Marina Mayer, managing editor, tests how the more affordable private label Swiss rolls stack up against her belovedLittle Debbieones.

If the Price is Right

On the street, the word is that private label has become the hot “it” factor. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Chicago-based Information Resources, Inc., many private label brands such as Target’sArcher Farms, Safeway’sO Organicsand Supervalu’sWild Harvestare considered acceptable alternatives to the traditional big-name brands.

The study, titled “IRI Times & Trends Report: Game-changing Economy Taking Private Label to New Heights,” says that private label unit shares have grown 22.8% and 17.6% in dollar share within the past year.

In fact, in a recent blind taste-test of store versus national brand products, private label products tasted as good as their branded counterparts in 19 of 29 food categories, according to Consumer Reports. The store brands won four times while the national brand came out on top six times.

Additionally, the store-branded products cost an average of 27% less than their national counterparts, the study says.

In today’s economy, value counts, but does price actually trump what traditional, national brands deliver?

Take myLittle DebbieSwiss Cake Roll obsession, for example. Ever since I was little,Little DebbieSwiss Cake Rolls have been “da bomb.”

Recently, however, I heard that Aldi produced a private label version of this delightful treat, so five co-workers and myself participated in what we called the “Swiss Cake Smackdown,” which was our own taste test of Aldi’s private label Swiss cake rolls versus theLittle Debbie branded products.

Our goal was to unscientifically determine if this private label option is as good as the branded, or are consumers trading in taste and value for price.

One by one, we closed our eyes and ate one-half cylinder of both the real-dealLittle Debbieand Aldi’sBaker’s TreatSwiss rolls. We then had to figure out which one was which.

Then we compared ingredients, packaging and price points.

For instance, Aldi’s cake rolls contain whey as its second ingredient, are made from hydrogenated palm oil and offer 9% more saturated fat. Thus, they left a cinnamony aftertaste.

Meanwhile, theLittle Debbie Swiss rolls are made with hydrogenated corn/soybean oil with 3% more daily fat and contain 30 more total calories along with 20 more calories from fat per serving. (Note: a serving size is one package, or two Swiss rolls).

Aldi’s private label packaging is pretty comparable, but theLittle DebbieSwiss rolls come with cardboard sides to protect the chocolate from rubbing against the plastic or being damaged. On the other hand,Baker’s Treatrolls are a tad longer than theLittle Debbie ones, and their circular ends are more defined.

Additionally, both products come in at a very affordable price (on average, under $2 a box), but the private label alternative was substantially cheaper, thus allowing consumers to choose based on their budget.
Private label options may be the right price for many penny-pinching consumers, but in my inner-office taste test, price is null and void.

I can’t trade in myLittle DebbieSwiss Cake Rolls for any lesser-priced wannabes.

Marina Mayer, managing editor