Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Fit & Active Turkey Sausage Frozen Sandwiches (Aldi)

Stock image of Fit & Active Turkey Sausage Frozen Sandwiches
I clearly stole this image. Credit: Aldi US

I love me some breakfast sandwiches, and it had been a while since I had purchased any from Aldi.  I used to get them to eat as a snack before work, but stopped because they’re so full of cholesterol and sodium. They’re also kind of pricey…I feel like it’s probably a lot cheaper to just buy the ingredients separately, and make them yourself, something that I now want to do.

I actually saw these in the freezer case right as we were getting ready to get into the line, and decided they would make a good little snack to eat at home, or for a night that I wasn’t hungry and just wanted a light dinner.  The “Fit & Active” part did make me pause for a little while--that is Aldi’s “healthy” line, and while I realize these still aren’t great for you, I was afraid the little changes they made (egg white, turkey sausage) would make them taste terrible.

Boy was I mistaken.  Everything on this sandwich is pretty darn tasty, especially the turkey sausage, which tastes pretty close to regular sausage, and is bursting with flavor.  The egg white causes the biggest problem--while it tastes fine, I had some problems getting it to heat up properly.  I thought the first two breakfast sandwiches I made were done, because the sandwich itself was super-hot.  Each time, however, it turns out that everything was hot except for the egg white, which was still nearly frozen.  Maybe part of that has to do with our microwave (it is pretty old), but I had to nuke it for significantly longer than the instructions stated to finally get everything hot.

The English muffin is pretty chewy, but functions perfectly as a “carrier” for all the other ingredients.  Honestly, this tastes pretty close to any similar fast food breakfast you can get, but for way cheaper than what you would pay at any of them (you may be able to get a sausage biscuit for around the same price, but not a sausage, egg, and cheese muffin!)  Now, while I wouldn’t say these are “good” for you, they actually do provide 25% less sodium, 18% less fat, and 21% less cholesterol than Aldi’s regular sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits (provided under the Breakfast Best label); it's no small feat that they were able to do that without sacrificing much, if anything, in the way of flavor. Pick these up, for sure.

Overall: 8/10.  I bought these on a whim, and was afraid that the “Fit & Active” part would ruin them, but these pack a lot of flavor into a package that actually is quite a bit better for you than their regular sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits.  The turkey sausage is pretty darn close to the “real” thing, while the egg white provides the required egg, and the cheese is just cheese, something you can’t go wrong with.  Holding it all together is the English muffin, which tastes like an English muffin should.  These are very comparable in taste to similar offerings from fast food establishments, but at $1 per muffin, these are much cheaper.  Wouldn’t hesitate to pick these up again.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Elevation Crunchy Peanut Butter Energy Bar (Aldi)

Box of Elevation Crunchy Peanut Butter energy bars
These aren't really all that crunchy.

It had been a little while since I’d seen what the Elevation line had to offer; after perusing the unfamiliar selection for a little while (they changed all the packaging!) I decided to play it relatively safe by grabbing these bars. I’m not entirely sure why, because I don’t care for peanut butter all that much (at least, not as a “base”, or “main” flavor), but I figure it’s one of those tastes that seem to be a standard across “protein” and “energy” bar lines, so they must be able to emulate it pretty well.

First things first: they look kinda gross. But a lot of these bars do, given the way they eschew normal characteristics of food, in favor of an “all natural” look. In this case, it looks like someone just added some peanut butter to some oatmeal, put it through a rectangular-shaped mold, and then finished it off with a spritz of Mod Podge. It’s not nearly as off-putting as some bars are, but it doesn’t share similar characteristics with any food that I would consider “good”.

Second things second: is there even any peanut butter in these? The packaging says there is, but usually it’s the dominant scent...and I don’t really get much peanut butter at all, despite repeated sniffs to the exterior of the bar. Who knows...maybe it’s all hidden inside.

The taste here is...pretty underwhelming. Peanut butter is a pretty distinct taste, and while it's obviously in there, it doesn't shine through as much as I was expecting. In fact, it's the non-peanut butter flavors that steal the show. As a not-huge-fan of peanut butter, you may be thinking that's a good thing; the problem is, the remaining flavors are just...odd. It tastes kind of like an attempt to make something taste like peanut butter, without actually using any peanut butter; or like there's an ingredient missing, or something. It's not very pleasant, and admittedly gets old quicker than a bar that tasted like the actual peanut-based product would.

Curiously, it was the texture itself that became my favorite part: it’s somewhat reminiscent of a cookie dough. In fact, the first couple bites felt like I was eating something that shouldn’t be healthy, and almost tricked me into thinking it was actually good. The taste quickly knocked me back to reality, but considering I wasn't expecting to like the texture much at all, I have to say I was somewhat impressed.

These bars are actually pretty good-sized for the price.

The “crunchy” part of the name is quite the misnomer, and initially made me think I was getting a harder bar: there’s no crunch whatsoever in these. The bar is soft, and the oats are soft; maybe they use crunchy peanut butter in it, but if that's the case, it's hard to differentiate that between the oats and other ingredients. No matter the case, I wouldn't have named the bar after a secondary texture that's barely even noticeable to begin with.

Onto the value: each package is $3.99, which is much cheaper than the typical prices of a natural name brand health bar. Even better yet? There are six bars inside. I’ve mentioned in other Elevation reviews that I’m perturbed by the varying number of health bars inside each box, which can skewer the value proposition considerably; if you’re paying $4 for 4 bars when you’re expecting 5 or 6, well that’s not really such a great deal. Getting six for $4, however, is actually pretty good for this type of thing, and one of the better deals across Aldi's Elevation product line.

I just wish I wanted to eat them more often.

Overall: 5/10. I’m not huge into peanut butter, so take my review with a grain of salt, if you must. This bar, despite the typical weird “natural health bar” appearance, actually comes off much better in person, with an appealing texture somewhat reminiscent of cookie dough. Peanut butter might be the main flavor, but it's offset by an off-kilter taste that isn't peanut butter, and that constantly threatens to ruin the whole experience. And you can ignore the "crunch" in the flavor title, because this is a soft, oat-based bar - there's nothing really resembling much of a crunch at all. The sole upside: the $3.99 asking price (for six bars), which makes this one of the more affordable offerings from the Elevation line. If, after reading all this, you find that it still sounds like something that would be down your alley, pick these up. If not, don’t.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Venezia Shugar Soapworks Charcoal Eucalyptus Vegan Soap Bar (Dollar Tree)

Box packaging for Venezia Shugar Soapworks Charcoal Eucalyptus Vegan Soap Bar
Don't fall for the smell in-store like I did...it doesn't translate well in the shower.

Dollar Tree bath and body items don’t always have the best scents. They’re getting a lot better compared to how they were ten or fifteen years ago, but many products have a lingering something that’s...amiss. Or a fragrance that smells okay, but dissipates much too quickly. There are very few things you can smell inside Dollar Tree that live up to that promise outside of their store walls; it’s like the scents are programmed to disappear once you take them off the premises.

