Homestyling Ragu; Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzels

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Homestyle Ragu

New from Ragu are five flavors of Homestyle pasta sauce, as opposed to what Mr. Tidbit would have said were its “regular” sauces (until his attention was called to the fact that all the regular sauces not labeled “chunky” or carrying some overtly cheese-centered name are labeled “Old World Style”).

All five Homestyle sauce varieties are called “thick & hearty,” as in Thick & Hearty Roasted Garlic, etc., but there are two attributes less open to interpretation that set them apart in what Mr. Tidbit likes to think of as his mind: price and size.

Where he found them, the Homestyle sauces were $1.99 and the other Ragu sauces were $1.84. And the Homestyle sauces were in 23-ounce jars, while the other Ragu sauces were in 24-ounce jars. One ounce might not matter much to you, but that alone amounts to a four-percent price increase. Including the higher shelf price, at that store the regular Ragu sauces were 7.7 cents an ounce and the Homestyle sauces were 8.7 cents an ounce: 13 percent more per ounce.

In fact, double-checking with various websites as he likes to do (because he has no life), Mr. Tidbit has verified that – recently enough that neither Target nor Ragu has updated their sites – the jars of the regular Ragu sauces held 26 ounces, not 24.


Gluten-free pretzels

Snyder’s of Hanover, which makes more kinds and flavors of pretzels than Mr. Tidbit cares to describe (trust Mr. Tidbit: there are lots), has added gluten-free pretzels. The four varieties (at this moment) are pretzel-shaped minis and three flavors of pretzel sticks: Hot Buffalo Wing, Honey Mustard & Onion, and sticks without extra flavor.

In many cases, sad to say, the gluten-free version of a food product falls short of the original, usually in the matter of texture. Surprisingly, that is not so in this case, at least in Mr. Tidbit’s view. He finds them more than plenty crunchy.

Unsurprisingly, he also finds them more than plenty expensive. At one store the 16-ounce bag of many Snyder’s of Hanover varieties was $3.09 (19 cents an ounce), while the 8-ounce bag of the new gluten-free pretzels was $3.29 (41 cents an ounce). That’s more than double.

Aroma news and organic cake mix

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What’s that smell?

Mr. Tidbit’s regular readers might be aware that he seldom discusses products that aren’t produced by major grocery firms, because he doesn’t enjoy the phone calls, e-mails and telegrams asking where the heck a person can buy the weird little item in question. (Mr. Tidbit’s irregular readers might want to consider the wonders of Activia and Metamucil.)

He must acknowledge, though, that with the recent emphasis at Target stores on grocery brands outside the mainstream, and given the ubiquity of Target, lots of peculiar items that might otherwise be  hard to find are now effectively everywhere.

For example, an unusual version of mac & cheese from Evol Foods (that’s “sdoof love” spelled backwards), which makes a wide range of frozen foods it describes as “real food with simple, easy to recognize ingredients and big taste,” available at Target and quite a few other places, caught Mr. Tidbit’s eye long enough to cause him to look at the ingredients list. Does a $3.89 8-ounce bowl of Truffle Parmesan Mac & Cheese, he wondered, really contain any (very expensive) truffles?

Well, sort of. As he expected, the key ingredient is “truffle oil,” which in this case is sunflower oil containing a bit of white truffle. But he wouldn’t have brought the whole thing up if that was all there was to it. In fact there’s one more ingredient. The list actually reads “truffle oil (sunflower oil, white truffles, white truffle aroma).”

Mr. Tidbit enjoys aromas as much as the next person, but he has never thought of “aroma” as an ingredient. He wonders where Evol buys truffle aroma – and, for that matter, what other aromas you can get. Now that he thinks about it, he must acknowledge that his dog, Gus, might well be listed as Gus (good dog, good dog aroma).


What price organic?

New from Krusteaz are what Mr. Tidbit would say are the first organic layer cake and organic brownie mixes from a mainstream grocery firm. Both are $3.92 at one store, where other firms’ brownie mixes are about half that price and cake mixes less than that. Krusteaz doesn’t make any other layer cake or brownie mixes, but its many muffin, bar and cookie mixes also are way cheaper than its organic items. (Please don’t tell Mr. Tidbit that you’re surprised.)

