Compare and Contrast

Store vs. National Brand:

“Great Value,” for those who don’t know, is a Wal-Mart “generic” brand.

Observations:

1. It does seem to me that the “crunchy fruit-based toroid” segment of the breakfast cereal industry has a problem with names. In the case of the national brand, the use of “Froot” rather than “fruit” telegraphs that what you’re eating possibly has more to do with long chains of polymers than something which actually once grew on a tree; in the case of the store brand, the name sounds like a rare but absolutely vicious tropical disease. I’m not sure I want to eat something that sounds either aggressively chemical or that resides in the feculent gut of a mosquito.

2. On the cartoon spokescreature front, the national brand is the clear winner. Toucan Sam, long proof of the cereal industry’s commitment to sexual diversity in its mascots, is at least tangentially related to his subject, by way of having a rainbow beak call to mind the rainbow of dyes dumped into the cereal, and the fact that toucans are a primarily frugivorous species. He’s clearly happy to be instructing the children on the joys of grain cereals. Contrast this to Great Value’s monochrome frog-like creatures, which aside from being deformed in the horrible way that amphibians seem to be these days thanks to all the chemicals we dump into the water supply, really have nothing to do with fruit at all.

Moreover, the main frog here appears surprised and ambivalent about the fact that he’s seated in a cereal loop, riding a sketchy flume into your breakfast bowl. This is not a mascot pleased to tell you about a product; this is a creature who is thinking five minutes ago I was sucking down flies with my tongue in a swamp, now I’m sliding into a vat of milk and oats, seriously, WTF. Which is another point: I’m okay with my cereal mascot eating the product; I’m less okay with my cereal mascot wallowing in my product. Nothing says don’t eat me like a conflicted amphibian descending into your bowl.

3. Ironically, I suppose, I give credit to the store brand for not overtly trumpeting some trivial and dubious nutritional benefit. Really now, Froot Loops: “Now provides fiber”? Because, cheese binges aside, your target demographic of hyperactive four to twelve-year-old has recently had to come to grips with the scourge of bowel irregularity? Do the cereal-purchasing mothers of the same say to themselves, as the cruise the cereal aisle, I want something both sugar-laden and poo-inducing? The juxtaposition of kid-pleasing cartoon character and AARP-level benefit banner is jarring, to say the least. With the Fruit Spins, there’s no ambiguity: You’re getting sugar, you’re getting colored dye, and yes, fine, 25% of your iron for the day, if you want it. I like that.

4. After all of this, we bought the Cheerios.

79 thoughts on “Compare and Contrast

  1. I usually will buy the store brand of stuff as it is usually identical in every way to the brand name; I am not paying extra for the mascot.

    There are some exceptions to this rule. Metamucil (I have serious fibre needs) and Becel margarine; the store brand of both either don’t work or are foul.

    Cheers
    Andrew

    P.S. Yeah on the cheerios!

  2. Never ever ever EVER buy store or generic brand clones of Cheerios.

    Every time I did, I realized I’d fallen for the “Surprise! It’s really flavorless sawdust rings!” trick again.

    I’m assuming it does something to your long term memory because it took me into my 30’s to break that habit.

  3. yeah, gneric cheerios are the work of the devil (or the GOP; may be the same thing.)

    personally, i’ve had an unhealthy addiction to captain crunch (the original kind; the newer flavors just don’t rock my boat) for a pretty much all my life now. i’ve quit smoking pretty easily, but i just can’t seem to quit the captain…

  4. Sexual diversity? Toucan Sam talks like Ronald Coleman — a model of suave olde-Hollywood heterosexuality if ever there was one.

    Now that I think about it, I can’t come up with a major female cereal mascot. Even the ones with androgynous names (Trix, Diggem, Sugar Bear) speak in male voices.

  5. Funny, I don’t taste that much of a difference in the generic Cheerios from the brand-name. Then again, it’s easily possible this is because I am normally either wolfing them down dry with my first cup of tea* or when my stomach thinks anything more exciting than crunchy carbs is cause for revolt. Or maybe Tops just does a decent brand of generic Cheerios.

    * Brewed extra-strong and drank without milk or sugar.