So imagine my surprise when I caught this full-sized bar at a DT in Tennessee, one of a few things I bought while on vacation visiting the ol’ in-laws. I honestly didn’t think much of it at first sight, except for “Wow this looks pretty big for the price”. Considering one was already hanging outside of the packaging, I decided to take a sniff...and my socks were blown completely off, leaving me standing there in nothing but...well, everything except socks.

This had a strong, fantastic smell more befitting a full priced product rather than something being sold from the dollar store. I thought maybe I was going crazy (my nose doesn’t work the best, as anyone close to me knows), so I had my wife inhale in through her nose about six inches away from the product; she verified what I had thought. This smelled really good.

It was almost as if it were too good to be true. There were some red flags that were already creeping up in the back of my mind - the bar’s large size being the main one - but I forced them back out. After all, you don’t always know why products are being sold at the dollar store: maybe they just didn’t sell well and were on closeout. Or they were new and had gone as-of-yet undiscovered...I was excited to be the one to get to break this under-the-radar gem to the world.

Alas, it is not to be: this is one hell of a disappointing soap bar. You know how cheaper brands of candles will overload the top with fragrance - so anyone taking a casual whiff in store will be impressed with its strength - and then barely put any in the rest? So that the scent is barely noticeable by the third or fourth time you light it (if not sooner)? Well, that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here, because once you actually use it, the smell is virtually untraceable.

None of that strong scent carries over. In fact, it’s rather baffling just how much it drops off once you start lathering it up. Even right out of the shower and sitting next to her, she couldn’t smell me, or notice that I had used anything different, until she virtually pressed her nose against my skin. To be fair, the light scent that remains is good, but if it’s only noticeable in close, then I would imagine it doesn’t last long at all.

While we’re on the topic of suds, the lather quotient isn’t nearly as strong as I would like, another issue that faces most Dollar Tree soap brands (and inexpensive soaps in general). There’s a light accumulation of soap bubbles that land on the skin, but nothing that’s going to make your skin feel super hydrated, or anything. It didn't seem to dry out my skin, though, which is a plus.

Another possible plus to some people that honestly doesn't mean much to me, is the fact that it's vegan. On one hand, I do respect and appreciate Dollar Tree for trying to cater to as many people as possible, and staying on top of current trends; with many vegan products being sold for excessive markups, I suppose it's nice that this can be had for such a small price. That being said, it's basically the only "vegan" thing I've seen in the store (I don't even think they have vegan food products), so I highly doubt anyone who identifies as "vegan" is going to go out of their way, to a dollar store, just to buy mediocre soap. But hey, I could be wrong!

At any rate, despite the mention of “charcoal”, the bar is light, and the suds go on pretty light, too. I’m not sure what amount of charcoal has to be in something to gain the “benefits” of the stuff, whatever they may be, but I’d imagine it would have to be more than this. In fact, if there was no mention of it anywhere on the packaging, there would be no way to tell any is in there at all.

Despite the previous six paragraphs indicating the contrary, it’s not an entire waste of money: there really is a lot of soap here for the price. And using almost any soap is better than not using any at all; the scent might be weak, but at least it’s better than BO, so I will definitely finish the bar. But it’s not one that you’re going to want to use before a night out on the town, or a romantic evening in, so it’s relegated to those days when I’ll be doing my best to stay far away from everyone.

So I guess it will get more use than I thought, after all.

Overall: 4.5/10. This is a hugely disappointing soap bar that preys on consumers with the oldest scam in the book: by overloading its surface with fragrance, and then putting virtually none in the rest of it. It’s light on lather (which is a “con” in my book, although others might appreciate that), and outside of the packaging, contains virtually no signs that there’s charcoal anywhere in it at all. There are some plusses: the bar is huge, and even light-scented soap is better than none at all. It's also vegan, and made in the U.S.A., two things that are pretty rare inside Dollar Tree, but also two things that don't really mean much to me personally. I certainly won't be grabbing another one once my current supply runs out.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Assured for Men Men's Face and Body Wipes (Dollar Tree)

A pack of Assured for Men Men's Face and Body Wipes
Great performance, phenomenal value.

A few months back, I scooped up another brand of men's wipes to test out at Dollar Tree, and was fairly impressed with the results. Well, it seems like since that time, Dollar Tree has stopped carrying that brand (The Nobleman) – which offered several different varieties – and instead has put all of their men's wipes focus on their Assured for Men Face and Body Wipes.

These start things off by making a rather bold claim in small print on their packaging: “Compare to Dude Face Wipes”. Now, I have to be honest that I've never tried those before, but Dollar Tree's version certainly fixes the reason why: price. While the "Dude" brand's regular, flushable wipes are priced a little more straightforward, their face wipes are almost prohibitively expensive, at least for someone like me, who couldn't possibly stand the thought of shelling out $5 for 30 wipes. What male would? They really just feel like the “pink tax” put in reverse: a company saw how overpriced and popular female face wipes were – which makes a little more sense considering women will pay small fortunes for skin care regimens – and figured they could make a killing marketing the same thing, only with a scent engineered to be more pleasant toward male nostrils.

Now, despite my unfamiliarity with that product, one thing's for sure: If Assured's version works even half as well, there's some massive value to be had here, with these packages offering up the same amount of wipes - for 80% of the cost. And really, how can a “wipe” go wrong? It's one of those things that doesn't really do anything that's visually obvious; I suppose it can remove dirt and grime, as it claims, but I still tend to stick to good ol' soap and water for that. To me, wipes are just a way to get the "unseen" oils and skin issues off your skin, or as a way to "freshen up" on those days I don't have time (or the want) to shower. So my criteria is perhaps much less stringent than other users: as long as it makes your skin feel "refreshed" after using it, and it doesn't have an off-putting scent, then it's pretty much a win in my book.

Assured's wipes offer up a soft scent that, according to our four-year-old son, smells like lemons, which is true. But don't be turned off quite yet: it doesn't come anywhere near approaching the fakey strong lemon scent of cleaning products, a smell I would have expected out of a similar dollar store product years ago. Instead, it's a rather soft scent that I would dare describe as rather “pleasant” - at least, a lot moreso than I was initially expecting (and a lot moreso than my natural scent after a busy day).

The only other male wipes I've used were the aforementioned cooling wipes from "The Nobleman" brand. Even though these don't have “cooling” mentioned anywhere on the packaging, they still offer up a similar feeling when applied on the skin. It might not approach the same levels of “cooling” those wipes did, but they still really do leave your skin feeling slightly invigorated, and seem to do an admirable job of covering up those strong male smells that most women are never cursed to deal with (my wife, for example, can go days without showering and still smell like a delicate flower; I skip a day and smell like I ran a New York City marathon).

It also improves upon the main issue I had with “The Nobleman”: Assured's version offers resealable packaging, in the form of a snap-close lid. This is much better than “The Nobleman's” method of closing, which consisted of an adhesive, and a thin flap of plastic packaging...something akin to most brand of baby wipes. This means it's much easier to ensure that your wipes are protected from those deadly air molecules, looking to sap every bit of moisture out of each wipe like a predator combing the desert for food. Often, the enclosures on Dollar Tree products aren't the best, and are prone to breaking, but I've used several packages of these, and haven't yet had an issue with the snap enclosure, no matter how many times I've opened and shut them.

