Little Debbie’s latest merely whelms

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P.B. Richies, foreground, followed by nicely filled Little Debbie Cloud Cakes and (merely for best color contrast) Chocolate Crème Twinkies

Filled with regret

Mr. Tidbit’s regular readers (Mr. Tidbit will spare you his “irregular readers / Metamucil” joke, as he used it barely six weeks ago). . . . Those folks, anyway, know how very fond he is of Little Debbie Nutty Bars, the snack cake he has described as “Nature’s second-most-perfect food.” (Nature’s most-perfect food is the cheeseburger.)

Thus, it is with what Lyndon Johnson would have called “a heavy heart” that Mr. Tidbit reports that his reaction to Little Debbie’s latest offering, P.B. Richies, is disappointment. He would describe P.B. Richies as Twinkie-like but slightly smaller frosted chocolate cakes, with a peanut-butter filling. That certainly sounds promising, and Mr. Tidbit found his anticipation stoked by the photo on the box.

Had he not seen that photo, Mr. Tidbit still would not have been wildly enthusiastic about P.B. Richies, but the depiction of a solid core of peanut butter filling really set him up. He was even ready to find (and possibly would even have been pleased if he found) that the core of peanut-butter filling was lightened with something like the creamy stuff found in Twinkies (whatever that is).

What he was not ready to find was a diffuse deposit of filling, which when eaten added a peanut butter flavor to the chocolate cake but was not detectable in the mouth as a separate entity. Not bad, not a terrible outcome, but one not suggested by the photo on the box.

To those who would say, “Oh, come on! The box photo is always an exaggeration; it’s probably very difficult to sqwootch filling so that it makes a nice separate pocket.” Mr. Tidbit would reply “Oh, come on yourself, Those! Look at the Little Debbie Cloud Cakes and the Chocolate Crème Twinkies (Twinkies pictured merely for clearest contrast, in case it’s hard to see the Cloud Cake filling; there aren’t any chocolate-filled Cloud Cakes). Both cakes’ filling has been perfectly sqwootched, just as the photos on the boxes suggest.”

In any case, Mr. Tidbit rushes to assure both his readers and the folks at McKee Foods that his admiration for the Little Debbie Nutty Bar and many other fine Little Debbie products is undiminished. In fact, he lives in the sure and certain hope that Little Debbie experts will soon find the solution to the sqwootchability issue, and that P.B. Richies will then ascend to their rightful place in the Little Debbie pantheon.

He can hardly wait.


Peculiar new Oreos and Joe-Joe’s


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At last, a new Oreo

It’s been something like three months since the most recent peculiar new flavor of Oreo cookies (Filled Cupcake) appeared, and Mr. Tidbit was beginning to worry. Could some terrible disease have struck down the staff of the Peculiar New Flavor Department?

Mr. Tidbit’s concern was heightened by the reappearance – all at once – of several previous Oreo hits (Red Velvet, S’Mores, Peanut Butter Cup). Was this some sort of farewell tour?

His anxiety, it turned out, was ill-founded. Perhaps the Peculiar New Flavor folks required a little R&R after the mental and emotional effort of coming up with Filled Cupcake Oreos. In any case, we have a new one now. It’s Blueberry Pie Oreos, and Mr. Tidbit acknowledges the extra bit of brilliance in leaping past the simpler possibility of Blueberry Oreos by adding “graham flavor” to the Golden Oreo wafers, thereby suggesting the idea of pie crust (to the very suggestible).

All that said, Mr. Tidbit feels he must opine that, at least to him, the depth of blueberry flavor (the cookies contain unnamed artificial and natural flavors, according to the ingredient list) is a pretty good match to the pale blue color of the filling.


Multiple mango mouthfuls

Mr. Tidbit has had several recent occasions to comment upon the mainstreaming of the once-exotic mango. Had he needed any further convincing, a recent development at Trader Joe’s would have done it. Their new flyer contains more than 20 items flavored with mango or containing bits of mango. To be sure, some are making only limited appearances, but the range of mango madness at Trader Joe is breathtaking.

There are mango cereal bars, Mango O’s breakfast cereal, mini mango pies, skewers of grilled jerk chicken with mango chutney, mango coconut popcorn, mango salad dressing and mango gummies, to name just a few. And there are several non-food products such as honey mango shave cream, mango tangerine candles and mango body butter.

Mr. Tidbit’s eye was caught first by the Mango Joe-Joe’s sandwich cookies. (These have managed so far to evade the apostrophe police. The jury is still out on the cereal.) The cookies’ ingredient list includes mango purée, mango powder and natural mango flavor. Mr. Tidbit guesses that a (non-apostrophe-sensitive) mango fan will be happier with Mango Joe-Joe’s than a blueberry fan will with Blueberry Pie Oreos.



Nutty surprises from Nutri-Grain and Nature Valley

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Nutri-Grain Fruit & Nut surprise

New from Kellogg’s are Nutri-Grain Fruit & Nut bars: There’s Blueberry Almond and Cherry Almond. The box calls them “chewy breakfast bars,” and under the “Blueberry Almond” and “Cherry Almond” designations it reads “naturally flavored with other natural flavors.”

So what do you think is the first ingredient in both of these bars? Blueberries/cherries? Almonds? Mr. Tidbit recognizes that the very fact that you’re reading this delightful column is indicative of a high level of consumer sophistication (that, or utter boredom), so you probably know it’s a trick question and that the answer is none of those. But really: Guess what the first ingredient is.

Nope. It’s peanuts. Then raisins. Then oats. Then almonds. (Mr. Tidbit hopes he needn’t point out that peanuts, raisins, and oats are all cheaper than almonds. But he did it anyway. You’re welcome.)

