As Taster's Choice begins its 13th year of helping shoppers navigate the many options at local grocery stores, we are reflecting this week on the past six months of tastings.
Each month, I shop for a variety of foods, hitting the major grocery chains as well as Target, Walmart, Fresh Market and Trader Joe's. I occasionally visit Aldi and some smaller food stores, depending on what items I am seeking.
We try to keep the column current and seasonal, sampling foods we think shoppers will be buying each week. We take suggestions from friends, family members, editors, shoppers and you, the consumer. So please feel free to email me at email@example.com if you want us to taste something special.
We aim to get a balance of healthy foods and snack foods. Our goal is to try to find all of the different brands of the same item and compare the flavor and texture. That's why we can't taste fresh fruit, for example, because the apples you buy in the store one day will not be the same on another shopping trip.
Our panelists are not shy about telling you how the foods they sample look or taste. We also ask panelists whether they would buy the items. It's not a scientific study, just a synopsis of what our panelists say about the products.
Our judges, some of whom have been on the panel since our first meeting in the summer of 2004, volunteer their time once a month to taste all of the foods in one sitting. That can make for some upset stomachs, but they continue to press on for the sake of shoppers.
The judges rank some of the foods on a scale of 1 to 100. We try to taste at least five brands of every food. If we have more than 12 of one item, we sometimes split the tasting into two sessions to make it easier on our palates. If we taste only three or four items, we don't score those foods and instead list them in order of the judges' preference.
We also try to taste a variety of the new foods on the market. You know, the ones on the end cap of the store aisles that grab your attention just before you line up to check out.
Twice a year, we publish the list of the "winners" or top picks from the tastings of the past six months. We don't list new foods here because they are not scored or ranked.
Below is a list of what judges have eaten and enjoyed since July.