No matter how you look at these, these are pretty darn fantastic. But taking into account the value when compared to the name brand, that puts these on another level. Again, I've never used the name brand, so I can't specifically compare the performance between the two, but I can't imagine that they “work” five times better. 

I mean, it's a wipe.

Overall: 9/10. They're wipes: they leave your skin feeling much better than not showering, and offer up a pleasantly soft lemon scent that seem to mask male odors well. Another huge plus over similar Dollar Tree products I've tried: they have a lid that snaps shut, locking in the moisture much better than the flimsy baby wipe-style adhesives. But where these really shine is value: a 30-count pack is just $1 (like everything else in DT), which is $4 cheaper than the brand they "dare" you to compare them to on the packaging (and for the same wipe count). Even if their “performance” isn't quite as good as those – and really how much better can one wipe be over another – the price differential is certainly enough to compensate for that. A great product for any male to have on hand, and at a fantastic price to boot.


Friday, April 16, 2021

Happy Farms Mozzarella String Cheese (Aldi)

An opened package of Happy Farms Mozzarella String Cheese
An affordably-delicious snack for all ages.

There are foods that everyone seems to have in their lunches in elementary school, and chief among them is probably string cheese. I don't know whose idea it was to make cheese into a peel-able pillar, but more power to them, because it seems to be the food that defies generations and continues to be popular, even as technology improves and makes other fads obsolete. Like many things that youngsters enjoy (cable television, R-rated movies), I was deprived of string cheese as a child. There were no reasons in particular, besides the simple notion that I just never really bothered my mom to buy any. And even though I vaguely remember trying it (and liked it) as a youngster, it apparently wasn't enough for me to request my mom constantly keeping some on hand.

But thanks to having a childish wife (which is used as a term of endearment here) - and then an actual child - string cheese has finally made a more consistent appearance in my life as a thirtysomething! And of course, our trusted provider of the completely unnecessary snack, is Aldi, which offer 12 packs for the reasonable rate of $2.49 per pack. And my go-to kind has been perhaps the only cheese that I have loved since I was a child: mozzarella.

This story starts the same way as most do: we bought a package of these for our son, and I used my parental privileges to steal one for myself. I really can't remember the texture of most string cheeses, but I'd imagine this is pretty much the same right out of the pack: it's soft. I also can't compare the “stringiness” to others, but I'll admit to being a little off-put when I started pulling it apart, only to discover that it looks like a fraying rope. Really, is this what kids find so attractive about string cheese? I thought it pulled apart “cleaner” for some reason, and the only reason it was “string” cheese was because it could be peeled into sections, but it definitely lives up to its literal name.

Aside from that, it's pretty much mozzarella cheese, which is what you should be hoping for when you buy a mozzarella cheese product. I'm not sure the manufacturing process to make cheese stringy, but I'm wondering if it involves rather large quantities of salt, because this seems to be saltier than most regular mozzarella cheeses that I've had. It's not that super-noticeable, but it's definitely there. Other than that, though, it has a nice, mild flavor—maybe a little too mild—yet accurate for the kind of cheese that it is. The taste is close enough that I no longer have to eat shredded mozzarella, where I would risk spilling more all over the floor (or the kitchen sink) than I actually managed to get into my mouth.

It's really the perfect snack for those occasions when you want something to eat that you can also peel, but you're all out of bananas. We don't always keep these on hand (our tastes seem to vary from week to week), but it's one of those items that everyone in the family unanimously likes, so we get them more frequently than I ever have at any other point in my life. I guess considering I rarely got it as a kid, that's a statement that would apply by default, but still...it's good.

Overall: 8/10. It seems to be a little saltier than normal mozzarella, but other than that, this is a pretty tasty little snack. It has a nice, light cheese flavor, and peeling it is a breeze. The price is pretty solid at $3.09 for a 10 oz. package (of 12 individually-wrapped cheese sticks), giving you either a couple of weeks' worth of school lunches, or multiple days' worth of snacks at home. We don't always have these on hand, but considering it's one of the few products the whole family seems to enjoy, we have them more often than not.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

GUEST POST! Unbranded Sprinkle Unicorn Birthday Cake Ice Cream Pints (Dollar Tree)

Want to hear our initial thoughts and impressions of this ice cream live, as it happened? Then have a listen to this episode of our radio show!

A pint of Dollar Tree's Unbranded Sprinkle Unicorn Birthday Cake Ice Cream
It ain't bad, and it's a blowout price for a pint of ice cream.

Once again, I’m not the foremost expert of the family when it comes to flavors of things named after mythical creatures, so I’m going to have my wife fill in the blanks on this one. Again, we already reviewed these on our radio show, so this review just functions as a text recap for those who would rather read than listen. Her words follow, starting...NOW!

It’s got good texture, nice and soft, the way an ice cream should be. It also tastes pretty good for what it is, although I also think the limitations of being a dollar store product hinder it from being anything more than that. It’s just a blue ice cream flavored like cake with sprinkles and little pockets of icing. I would have liked it more if it had actual pieces of cake in there, but that is probably impossible at this price point. Again, it’s good for being a dollar, but no one is ever going to confuse this with an actual premium brand. There’s just not enough there. Oh, and the blue stains your mouth for hours after eating it. I understand if it did that a little bit - and I understand that it might make it even more fun for children - but it’s like they poured an entire bottle of blue food coloring into every pint. I wish they would have toned that down a little bit more, too.

I will say that the value in the ice creams aren't quite as good as the sherbet; you can get full 48 oz. cartons of ice creams for around $2 at places like Aldi and Walmart, at least here in the Midwest (it would take 3 pints and $3 to reach 42 oz., still leaving you 6 oz. short). However, it's a pretty solid price for a pint, which are usually more expensive (per ounce) to get you into buying the larger containers. Like everything else, it all comes down to personal preference. I kind of like the size, since it mostly discourages waste...not that ice cream typically goes to waste in our house, but still. And the pints are definitely a more compact size than the cartons, which take up more freezer space. At any rate, given the low cost, it’s certainly worth a try. And you might want to act fast on that, considering I’m sure they’ll be pretty much consistently sold out all throughout summer.

Overall: 6/10. This one isn’t as much of a cut-and-dry success as the orange sherbet, but it’s definitely better than most of the other varieties. The blue-colored ice cream aggressively sticks to everything (the insides of your mouth will be painted dark blue for hours), and my wife would have liked to have seen actual cake pieces (instead of just icing and sprinkles blended in throughout), but for a dollar, she was impressed with the overall taste. Value isn’t as great as the sherbet (would cost $3 to buy 42 oz. worth of ice cream, which is 6 oz. less than the standard 48 oz. carton size; here in the Midwest, we can get 48 oz. cartons for around $2 at Walmart and Aldi), but it’s still very reasonable. Worth a try if you’re into it, and great as a summertime treat for the kids, but it probably won’t win over any non-fans of unicorn products.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Great Value Cookies and Cream Ice Cream (Walmart)

A carton of Great Value's Cookies and Cream ice cream
Unexpectedly fantastic.

