other store brands.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Willow Ultra Soft Mega Rolls Toilet Paper (Aldi)

A stock image of Willow Ultra Soft Mega Rolls Toilet Paper, from Aldi
Remember when everyone stockpiled this stuff?
As you can probably tell from the point of this blog, I enjoy typing up reviews of the “budget” products that my wife and I use. But sometimes, I tend to forget about reviewing the most absolute of basic necessities. And one of the most basic and primitive of all needs happens to be toilet paper. We have gone through at least a dozen different styles and brands over the years, and I have only reviewed one, and that's because it was the worst roll I've ever used and I wanted to get the word out to prevent others from making the same mistake that I did. Well now, we're going to take a look at one that goes in the opposite direction: one that I like so much, it has started to become our go-to brand!

I think part of the reason that I neglected reviewing toilet paper in the past, is that many of them are the same. I'm not very picky when it comes to many things, so unless it's super-weak, or has the texture of sandpaper, I don't really care what I wipe with. Well on a trip to Aldi a little while back, we were in desperate need of toilet paper, since no matter how many rolls come in a pack, or how big the rolls are, they all seem to disappear in roughly the same amount of time. It doesn't help that there apparently are a million different sizes and styles: extra soft, extra tough, single-, double-, or triple-roll, etc., and Aldi seems to carry all of them. For a store that aims to limit itself to just the bare essentials, why must they carry knockoffs comparing themselves to literally every single national brand of toilet paper? I set out to find one that would appease both of us.

After spending much more time on it than I should have, I finally settled on Willow's Ultra Soft toilet paper. It wasn't the cheapest of the options on a “per sheet” basis, but it was $4.99, which is in line with most of their 12-roll papers, and while there are only six in a pack, they are supposedly “mega rolls”, which are four-times the size of a regular roll! So, you're supposedly getting the equivalent of 24 "regular" rolls for a mere $5 (and in six easier-to-carry rolls), which certainly isn't a bad deal in my book; I figured the soft texture would win over my hard-to-please wife.

It didn't just win her over, but it got to me: this is easily one of the softest toilet papers I've ever used. I won't get into graphic details about how I've come to that conclusion (toilet paper is used mainly for one thing, after all), but needless to say it does it's job well, and with a soft, pleasant texture. My one concern was that it was soft at the expense of toughness, especially since they also offer an “ultra tough” version (why not just make them both?). That thought was dispelled pretty quickly after first use, because they just feel ultra tough and are ultra-absorbent. I've used many different rolls of this over the past couple months and have never punched through the tissue, or even seen one of them tear, so you can get them with confidence.

It takes a lot for me to stand up and take notice of toilet paper, but this stuff fits the bill and is one of the best toilet papers I think I've ever used. A roll seems to last as long as the “double-roll” twelve packs do, so it evens out, which feels like extra value considering it's in half the number of rolls. For me, it's excellent stuff for the price and a great combination of strength and value.

Overall: 10/10
. It's hard imagining there's a better roll of toilet paper out there: Willow's Ultra Soft toilet paper is ultra soft as the name implies, but is also incredibly tough and sturdy, which will prevent you from “punching through” the toilet paper at inopportune times. Each roll is a “mega roll”--four times the size of a normal one—which means that there are 24 rolls in this “six-pack”. Since it retails for $4.99, that's about in line with what you will pay for double-roll 12-packs at Aldi, and a great price, giving them high marks for savings. We still like to experiment with other toilet papers, so as much as we like it we probably won't just stick to it, but this one has been the best private label brand that we've encountered so far.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Simply Nature Goat Cheese Macaroni and Cheese Garlic and Herb (Aldi)

The box packaging for Simply Nature Goat Cheese Macaroni and Cheese, Garlic and Herb
Hope you love being overwhelmed by garlic.
Is goat cheese boring? I ask this because, at least in my limited experience, it seems to be an ingredient that can stand out on its own: I'm reminded of Aldi's own spinach, tomato and goat cheese pizza, which is one of my all-time favorite pizzas that they offer. While I'm certainly not well-versed on the intricacies of goat vs. cow's milk, if that pizza is any indication, the cheese is fluffy soft, almost like a cream cheese, with a rich, soft flavor that borders on the decadent. It's the standout ingredient on a pizza that would otherwise be a margherita, and it really takes the taste to another level. (Random fun fact: it's the only cheese I can name off the top of my head that my cheese-loving wife absolutely refuses to eat.)

So when I grabbed a box of Simply Nature's Goat Cheese macaroni and cheese with garlic and herbs, I did it to see how the addition of goat cheese could change a dish that's inarguably an American classic. I figured the goat cheese would be the star of the show, while the garlic and herbs would just add some "texture" or complexity to the overall flavor.

After eating pretty much an entire pot of the stuff (what can I say, I was hungry) I still can't tell you with any amount of confidence what goat cheese tastes like, but I can certainly tell you what too much garlic and herb tastes like: It's an absolute overload on flavor, but not really in a good way, with the garlic overpowering everything to the extent that some bites literally tingle your taste buds. I typically love garlic, but I think everyone knows it's a vegetable that is generally best consumed in small doses; this takes that idea and throws it out the window, leaving you with an overwhelming example of how not to use garlic.

I usually try to look at the big picture when reviewing an item: even if it's not something I enjoy, I understand things like taste are completely subjective and that—no matter how much I dislike it—there are people out there that will. However, this is one of those things that I can't see anyone enjoying, lest they have an almost masochistic fascination with garlic. A couple bites? Maybe. But anything beyond that just starts a snowballing effect that gets stronger and stronger with each bite. Were I not completely hungry, I probably would have thrown it away after three or four bites.