Nourished by Special K, bitten with cheese, shape-shifting pizza

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Cold nourishment

Continuing what Mr. Tidbit sees as the inexorable march of quinoa into every grocery product under heaven, we now have Kellogg’s Special K Nourish as two flavors of cold cereal, following rather tardily behind the introduction in 2013 of Special K Nourish hot cereal (in just-add-water microwave cups) and Special K Nourish cereal bars.

The cold cereal (coconut cranberry almond or apple raspberry almond) differs from the hot cereal and the cereal bars in two significant ways:

*The grains on which they are based differ. Cold cereal: wheat, rice, oats and quinoa. Hot cereal and bars: oats, wheat, barley and quinoa.

*The cold cereal can be found at your supermarket. The hot cereal and bars appear to be discontinued. At least they seem to have disappeared from the stores Mr. Tidbit haunts, and the Special K website no longer mentions them.

But lest you fear for the future of the Special K franchise, please allow Mr. Tidbit to point out that he is aware, at the moment, of three kinds of Special K hot cereal, 17 kinds of Special K cold cereal and no less than 27 kinds of Special K cereal bars.


Bites of cheese

How many ways can you sell cheese? Here’s another, from Sargento: Snack Bites are little one-bite sticks of cheese, sold in six-ounce bags said to contain about 40 of them (six one-ounce servings, each of which is about 7 pieces). There are four varieties: Savory Garlic & Herb Jack, Colby Pepper Jack, Wisconsin Sharp Cheddar and Chipotle BBQ Cheddar.

At the store where Mr. Tidbit saw them, the Snack Bites were $4.79 (80 cents an ounce). Sargento’s sliced cheeses at that store, in packages that ranged from 6.67 ounces to 7.6 ounces, were $3.99 (53 to 60 cents an ounce).


It’s not a wrap

Totino’s little frozen Party Pizzas, no longer come shrink-wrapped inside a cardboard box. To eliminate excess packaging (and, Mr. Tidbit guesses, perhaps to save some money), General Mills has eliminated the box: The pizza is now naked inside a plastic bag.

At the same time, the pizzas have been reshaped from circles to rectangles. Mr. Tidbit immediately suspected covert quantity-shaving, but a note on the package insists that it’s the same amount of pizza in each case, and a chastened Mr. Tidbit has verified that claim, ounce for ounce.


Awash in a washday


Tidal wave

  Feeling suddenly fatigued in the supermarket laundry-products aisle the other day while looking for some Tide, Mr. Tidbit finally realized that he was confronting a mind-numbing example of the grocery phenomenon typified by Special K and Fiber One: He likes to call it Pointless Product Proliferation.

  He could see that there are four basic forms of Tide: regular liquid, high-efficiency liquid (for high-efficiency washers), pods, powder, and high-efficiency powder. Each comes in several varieties. Guess how many there are in total. No, go on: Guess! No fair looking ahead.

  OK, be that way. Mr. Tidbit is now going to name them all. If you think it’s a waste of time reading the list, consider how much time Mr. Tidbit wasted compiling it.

  From Tide’s website, he learned that the regular liquid has these options: Original, Ultra Stain Release, Tide Plus Coldwater Clean (specially formulated for cold water), Tide Plus Bleach Alternative, Tide Plus Febreze Freshness – Spring & Renewal Scent (the latest scent-renewal technology; dual-scent pearls activate upon movement to provide your fabrics with bursts of freshness all day), Tide Plus Febreze Freshness Sport (helps fight sports odors, especially sweat), Tide Plus A Touch of Downy (softer fabrics, with added April Fresh scent pearls), Free & Gentle (hypoallergenic; free of dyes and perfumes), Simply Clean & Fresh (lower priced [in a yellow jug], with baking soda to target tough odors), Simply Clean & Sensitive (lower priced [yellow jug], gentle on skin), and purclean (65% USDA certified bio-based; apparently it’s also free of upper-case letters). That’s 11, but checking out the Target website to verify that the yellow-jug items are indeed lower-priced (they are), he found that Original liquid also comes in Clean Breeze scent (in addition to Original [Tainted Breeze?] scent).

   Tide’s website also shows that the high-efficiency liquid comes in nine of those variants (Mr. Tidbit will spare you the list), and that there are four powders, three high-efficiency powders and five pods. (He didn’t look to see whether there are more of any of those at Target.)  So that’s 33 kinds of Tide, all of which come in two or three (or four) sizes. Being conservative, at only two sizes each, that’s 66 different choices of Tide. No wonder Mr. Tidbit couldn’t find the one he wanted.