I’m not going to launch into another long-winded intro about why I was shopping at Walmart, and why I rarely shop there, despite their reputation as providers of budget-minded products, much like the ones I review for a living (“Living”? Ha! I wish). I already did that in a previous post, so let’s just jump right into it for once, shall we?

I really didn’t know what to expect when I grabbed a carton of Walmart’s cookies and cream ice cream, which is released under their “Great Value” brand name; this is because I don't recall ever having Walmart ice cream of any kind before. I have to admit I was expecting something "cheapy"...maybe harder ice cream with only occasional cookie pieces throughout. To say that I didn't have high hopes would be...well, accurate. I mean, who has high hopes for anything from Walmart? Usually when you go there you just want something cheap and passable. 

I have to say that it’s good at making first impressions: this looks like a quality cookies and cream ice cream, with a good color, and loads of cookies evident just from a quick glance. However, as we all know, looks aren’t quite everything. There have been many instances of products being “top-heavy” to fool consumers - that is, items that put forth extra effort to mislead consumers by appearing to be full of something at first glance, only to quickly taper off. It’s very common in cheap candles, where the scent is overloaded so that when customers take a sniff in store, it smells strong, but when they actually go to burn it, the scent gets weaker and weaker.

Well, thankfully I can report that Great Value’s ice cream isn’t guilty of false promises: there are rather large cookie chunks all the way throughout, virtually guaranteeing that you won’t go more than a bite without sinking your teeth into delicious chocolate cookie morsels. They taste as you would expect: like the same kind found in chocolate sandwich cookies. Meanwhile, the ice cream itself is surprisingly rich and creamy, two qualities I wasn’t expecting to describe anything from Walmart.

It’s almost in the “churned” style, with a very soft cream that melts rather quickly. The positive side to this is that it can be eaten directly out of the freezer using a plastic spoon; that’s a claim not even many expensive brands can lay claim to. And speaking of price: a 48 oz. container comes in at just $1.97...that’s roughly on price with what you can expect to pay for Aldi’s “standard” ice creams, and, quite frankly, this flavor blows away their cookies and cream. I mean, it’s not even close. If that’s not the very definition of value, then I don’t know what is!

When all is said and done, this is one of the best cookies and cream ice creams I’ve ever had: factor in the price and that just makes it an almost required purchase for fans of this flavor. Pick it up: you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 10/10. I feel wrong giving anything a perfect score, let alone something from Walmart, but in this case it’s well-deserved: this ice cream is damn near flawless. It’s rich, creamy, and so delectably soft that you can eat it straight out of the freezer with a plastic spoon...that’s not a claim even many expensive brands can live up to. And speaking of price, a half gallon tub is just $1.97, making it one of the cheaper store brands for ice cream. There are plenty of cookies spread throughout too, ensuring you rarely (if ever) go a bite without a mouthful of them. Maybe I just got lucky with a great batch, but it's almost good enough of a reason to go there more frequently. Almost.

Unbranded/Generic Chocolate Fudge Swirl Ice Cream (Dollar Tree)

Want to hear our first impressions about Dollar Tree ice creams live? Click here to listen to this episode of our radio show!

A pint of Dollar Tree's Unbranded Chocolate Fudge Swirl ice cream
It grew on me a bit since we taste-tested it live, but still far from flawless.

Just a quick rundown in case you’re joining us late: Dollar Tree sells ice cream now! Yes, real ice cream…not that “frozen dairy dessert” crap that they used to carry that’s mostly vegetable oil. And best of all, they’re available in full pints, giving you a good bit of the stuff, for a very attractive, reasonable price. My wife and I reviewed these live on the air in our radio show, but we’re providing these written recaps for those that might not enjoy listening to two people talking into a microphone.

This one both grew on me, then lost me a bit, which I guess cancels each other out? During the recording of the radio episode, my first impressions were that the chocolate was too bitter, and not an ice cream I would typically get. Well, after downing the rest of the pint (in successive days), I have to say that the chocolate ice cream itself is actually very good. My other initial observations were correct: it’s still not very sweet, but it’s got a delicious, inviting texture, and a flavor that balances on the “bittersweet” beam quite well, and that becomes even better the more you eat it.

However, I must also say that digging further into the pint reveals one of the ways Dollar Tree is able to offer these at such a tempting price: there’s hardly any fudge swirls at all. There aren’t many chocolate chips, either, but the ratio between the two certainly favors the chocolate chip side, as there were some small pockets with multiple chips clustered together.

My question, after running into the same problem (albeit worse) in the cookies and cream variety I reviewed: why have they gone and done this? The base chocolate flavor is good enough to function as a chocolate ice cream all on its own, and ditto that for the vanilla in the cookies and cream version, so why try to add extra things in there if it’s too costly to make it good? Obviously, we all know there has to be a limit on what can be offered for a dollar, and I think we’re seeing it being stretched beyond useful means here.

Alternatively, why can’t they offer slightly smaller sizes - like what they do with the name brand candy bar ice creams they sell - and then just load those up with more toppings and goodies? I think that would be more of a win for the consumer than selling pints with barely anything in them. Or, maybe even better yet, offer just plain flavors, but with a little endcap or something nearby with individual containers of toppings, like sprinkles and hot fudge, and little recipe cards suggesting ideas on things shoppers can add themselves, to make their own personal ice cream creations. After all, what could beat having an ice cream bar at home with the family on a hot summer’s day?

At any rate, most of these ice creams, straight from the carton, function as solid reminders that there are limits to just how far a dollar can carry you.

Overall: 5/10. I more or less swore these off in our live radio episode, but after sitting down to the rest of the pint (over two days, mind you) I have to say that I definitely grew to appreciate the bittersweet chocolate flavor of the ice cream a little bit more. And the texture is on par with other “premium” ice creams, offering up a soft, almost creamy finish that can easily be eaten with a plastic spoon, right out of the freezer. Where it fails, however, is in the decision to add more to the chocolate base: there’s barely any fudge swirls or chocolate chips to be had, which automatically takes the end result down a few levels. Why not offer just plain flavors (chocolate and vanilla, at least), along with recipe cards and endcaps full of toppings and add-ins, encouraging patrons to make their own ice cream bars at home, instead? That would be a win-win for everyone involved.


Monday, April 12, 2021

GUEST POST! Unbranded Orange Sherbet Pints (Dollar Tree)

Want to hear our reactions and first impressions live? Then click here to listen to our live audio broadcast, in which we review four of Dollar Tree's ice cream/sherbet pints. 

A pint of Dollar Tree's Unbranded Orange Sherbet
It's legit.

I don’t really care about sherbet too much at all, so I figured my wife would be the better person to talk to about these pints, available from Dollar Tree. We already reviewed these on our radio show, and have just been incredibly lackadaisical about putting the print version down...oops. This one’s relatively quick because who has time to write reviews? Her words follow starting now:

I don’t know how to go about reviewing these, because it’s a sherbet and it’s orange...I don’t know how (or why) my husband does this. It looks and tastes like orange sherbet should. What does that mean? That it’s a perfect product? I guess. Either way, I would definitely get it again.

