Tuesday, November 14, 2023

My important food analysis

Over the years, I’ve evaluated a lot of consumer products, sometimes important but usually not. This is actually both: Today I’m looking at four brands of chocolate chip cookies sold by New Zealand’s two supermarket chains. Clearly, this is the among the most important product evaluations I’ve ever taken on.

Everything I’m going to say is based on my own preferences for flavour, value, etc. Any nutritional information I mention is from the product’s nutrition label while I was researching this post. However, the parts of that nutritional measurements I chose to look at are also based on what is most important to me personally. Other people could easily draw completely different conclusions. What I’m sharing are my genuinely held opinions.

With that out of the way, the next thing to note is that I took on this evaluation because of television. TVNZ broadcasts the New Zealand version of “Eat Well For Less”, and I’ve watched it since the beginning. I was originally interested because I’d enjoyed the original UK series, however, in the first seasons the New Zealand version was essentially an advertorial for the Countdown Supermarket chain. To some extent, this didn’t matter—the point was to help people eat better, more nutritious meals while saving money, and there were some good recipers and techniques included in the show.

However, the advertorial nature mattered when it came to a main feature of the both the UK and NZ versions: Taste tests of consumer products. In the UK—where they have several supermarket chains—they would have people taste-test name-brand products as well as cheaper store own-brands. In the first seasons of the NZ version, they only used own-brands from Countdown, none from its competitor, sometimes name-brands only. This made the taste tests unimportant, and so, something I mainly ignored.

The most recent season of EWFL NZ was NOT sponsored by Countdown, and that meant that they could include products from the stores of New Zealand’s other supermarket company (whose main store chains are New World and Pak N Save). I noticed that immediately in the first episode of the season, and, to be honest, I was really glad. This also meant they might try to find the best-priced substitutes regardless of supermarket chain. It also meant the recipes they used might use store brands from either chain—though that often wasn’t terribly important (there’s not that much difference, beyond price, for various brands of tinned tomatoes, for example).

In an early episode (the first one, I think) of the season just finished, they had consumers taste and rate commercially made chocolate chip cookies. That caught my attention because some months earlier, I happened to see some name-brand cookies were on special at Countdown, so I bought a bag. Since then, I’ve bought them when they were on special, which makes a fairly inexpensive cookie cheaper still—always a win these days. After watching the TV show, I decided to try brands they used to see if I thought they were better, worse, or about the same.

Here, then, are the four brands I ended up sampling, along with my evaluations and opinions about them. These are listed in order from what I personally consider to rate highest to lowest. I rated on five criteria, with a top possible score of five, and a theoretical low score of zero (no product got that rating). Those categories were: Nutrition (energy rating, amount of fat, sodium, and sugars), Flavour, Softness, Dunkability, and Value, all of which I’ll explain more in context.

1. Value Choc Chip Family Favourite Cookies – New World ($2.19 for 325g): These came out with the top score in my ratings—22 out of a possible 25. These cookies had the lowest energy rating of any of the four (1890kJ/452 calories per 100g), and lowest sugars (28.9g/100g). The fat content let them down somewhat, with the third-lowest total fat (20.3g/100g) and saturated fat (11.6g/100g), but I have it at the top score overall, anyway (no one expects a cookie to be health food…). They also got a 4 for flavour (making them second-equal on that score), 3 on softness, a 5 for what I call “Dunkability” (how they fared when dunked in milk), and 5 for value for money (they were the least expensive in my limited test). I thought these tasted buttery, though not very chocolatey. Still, they were pleasant. These cookies are made in New Zealand.

2. Mrs. Higgins Classics Choc Chip Cookies – Countdown and New World ($3.99 for 350g): These got a total score of 19, primarily because to me they tasted the best by far (the only one in which I tasted any chocolate), and they were also the softest of the four, though still chewy (unlike some brands of packaged chocolate chip cookies I’ve bought, these didn’t get softer if put in the microwave for a few seconds). They were also fine for Dunkability and nutrition (4 each), second-best overall for nutrition, but they were also the most expensive in my test, nearly twice as expensive per 100g as the Number One ranked “Value Choc Chip Family Favourite Cookies” ($1.14 per 100g as compared to $0.67/100g). Is that important, though? These cookies are made in New Zealand.

3. Arnott's Farmbake Chocolate Chip Biscuits – Countdown and New World ($3.49 for 310g): These Australian-made cookies were the second-most expensive, and scored the highest on Dunkability with a 5 because they were really nice and soft when dunked in milk. Their nutrition was mixed: While they had a similar energy profile to the cookies rated 2 through 4, they had the highest sugar levels (37.8g/100g), while also having the lowest total fat and saturated fat levels per 100g (19.3g and 10.3g respectively). I like the flavour of these cookies a lot (they had a slight coconut-like taste), but they’re quite hard unless dunked in milk.

4. Countdown Chocolate Chip Cookies – Countdown ($2.50 for 325g): These cookies were the second-cheapest, and almost as soft as number one. Their nutrition profile was similar to the others, overall, but it was the lowest in sodium (150mg/100g). Its biggest downfall was flavour: I thought they had a weird chemical taste. I gave them a very generous Flavour score of 2, only because I found that the jarring chemical hit faded a bite or so later. Their flavour was even odder when dunked in milk, and it didn’t soften them much at all, so I rated it a 2 for Dunkability. I was surprised that some on the taste-test panel in the TV show rated these as highly as they did, because I honestly couldn’t see why. These cookies are made in New Zealand.

Final thoughts

I would buy any one of the first three again, but not the fourth. Of the top three, I’ll likely by Mrs. Higgins the most, so, no, the fact it has the highest price doesn’t deter me—especially because I’ll probably only buy them when they’re on special, anyway. I’ll also buy the Value brand from New World sometimes, too. While I think the Arnott’s ones have a nice flavour, their hardness brings them down, as does the fact they’re Australian-made (I prefer to my NZ-made whenever possible). And finally, for me the whole point of these cookies—and why I bothered taste-testing—is that These cookies are the perfect little snack for me when I want something sweet: I can eat only one and be happy with that, though if I’m dunking them I’ll usually have three.

This whole exercise was really just a bit of fun, but I still thought it was interesting to see how various cookies compared to each other. It’s nothing new for me to change brands of products sold in supermarkets, but this is among the most deliberate I’ve ever been in comparing different products. I think I may do it again.

Important Note: The names of brands/products/companies listed in this post are all registered trademarks, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me at normal consumer prices. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturers, any retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

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