Pumpkin-spice agony, chewy bites and shortbread

rsz_backpacker    rsz_caramel_shortbread


Pumpkin spice space

Mr. Tidbit knows that if you aren’t living in a cave you have seen some of this year’s glut of pumpkin-spice grocery products, but in case you are living in a cave, here’s what he encountered just in the entry aisle at a Target store recently. This is hardly an exhaustive list of the current harvest of pumpkin spice comestibles, but it was exhausting to see that much pumpkin spice packed into a few feet of shelving. Here it is, roughly in order of increasing peculiarity:

The aformentioned pumpkin spice Special K Crunch cereal (mentioned several weeks afore)

Pumpkin spice Cheerios

Pumpkin spice Kellogg’s Mini Wheats

Pumpkin spice Quaker instant oatmeal

Pumpkin spice Betty Crocker cookie mix

Pumpkin spice Quaker Life cereal (maybe Mikey would like it)

The aforementioned (“limited batch”) Nutri-Grain pumpkin spice breakfast bars

Fiber One pumpkin bars (Mr. Tidbit can’t believe they forgot the spice)

Tazo pumpkin spice chai

Pumpkin spice BelVita breakfast biscuits

GoGo Squeeze “apple pumpkin spice” applesauce

Nature’s Path pumpkin spice organic oatmeal with chia (nice to have the chia in the same space as the chai)

Kashi pumpkin spice flax granola bars


Breaking up the bar

New from the Nature Valley granola-bar arm of General Mills are pouches of what they’re calling Backpacker “chewy oatmeal bites.” At the moment there are just two flavors — chocolate chip and s’mores.

The boxes are somewhat larger than those holding a similar weight of granola bars, but (to Mr. Tidbit’s surprise) that seems to be due to putting little bites of stuff into small pouches, which by their nature are lots bulkier than tightly wrapped bars, and not — as is often the case — to making the boxes way too big.

Shortbread plus caramel

A new entry in Archways Cookies’ Specialties line is Mini Salted Caramel Shortbread. Granted that Archway has come awfully late to the salted-caramel party, their Specialties shortbread cookies are a perfect vehicle for little caramel chips (not the whole caramels shown in the serving-suggestion-type illustration on the box). And Archway has pulled out the shortbread stops: Although both their plain shortbread cookies and the new salted caramel version do contain — far down in the list — a tiny bit of vegetable oil, the cookies’ second ingredient (after flour) is butter.


Thin cheese, mint cupcakes that cost a mint


rsz_velveeta_dip_cups   rsz_pillsbury_thin_mints

Thinner? Cheese, Louise!

There are several new offerings from the cheesy part of Kraft-Heinz. First, sliced cheese. Right next to the several varieties of Kraft’s Big Slice cheeses (10 slices in the eight-ounce bag) are the several varieties of new Slim Cut cheese — the same-price bag contains 18 “extra thin” slices. Surprise — it’s a seven-ounce bag.

(Mr. Tidbit couldn’t find any Kraft cheese in “normal” slices. He did find, now that he looked, that Sargento and Crystal Farms also offer thin slices — some in even-smaller 6.84-ounce bags!)

And there are two new Velveeta products. Velveeta Mini-Blocks is a box of five separately wrapped four-ounce chunks of Velveeta. At one store, where the regular 32-ounce loaf of Velveeta was $7.29 (23 cents an ounce) the 20 ounces of Velveeta Mini-Blocks was $5.99 (30 cents an ounce). Mr. Tidbit must acknowledge that in households where a little Velveeta goes a long way but the ability to securely wrap the unused part of a large loaf is lacking, it might make sense to buy the separately wrapped chunks. Still, 30 percent more per ounce . . .

The other new Velveeta offering is more than a repackaging. It’s Velveeta Dip Cups — Nacho Cheese or Chili Cheese — in four-packs of 2.5-ounce cups that you microwave for 15 seconds. At the same store, this 10-ounce seasoned (and slightly thinner) Velveeta offering was $3.99 (40 cents an ounce).


Mint is a verb, too

There’s a set of new offerings from the Pillsbury part of J.M. Smucker: Four mixes in flavors of Girl Scout cookies: Thin Mint cupcake and brownie mixes, and Caramel & Coconut cupcake and blondie mixes. These are small mixes: The 13.2-ounce box of cupcake mix (including frosting mix) makes 12 cupcakes, not the 24 you get from a regular box of cake mix, and the 14.1-ounce brownie/blondie mixes make 12, not the 20 said to be the number in a full-size mix.

At one discount store, where the full-size Pillsbury cakes mixes were $1.12 (6 cents per unfrosted cupcake for the mix — not counting the necessary eggs, oil, etc. in any of these prices) and the full-size Pillsbury brownie mixes were $1.22 (6 cents per brownie) the Girl Scout mixes were $2.99 (25 cents per brownie or frosted cupcake).