Well there you have it: succinct and to the point, as always. One point I would like to add to this - well, two actually: 1.) The fact she would get it again is a pretty big statement coming from her, because she is very picky about dollar store products; and 2.) This is a pretty solid value. It takes three of these to equal the normal 48 oz. carton size, and that size retails for $2.97 (just three pennies less) at Walmart, for their store brand.

So essentially, it’s the same price, which is actually kind of a cool thing, considering smaller quantities are usually more expensive in order to encourage you to buy the larger containers. This way you can get a single serve for the same price, per ounce, without the excessive “pint-size” markup you face virtually everywhere. And this size also reduces the chance that you’ll end up having to throw half the carton away when you get sick of it after eating two bowls...at least, that’s what always seems to happen at our house.

Overall: 10/10. As much as I want to, I’m afraid I can’t really deduct any scores for this one: my wife’s suggestion is right. It looks like orange sherbet, has the same texture as other sherbets, and tastes like orange sherbet...and all that at the same price (per ounce) as most other store brands, making it an excellent value on top of everything else. I mean, how much better can you possibly get? If you see this in your local Dollar Tree’s freezer, pick it up...chances are good these will constantly be sold out as the weather continues to get even warmer.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Unbranded Cookies and Cream Ice Cream (Dollar Tree)

We also reviewed Dollar Tree pints live on our radio show. Click here if you would rather listen.

A pint of Dollar Tree's Unbranded Cookies and Cream ice cream
It might be made with the finest ingredients...unfortunately "cookie" doesn't seem to be one of them.

Our local Dollar Tree always seems to have empty shelves every single time I go. Anyone else have this problem? I mean, I go at different times and on different days, so it’s not like I just happen to go right after busy nights or weekends, and yet the end result is always the same. Typically, they have rows upon rows of boxes lined up in virtually every aisle, either from restockers who have left, or have yet to come in; it’s rather annoying, if I’m being honest. Moral of the story? Yesterday the shelves were empty, but without boxes everywhere, which I guess was better from a shopping perspective, but annoyed me in a completely different way: So now they’re just not going to stock the shelves? Do they know they’re out of everything? When’s the next truck coming? Haha, I guess they’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

At any rate, I was actually so annoyed at the emptiness that I nearly left without getting anything, but eventually, cooler heads prevailed (along with the realization that I couldn’t really leave since I was also there to get a couple of things for my wife, who would not have been pleased had I come home empty-handed). And speaking of the “cooler”, that’s where I ended up…well, more specifically the freezer.

The Dollar Tree freezer is an enigma. It’s always there, and the products inside are almost always the same, yet I still always trek over there, as if there’s going to be a hidden surprise, or something. I especially didn’t expect anything to catch my eye on a day when the store looked like it was looted during riots…but of course, that’s exactly the time it would be! With several new pints of ice cream flavors!

Dollar Tree has almost always had “ice cream” in their freezers, but outside of name brand bars and other small novelty products, the actual cartons were not technically ice cream after all, but always “frozen dairy dessert”. What’s the difference, you may be wondering? Well, thanks to a quick Google search, the results are in…frozen dairy dessert is made with vegetable oil, while ice cream is not. However, these are not “frozen dairy dessert” impostors, but rather, real life ice cream! It even says so on the top of the lid, lest you think it’s their usual knockoff junk.

Well, today we’ll be looking at their version of cookies and cream, which is currently my favorite type of iced cream (although cookie dough has been quickly rising through the ranks here lately). Oh, right off the bat we run into a little trouble here, and see where the dollar price point seems to be quite a hindrance: there just aren’t many cookies.

We thought maybe the batch just didn’t get mixed well, and there would be a bunch of cookies at the bottom to make up for it, but that was not the case. What we have here is a glorified vanilla ice cream, with little specks of what I would assume to be chocolate cookie all throughout (it’s either that for vanilla bean, but I wouldn’t assume to have that at this price point); interspersed between the small flecks, about every fifth to tenth bite, are slightly larger chunks of cookie.

As with the other varieties, you can tell it’s real ice cream (even outside of the boasting on the lid) because the texture is soft and rather creamy. I thought this would be one of those ice creams that get hard the longer they sit in the freezer, but there was no need to microwave them at all (which my wife does to soften some brands up)...you can even eat it with a plastic spoon right out of the freezer. And, for whatever little it’s worth, the vanilla ice cream is actually pretty darn good. I mean, that’s kind of a moot point, because I didn’t want, nor pay, for just vanilla, but it definitely tastes like legit ice cream, rather than frozen skim milk, like the “frozen dairy desserts” tend to taste like.

Overall: 3/10. Honestly, this might be the most flat-out disappointing flavor I’ve tried from DT, although it might just appear that way because it’s the one I wanted to try the most, and had the highest hopes for. The vanilla ice cream is actually pretty good, and the texture is surprisingly creamy and soft, even immediately out of the freezer, which helps to save this from a lower score. Plus, there’s the whole getting a pint of actual ice cream for a buck thing, which is pretty impressive. However, if you’re actually looking for cookies to go with your cream - as I did, otherwise I would have just bought vanilla - then you’ll either have to buy a pack of our own to crush up into the pint, or if you just want to bypass that unnecessary step, you’ll have to get a better brand - and pay more - elsewhere.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Savoritz Four Cheese Parmesan Crisps (Aldi)

A bag of Savoritz Four Cheese Parmesan Crisps
Warning: may replace your heroin addiction.


Usually I give some semi-long, rambling build-up to the actual review. This is used to "create suspense", I suppose, but also to feel like I’m actually doing work and accomplishing something, as it would only take me 10 or so minutes to type up just the review part. And I feel like you guys deserve more than just a half-assed effort. 

But you know what? I'm going to jump into this one by foregoing all that additional BS and just exclaim right off the bat that these are incredible. You know when you’re cooking (or in my case, when my wife is cooking) something with lots of cheese, and some of that cheese falls over the edge onto the cookie sheet, and turns into a blacked, crispy mess? Do you know the incredible taste of those? Well that’s about what these are: an entire bag of circular, crunchy spheres made up entirely of crunchy clusters of cheese, only without the burnt taste (which I actually happen to like, but to each their own). 

And talk about "all natural": the ingredient list consists of nothing but cheese. And as you can tell from the title, there are actually four of them: aged parmesan, romano, asiago, and provolone. You can’t go wrong with any one of those, but what about all four? As it turns out, you can’t go wrong with that either. Usually white cheeses are known for providing "milder" taste as opposed to many non-white cheeses, but mixing four together obviously heightens their overall intensity. The end result is something that's closer to a "mild cheddar" in terms of flavor profile, but still a horse of its own color, if that's even a saying. Either way, I'd say it's a pretty universal taste that most cheese fans - regardless of their usual preference - are really going to take to. 

Most people put these in salads, or soups, or other things, but I tend to eat them directly out of the bag. This isn’t because I don’t think it would be good in those things - quite the contrary, I think they would be good in virtually everything - it’s just that once I get started eating them, I can’t seem to put the bag down. And on the rare occasions I do make a soup or salad while I have these on hand, I always seem to forget to add them.

