Store Brand Mac and Cheese
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We Tried 13 Kinds of Store-Brand Mac and Cheese and These Are the Best

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Store Brand Mac and Cheese
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Quest for the Best

Kraft introduced its iconic macaroni and cheese boxed dinner more than 75 years ago. But these days, Kraft faces plenty of competition from grocery store versions of this family favorite. And not just traditional yellow mac and cheese, either. Shells and cheese, white cheddar, organic, extra creamy, and whole wheat are just a few of the varieties we found during a recent trip to six grocery stores, including Walmart and Aldi, in Austin, Texas. After purchasing a baker's dozen of boxed mac and cheese dinners, we rounded up some friends to taste them all and find out which — if any — are as good as Kraft.

Note: Prices and availability are subject to change.

Related: Best Store-Bought Chocolate Chip Cookies: Famous Amos vs. Chips Ahoy and 14 More

Simply Nature Organic Shells
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13. Simply Nature Organic Shells and White Cheddar (Aldi)

Price: $1.15
It didn't matter one bit that the ingredients in this Aldi mac and cheese dinner were organic — our panelists agreed that this was the worst of the bunch. The white cheddar sauce, smooth and glossy, sure looked tasty. But one taste was all it took for one of our volunteers to put her fork down, push away her plate, and declare simply, "No!" The sauce was notably oversalted and slightly gritty on the palate, with decidedly artificial notes that lacked any true cheese flavor.

Related: Aldi Products That Taste Like Name Brands — and Some That Definitely Don't

Signature Kitchens Original Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
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12. Signature Kitchens Original Macaroni & Cheese Dinner (Randall's)

Price: 99 cents
We didn't have high hopes for this brand of mac and cheese (also sold at Kroger and Albertsons stores) as we cooked it on the stove. The cheese sauce was soupy and thin, requiring extra time on the stove to reduce. That resulted in mushy macaroni that tasted almost like paste, while the sauce had an oddly sweet, buttery flavor that reminded us of the cheese powder you'd find on potato chips or popcorn.

Related: Whole Foods Prices Beat Kroger When Amazon Took Over. What About Now?

Cheese Club Macaroni and Cheese
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11. Cheese Club Macaroni and Cheese (Aldi)

Price: 33 cents
"Cheese Club? Sounds fun!" one of our panelists quipped as we tucked into Aldi's other answer to Kraft. However, Cheese Club was not fun. The powdered sauce resembled Tang crystals before slowly blending with the milk and butter into a bright yellow sauce. Like the Signature Kitchens mac and cheese, Aldi's version required extra stove time to reduce the sauce from its soupy start. The result: another buttery, bland, slightly mushy also-ran.

Related: 14 Things Not to Buy at Aldi

Macaroni and Cheese HEB
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10. Macaroni and Cheese (H-E-B)

Price: 99 cents
As we mixed the ingredients together, a notably cheesy aroma rose from the pot, giving us hope that this might just be a winner. It was not to be. The ingredients never mixed evenly, resulting in noodles with clumps of bright yellow sauce. The flavor was bland, with a gummy mouthfeel that clung to the palate. "This is just gross," one of our panelists declared after taking her first — and only — taste. But another panelist, while not exactly disagreeing, noted that this mac and cheese just might be a hit with those finicky kids who'll only eat bland foods.

Great Value Thick and Creamy Mac and Cheese
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9. Great Value Thick and Creamy Mac and Cheese (Walmart)

Price: 50 cents
The pinkish cheese powder didn't look promising, but once it cooked down, the sauce did indeed become thick and creamy. It tasted mellow and buttery, with slight cheesy flavor. Very slight. All of our panelists wanted to reach for the seasoning after a forkful or two. "It needs salt," one of our tasters remarked.

Related: 14 Hacks and Secrets for Shopping at Walmart

Whole Grain Macaroni and Cheese (H-E-B)
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8. Whole Grain Macaroni and Cheese (H-E-B)

Price: 68 cents
This was the only whole-wheat option among our samples, and all of our panelists agreed that the macaroni tasted more pasta-like than some of the others. Although the sauce powder was bright yellow out of the package, once combined with the other ingredients it had an odd greenish cast to it (probably because of the brown noodles) that made it appear less than mouthwatering to our panelists. The resulting buttery sauce had a noticeable sour cream-like tang, but still needed salt.