  6. Froggy Fruit Spins is *clearly* about to wiggle his naked behind in my breakfast, and I don’t go for that. I prefer my milk “untainted” (get it? get it?) by the taste of frog ass.

    And it’s pretty common for kids to have issues with constipation. Mine did (too much dehydrated fruit). So yay fiber!

    Still, even though Froot Loops is obviously superior, I wouldn’t buy either. I’m not a big fan of soup, and what’s a bowl of cereal except cold soup?

  7. plus, if you get too much iron, you get constipated, and what kid stops at one bowl of sugary goodness? That fiber is essential to battle all that iron.

  8. Trader Joes’ fake cheerios are good.

    I personally prefer the old Ralphs grocery chain generic branding. White package with a light blue line and the name of the item in blue, with nothing else.

    When I was a broke college student, we consumed lots of generic beer packaged like this. A bottle with nothing but the word “beer” and the legally mandated text.

  9. We buy Kroger’s generic cereal. Their version of Fruit Loops is called “Fruit & Frosted O’s.” I really never paid attention to the package design, just the price tag.

  10. I second the Kroger cereal. Even their versions of Honey Bunches cereals are good. Unfortunately, cereal is about the only thing they make that is edible.

  11. Some years ago, I switched to a different brand of rat food for my critters because I didn’t like the look of all the multicoloured bits in the popular mix I was using… And Americans actually feed those products to their children??? Seriously? We don’t have Froot Loops – branded, generic or otherwise – here in the UK, and now I understand why!

  12. LOL, although it is a stretch about number #2, sexual diversity. I think fruit loops was using the rainbow beak long before it became a symbol for gay pride. Although, maybe the shape of the beak might come into play. On that note we have Joe Camel as well.

  13. I submit that the fiber claim is actually not aimed at moms, but rather the type of 20- to 40-year-old guy like the developers at my company that make Froot Loops the fastest disappearing cereal from the lunch room shelves.

    Don’t mess with geeks and their sugar supply.

  14. I will always hate “Froot Loops” cereal because of the 6-year trademark battle that the company which produces that food-like product engaged a local Seattle steel drum band in.

    Seriously. A steel drum band called the Toucans was alleged to infringe on the “Toucan Sam” trademark. See the story here: http://www.toucans.net/Trademark/LegalIndex.html

  15. Katrina @19 beat me to it. I know several guys in that same age range that think nothing beats a hangover faster than a big bowl of Froot Loops in the morning or whenever they happen to roll out of bed. And, yes, the extra fiber for them would be a good thing!

    At the moment my panty is full of Kroger & Publix (Florida-based chain now in several southeastern states) store brands. The cereals are good, and the canned goods are generally as good if not better than the national brands. Kroger’s really stepped up their house brands since they’ve started getting stiff competition from Wal-Mart & Publix. Target still has a way to go with their Archer Farms line, but it’s getting better.

    But there is still nothing that can touch some of the old A&P house brands I grew up on. Sigh.

  16. @13
    I personally prefer the old Ralphs grocery chain generic branding. White package with a light blue line and the name of the item in blue, with nothing else.
    To get even further afield, you can see these generics in one of my all time fave movies “Repo Man” in the hold-up scene. Always reminds me of my childhood when I see that. The generics, not the hold-up.

  17. Sexual diversity? Toucan Sam talks like Ronald Coleman — a model of suave olde-Hollywood heterosexuality if ever there was one.

    If I had to pick one closeted movie star from the golden age of movies, ole Ron would be high on my short list.

  18. oh. my. god. i am posting this entry everywhere i go. all of you made me snort diet dr. pepper! and i will never look at froot loops (or its generic counterpart) the same way again.

    oh, and for the record, i adore peanut butter panda puffs. :)

  19. Ditto the Boomer and Gen-X/Y demographics that has permanent breakfast menus of kids’ cereals. Or even confining said kids’ cereals to merely the morning breakfast meal.