Even though this has got to be one of my favorite Aldi products ever, I have to say there’s one rather big hindrance preventing this from earning a perfect score, and it’s rather surprising: price. A 2.11 oz. bag retails for a rather high $2.89. That’s only about a dime savings over buying the name brand version from Walmart!

It’s made to feel even more expensive considering the small bag size. Since these are typically used as “accessories” to salads and other foods, I thought maybe there was a lot more in there than it seemed. But there’s not: according to the serving information, one serving is approximately 19 crisps, and there are approximately 2 servings per back. That means you’re paying roughly $1.45 per serving! On the plus side, that means it’s probably made by the same company as the national brand, but on the other, the savings aren’t even all that worth it over buying the name brand.

Shame on you Aldi...I expect this from other stores, but not you! And why did they even go through all the trouble of making this into a private label product, when they could have just carried the regular brand, at roughly the same price? 

Overall: 9/10. This taste is so incredibly delicious, that this is one of the few things I get addicted to: Once I start eating them, I literally have to force myself to stop...and by the time I do, half the package is usually gone. The cheese flavor is rather strong, but completely authentic, as the four cheese blend mentioned on the packaging are the only ingredients in the entire ingredient list. The biggest drawback is one I wouldn't have expected: price. Each 2.11 oz. container, which contains roughly 38 "smaller than a quarter but larger than a dime" cheese spheres, costs $2.89. That's only about a dime difference over the same size bag at Walmart...for the national brand. Why did Aldi even make this private label in the first place, as opposed to just carrying the regular brand? They're phenomenal, but not very value oriented. 


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

SELLERS' SPOT: An App That Should Be More Well-Known Among Small- to Medium-Scale Sellers: An In-Depth Review of Classadlister (App)

NOTE: This review was originally posted on a separate blog I had a couple of years back, which has since folded. It is being reposted here, as part of a small series on third-party marketplaces, as many readers may sell items themselves, or be interested in starting. And what could be more budget-minded than earning some extra money?!

Also, this app was reviewed on our radio show! If you'd rather listen to me ramble on about it in audio form, rather than read my ramblings via text, click here.
Classadlister Logo
Unfairly ignored.


DISCLAIMER: Based on my love for this app, which I stumbled upon on my own, I did reach out to the developer, and briefly assisted with creating the Classadlister support forums (since defunct) about two years ago; I was neither paid nor reimbursed in any way for my time nor was I ever asked to write a review for it. In fact, the developer was never aware of this blog, or that I even posted it at all.

---

Since I only sell part-time, I initially figured that I didn’t need to invest in anything to help me post and manage my inventory. After all, I tended to only get a handful of items every month, or so, and never saw a point to streamlining any of that. For a little while, when I was only posting to one or two different sites, that theory held up fairly well.

Then I started to expand my reach to as many marketplaces as I could handle, and that’s when the reality of my situation started to set in: I needed help. Posting the same things over and over, manually to multiple sites, might not have felt all that time consuming as I was doing it, but it certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to go about things. So after looking into many multi-channel selling tools, most of them geared toward large businesses and carrying a hefty monthly fee, I finally found what I hoped would be a diamond in the rough: Classadlister.

There wasn't much out there on this app, aside from a couple video reviews and online tutorials—to be honest, I don’t even remember what search string lead me to it on Google—but my thinking was that if it even delivered half of what it promised, it would be a pretty useful tool to help save me some time.

As I alluded to before, Classadlister is a multi-channel listing tool, which means that it helps you to list your items to several online marketplaces. There are no shortage of such programs out there, but there are a couple things that set it apart from the competition: 1.) It’s entirely a mobile-based app (with support for Android only; sorry Apple users), and 2.) It is one of the few such programs that “integrates” with eCrater which, despite its rather negative connotation in the selling community, somehow continues to be my favorite third-party marketplace.

NAVIGATION/APPEARANCE

The main screen. Oof, that's an eyesore.

This isn’t the prettiest app to look at, by far. For starters, the color scheme is pretty atrocious and uninviting. Navigational choices are offered at the top of the app, in the form of icons that can be rather confusing to those that aren’t familiar with it. A three button navigational button in the top right offers some miscellaneous options, such as the ability to use an external scanner, watch a quick-start video, check for updates, or offers support via a message forum. It’s all a one-man show, and it shows.

But as the annoyingly clich├ęd adage states: “You should never judge a book by its cover,” and this is one of those instances where doing so can be a grave mistake: the functionality is through the roof, a welcome trade-off for a more polished, appealing design. I’ve had this app for over two years now, and it’s the only one I truly swear by, frequently managing my workload around the features of this app.

Navigation can be a little cumbersome at first—it could probably benefit from a main menu of some sort to help organize things—but overall it’s a pretty serviceable setup as-is, and becomes even easier (and more sensical) once you get into the swing of using it.

EASE OF USE



Here’s where the app will technically take some dings, but it’s not necessarily its fault: as with most fully-featured programs, this one is going to take some getting used to. And that’s probably the biggest problem stunting its growth: No one that sells full-time, and who probably already has a selling plan in place, is going to take time away from selling to learn a completely new product from the ground up. I’d say it took me about a solid week before I felt like I had gotten the hang of it enough to comfortably use it, and even though I’ve been using it for over six months now, there are no doubt features and tricks that I’m still using wrong, or not using at all. It’s really a feature-rich app, but with all of those features comes a learning curve that will no doubt be a turn-off to many.

However, there are at least some signs that the app may become more "user friendly": When I first started using it, the most helpful reference was a 50+-minute tutorial video that pretty much just showed you the basics; thankfully, the developer has since simplified the process by shortening it into a 15-minute “quick start” video that should have you up and running in…well…fifteen minutes. They also now have support forums, too, which give the same info as above, along with granting users the ability to ask specific questions. (The forums have since been taken down, with a single 32-page Google Doc document explaining how to set it up replacing it. The app has also been removed from Google Play, and is only available via APK. More on this later.)

Arguably, the most difficult aspect of the app is the one-time setup of eBay API, which just might be the single biggest requirement to getting the most out of the program. Once you get this set up, you will be able to pull information from existing eBay listings, to your own product page, saving you loads of time from having to manually input everything yourself. Setup took me around half an hour, and a few tries, to get everything in working order; those that are familiar with setting these up should be up and running in under ten minutes. Even if you have no technical experience, as long as you can carefully follow instructions, you should be able to do it yourself with little problem.

Once you set up eBay's API, you'll be able to auto-fill results from that site.

There is also an option to set up Amazon MWS, which I would imagine would be very similar to the eBay process; this would allow you to get Amazon search results based on the UPC. If you sell a lot of Amazon items, or sell directly on Amazon, this would be a great feature; however, note that you must be registered as a professional seller on Amazon to use it, which costs $40/month. Since I have no interest in selling there, especially for such an expensive charge, I just go without.

I definitely wouldn’t call it “easy” at first, but like anything else, the more and more you work with it, the more the listing steps become second nature, and the more rewarding it becomes.

FEATURES

Classadlister is certainly feature-rich, to the point that I still continue to learn new things from time-to-time. It’s obvious that it was created by someone who sells himself, because it touches on many different aspects of the selling process. There is no way I could possibly explain everything it can do in a single post, but these are some of the features that I would consider to be most important; obviously, this is subjective, and your opinions may vary.