Annie’s, Pop-Tarts and brownies



rsz_annies_cereal  rsz_bacon_poptarts


Cereals from Annie’s

New, sort-of, from Annie’s Homegrown, is a set of three organic breakfast cereals: Frosted Oat Flakes, made from oats and wheat, and Cocoa Bunnies and Berry Bunnies, both made from oats, corn and rice. Cocoa bunnies are flavored with, of course, cocoa, and Berry Bunnies contain (in small amounts, to be sure), actual dried strawberries, dried blueberries, blueberry purée and strawberry purée.

Mr. Tidbit’s “new, sort-of” remark is based on the fact that Annie’s introduced organic breakfast cereals almost a decade ago, but they had disappeared. The new offerings might be expected to do better now, with the corporate strength of General Mills behind them.

Yes, Annie’s is a General Mills brand. The Big G bought Annie’s two years ago, although you’d never guess that if you relied for your information on Annie’s packaging or on their website. (You can find Annie’s easily enough on the General Mills website.)

Such cloudiness is not uncommon in the grocery business, where these days consumers are said to be more open to niche brands than to Big Anything. Kellogg’s, for example, owns both Kashi and Bear Naked.

A Pop-Tarts breakfast

Mr. Tidbit has virtually made a living (if you call this living) out of making fun of Oreos — or, rather, making fun of the frequent peculiar flavors offered by Oreos. He is reminded, occasionally, that many similar amusements could be enjoyed almost daily if he were but to cast a wider net. Today, for example, there’s a lulu from Kellogg’s venerable but surprisingly prolific Pop-Tarts brand toaster pastries: Frosted Maple Bacon.

Both the maple and the bacon are artificial flavors, of course, and although Mr. Tidbit feels that the bacon contribution is less than wonderful, the maple aroma is pretty good. If he wore a hat he would doff it in the direction of the Pop-Tarts flavor team in acknowledgement of their courage in making this attempt. Could cheeseburger Pop-Tarts be next?

One brand washes the other

What has been called “cobranding” — the inclusion and prominent promotion in one product of a brand-name item from another firm — used to be very common, and it still surfaces now and then today. New from Hostess, for example, are brownies topped with your choice of Mars products (featured with their logo as big as Hostess’s): Milky Way pieces or m&ms.

Unclear? A complementary cobranded product from Mars might be Twinkie-flavored m&ms.



Snackwiches, pudding bars and batches

rsz_quaker_snackwiches (1)     rsz_snackwich (1)

rsz_snackpack (1)   rsz_nutribatch

Granola in layers

New from Quaker, which makes nine kinds of chewy granola bars, plus three 25%-less-sugar chewy granola bars, four big chewy granola bars, five chewy Dipps (fudge-coated) granola bars, two chewy yogurt granola bars, two quinoa granola bars, and two unfortunately-named chewy Girl Scouts granola bars (they have the flavors of two Girl Scouts cookies), come two chewy Snackwich bars. The word “granola” isn’t in the name, but granola (made with oats, brown rice crisp and more) is the first ingredient.

What makes these things Snackwiches is that, between two layers of chewy granola, there’s a layer of either apples and caramel or peanut butter and chocolate chips. Make that a thin layer: At least in Mr. Tidbit’s purchase, the apples and caramel version, the apples and caramel layer is hardly visible to the naked eye.

Pudding in bars

ConAgra, makers of the 11 flavors of Snack Pack shelf-stable puddings, has brought forth two kinds of Snack Pack Pudding Bars (chocolate fudge and chocolate caramel). What’s a pudding bar? Both versions are described as brownies; the chocolate caramel version adds “caramel flavored chips.”

The box announces that “pudding* is baked right in” (and the asterisk advises that what’s baked right in is pudding mix, which seems perfectly fair to Mr. Tidbit). We’re also told that the pudding bars are “powered by pudding,” but no asterisk helps us understand that one.

Mr. Tidbit is accustomed to disappointment in snacks whose packaging suggests moistness. But the version he bought, chocolate caramel, was really pretty good.

There are new limits

When Mr. Tidbit spotted new Pumpkin Spice Nutri-Grain bars, he was tempted to say “ho-hum,” thinking that one more soft-baked bar — and one more pumpkin spice product — added nothing new to the world of peculiar food products that is his province, if not his dominion.

Then he was startled to notice that, whereas in recent years manufacturers have used the label “limited edition” to mark every new food product that they intend to offer only briefly, Kellogg’s has highlighted this Nutri-Grain offering as a “limited batch.”

Although “batch” is a more appropriate word than “edition” to describe foodstuffs, most folks probably wouldn’t think that this is a noteworthy development. But Mr. Tidbit is (unfortunately for him) the kind of guy who differentiates between “province” and “dominion.”

And he’s aware that, in some circles, “batches” is a word to be avoided. Oh, he’ll go ahead and say it: “Batches? Batches? We don’t need no stinkin’ batches!”