Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chocochip Cookies — Country Ma'am vs TopValu

There's an intriguing web site called "Second Rate Snacks" which places big brand name snacks head-to-head with knock-offs. This is a concept which is especially useful in America where knock-offs are plentiful. In Japan, there aren't quite so many of these though there are a few, particularly of things like Pocky and Pretz.

While it may seem like I'm ripping off someone's cool concept, the incentive for this post actually came from my husband who saw both of these bags of similar cookies and thought it would be interesting to see if there was a qualitative difference. I can guarantee that this sort of comparison won't be happening very often. It's too much work and more junk food than I want to have around. My hat goes off to the folks at Second Rate Snacks who manage to do this regularly (and do it so well).

The way in which both of these packages are designed clearly shows that TopValu, maker of cut-rate food and goods all over Japan and Asia, was attempting to copy Country Ma'am. Country Ma'am, which is a brand offered by mega confectioner Fujiya, has been around for quite awhile and sells a variety of versions of it's semi-soft cookies. They're supposed to be especially good if you pop them in the microwave to make them softer.

The TopValu brand is about 150 yen ($1.50 USD) cheaper than Country Ma'am and contains 2 more cookies in the bag. All of the cookies come in individually wrapped packets. This is the sort of excessive packaging that Japan excels at and is often criticized for, though it does make it easy to keep the cookies around for a long time once the main package has been opened.

Country Ma'am on top, TopValu on the bottom

The cookies in both brands are the same weight, 10.5 grams (.37 oz.), but the TopValu cookies are smaller. It's difficult to tell from the picture, but they are also duller, paler and drier looking. They all carry essentially the same calorie counts at 50 calories per tiny cookie.

Country Ma'am chocolate, TopValu chocolate, Country Ma'am vanilla, TopValu vanilla (click to see a much bigger version)

If you look at the cookies when they are cut open, you can see that there is more moisture in the center of the Country Ma'am cookies. Both bags have the same claims on the front of their packages. They say their cookies are crispy on the outside and moist inside, but Country Ma'am clearly lives up to this claim much better than TopValu.

The proof is in the taste and texture, however, so here is what I thought:
  • Chocolate TopValu: Crumbly outside and slightly chewy inside with a nice chocolate flavor
  • Chocolate Country Ma'am: Crunchy outside, softer interior with a nice texture, good chocolate flavor which is richer and deeper than the TopValu chocolate cookie
  • Vanilla TopValu: Crumbly outside, slightly chewy interior, bittersweet chips with a much heavier note of bitter than usual for this kind of cookie
  • Vanilla Country Ma'am: Crunchy outside, soft interior, a bit of a pleasant cookie dough flavor inside, nice milk chocolate chips
Country Ma'am is, unsurprisingly, a better cookie. In particular, the vanilla cookies are far better than the TopValu vanilla ones which border on unpleasant with the heavy bitter aftertaste of the chips in their cookies. The main difference between the chocolate ones is in texture. TopValu's cookies are so dry on the outside that they nearly crumble into a powder in your mouth. Country Ma'am's crispy exterior is more like a crispy shell which cleaves cleanly. The TopValu cookies fail rather badly if you plan to microwave them a bit to warm them up. At that point, the dryness of the cookies becomes a serious liability whereas Country Ma'am holds up well.

A look at the ingredients list reveals that both cookies use similar components, but sugar is higher on the list on the Country Ma'am cookies. Since sugar adds moisture, crispness and softness to baked goods, this suits the differences between the texture of the Country Ma'am cookies and TopValu.

I consume Country Ma'am cookies very infrequently because I'm much more inclined to bake my own if I'm in a cookie mood. However, if I were inclined to pick up some chocolate chip cookies or have a bag to share with others, I'd pay the extra money, take a few fewer cookies, and go for the Country Ma'am cookies over the TopValu ones.


Anonymous said...

I've only recently found second rate snacks from you links and i love the site, it's so cool, though i don't know half of the products, it's interesting to read about.

I've tried country ma'am before, i love them, especially the maccha flavour! :)

Have you tried the Top Valu kit kat rip off? I've tried their royal tea flavour, and it actually wasn't too bad. I guess in comparison some of Top Valu's products are way better than some store's own labels, like in australia. :)

Orchid64 said...

Hi, and thanks for your comment and for reading. :-)

I have tried the TopValu KitKat copy and I thought they were pretty good. When I could buy single serving sizes (the equivalent of a regular 4-finger) KitKat, I would pick up an occasional TopValu wafer bar, but now they only sell them in big bags and I'm not quite so keen on them as to want so much around at once. They're not as good as a KitKat, but they're decent enough.