    Dr. Phil

  20. Don’t mess with guys and the sugar supply. Period. I switched my 11 year old son’s Froot Loops for something low sugar, and he took to running from the morning bus to the cafeteria to follow the breakfast program kids to the trash can to recover their unopened Froot Loop breakfast bowls out of the trash. (“But Mom, they were just wasting!”) On the one hand, I applaud his concept of recycling, but on the other…

  21. Frog butt in the milk aside, the generic has a much nicer box design than the eyeball-achingly loud visual gibberish of the name brand.

  22. I once worked stocking shelves in a grocery store, and I saw how many of the products came from the same producers, regardless of what name was on the label. There were even soup flats that were printed on two sides so that depending on how they were folded, they were either Campbells or a store brand box. Downtime is lost money – most large food producers keep the production line going and then sell the excess to other companies to brand themselves.

    Yes, there are bad, bad store brands, just as there are bad brands, but there’s a reason why most store brands do NOT list the manufacturer – the big food companies don’t want you to know. Look at the ingredients and nutrition listings. If they are pretty much exactly the same, one of the companies is piggybacking on the other.

  23. “Waiter, there’s a frog in my cereal!”
    “What’s he doing there?”
    “Depressing me.”

    Really, though, ‘feculent’? I gots to get me one of them word a day calendars, because that’s just impressive as all get out. I hope to use the word ‘varlet’ in a real life conversation one day.

    My crunch-based milk delivery system of choice is usually Fruity Pebbles, or the generic equivalent (as long as it tastes the same – all too many of the generic ones don’t actually taste as good. Less crack in them, I assume.), but the original Cap’n Crunch is also quite excellent. I _really_ miss the original Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries – the new crunchberries (even the red ones) do NOT taste as good. They ruined a thing of greatness. The Cheerios with three types of Os are also good, and the equivalent three-flavour Rice Krispies is also a joy.

    But nothing induces me to want to eat a whole box like Fruity Pebbles. Perhaps it’s got some Stuff (check IMDb) in it, or perhaps some Happy Fun Ball additive, as I’m not so much with the being taunted.

  24. Poo-inducing?

    As a pediatrician, please allow me to say you should consider yourself lucky, LUCKY I say, to know naught about the delights that include childhood constipation. Google encopresis. And then thank your gods for a child that poops on a regular basis.

    ->wishes he was kidding.

  25. do not taunt happy fun ball.
    do not stare at happy fun ball.
    do not look directly at happy fun ball.
    do not think about happy fun ball.

  26. I really enjoyed this piece, but I have to say it’s not quite as enjoyable as “The Existential Plight of Chester Chipmate.” (Which, btw, a friend emailed me a link to many moons ago. It was my first introduction to this John Scalzi fellow. Apparently I’ve been hooked ever since!)

  27. The Froot Loops at my local store proclaim, rather than their profound fiber content, that they’re a good source of Vitamin D. (I think it was that. Maybe it was Vitamin A.)
    And all I could think was, “yeah, if you put milk on it!”

  28. What the heck is up with WallieWorldMart changing all of the store brands to white “Hey, I’m having trouble making ends meet so everyone look at me in the grocery store buying all of the cheap stuff!!!!” I’d rather be poor in private, thank you!!!

  29. I’d like to go on the record by stating that Great Value “Toasted Corn” cereal is equal in flavor, crunch, and eye appeal to General Mills’ “Corn Chex”.

    Which is not saying much.

  30. Roger @ 40 – The only reason I can see to buy any of the Chex cereals is to make yummy Chex Mix. People don’t actually eat those as breakfast cereals, do they? *shudder*

  31. I’m with LCB @ 49. Wal-Mart just redid the packaging of their Great Value brand, and I hate it so much that I almost don’t want to buy their products. It might be a “consistent, recognizable look throughout the store”, but it’s a recognizable look that totally repels me. I routinely buy, and am satisfied with the quality of, many Great Value products (though I’ve never tried the cereal), but the branding is just so very Do Not Want.

    Target’s Archer Farms, OTOH, has much better packaging than food quality. I grabbed a bag of sugar there once, thinking that sugar is sugar… wrong. Theirs is more like sanding sugar, which is nice if you’re decorating cookies, not so much if you’re trying to actually bake them.

