Target does something rather unique amongst grocery chains, offering a premium/organics private label under the name Archer Farms, as well as a "Why pay more?" line called Market Pantry. (We'll have taste-test results on Market Pantry products next week.) On store shelves, Archer Farms sits next to upscale brands like Annie's and Kashi. Having the Target brand sitting directly next to the competition, often in similar-looking boxes and bags, practically begs the consumer to wonder: Is it worth it to pay more for the national brand?
So we decided to investigate by purchasing pairs of similar Archer Farms and name-brand products at a San Francisco Bay Area Target store. Products were tasted by a four-person panel and rated on flavor, consistency, color, similarity to each other, and price.
Archer Farms Simply Balanced Dark Chocolate Cherry 7 Grain Granola Bars, $2.74 for five, vs. Kashi TLC Cherry Dark Chocolate Chewy Granola Bars, $3.09 for six
Tasters strained to find a difference between the two. "Are the chips in this one bigger?" asked one panel member, indicating the Archer Farms bars. Chip measurement was undertaken. No, the chips appeared to be the same. Both bars were very sweet, with moderately tangy dried cherries, oats and other grains, and small chocolate chips. A peek at the ingredient lists revealed telling similarities between the two bars, too. The one difference was that each Archer Farms bar is bigger—1.4 ounces as opposed to Kashi's 1.2 ounces—and thus has more calories per bar. Our guess is that Kashi makes the Archer Farms bars, so they're really the same thing and it's sort of a wash. The Archer Farms bars are cheaper per unit; also more caloric. The Kashi bars are packed in a box of six. Choose according to whim. By the way, despite being fancied-up junk food, both packages look a little greenwashed. Interesting.
Archer Farms Simply Balanced Tropical Mango Fruit Smoothie, $1.99 for 15.2 ounces, vs. Naked Mighty Mango 100% Juice Smoothie, $3.59 for 15.2 ounces
These products were clearly different. Or were they? Both were very fruit-juicy sweet, with a tropical, Tutti Frutti taste. Naked's smoothie tasted much more like mango; Archer Farms' had a lighter, tangier flavor. The ingredients showed major differences. The first ingredient in Naked's smoothie is mango purée (with apple juice next); the first ingredient in the Archer Farms smoothie is apple juice, and mango appears third on the list. Neither one was appreciably better than the other, just different-tasting. If you want a drink that tastes like a mango shake, shell out for Naked, preferred by two panel members. If you just want a sweet tropical-ish juice drink, save your money and buy Archer Farms.
Archer Farms Sugar-Free Raspberry Energy Drink, $2.49 for 12 ounces, vs. Red Bull Sugarfree, $3.49 for 12 ounces
This one wasn't tough to figure. The Red Bull had an absolutely vile, sharp, fake-sweet berrylike taste. The Archer Farms drink had a fake-sweet aftertaste but a rather pleasant raspberry flavor. Just on taste alone, Archer Farms far outstripped Red Bull. Both made the tasting panel feel lively and jittery, like a strong cup of coffee (100 to 300 milligrams of caffeine). The Red Bull drink has 80 milligrams of caffeine plus taurine; Archer Farms has 70 milligrams of caffeine plus guarana.
Advantage: Archer Farms
Archer Farms Thick & Creamy Boston Cream Pie Fat Free Yogurt, $1.24 for 6 ounces, vs. Yoplait Light Fat Free Boston Cream Pie Yogurt, 67 cents for 6 ounces
Boston cream pie is a yellow cake with custard filling and chocolate frosting on top. I mention this because I wonder if anyone at either of these yogurt manufacturers has tried one, these flavors were so off. "What am I eating here?" wondered one taster, trying the Archer Farms yogurt. "Is it vanilla with cinnamon?" That's what it tasted like, weirdly cinnamon-y. "Apple pie," commented another taster. "Bad apple pie." Yoplait's effort, though it lacked even a hint of chocolate, at least had a custard-vanilla flavor. It also contains high-fructose corn syrup, unlike the Archer Farms yogurt, which uses just fructose. But on taste alone, Yoplait won, preferred by all the tasters.