Nutri-Grain’s existing line of soft-baked bars come in a 10.6-ounce box containing eight 1.3-ounce bars. The Fruit & Nut bars come in a 6-ounce box containing five 1.2-ounce bars. Prices vary, but at most stores the boxes of Fruit & Nut bars cost more. But even if they were selling for the same price per box, Fruit & Nut bars would cost 77 percent more per ounce.

That ain’t peanuts.


Nature Valley Simple Nut surprise

And new from General Mills are Nature Valley Simple Nut Bars. There are two: Almond, Cashew & Sea Salt, and Roasted Peanut & Honey. Under the variety designation, the box reads “Made of Nuts, Seeds, Honey, Tapioca Syrup & Sea Salt.”

So what do you think is the first ingredient in the Almond Cashew & Sea Salt bars? Amazingly enough, it’s roasted almonds! The next is roasted cashews! (Mr. Tidbit will give you that the first ingredient in the Roasted Peanut & Honey bars is peanuts. But guess what the next one is: It’s roasted almonds!) Yes, these bars cost more than the Nutri-Grain entries.

Unfortunately, about a week before this item was posted, General Mills recalled both flavors of Simple Nut bars, as well as two Nature Valley Protein bars – Peanut, Almond & Dark Chocolate and Honey, Peanut & Almond – because the sunflower kernels in all four were recalled by their supplier, SunOpta, for possible listeria contamination. (That recall also includes some Quaker, Clif and Kashi bars, and numerous other products. See and search for SunOpta sunflower seed recalls. Mr. Tidbit hopes you don’t get all your news from him.)


Mango Jell-O was new long before Sunsweet green mango

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New dried mangos

New from Sunsweet comes Pacific Tropicals, a line of dried tropical fruit a little more exotic (and a little pricier) than Sunsweet’s many kinds of prunes, berries and the like. There’s Philippine mango, Philippine green mango (which the bag helpfully points out, for those of us unfamiliar with green mango, is “tart and tangy”), Philippine pineapple and Thai coconut. The prices vary, but at one store, where an eight-ounce bag of Sunsweet prunes was $3.39 (42 cents an ounce), both kinds of mangos were $4.99 for a five-ounce bag ($1 an ounce).


Neither really mango nor new

On the same shopping trip, Mr. Tidbit noticed a box of mango (artificial flavor) Jell-O with a bold “New!” flag at the top, and began to muse about mango becoming less exotic in North America (at least less exotic than it was one paragraph above) and more a mainstream flavor.

He was thinking that such an observation might be a way to discuss the two new products, when he vaguely recalled having written something along that line a while ago. Sure enough, a search confirmed that in early 2015 he said exactly that when talking about Del Monte’s then-new canned diced mangos, which remarkably (to Mr. Tidbit, anyway) cost exactly the same per ounce as Del Monte’s canned sliced peaches. Present-day Mr. Tidbit was pretty pleased with himself for remembering that he had already favored his vast public with the mainstream-mango observation.

Setting the box of mango Jell-O on the shelf at home, he was surprised to find that he already had one. It too was marked “New!” He wondered how long he had had it. The sell-by date on the box he just bought is 10 months away; assuming the same dating margin for the old box, he bought that one in mid-2013! The “New!” flag on the two boxes was identical. This poses what is probably an age-old question: How old does something have to be before it’s no longer new?

Maybe that’s an age-new question.

For the heck of it, Mr. Tidbit looked to see whether he had ever written about “new” mango Jell-O. He had. In October 2012. He doesn’t know how old it was then.


Putting (everything) on the Ritz; portioning the cheese

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The ultimate Ritz?

The Nabisco part of what’s now Mondelez International was making endless versions of Ritz crackers long before it started doing the same thing with Oreo cookies. Judging by its name at least, the latest sounds as if it could be the final variation: it’s Everything Ritz crackers – with onion, poppy seeds, garlic and sea salt.

On second thought, what it sounds like is a bagel.


More cut-up cheese

Months after he saw an ad for Kraft Cracker Cuts (little square portions of sliced cheese that would fit nicely on, say, Ritz crackers), Mr. Tidbit was just about to give up on looking for them. He can no longer locate that newspaper ad, but he’s pretty sure that they were then described as new. He’s even surer that he’s never seen them, and increasing reductions* of the supermarket cheese display space allotted to Kraft products (on Mr. Tidbit’s home turf the space is going to Sargento, Crystal Farms and house brands) led him to suspect that a marginal shape like cracker cuts wasn’t likely to occupy any of it.

*Increasing reductions are related to jumbo shrimp.

On what might well have been his final search for Kraft Cracker Cuts, he stumbled upon Crystal Farms Cracker Cuts. Unlike the Kraft version, which Mr. Tidbit gathers from the Internet is sold (somewhere) in 5-ounce bags and 7-ounce trays, the Crystal Farms item, available in several varieties, contains 10 ounces of cheese in a thing that looks like a disposable butter dish. (It’s not labeled new, so maybe it has been here all along, just somehow never catching Mr. Tidbit’s eye.)

Like the Sargento Snack Bites mentioned a few weeks ago, Cracker Cuts save the harried consumer the onerously time-consuming and mind-numbing task of cutting a piece of cheese into several smaller pieces. To add to that tremendous appeal, Crystal Farms Cracker Cuts (where he found them, anyway) were an exception to Mr. Tidbit’s near-universal supermarket truth: Any spinoff, “convenience” or novelty version of an existing product will cost more per ounce than the original. But the 10-ounce tray of Crystal Farms Cracker Cuts was $3.99 (40 cents an ounce) – not a sale price – and an 8-ounce regular block of the same cheese was $3.69 (46 cents an ounce).

If this turns out to have been only a shelf-marking error, Mr. Tidbit will be greatly relieved.