  32. Crispy Hexagons, the Flavorite knockoffs of Crispix, are the new favorite in my house. How could you not like something called Crispy Hexagons? I mean, they are hexagons, for the love of the babyjesus. And they are crispy.

  33. We get the crunchy organic Annie’s variety (“Fruity Bunnies”) for our faux-fruit-cereal needs. Not because we’re under the impression that organic faux-fruit-cereal has significant nutritive value, mind you, but because red dye #40 makes our older daughter act demon-possessed.

  34. Interesting, we don’t have any fruit flavoured cereals in the UK, our cereals if flavoured are honey or chocolate. We had Cinnamon Grahams at one point recently, very not popular, so no more. And i do remember they tried to introduce lucky charms when i was a child, that failed too.

    Any fruit in cereals here has to be dried fruit, there are several rasin cereals and some strawberry and red fruit cereals, but they are all of the oat clusters/bran flakes/wheat flakes with dried fruit variety aimed at adults who want to be healthy.

  35. So, you say you got Cheerio’s, but which flavor? We had a coupon for “Eater’s Choice” on the Cheerio’s “flavors”. The 5 year old chose Fruity Cheerio’s. It turns out these are Froot Loops on Shrink Ray. This is in clear opposition to the other options that appeared to be other “sugar” cereals with the Cheerio’s brand: Apple Cinnamon Cheerio’s (Apple Jacks on Shrink Ray), Banana Nut Cheerios (not sure what these are when embiggened), Frosted Cheerio’s (flakes in a different shape), and regular Cheerio’s.
    I suppose I should feel better as a foster parents that I have allowed my child to eat cheerio’s rather than the “sugar” cereals. Or at least, that is what they want me to feel.

  36. LCB @ 39
    I used to think the same way, the new white ‘Great Value’ brand looked so cheap to me. Then I started working at Wal-mart stocking grocery (hey, it’s a job) and it’s *such* a huge improvement over their old jewel-tone, discolored picture scheme. Whenever I see the two next to each other, I immediately prefer the white. It seems customers do too.

  37. derf @50: Oh man, I so hear you.

    I used to hate Cheerios, but the apple cinnamon kind tastes enough like Apple Jacks to satisfy me. My husband, appalled at my taste in cereal, keeps asking “So are you looking for Cocoa-Coated Sugar Bombs?” every time we’re grocery shopping.

    To which I reply, “Well…yes, actually.”

    Don’t get between a typesetter and her sugar.

  38. My favourite generic cereal was called “Oaty Os”.
    I was struck by the realization that no-one in the entire, vertically-integrated, MBA-enriched process of design, production, packaging and marketing had questioned the wisdom of calling a purportedly health-giving product “otiose”.

    Presumably none of their target market noticed (or cared) either.

  39. Valerie @ 52
    My wife cashiers at a Wal-Mart; when the new packaging came out I had the same reaction and the same appreciation for it over time. I’m convinced they did it for several reasons:
    •Brand identity – their packaging designs were all over the place before and hard to pick out from other brands.
    •Wal-Mart wants to harken back to old generic packaging to make the average consumer associate the brand with responsible frugality.
    •Less ink coverage on packaging – having worked in the print industry, I know large print runs can save big money over time by utilizing sparser designs with lots of white space. Simpler designs probably means not having to pay as much for the design work itself.

  40. I like the stark packaging (like the Ralphs generics that I mentioned before) because it makes me feel like I am living in a dystopian SF novel. They look like they belong in Winston Smith’s cupboard.

  41. Tudor Lewis @ 55
    If they were smart they would take it a step further…not use bright white paper. Paper made from recycled material no brighteners (such as titanium dioxide) added is off white. Wouldn’t look as bright and cheery perhaps, but they could pass on the savings to the customer AND score a PC victory by being “green”.

  42. @ 49 Musereader

    Cinnamon Grahams are still about, they just changed the name to Curiously Cinnamon a while back. I would call them Seriously Cinnamon, myself – I know people who enjoy cinnamon but can’t handle the CINNAMON in those things! My local Sainsbury’s stocks them and I used to get them in a mid-sized Tesco before I moved.

