ABC News' Becky Worley reports:
What groceries do we buy most consistently? In my house it's bread, milk, and cereal! And I'm not alone- the average American eats 160 bowls of cereal a year and it is a $9 billion industry!
So when walking the aisles and contemplating the purchase of a $5 box of morning goodness, I can't help but peek over at the cheaper off-brand cereals.
Whether it's Malt-O-Meal, Valu Time, store label brands from Safeway or Lucky, Mom's Naturals, or individual knock-off brands, there are a lot of cheaper cereal options.
I went to three stores in California to compare prices and the savings were significant. Boxes of generic brand cereals cost 20 to 35 percent less than brand-name cereals. The savings got serious when I compared bags of off-brand cereal. They were consistently 50 percent cheaper than name-brand boxes.
The quantities in the bag were double sometimes triple the amounts in the brand-name boxes. And for some of the shoppers I queried, that posed a problem; one woman said off-brand bags reminded her of dog food.
But others swore by the savings. One mother I spoke with in an Oakland, Calif., Lucky's store said her teenaged boys consumed the equivalent of a box of cereal a day so she felt she had to switch to a cheaper brand.
When I tasted for myself the results were mixed.
Raisin Bran from Kellogg's and its clone from Flavorite were indistinguishable in taste and texture.
Honey Nut Cheerios seemed to have the most knockoffs and when I compared the taste of Malt-O-Meal's Honey Nut Scooters and the Safeway brand O's I could tell a difference but it was subtle. The Scooters were oatier, had more of a malt finish and they had a grainier texture. They were a little bigger than my Cheerios and shinier. They also had about 10 percent more sugar, which was weird because the brand name Cheerios tasted a little sweeter. Despite this description worthy of a fine wine, I'd have to say the knockoff O's were good, and for me a totally reasonable replacement especially since they retail at half the cost of brand-name O's.
Froot Loops were a different story, though. I tasted the knockoff Fruit Whirls from Valu Time and Silly Circles from Safeway. Both had 17 grams of sugar per bowl compared to the 12 grams in brand name Froot Loops. And I could taste that sweetness: with Silly Circles I found that the sugar overpowered the fruit taste. I preferred the taste of brand name Froot Loops.
But despite my new-found Froot Loops connoisseur status, I wanted to query the really important cereal constituency: kids!
Our panel consisted of Olivia Baker, Eliza Baker, Oriane Strayer and Jude Strayer: three girls and one boy ages 9 to 11.
The kids were given a blind taste sampling: one brand name cereal, and one knockoff. They wrote down which cereal they liked better. The results were split but somewhat supported my taste conclusions.
With Cheerios, two liked the brand name cereal and two liked the knockoffs. With Froot Loops, three liked the brand name and one liked the knockoff.
And when I thumped the gigantic bag of generic cereal on the table, three of the kids were unfazed, but one of them asked if I had purchased it at Home Depot.
For more information and the business side of the cereal wars, check out this article about Malt-O-Meal brands. And special thanks to Lucky's Supermarkets for letting us shoot in their store.