A coworker and I recently discovered our mutual love of Little Debbie Snacks - Swiss Rolls, in particular.

Executive Editor Deborah Cassell stands by the Little Debbie brand, despite strong private label competition.


A coworker and I recently discovered our mutual love of Little Debbie Snacks - Swiss Rolls, in particular. We began sharing them every day around 3 p.m. Although we often went without, the two of us became known around our office for the snack cake obsession.

At one point, our guy friends dared us to down one Swiss Roll each (a single box offers six individually wrapped packages, each containing two “cylinders,” as our buddy Adam calls them) for three months straight in exchange for them footing the bill.

Marina and I carefully contemplated the bet. Would we be able to finish one cream-filled chocolate silo every day for 90 days without A) getting sick and tired of our favorite midday snack? B) getting physically ill from eating too many? C) gaining a few extra pounds? D) all of the above?

In the end, we didn’t have to decide. The guys folded on the wager, claiming it would be too hard to track (who would witness our activity on weekends?) and too easy for us to win. (Quitters!)

I feel confident we would’ve prevailed. But I’m also relieved the bet’s off the table, as I’d hate to ruin my taste for the best snack cakes on the planet just to prove those silly boys wrong.

But the competition wasn’t over yet.

On my trip to ALDI for last month’s cover story, I happened upon an entire line of Little Debbie-like offerings from the store’s Baker’s Treat brand, including a replica of Marina’s and my personal favorite.

And so The Little Debbie Swiss Roll Challenge was born.

The objective: Perform a blind taste-test of both brands and vote for the better roll. We girls were joined by Adam (who’s been known to eat an entire box in one sitting) and two other colleagues, including a private label magazine editor. I knew I’d be able to tell the difference between the two products, but wondered how ALDI’S version would compete.

As reported in the August issue of Retail Confectioner (and in the aforementioned editor’s publication earlier this year), private label sales are on the rise in this down economy. Supermarkets such as ALDI are profiting from an influx of new customers who’ve discovered that the quality of private label rivals that of mainstream national brands. ALDI even offers private label chocolate.

So does Trader Joe’s, a retailer that has long provided such products, and in profiles ranging from gluten-free, vegetarian and fat-free to low-sodium, vegan and kosher. The chain sells private label chocolate bars, chocolate-covered nuts, chocolate mints … the list goes on. New confectionery items include its Trader Joe’s brand Chocolate Crisps, made from Belgian milk and dark chocolate, and infused with tiny, rice bits.

Private label also is a money-maker for IKEA. Last month (after purchasing some throw pillows and a new duvet cover), I hit the megastore’s food market. There, shoppers can purchase a number of Swedish-made goods made just for the company, including LANTCHIPS Salted Potato Chips and CHOKLAD LJUS (milk chocolate). I also bought a package each of KEX Ballerina (cookies with chocolate) and KAKCR CHOKLADFLARN (Double Chocolate Crisps), plus GODIS GULA SNÖREN (candy laces with toffee flavour) for my father, who’s passionate about toffee. (See next month’s issue.)

Speaking of international imports, one of the best spots for all things non-American is Cost Plus World Market, which sources products from around the globe and domesticates them for stateside consumers (or for former globetrotters like me who enjoy Bonne Maman preserves and fancy Dijon mustards). They also offer Italian-made Vergani Cocoa Truffles with Hazelnuts, Polish A’Madorro Chocolate Pralines, German Katjes candies and Darrell Lea Australian Liquorice. Of course, World Market carries national brands, too. I was excited on a recent visit to find the PEZ Star Trek gift set, featuring Captain Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Lt. Uhura. World Market also produces private label products, including (you guessed it) chocolate.

You might be wondering how the Swiss Roll Challenge turned out. The verdict: Little Debbie, of course … but not by a landside. All of us were impressed by the rookie contender from ALDI. In fact, two out of five judges said they’d buy the lesser-known brand (especially if it meant saving some dough).

As the anonymous private label editor put it, “The average consumer does not have a taste as discerning as the Swiss Roll connoisseur, and seeing that private label targets the average consumer, especially in this economy, I think ALDI offers an excellent product.”

I agree, Randy. (Oops … Identity revealed!) But I’ll be sticking with Little Debbie. She’s seen me through the best and worst of times, since childhood. I owe it to her to remain faithful.

Is it 3 o’clock yet?