This is a shame, because at $1.49, the price is pretty decent for a “grown-up” version of macaroni and cheese. And while I suppose no one should expect “gourmet” flavors out of a box, I figured it would at least be a watered-down version of how goat cheese could liven up a staple of American cuisine. Instead, all I got was a reminder of how overusing one ingredient can ruin something that is otherwise so promising.

Overall: 3.5/10. I'll admit that some of the products I try are simply because they sound so weird, I can't possibly see the flavors working together to create any sort of cohesive whole; this, on the other hand, was something I was legitimately interested in, because I wanted to see how goat cheese could liven up macaroni and cheese, arguably the staple of all American cuisine staples. Unfortunately, I never got that shot, because the garlic stands front and center, overwhelming everything with its potent flavor. Hell, I could barely detect any sort of cheese at all. This is a shame, because the $1.49 price tag is decent enough for a “grown up” mac and cheese, but I can't recommend this at all.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Summit Pomegranate Cranberry Relief & Recovery Wellness Shot (Aldi)

A stock image of Summit Pomegranate Cranberry Relief & Recovery Wellness Shot
Be careful what you wish for...I wished Aldi carried more energy drinks and this is what I got.
What do we have here? Why, it's another energy shot from Aldi! It's no surprise that their Red Thunder energy shots are one of my favorites on the market (and one of the best deals out there), so then it's probably a safe bet that this one will be along the same lines, right? If only everything in life were so easy...

For starters, I can't even find what product this is supposed to be knocking off—I only know of shots that give you five hours of energy that come in this size, but have never seen any kind of “relief and recovery” shot, at least in this format. The first thing that sprang to mind was “Life Support”, but those cans are almost twice the size, and feature Japanese tree nuts as a main ingredient (this is just according to their website...I've never had it before). So I think this is just meant to be its own thing, something Aldi should do more often!

Anyway, a quick perusal of the ingredients reveals that this is pretty much one of their typical energy shots, only with actual juice in it. Okay, that seems like it could be pretty cool. I must admit that I'm a little off-put by the $1.49 price tag, but hey, if the juice is going to add that much more to the flavor experience, then I'm all down for it! Another quick reading of the label claims that one should drink one shot before and after alcohol consumption. Oh, so wait, this is supposed to counter-balance the effects of alcohol? Weren't alcoholic beverages containing caffeine in hot water a few years back for essentially trying to negate the felt effects of alcohol?

Needless to say, I haven't been in a drinking mood for quite some time, so I only used it as a straightforward energy shot...if you're an alcoholic who actually tried this for its intended reason, please feel free to share your experience in the comments!

The first thing you will notice is that it's very, very tart...I mean, lip-puckeringly so. I can usually take a good bit of tartness (though it admittedly isn't my favorite kind of flavor), but this is just the kind of super-sour that makes your tastebuds tingle. The initial cranberry tartness, however, is almost immediately followed up by the exact same kind of artificial sweetness found in “typical” energy shots, which once again has brought me back to square one in wondering: what the hell is the point of this? It'd be one thing if we were looking at a caffeinated shot with juice, but when juice is the only addition—and one that apparently commands a $.50 price hike—then I'm just kind of lost. Supposedly, it's also meant to boost metabolism, but doesn't caffeine already do that for a short while anyway?

A comparison of ingredients between the two kinds of shots does reveal a few differences, such as 22 calories per 2 oz. serving for this recovery shot, versus less than 10 calories for the “regular” extra strength version. This juiced version also has slightly more sodium (8 mg here versus a mere 1.5g in the extra strength shot), as well as a different energy blend containing Leucine, Lysin, Valin, and a few other things that sound like a mix of household cleaners and prescription drugs that are missing from the extra strength shot. I can't say for sure what these do differently than the regular energy shots would to block alcohol sluggishness, but I'm assuming there's some kind of science (at best; it's probably just a marketing ploy) behind it.

I will have to say that, like their regular extra strength shots, this contains a solid 230 mg of caffeine, and I certainly noticed a pretty big energy kick after downing some of this shot. Again, not sure how well it'll keep you going during a night of drinking, but I could see it stifling the effects of alcohol consumption at least for a few hours, especially if you down two energy shots (one before and one after drinking) as the “directions” suggest. But then you'd be getting a whopping 460 mg of caffeine, which could also be a pretty dangerous situation when mixed together. Besides, if you're really that hell-bent on counteracting alcohol consumption, I'm sure you could get very similar results just downing two of their extra strength energy shots, and save yourself $1 in the process.

I wished Aldi would get more energy-enhancing drinks...and this is the best they could come up with?

Overall: 5/10. Unless I'm missing something, I just find these to be a rather gigantic waste of money compared to their $.99 extra strength shots, which have just as much caffeine and still deliver a solid rush. I mean, on the one hand it does get rid of the “artificial and natural flavors” of the cheaper energy shot, but it still has “berry flavoring” (which sounds suspiciously like a “natural flavor”), sucralose, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate, which still lead to an artificially fake ending flavor that almost completely negates the excessive tartness (and real juiciness) of the initial swig. If it were priced more in line with the regular, we might be looking at some kind of deal, but unless getting real juice on top of your sugarless chemicals is that important to you, I'd consider these as a rather lame misfire.