Just a sampling of the supported sites, which covers almost all the major players.

The app supports posting to sixteen (as of this writing) different sites. This is the way it works, and it works differently than some: You create a product in the Classadlister app, complete with all pertinent information such as product photos, description, weight and dimensions, as well as Google Shopping traits (GTIN, MPN, and Brand). From there, you select where you want to post the item to, the app takes you to that site, autofills in all the fields based on your input, and voila! Listed item! Now, the site does not autolist items—you may have to manually go to the “add product” page of some sites, select categories, and press the “list” button when everything is done—but it does a great job of automating much of the process. (Besides, apps that autopost things are frequently frowned upon and weeded out by online marketplaces, as it can allow scammers to flood them with fake listings.)

For example, the in-camera barcode scanner pulls results from eBay, Amazon, eBid, and Semantics3 (if available), and can autofill the title, description, price, UPC, and MPN. Now, in my experience, the description just auto-defaults into repeating the title, but there are also in-app links to Google Shopping results, which makes it real easy to copy and paste manufacturer descriptions and grab stock photos, if that’s your thing. You can even add site-specific header and footer text, which appears at the top or bottom (respectively) of all posts added to that particular site—and you can have separate header and footer text for each site you sell on.

If you're forced to make a listing from scratch, it's a pretty quick, painless process.

Each item also has a “Listing Journal” at the bottom, which shows you where and when your items were listed (through the app; it can't detect postings made elsewhere), and for how much. This automatically gets updated every time you list something (or, at least, it should; I have noticed it misses some listings occasionally), but can also be manually updated. Obviously, this can help you see where it's been posted, but its usefulness goes beyond listing. Once you sell something, for example, you can list it as “Sold” in the journal, and add the tracking number under the “Value” field. Now you have a mobile record of the tracking number for that product, should any future issues arise. It's a really nice touch that shows you the care and attention that went into creating it.

On the issue of “security” is another area where Classadlister will either succeed or falter, depending on how strict you are in guarding your personal info: Working in its favor, you never have to log in to the app—all of your information is stored on a database file located directly on your device. That means your files aren’t floating around in a cloud somewhere, or stored where other people have access to them—they are on your device only. The flipside to this, is that all your login info is automatically stored in Classadlister (assuming you added it in the “settings” section during your initial setup; it’s what allows the app to autofill login info to save time), so if your device gets lost or stolen, people could, in theory, be able to use the app to auto log-in to your selling sites, or figure out your passwords by finding the “Settings” folder.

One thing I failed to mention: There are a shit-ton of reports and tasks that can be run to help keep you organized.

There are a myriad of other features and benefits that would take too long for me to explain, but needless to say this app covers a lot of ground for the small-to-mid-size seller. Just remember that it is first and foremost a multi-channel listing app, as it alludes to in the title, so don’t go in expecting it to be your all-in-one business solution. And if you only sell in one marketplace, especially if it's one of the hugely popular ones (i.e. eBay and/or Amazon) it won’t save you as much time as an integrated business solution would.

FEES/PRICING

It seems that the fee structure for using the app has changed a few times since its initial release in 2014, and thus is subject to change at any point in the future, but as of this writing, it will only set you back a mere $2.99/month for the full app the fees are on a donation basis. That's right, you basically decide what (if anything) you want to pay. There used to be a footer that ran along the bottom for unpaid members (something along the lines of “This product was posted using Classadlister. Download it yourself!”), but now you get the entire program, completely for free. Obviously, if you get some good use out of it, I'd strongly suggest making a donation, as it's a one-man show, and that would help encourage further support and updates.

This has nothing to do with pricing, but you can even add custom fields for notes to yourself.

Even at the original $3/month price, it was a steal. Multi-channel selling tools are oddly rather hard-to-find, and if you do manage to find one, they are often geared toward large-scale sellers with a hefty monthly fee. It's a shame (and also rather confounding) that it hasn't caught on at all at some point through the years, because it's a wonderful program that covers more bases than it appears to at first glance.

SUPPORT

The support forum.

(UPDATE: The forums have since been taken down. However, an email from the developer was finally answered, and confirmed that he is still actively developing the app.)

This is the department where the app really shines, because the support is second-to-none. Seriously, this guy goes above and beyond the call of duty…sometimes to an annoying degree. Got a marketplace request? He will do whatever he can to add it to the app. Have a feature idea? Suggest it to him, and if he likes it, he will work hard to implement it in a future update. As he has told me in the past, he hates to lose a customer, and will do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Responses to technical questions are answered quickly, and though I believe the verbiage touting the benefits of becoming a paid subscriber makes it sound like paying members get priority responses, I always received an answer to questions within the hour, even before I started paying the subscription cost. Seriously, if there’s such a thing as “too much support”, this developer would be guilty of that.

As for app updates, they were offered on an almost daily basis when I started using it back in June, 2018, but their frequency seem to come and go in phases. After all, he is a guy with a family and full-time job, so this is something he works on only as time permits. That makes it very understandable, then, that there weren’t many changes during the fourth quarter, a time when the holidays like to consume everyone’s time; there have already been a couple updates since February, as well as the implementation of a brand new retail arbitrage feature geared toward eBay and Amazon sellers (it requires an Amazon seller account, so I won't be test driving it at any point in the near future.)
While it's unfortunate the app isn't more popular than it is, at least this means the developer has more time to answer user questions!

There is also a support forum that has recently been implemented to handle requests/questions. I haven’t used it to see how quickly responses are handled, but I’d imagine it would be pretty quick. And if that doesn’t work, you always have email as a fallback option.

OVERALL

PROS (+)

+Great mobile multi-channel listing solution (one of the only ones that I know of).
+Free version is full version (though it does include ads and a footer at the end of all free listings)
+Great value at just $2.99/month. (Has since gone to a donation-based model)
+Listing support for a growing number of online marketplaces
+Phenomenal email support from developer.
+No sign-ins to remember or accounts to create.

NEUTRAL (+/-)
*Can be used on PC using an Android emulator (such as Bluestacks)
*No Bonanza or OfferUp support (which isn't the developer's fault; it's the way those systems are set up)

CONS (-)

-Android only
-Learning curve that won’t appeal to more established sellers
-Ugly interface
-Some information must still be manually selected/filled in on listing site (such as categories)
-None of the supported sites are “official” partners, so system changes can create unforeseen compatibility issues with this app.
-The no-password login can be a potential security issue.

A search function helps you find products fast.

I could ramble on and on about this app for even longer than I already have--there are a myriad of other features and benefits that would take too long for me to explain and expand upon--but needless to say this app covers a lot of ground for the small-to-mid-size seller, and is a great listing tool for beginners who are looking for an efficient way to list product and maintain inventory.

There are many cons, the main one being the amount of time it takes to properly learn it, but once it's learned, it's a very rewarding tool that definitely deserves more attention than it has gotten. And with excellent, receptive developer support, you just may see one of your suggestions featured in a future update. What major app can you say that about?