Simply Balanced Organic Classic Cheddar Cheese Macaroni and Cheese
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7. Simply Balanced Organic Classic Cheddar Cheese Macaroni and Cheese (Target)

Price: $1.49
The bright yellow cheese powder in Target's organic store-brand mac and cheese clung to the noodles in unappetizing globs. It lost points for visual appeal. But much to our surprise, the sauce did have a detectable, pleasant — if highly processed — cheesy flavor.

Market Pantry Macaroni and Cheese Dinner
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6. Market Pantry Macaroni and Cheese Dinner (Target)

Price: 99 cents
When we poured the cheese powder into the pot, all of us were at a loss trying to describe the color. Pinkish? Coral? Salmon? Whatever it was, we had our doubts about its cheesy provenance. But once prepared and plated, Target's Market Pantry looked just about as we expected classic boxed mac and cheese to appear: a buttery orangey yellow. None of our tasters disliked it — but they couldn't agree on whether it was passably pleasing or just kind of meh, so it ends mid-pack in our final ranking.

Macaroni and Cheese Wisconsin Cheddar
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5. Macaroni and Cheese Wisconsin Cheddar (Trader Joe's)

Price: 99 cents
The Trader Joe's devotees on our tasting panel salivated at the prospect of tasting mac and cheese from their favorite grocer. But when notes were compared, they agreed this isn't TJ's best effort. (More on that in a moment.) Like a few of the other store-brand macaroni and cheese dinners we tested, this one required extra time on the stovetop in order for the sauce to thicken. Trader Joe's did have a mild, cheddar-like cheesy flavor, and the pasta, while bland, didn't go all mushy despite overcooking.

Related: 12 Things You Should Skip at Trader Joe's

365 Everyday Value Shells and Alfredo
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4. 365 Everyday Value Shells and Alfredo (Whole Foods)

Price: 99 cents
Almost all of the mac and cheese dinners we sampled could have used a pinch or two of salt, pepper, and other seasoning. Not this one. As soon as we ripped open the cheese packet, we could smell the garlic throughout the kitchen. The aroma only intensified once we'd cooked and served the pasta — everyone agreed it was overseasoned. "It tastes like restaurant garlic bread, salty and buttery and too garlic-powdery," one of our panelists said. Yet after a few forkfuls, we didn't mind the seasoning as much. "This would be a great base for adding some veggies, mushrooms, or chicken to the pasta," another panelist said.

Related: 12 Healthy Meal Hacks for Hectic Households

365 Everyday Value Macaroni and Cheese
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3. 365 Everyday Value Macaroni and Cheese (Whole Foods)

Price: 99 cents
If judged on appearance alone, Whole Foods' "classic" mac and cheese would win. The picture-perfect pasta was genuinely curly — the way elbow macaroni ought to look, one of our tasters said, not the sorta-straight-sorta-curvy pasta most of the brands use — and the sauce had a pleasantly smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Like most of the boxed dinners in our sample, the sauce was a bit bland but did have a slight hint of American cheese that everyone liked.

Organic Shells and White Cheddar
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1 - Tie. Organic Shells and White Cheddar (Trader Joe's)

Price: $1.39
When it comes to genuine cheese flavor, this TJ's mac and cheese had it in spoonfuls. Our panel agreed it had to most natural dairy flavor, more Parmesan-like than cheddar perhaps but cheesy all the same. The pasta was toothsome, not gummy, and the sauce was smooth, silky, and just thick enough. Even after it had been sitting in the pot for awhile, all of us kept sneaking extra bites. "It tastes like Annie's," one panelist said approvingly.

Great Value Original Mac and Cheese
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1 - Tie. Great Value Original Mac and Cheese (Walmart)

Price: 50 cents
In terms of appearance before and after cooking, and the all-important taste test, our review panel said Walmart's Great Value Original was by far the closest to classic Kraft mac and cheese. The sauce was buttery, with a subtle tang that gave all of our volunteer tasters pleasant childhood flashbacks and just enough salt to give it that familiar processed-cheese flavor we love. As with the Trader Joe's variety, everyone went back for more.