Trader Joe’s Candy vs. Drugstore Candy: A Taste Test Face-off
Author & Photographer: Juni Terry
I like to consider myself a drugstore candy connoisseur. From Snickers to Reese’s to Butterfingers to Airheads, I’ve tried them all. I’ve even tasted most of the seasonal and specialty varieties. Who could forget the Almond Snickers, the Dark Chocolate Hershey's, and the many seasonal shapes of Reese’s? Yet, there is one category of candy of which I do not consider myself an expert: Trader Joe’s candy.
Go to any Trader Joe’s and you will find that they don’t carry any candy of the Nestle or Hershey’s variety. You will, however, find a wide selection of candy of the Trader Joe’s store brand. Although they are usually named in roundabout ways to avoid copyright, it is all too clear which mainstream candies they aim to imitate. (My personal favorite is the Scandinavian Swimmers, a knockoff version of Swedish Fish, where the candies come in the shapes of fish, lobsters, and seahorses.)
The Trader Joe’s Candies are supposedly made from higher quality ingredients, and therefore are supposed to have a superior taste compared to their generic counterparts. However with Trader Joe’s candies’ higher price tags (often twice as much as their counterparts), it seems debatable whether the candies are truly worth their cost. From a nutritional standpoint, the generic candy and Trader Joe’s Candy are no different. I was not able to find a single candy that differed by more than 2 grams of sugar or 20 calories from it’s counterpart. Ingredients-wise it is also difficult to see a true difference in the candies. I was hopeful that the Trader Joe’s candies would have fewer ingredients. Yet, after comparing the ingredients lists of the candies, I found that both generic candies and Trader Joe’s candies use ample amounts of preservatives and artificial ingredients.
So if there is any true difference in Trader Joe’s candies from other candy, it must be in the taste. What better way to test that than a blind taste-test comparing Trader Joe’s candies and candies from the big name brands Nestle and Hershey’s? First year students of University of Chicago and amateur food critics, Shivani and Brianna, blind taste-tested six varieties of candy (three Trader Joe’s candies, three generic candies). We hope you may use the results below to make well-informed choices as candy consumers.
Milk Chocolate M&M’s vs. Trader Joe’s Candy Coated Chocolate Drops
“These are M&M’s for sure. I don’t like them. They are very sweet. I actually had a bad experience with M&M’s where I won an estimation jar full of like 3,000 of them. So I just can’t eat them any more. This happened like a year or two ago. It was pretty recent, so I know this is an M&M. It’s really sweet. I do like the crunch.”
Candy Coated Chocolate Drops:
“Ok... This is where it’s at. The quality of the chocolate is much better. The chocolate is creamier and that’s what matters. The shell is pretty much the same. Maybe a little crunchier. It’s really good.”
“Right off the bat, the crunch is not as good. It has a thin shell. Ugh! Not a good chocolate taste.Tastes like sugar and then a hint of coco. These taste really cheap and bad. They’re not smooth, just super overly sweet.”
Candy Coated Chocolate Drops:
“I can tell you this is not an M&M. The flavor profile is not on par. It’s much better. The chocolate is of a higher quality. It doesn’t have that syrupy weird taste that M&M's have. M&M's don’t really taste like chocolate. They taste like sugar with a tiny bit of coco. This has a more upfront coco taste. Also the shell is definitely more crunchy.”
The Verdict: The difference between an M&M and a Candy Coated Chocolate Drop was clear. Candy Coated Chocolate Drops had more of chocolatey flavor profile than the M&M’s, while M&M’s were found to be too sweet. Additionally, the shell of the Candy Coated Chocolate Drop was delightfully crunchier than that of the M&M.
The Winner: Trader Joe’s Candy Coated Chocolate Drops
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis vs. Trader Joe’s Mini Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups:
“Ok...this is really good. I appreciate the peanut butter and chocolate. It’s really good. It’s milk chocolate and it’s perfectly sweet. I like the salt in the peanut butter. It balances out the flavors.”
“Ok.. This one’s a little different.This is sweeter I think, less salty. I think this one is the cheaper one. I feel like the chocolate is just a lower quality. It just tastes a little too sweet.”
Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups:
“MMMM! This one is really good. The peanut butter has a really nutty flavor. When you first bite it, it’s very nutty, which is really nice. It tastes like real peanut butter. The chocolate is not as sweet. It doesn’t taste as upfront sugary. It has more of a coco taste, which is a good contrast to the peanut butter. I definitely like this one a lot better. And this was not a Reese’s, I can tell.”
“It’s good. I mean just typical reese’s, chocolate and peanut butter. Nice Salinity. Chocolate is a little too sweet. The peanut butter is definitely the redeeming quality of the chocolate. The chocolate’s not so great. The peanut butter is good.”
The Verdict: The difference between the Reese’s and the Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups was more subtle than the difference between the M&M’s and their counterpart. However, the chocolate and peanut butter of the Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups was still of discernibly higher quality than the Reese’s.
The Winner: Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups
Swedish Fish vs. Trader Joe’s Scandinavian Swimmers
“It’s definitely not a Swedish Fish. I don’t like the texture. It’s not chewy enough. It’s more Jello-y, not in a good way. ”
“These are much better. They have a better texture. The chewiness was much better. They’re also less sweet than the other one’s, which I like. Overall, better flavor and better texture. ”
“I like it. It’s gummy. It has a light flavor, but it’s still sweet. I would guess it’s a Swedish fish. It has a very basic flavor profile. It’s easy to pick out what a Swedish fish tastes like. It has a distinct flavor profile. No other candy tastes like it. I’m absolutely sure it’s a Swedish fish. There isn’t much to compare it too. It isn’t like chocolate, where there’s good chocolate and bad chocolate. Nobody makes a really good Swedish fish and bad Swedish fish.”
“It has a very different mouth feel. I’m not the biggest fan. Maybe I’m wrong about the other one being a Swedish fish. I don’t like this one. The texture is more gummy. It sticks to you teeth. Also it tastes like just sweetness with a lack of flavor. It’s just like eating sugar with a dry texture. The first one was definitely better. This one isn’t as good.”
The Verdict: This was by far the closest match. The Scandinavian Swimmers had a gummier texture and a stronger flavor. The Swedish fish had a more sticky texture and more subtle flavor. However, Shivani and Brianna could not agree which was they considered to be superior. Unlike chocolate candies, there is not a universal metric by which to judge the quality of gummy candies.
The Winner: Too hard to choose. It’s a tie!