Taste-Testing Target’s Market Pantry Foods

Unlike most other grocery stores, Target has two in-house brands: the upscale, organic Archer Farms, and Market Pantry, which competes with middle-of-the-road national brands like Kraft, Smucker's, and Sara Lee. After putting the store's Archer Farms line to the test, we wanted to check out the economy products.

Market Pantry products are shelved next to their name-brand competitors, and usually packaged so similarly that it's hard to tell them apart. That is, unless you're looking at the price (Market Pantry is almost always cheaper than its competitors) or opening up both packages to take a taste. Even then it can be hard to see differences: Clearly, many Market Pantry items are manufactured by the name-brand producer and just have Target's label slapped on them. Products were tasted by a four-person panel and rated on flavor, consistency, color, similarity to each other, and price. The results:

Tuna

Market Pantry Chunk Light Tuna in Water, $2.39 for 6.4 ounces, vs. StarKist Chunk Light Tuna in Water, $2.64 for 6.4 ounces

Confession: None of us had ever tried tuna-in-a-pouch before, so we were pleasantly surprised by how fresh and non-cat-foody it tasted. That being said: Duo of tunas, I dub thee too similar to tell apart. The StarKist was a tad more fillet-y and cohesive when first emptied from the package, but that advantage disappeared as soon as the tuna was mixed into a simple tuna salad. After sampling both tunas fresh and in the salad, they tasted the same. Incidentally, the packages are ridiculously similar: the same size and shape, and using the same shades of blue and red. So Market Pantry wins for being cheaper.

Advantage: Market Pantry

Cookies

Market Pantry Ready-to-Bake Chocolate Chip Cookies, $2.74 for 24 cookies, vs. Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, $3.04 for 24 cookies

These were so clearly the same product that we felt ridiculous even baking them up. The packages are the same shape and size, they use the same reds and yellows, the ingredients are the same—everything, the same! Once baked, the cookies were similar three-inch rounds, with small chocolate chips. They were very sweet, and very greasy, with strange, off smells and flavors (motor oil? mildew?!). So if you want to buy break-and-bake cookies, buy the cheapest ones: Market Pantry. But do you really want to do that? These things will never be mistaken for real all-butter chocolate chip cookies. Hardly worth the calories.

Advantage: Market Pantry

orange juice

Market Pantry 100% Orange Juice, Low Pulp, $2.94 for 64 ounces, vs. Minute Maid Premium Original 100% Pure Squeezed Orange Juice, $3.34 for 64 ounces

Once again, tasters found it difficult to tell the products apart. Minute Maid was perhaps a bit more orange, while the Market Pantry was slightly more yellow. Both tasted like decent reconstituted juice. Nothing special, but drinkable, and, most importantly for our purposes, indistinguishable.

Advantage: Market Pantry

brownies

Market Pantry Dark Chocolate Brownie Mix, $1.64 for a 19.8-ounce box, vs. Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate Fudge Brownie Mix, $1.82 for a 19.9-ounce box

Betty's been doing some side work, because these mixes look the same, smell the same, have the same ingredients, have the same directions, and, once baked into a 13-by-9 pan, taste the same, agreed the panel. (Terrible, by the way.) CHOW has a well-loved brownie recipe that's almost as easy as these flavorless wet sponges. Even the recipe on the side of the Baker's Chocolate package is better. Don't waste your calories on this.

Advantage (such as it is): Market Pantry

cheddar biscuits

Market Pantry Flavor Blast Cheddar Chickadees, $1.47 for 6.6 ounces, vs. Pepperidge Farm Flavor Blasted Xtra Cheddar Goldfish, $1.89 for 6.6 ounces

Given the (totally annoying) words flavor blasted, the panel expected that the two crackers would taste the same. Not so! Though they looked largely the same (safety-equipment orange with orange dust), they were different shapes (chicken vs. fish), and the fish were way better, preferred by all panel members. The Pepperidge Farm crackers just tasted tangier, less gamy, and fresher. Worth the extra 40 cents.

Advantage: Pepperidge Farm

tortilla chips

Market Pantry Restaurant Style 100% White Corn Tortilla Chips, $1.99 for 13.5 ounces, vs. Tostitos Restaurant Style Stone-Ground White Corn Tortilla Chips, $3.59 for 13 ounces

No question about it, these were the same chips. Same size, shape, color, taste. Which was not bad, incidentally. Most tortilla chips are kinda bland, and these were no exception; but with a bit of salsa, guac, or bean dip, these would do you up fine. None of the tasters preferred one brand over the other.

Advantage: Market Pantry