RATING: 7.5/10. (No change. Still a great app, and with confirmed developer support, it makes it one worth checking out for small-to-medium sized multi-channel sellers.)

Sunday, April 4, 2021

SimplyNature Apple Banana Squeezable Fruit Blend (Aldi)

 

Box of SimplyNature Apple Banana Squeezable Fruit Blend pouches
These are tasty little pouches.

I've generally been impressed with anything in a pouch from Aldi. From their other SimplyNature squeezable fruit blends, to their Little Journey Organics line of baby/toddler foods, if it's a semi-liquid in a pouch, and geared toward little ones, chances are you can't go wrong with it.

Originally, they sold these little 3.2 oz. guys individually at the checkout line for $.69 a pop, as they started to replace the junkier impulse buys (chocolate bars, candy, etc.) with healthier options. I didn't think it was that bad of a price...until they stopped doing that and only started selling them in four packs. That's when I realized not even discount grocers like Aldi are above the sneaky practice of marking up goods in the checkout area, as the four packs retail for a ridiculously low $1.65. That's some pretty solid value!

But now comes the true test: how do they taste?

Oh yeah, this is a fantastic little pouch. One of the problems that I had with the Little Journey Organics line is that I could never make out the banana in most of the flavors with “banana” in the title; that's a shame, because it's probably my favorite fruit (though watermelon gives it a nice run for its money). Since it's only one of two featured fruits here, though, the taste is easily recognizable, and also pairs up nicely with the headlining apple. It's a fantastic pairing that's seemingly underutilized. It is pretty sweet, so those that don't have a particularly strong sweet-tooth should probably steer clear, but considering it's geared more toward children, it's probably to be expected.

I know I shouldn't be comparing the two, because they are two different lines, but there are a couple things I miss about the Little Journey Organics pouches: the simple ingredients (all of them consist entirely of purees of whatever fruits/vegetables are in the title, lemon juice concentrate, and added vitamin C), and as I have just mentioned, the added vitamins. With these, all you're pretty much getting are 13g of sugar, some fiber, and that's about it (there is 4% vitamin C and 2% iron, but those are largely negligible). Now, obviously this is still a way healthier alternative than, say, a chocolate bar, and the flavor is really good, but I'd probably lean toward the LJO products if I ever got a craving for children's fruit blends in pouch form.

Even though this one has banana you can actually taste!

Overall: 7.5/10. A great-tasting little snack that's a pretty solid deal, with four 3.2 oz. pouches retailing for just $1.65. The texture is like applesauce, making it ideal for kids of almost any age, while the apple and banana tastes are both pronounced, and go very well together. In other words, it has a flavor that most kids, and probably even adults, are going to enjoy. Definitely recommended.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Eat! Homestyle Kickin' Chicken Alfredo (Dollar Tree)

A package of Eat! Homestyle Kickin' Chicken Alfredo frozen meal
Run far, far away.

Dollar Tree is honestly the worst place in the world to realize that you're hungry. There are some good options, but not that many...and even a majority of the “best”, or most filling options are, well, not all that great. It was with this mindset that I decided to try Kickin' Chicken Alfredo, an addition to their “Eat! Homestyle” line that I had not seen before.

To be perfectly frank, I didn't really have high hopes for this, even from the outset. Alfredo is a delicious, decadent sauce that just doesn't seem to be replicated well in any frozen product, much less one that has to be sold for a dollar (which means it has to be manufactured for even less than that). The main reason, is that a vast majority of them use half and half as a cheaper substitute for the “heavy whipping cream” typically found in real alfredo sauces...and Eat's version is no different. The half and half basically waters it down, which makes it much less thick, which then tends to “fall off” of noodles, rather than sticking to the noodles the way an alfredo sauce should. Plus, it's much less rich to begin with, usually leading to a bland-tasting sauce. And when you've got a dish with “Alfredo” in the name, it should not be bland.

Another strike? The chicken. Frozen meat products are always pretty creepy, and that creepiness certainly doesn't subside the lower you go into the bowels of the frozen food universe. Why do manufacturers always feel the need to put creepy meat products in anything, especially when a vast majority of them would be even better without them? I guess it's so people feel more full after eating them, or think they're getting more food for the price...whatever the reasoning, it doesn't seem to be much of a valid one.

Oh man...right out of the microwave and my stomach is starting to churn. One issue: egg noodles. Yeah, the picture on the front clearly shows you that you're not dealing with fettucine here, but once I saw just how yellow the noodles were, I knew this stood no chance. I like noodles, but for some reason, egg noodles just seem to be one of the worst in the pasta family. Now that I think about it, the main cause of my distaste is because that's what my mom used in her Beef Stroganoff recipe that she would occasionally subject me to growing up; even as a kid, I would eat anything...but that ruined Beef Stroganoff for me, for life. I still won't go near the stuff, and now I'm finding it also ruined egg noodles for me, as well.

But even for those who don't share my un-affinity for egg noodles, the smell is just...out of the microwave, this thing smells like a science experiment gone awry. It doesn't smell like a typical noodle dish, nor does it smell inviting. It smells like...depression...maybe with a hint of failure. There is nothing at all enticing about the scent, nor are there any notes that suggest there's anything edible in it at all. I don't even detect notes of Alfredo, or anything else...it's just bad. Whoa boy.

Yep...one second into my first bite, and that's when I realize this is even worse than I expected. How did this make it through a test kitchen? Was there even a test kitchen? I'm going to have to lean towards “no”...this recipe tastes like it was improvised by some hot-shot chef who was so confident in the recipe that he didn't even bother to try it himself. It doesn't taste like Alfredo at all; it's just...gross. And, on top of having that terrible egg noodle flavor, they're also incredibly slimy, which also tends to be incredibly off-putting.

Sadly, the chicken is the star of the show here. It's spongy, as expected, but actually packs in some chicken-like flavor, which isn't always the case with frozen chicken. One thing that is alarming, though: it's juicy. Very, very juicy. Like you just chomped down on a sponge full of water. I guess they were trying to make it seem “fresher”, but it honestly has the exact opposite effect (you just picture someone in a factory with a syringe labeled “chicken flavoring” injecting each piece as they travel down a conveyor belt). Still, as weird as the whole liquid thing is, it still does manage to be the best part of the dish.

Oh, along with the “spice”...there is a good amount of heat here. I'd say just the right amount, actually: it's not an overly-spicy dish at all, but considering nothing about the pasta or sauce tastes like it should, I'd say having something that wasn't falsely advertised in the title is a small win of sorts.

Overall: 1.5/10. Oh man...where do I even begin? It smells like a failed science experiment, and even tastes kinda like one, with nothing that insinuates “Alfredo” coming through in either the slimy egg noodles, or brownish gravy-like sauce. In fact, the main redeeming quality is the chicken, which is spongy and overly juicy (every bit as creepy as it sounds), yet at least tastes like what chicken should taste like. I don't want to know how, or why, but I'm kind of thankful that it does. The “kickin'” part in the title is also well-earned, with a nice hint of spice that...well, “kicks” your tastebuds from the cacophony of other disgusting flavors. Reviews are typically suggestive, but short of dogs, I honestly can't understand how something like this could be happily eaten by anyone.