Is Tony the Tiger worth his stripes? Maybe not. For about half the price, you can buy a Kellogg's Frosted Flakes imitator that's almost as grrreat.
Our tests of three top-selling cereals showed the same is true of General Mills Cheerios and Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats. When we pitted these big-name products against Malt-O-Meal - a small, lower-cost brand sold nationwide - and several private-label knockoffs, we found some that come close to dethroning the kings of the breakfast table.
You may not be familiar with these products.
Sales of private-label cereal account for just 10 percent of the market, up 3.8 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to market-research company Mintel. The price gaps between private labels and big brands, meanwhile, can be significant: A box of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes costs $3.38; a box of Kroger Frosted Flakes costs $1.76. Part of the surcharge is the result of advertising and marketing expenditures.
¢ Frosted flakes. Is Kellogg's worth the higher cost? Our trained tasters found significant difference between Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and those from Kroger and other private labels, whose cereals were nonetheless judged "good." Yet there was less difference between Kellogg's and Malt-O-Meal. Both were rated "very good." At just 13 cents per serving, however, Malt-O-Meal flakes cost about half as much as Kellogg's.
¢ Toasted oats. The "very good" oats from General Mills (Cheerios, at 24 cents per serving), Malt-O-Meal (13 cents) and Stop & Shop (20 cents) tended to have more flavor than the "good" cereals from private labels.
¢ Mini-wheats. Joining Kellogg's (43 cents) as "very good" products in this group were Kroger (20 cents) and Malt-O-Meal (19 cents).
They had a clean, balanced flavor and a nice crunch, according to our tasters. Safeway (28 cents) and Target (its Market Pantry mini-wheats cost 20 cents a serving) were the best of the "good" group.