Friday, July 15, 2011

Product Review: Annie's Bunnies

Hello again everyone! Welcome to a bonus Friday edition of Out Of The Culinary. With as busy as we have been lately, we haven’t been able to post as much content as we’d like – today, we’re making up for some of that with a product review! One of the things we like to do on the blog is feature a product, device or gadget that we feel is worth a look. We are not a paid-per-post blogging site, we don’t have any advertisements and in no way do any of the companies ever reimburse us for the free publicity. We attempt to sustain the blog simply via our cookbook sales and free will donations. (Links for both of those are on the right hand side of the blog – we’d greatly appreciate your support!) We are simply doing these features for you, dear reader, as a way to share cool (or not so cool) products with our fellow culinary fans.

Today, we’re featuring a food product (a first for the blog) that Maggie and I stumbled upon about a month or two ago. The product, Annie’s Bunnies snack crackers are a line of organic snack crackers comparable to the Goldfish brand and Ritz / Cheez-It brands you find in the snack isle of your grocery store. The difference is that Annie’s Bunnies are supposed to be organic and much better for you. While nutrition can be decided fairly easily – the one thing a box will not tell you about is flavor. Luckily for you, we put our taste buds on the line so you wouldn’t have to. So, do Annie’s Bunnies stack up with the competition? Or is it better to eat a cardboard box?

Product Review: Annie’s Bunnies: Organic Bunnies (cheddar) snackmix

This review will focus on the Annie’s Bunnies: Organic Bunnies (cheddar) snackmix. Not all of the Organic Bunnies line fall under the below review. More details on that later on.

We compared the products versus their largest ‘big name’ competitor in each category. We are not negatively reflecting on the products chosen as ‘competition’. Rather, we are simply giving you a basis of comparison.

About our process:

Annie’s Bunnies can be found in the nutritional or health section of your local grocery store. (They also may be found in the organic section). Immediately, this indicates to the consumer that this product is inherently ‘better’ than something that doesn’t reside in these isles. The savvy consumer, of course, knows that this isn’t always true. There are countless products in the organic / health section of our local Hy-Vee that are not 100% good for you. Simply put – it might be organic, but that doesn’t mean it needs to go into your diet.

The obvious way to compare the nutritional value of two products is to flip the boxes and compare the labels side to side. While this does give you a decent idea of what the differences may be between two products, it doesn’t always tell the full story. Sure, the calories and fat content may be lower in product A, but product A also packs a high amount of sodium or contains some form of artificial coloring or sweetener that may throw off even the most health conscious consumer.

So the question became, how can we compare the products in a fair way? We needed a third party grading system that would evaluate all of the data about a certain product (consistently) and give us an across the board score that we could use. The answer? Fooducate.

Fooducate was created by dieticians to be a quick and easy reference for consumer to use to make smarter choices in their diets. They have an iPhone app (also available on the Android Marketplace) that uses your mobile phone’s built in camera as a barcode scanner. Simply point the camera at the barcode and Fooducate does the rest.

Fooducate gives any product a letter grade (standard letter grades: A+ trough F, just like in grade school) based on a multitude of factors. Yes, grams of fat, calories, sodium and all of the standards are included in the grade – but other factors such as ingredients and additives are also factored in. After a few short minutes with the app, you’ll be amazed at just how much variation there is in your local grocery store.

Some products will shock you (Wheat Thins Whole Wheat Crackers – dubbed ‘100% whole wheat’ on the box, earned a dismal D+ due to their high sodium content and the fact that they were not ‘actually 100% whole wheat’) Fooducate will also recommend products in the same category. For example if you’re trying to find healthy microwave popcorn, Fooducate can tell you which products scored the highest in this category. Fooducate will also show you where the product you scanned is on the grading scale, relative to other products in the same category. Simply put, it’s an amazing tool that you need to be using while you’re shopping.

With over 200,000 products (and growing) there is very little that Fooducate cannot find. Even Hy-Vee store brands can be found in the database. If there’s anything you can’t find, you simply have to scan the front of the box and the ingredients & nutritional label and Fooducate will research and grade the product within a few days. Did we mention the app was free? If you own an iPhone or Android – you owe it to yourself to download this app.

Armed with our jury, we were not set to begin comparing Annie’s Bunnies vs the competition. First up, Organic Bunnies Snackmix vs Cheez It Party Snack Mix.

Nutritional Values:

Annie’s Bunnies:

Serving Size: 40 Pieces
Calories: 140
Fat Grams: 5 g
Carbs: 20 g
Protein: 3 g
Sodium: 300 mg
Cholesterol: 0 mg

Fooducate Grade: B-

Cheez It: Snackmix

Serving Size: ½ Cup
Calories: 130
Fat Grams: 4.5 g
Carbs: 20 g
Protein: 3 g
Sodium: 370 mg
Cholesterol: 0 mg

Fooducate Grade: C

Now, you may be looking at the above data and asking yourself: why did the big name score lower? The two products are almost identical nutritionally! (as an side, the ½ cup serving size of Cheez it is significantly lower than the 40 pieces from Annie’s Bunnies). The answer lies in the ingredients. (Remember Fooducate scores on nutritional value and ingredients). A simple glance at the ingredients of each product paints the full picture:

Annie’s Bunnies Ingredients:

Organic wheat flour, organic pressed vegetable oil (sunflower oil, canola and/or safflower) salt, organic evaporated cane juice, organic cheddar cheese, organic pasteurized milk, cheese culture, yeast extract, organic barley malt, organic natural butter flavor, baking soda, organic paprika, annatto extract for natural color, organic celery seed, organic onion.

