From flavorful coffee beans for a morning eye-opener to picnic plates that can stand up to mounds of fried chicken, Consumer Reports recently identified the top-performing supermarket products in five major categories - foods, snacks, drinks, personal care and stuff for the home - and 39 product subcategories.
All of them were judged excellent or very good by CR and are still available in their tested formulations. Most picks in each category were pitted against many competitors; some were compared with just a few products.
Highlights from CR's best everyday products include:
¢ Barbecue sauce: KC Masterpiece Original. It's versatile, with sweet molasses flavor, some heat and just enough smoke to taste grilled.
¢ Cereal bars: Kashi TLC Honey Almond Flax Chewy Granola. CR's testers found that this very chewy whole-grain bar has big, roasted, crunchy nuts, as well as flavorful seeds and grains.
¢ Toasted oats: Cheerios and Malt-O-Meal. Flavor intensity separates these whole-grain cereals from lesser brands.
¢ Dark-chocolate bars: Cacao Reserve by Hershey's Extra Dark with Cacao Nibs. The latest research suggests that dark chocolate (in small amounts) may be good for cardiovascular health. CR's testers found that Hershey's is a treat to nibble and savor, praising it over bars costing nearly twice as much.
¢ Cheese puffs: Cheetos. Regular Cheetos have a big cheesy flavor. Skip the baked version, which is forgettable.
¢ Toothpaste: Ultra Brite All in One Advanced Whitening. The only tested toothpaste that CR found excellent at stain removal, Ultra Brite is also average in abrasiveness, which means it shouldn't damage teeth or gums.
¢ Sunscreen: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 45. This protects against UVA radiation, which can cause skin cancer and wrinkles, and UVB, which can also cause skin cancer, plus sunburn.
¢ Facial tissues: Puffs Extra (nonlotion). Puffs was praised for its combination of strength and softness.
¢ AA batteries: Energizer e2 Lithium. It's pricey but outlasted all other batteries in toys and portable CD players, and provided up to six times more flash photos than the average alkaline battery in CR's digital-camera test.
¢ Fabric softener: Ultra Gain Joyful Expressions. The only excellent softener in CR's test, liquid Ultra Gain leaves clothes soft, static-free and absorbent.
¢ Disposable plates: Dixie Ultra and Hefty Everyday. Neither of these crumpled under a load of picnic food, nor leaked when filled with oil and water.
¢ Whole-bean Colombian coffee: Caribou (caffeinated) and Eight O'Clock 100 percent Colombian (decaf). Caribou is sold mostly online at www.cariboucoffee.com and at the company's coffee shops. Tasters describe it as complex and fragrant, with well-balanced floral, fruity and earthy notes. Eight O'Clock is available at many supermarkets and sells for about half the price of Caribou.