What to get at Target and what to forget

Winners and washouts from Consumer Reports' tests

Published: October 09, 2014 08:00 AM
Click on the photo to watch our exclusive video.

Target is like the Lays potato chips of big-box retailers—good luck leaving there with just one item. Since opening its first store in Minnesota in 1962 (there are now nearly 2,000 throughout the U.S. and Canada), the discount store has perfected the one-stop-shopping model by selling everything from lightbulbs to laundry detergent to LED TVs. The quantity of merchandise is often backed by quality, based on Consumer Reports' tests of many Target products, including those sold under its exclusive store brands: Archer Farms, Market Pantry, and Up & Up. But other Target products missed the mark, so you need to shop wisely. With that, here's our roundup of Target winners, washouts, and also-rans. (Watch our exclusive video below about what to get and forget at Target.)

Black & Decker CM4000S

Target winners                

Some Black & Decker coffeemakers are exclusive to Target, the same way certain John Deere lawn mowers are sold only at Home Depot. The Target-exclusive Black & Decker CM4000S 12-cup drip coffeemaker, $40, makes our picks list, combining solid brew performance and handling with intuitive setup and operation. 

We also tested the Black & Decker Single Serve CM620B, $35, which brews directly into a 16-ounce thermal mug. While we don't recommend any coffeemakers from the single-serve to-go category, mainly because they're less convenient with fewer features, this Target exclusive was the best of the bunch.

Next time you're in the grocery section of Target, stop off at the condiment aisle. Our expert taste testers deemed Market Pantry Ketchup every bit as balanced and full-flavored as Heinz. We also liked Market Pantry Mayonnaise, which rivaled Hellmann's in taste and texture, but could cost at least 25 percent less. And for your morning waffles and pancakes, grab a bottle of Archers Farms 100% Pure Maple Syrup. We think you'll appreciate its thickness and big, bold flavors. 

Frozen foods
Target's frozen food cases have also had several winners in our past tests. Best of the bunch were the Market Pantry frozen mixed vegetables, which we found to be just as crisp and fresh tasting as those from Birds Eye.  

Up & Up Full Sheet Puddle Busters

Paper products 
Paper towels are one staple you can add to your Target list. Though it's not great for scrubbing, the well-priced Up & Up Full Sheet Puddle Busters paper towel offers solid absorbency and wet strength, so it should do the job on everyday spills. Over in the tissue aisle, grab a box of the Up & Up Aloe & Vitamin E Lotion facial tissues, which were exceptionally soft in our tests.  

Snacks and treats
Target is also a great place to stock up on snack foods. Our testers liked Market Pantry Peanut Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, noting the big roasted-peanut flavor with a nice hint of honey and toasted grains. Another tasty treat: Archer Farms Jumbo Cashews, which met our testers' standard for freshness. And Archer Farms Trail Mix rivaled Planters for its flavorful mix of peanuts, almonds, raisins, and tasty candy-coated chocolate pieces. 

Generic drugs
Target did well in a survey we ran last year of drug prices, beating out drugstore chains like CVS, Rite-Aid, and Walgreens. Up & Up Ibuprofen, the generic version of Advil, cost about $2.50 for 100 caplets, compared with about $7.50 for Rite-Aid's store brand. Up & Up Naproxen, the generic version of Aleve, sold for $5.50 at Target, versus $8.50 for Walgreens' store brand. Want the generic version of Allegra 24-hour? We paid about $13.50 at Target for a 30-count pack, compared with $17.00 for the Rite-Aid store brand.             

Target also offers hundreds of discount generic prescription drugs, costing as little as $4 for a 30-day supply or $10 for 90 days. Examples include the generic diabetes drug metformin (Glucophage) and antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac).

If you're in Target's pharmacy section during hot weather—or before a vacation to a sunny clime—pick up a container of Up & Up Sports SPF 50 sunscreen, one of our highest-rated sprays, with superb SPF and UVA protection. 

Chefmate Aluminum 16-piece set

Target washouts

Paying $55 for a 16-piece cookware set might sound like a bargain. But Target's Chefmate Aluminum 16 piece set came in 12 out of 13 tested models in our latest tests of nonstick cookware. The problem: its nonstick coating did not hold up well in our durability test, which involves scrubbing the surface with steel wool up to 2,000 times. Consider the Calphalon Simply Nonstick 10 piece cookware, $200, which came through the tough test virtually unscathed.

If you're looking for uncoated cookware, we also tested Target's T-Fal Performance Copper Bottom Stainless Steel 10-piece set, $100. It fared better than the Chefmate, but subpar handle sturdiness helped keep it off the picks list. 

Though we like Target-exclusive coffeemakers, we can't say the same for its coffee. Market Pantry Classic Roast is second from the bottom in our current Ratings of 26 blended coffees. It lacks complexity and leaves behind a bitter taste. Consider Whole Foods, whose Allegro Organic Continental Blend offers fairly complex, bold flavors with nice fruit and chocolate notes. At $12 per pound, it's about three times as much as the Market Pantry, but it's worth it, especially if you're a coffee connoisseur.     

Salad dressings
Given Target's success in the condiment category, we had high hopes for its salad dressings. But the trio we tested were middling at best. The Market Pantry Caesar was dominated by black pepper and dehydrated spice flavors. Try the well-balanced Trader Joe's Romano instead. Market Pantry Light Ranch had better balance, but the overall impression was too commercial. Market Pantry Ranch tasted better, but the onion flavor was a bit too strong, certainly compared with Walmart's top-rated Great Value Classic.  

Up & Up HE Free and Clear

Target also-rans

Detergents and cleaners  
Several Target-exclusive detergents and cleaners did well enough in our tests, so you may want to add them to the cart. For example, Up & Up HE Free and Clear laundry detergent, 12 cents per load, fared well overall, but struggled against tough blood and ring-around-the-collar stains. Up & Up Dish Packs, 17 cents per load, were excellent at cleaning dishes, though only so-so on pots. And the Up & Up All-Purpose Cleaner with bleach, just under $2, did a decent job, though it's more prone to streaking than other cleaners we tested.   

Our latest wine Ratings include a pair of boxed wines carried by Target. The Wine Cube Chardonnay was actually quite drinkable, with complex wood and butter notes balanced well by clean fruit flavors. Several wines scored better, but for $6 you might want to pick up a box. The similarly priced Wine Cube Merlot didn't fare as well with our testers, but it might stand up to a plate of BBQ ribs or spicy meatballs. 

—Daniel DiClerico (@dandiclerico on Twitter) 

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