Not one thing on that list is an unpronounceable chemical. Everything on the list is natural or organic. So, how does Cheez-it stack up in the ingredient department?

Cheez-it: Snackmix Ingredients:

Enriched flour (wheat flour), niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, (Vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid, soybean and palm oil (with TBHQ for freshness), cheese made with skim milk, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes, annatto extract for color, paprika, yeast, paprika oleoresin for color.

That’s just for the Cheez-It pieces. The pretzels, rice balls and wheat squares all have their own list – just as long. Now, it should be noted that Annie’s Bunnies do not have rice balls, but do contain every other product listed on the Cheez-It box. For those keeping score at home, it took the Cheez-It product three whole ingredients before it hit its first chemical. (thiamin mononitrate) – While Annie’s Bunnies didn’t list a single thing you couldn’t pronounce.

There you have it, when you compare what each product is composed of right in front of you, the healthy option is obvious.

The verdict:

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be eating something with ingredients I can pronounce (and that don’t stretch on for ½ the box) rather than chemicals and additives that I don’t know their origins. As far as nutrition is concerned, Annie’s Bunnies win in a landslide.


Nutritional value is all well and good – but you know as well as I do that many nutritional ‘winners’ come out as duds when it comes down to flavor. Every single one of us out there has tried some form of health product and winced in disgust as the flavor we were greeted with was more reminiscent of cardboard than food.

Luckily, that isn’t the case for Annie’s Bunnies. In fact, I’m happy to report that in a head to head contest with Cheez-It snackmix, they are almost indistinguishable. Both products are delicious. A great blending of cheddar infused salty goodness that makes for a perfect snack. As far as flavor is concerned, you cannot go wrong with either product – but when you factor in nutritional value and ingredients, Annie’s Bunnies become the clear winner.

We could spend all day reviewing each individual product line of Annie’s Bunnies – but that would be worthy of a college thesis and well, I get the feeling that you wouldn’t find it too interesting after awhile. So instead we will give you a few bullet points on some of the other offerings.

Annie’s Bunnies: Cinnamon 

Fooducate Grade: B-

Flavor: Outstanding

Compared to:

Cinnamon Graham Goldfish

Fooducate Grade: C-

Flavor: Good, a little too much ‘cinnamon’ in some bites

Winner: Annie’s Bunnies

Annie’s Bunnies: Chocolate Bunnies

Fooducate Grade: B-

Flavor: Great

Compared to:

Teddy Grahams (Chocolate)

Fooducate Grade: C-

Flavor: Great

Winner: Annie’s Bunnies

Annie’s Bunnies: Chocolate & Vanilla Bunnies

Fooducate Grade: B-

Flavor: Good, both flavors need to be combined or the overall flavor seems ‘bland’

Compared to: No available market comparison

Annie’s Bunnies: Chocolate Chip

Fooducate Grade: B-

Flavor: Good, not overly sweet – somewhat ‘lacking’ compared to competition

Compared to:

Teddy Grahams (Chocolate Chip)

Fooducate Grade: C-
Flavor: Great

Winner: Again, Annie’s Bunnies are not as sweet, but the flavor difference is more than offset by the nutritional difference. Bunnies win again.

Annie’s Bunnies: Bunnies & Friends

Fooducate Grade: C-

Flavor: Great

No market comparison available

This one is a mix of chocolate, honey, chocolate chip and vanilla and well…it’s not good for you. Loaded with sodium and sugars, this one goes to show that all of the Annie’s Bunnies product line isn’t ‘instantly healthy’. While it certainly is better than other options on the market – you can do better by grabbing a box right next to this one. (I.E. another Annie’s Bunnies product).

There are many, many more Annie’s Bunnies products on the market (we are currently trying the cereal). A vast majority of the time, the Annie’s Bunnies line seems to be a great alternative to the big name, more conventional competition. The flavor is nearly identical or very close and the ingredients are almost always better than the competition. The tradeoff, of course, is cost. Annie’s Bunnies tend to run anywhere form $1 to $2.50 higher than their competition. Based on nutritional bonuses and knowing that what I’m eating isn’t pumped full of chemicals – that is a price I’m willing to pay. Obviously most consumers shop based on bottom dollar only – thus the reason why we’re trying to show that there are other (just as tasty) options out there.

We hope you enjoyed our (very limited) product review. We spent two solid weeks of research and work on this post – scanning products, researching competitors – it was daunting. Not to mention all of the taste testing we had to do. (It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it!)

That's all we have for you this week. We're back with new recipe on Tuesday (No 'Around The Culinary World' for Monday). Be sure to stop in then to see what we've got cooking. Until then,


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