Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Continued Testing of Archer Farms at Target

Target, partially in response to the economic downturn, partially in response to Wal-Mart, has wildy expanded its food offerings. Truly, they've managed to turn small sections of their stores into veritable supermarkets. Obviously, they skew pre-packaged food, since those have longer shelf lives, wider profit margins, and require a lower level of maintenance. But every Target has a central section that has a surprisingly large selection of fruits and veggies. Moreover, they have Purdue chicken for cheaper than anywhere else on Earth, as far as I can tell.

But it's in the freezers that Target really impresses. They have a selection of frozen vegetables, pasta, meat, seafood, and pre-made goodies that easily matches most supermarkets. Likewise for their sections of cereal, breads, snacks, and coffee.

Target's in-house, mid-range, wanna-be-organic brand Archer Farms is represented with about 1,000 products in the freezers, and I've been busily trying them all. Considering Archer Farms' high-end aspirations, many of the things that I've purchased have been rather disappointing.

First up are the frozen appetizers, such as bite-sized spanikopitas. These are almost universally too salty, and no matter the tricks that I used, they tasted like pre-packaged food. In fact, anything that was perishable, the frozen pizza, the dips, frozen desserts like the Cheesecake Bites, or Asian entrees were all overdone with one particular flavor. Most tasted acceptable, but only in comparison to other frozen foods.

Their meats, such as sausages and fish, are rather good. They taste as they should and there is nothing about them that stands out as negative. The same goes for their dairy, juices, frozen fruit, and baking mixes. In general, their raw materials seem to be of universally good quality.

I didn't try their tea, but their coffee is as good as one would expect from supermarket shelf coffee, that is, stale but decently flavorful. It wasn't a disappointment per se, since all it did was fulfill my expectations, but I still wouldn't buy it.

Their pasta sauce was a big point of hope for me. High quality pasta sauces are not cheap, with the best one, Rao's, costing significantly more than any other sauce on the shelf. A jar of Rao's can quickly eliminate much of the cost savings of having pasta at home. As a quick experiment, I picked up two jars from the shelf, Mario Batali's Tomato Basil and Archer Farms' Tomato Basil for a comparison. At only $3.99, the Archer Farms jar was half the price of the Batali brand.

It didn't specifically taste worse, but it did taste cheaper. It was closer in flavor to the lower-priced brands, but if placed among them was certainly one of the better sauces. Its smell was much less complex and enticing than the Batali sauce, and the flavor was predominantly tomato. Batali's sauce is more complex, a little sweeter, and it doesn't bathe the palate in thick tomato flavor, thus overpowering other elements. All things considered, Archer Farms is good, but I'd still either make my own, or opt to spend the extra cash on Mario Batali or Rao's.

I think that the takeaway from Archer Farms is that, if the product that you are thinking of buying is a raw material, be it meat, or jam, or bread, it will be quite good. If it required preparation somewhere, such as pizza or frozen meals, it's a total crap shoot.

3 comments:

Moe said...

Archer farms makes really good Samosas.

Aaron MC said...

Moe,

You thought so? I was underwhelmed. I found them too salty and lacking in other flavors. My favorite of their pre-made goodies were the bite-sized quiches.

Moe said...

Frankly, I think I was enamored by their level of spice. I have a horrible sense of smell, so things have to be seasoned heavily for me to taste it. Kim liked them though.

Maybe we were just that surprised. lol.