  43. I vaguely remember a University lab publishing a series of tests that proved the box that a particular cereal came packaged in actually had a higher nutritional value then the cereal within it. Wish I could find that again. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that that is still the case. Although the cereal probably still has a bit more sugar then the box.

  44. # surfwaxon @ 48
    “Wendy@21 says “At the moment my panty is full of Kroger & Publix”

    This can’t be sanitary…”

    Whoops! Yep, that would be me with the typo! Should read “pantry”.

  45. I wish I could find some Burns-Os at my local food jobber, but all I can find lately that look similar are ‘Cheney Bombs’ and ‘Lady Gagas with Crunchblings’.

  46. 58 Laz, I guess I just haven’t seen any for a while in Morrisons so I thought they’d gone because Cinnamon is not a popular flavour here.

    59 Mike, I remember mythbusters doing that test, but I also seem to remember they busted it.

  47. 1. I like only Kraft macaroni and cheese (with the powdered cheese packet). I never found a generic that duplicated it. Otherwise, I love generics.

    2. Remember in the 80’s (I think it was)? he word “sugar” was removed or replaced with “golden” on all cereal boxes, for health reasons. “Sugar Frosted Flakes” became “Frosted Flakes,” “Super Sugar Crisp” became “Super Golden Crisp”, etc.

    3. Generic cookies. I went to ASDA (basically, Wal-Mart) in the UK recently and found a gold mine of generic cookies. These were very similar to the brand names, but sold for pennies. Literally. Most of them were less than 50p, which is still under $1 US. I loaded my suitcase up. I’m hoping my nieces and nephews will thrill to the unfamiliar varieties: ginger nuts, jaffa cakes, nice biscuits, rich tea, bourbon creams, and digestives. Those are generic names, like chocolate chip.

  48. Though actually a member of the oatmeal generation (during this colder part of the year, anyhow), I tried Froot Loops the summer they first came on market. They averaged out brown, in both color and (artificial fruit) taste in my mouth (as well as, presumably, further down in the digestive tract) so one box was plenty, and I see no reason to think that generic knock-offs would be any better. (Mind you, with grain-based breakfast cereals, as with potato chips, I tend to compare the cost of the product with the cost of the basic material, per pound, and usually cringe.)

  49. For me, seeing a frog in breakfast cereal immediately called to mind Saki’s delightful story “The Lumber Room”. Though bread and milk, even with added amphibian, would undoubtedly be more wholesome than the brightly coloured nonsense in either box.

  50. What I find problematic is Wal-Mart’s use of generic packaging to imply the product is less expensive. I don’t know about all locations, but at our local store a 16 oz box of Great Value Toasted Oats is roughly 35 cents more than a 20 oz box of Cheerios.

    This might be a tactic of cereal brands in general, as the supposedly economic “boxless” brands (Malt o’ Meal, etc.) which boast less packaging–implying, once again, less cost to pass onto the consumer–is typically more per ounce than the name brands.

  51. Store brands are starting to annoy me, because they seem to be leading to a reduction in variety of merchandise available. They’re squeezing the other producers off the shelves.

    At Stop & Shop, damned near half the stuff on the shelves seems to be store-brand.

    And it’s not like Best Buy’s store-brand video or computer cables save you money – they’re still priced far higher than what’s available online.

  52. Just to be totally pendantic, many lovely long polymers do grow on trees, but you don’t want to eat most of them.

    Granted, this is coming from a person who thinks that Grape Nuts are a tasty breakfast.

  53. As an addict of “apple jacks” fruity flavoring sugar based food substitute, I have to speak up for the walmart “apple Express” version. At least in my local market, it is in every way superior, which opinion my 2 year old daughter seems to share. They’re almost certainly made off the same slave labor robotic assembly line, but maybe fresher.

    We’re also fond of the malt-o-meal “bygod thats huge” sacks of honeycombs and cheerios. The honey-nut flavor is “baby chow” and was one of her earliest clearly spoken words.

  54. The irony re: the fiber banner is that Froot Loops probably has the same amount of fiber in it as it ever did… my guess is the marketing folks ran out of new and different ways to position the product and thought, “hey! We’ve never talked about the FIBER in this product before! Let’s talk about the FIBER!”

    :)

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