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It’s crunch time – big brand or own label biscuits?

Three packets of chocolate digestive biscuits

Affordable treats are just the thing to cheer you up when times are tight. But are you loyal to your favourite big brands even though they cost a little more? Or have you found you can save on your indulgences too?

We were inspired to conduct a biscuit taste test after just under a thousand members told us that the chocolate digestive was first out the biscuit tin. Now a packet of milk chocolate biscuits certainly isn’t going to break the bank, even if I’m watching my pennies, but our tests found there were some considerable differences in price for our favourite tea time taste.

Top of the charts was McVitie’s chocolate digestive – scoring the highest in our recent taste test. No surprises there, but what did surprise me was that some own label milk chocolate digestives scored almost as highly for a fraction of the price.

Breaking the brand habit

I’m used to the idea of swapping to a premium range ready meal instead of a take away or a meal out, and using cheaper own-label staples in cooking. Economising even further on an inexpensive treat just hadn’t occurred to me.

But when I worked out I could buy three packets of Lidl’s 59p biscuits for just 2p more than one packet of McVitie’s, I could see it making sense.

The way the cookie crumbles

Out of habit I tend to go for a well-known brand when it comes to the trusted biscuit, as I can buy brands in most supermarkets. I can’t see myself making a special trip to a different store for an own label, low-cost treat, but I’ll certainly think about giving the own-label digestives in Waitrose and Sainsbury’s serious thought. They’re both more than 50p cheaper than McVitie’s, and scored highly too.

So what biscuits are in your biscuit tin? Do you loyally stick with big name brands even it they cost a bit more? Or are you switching to cheaper versions?

Which type of biscuits do you buy most often?

Own-label biscuits - they're just as tasty (43%, 99 Votes)

Branded biscuits - they're worth the extra (31%, 72 Votes)

I don't buy biscuits (25%, 58 Votes)

Total Voters: 231

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We buy biscuits from M&S. Chocolate digestives are as good or better than McVities at, often, around half the price. Rich Tea, Ginger Nut, Shortbread, and so on all as good as main brands but cheaper. Off topic – I’ve always been an HP Sauce fan until recently we bought M&S Brown Sauce at,again, half the price and it passed the taste test with flying colours.

Fox’s biscuits turn up in Tesco, M&S and elsewhere, and are easily recognisable. They can be cheaper. Of course biscuits are full of fat and sugar, so I’ve eaten them all to avoid temptation.

That’s exactly why I don’t buy biscuits, Wavechange. Once they are in the cupboard, I won’t rest until I have eaten every last one.

I used to buy own-label biscuits when I was a student and never noticed a difference in quality. It’s hard to get a bourbon biscuit wrong.

It’s good to know that someone else is not good at keeping their biscuits, Katie. The best solutions that I have found are to make my own biscuits (the effort involved makes me value them more), buy biscuits in sealed tins (on the basis that I will try to keep them until a visitor comes round) or to buy Rich Tea (which are the only biscuits I hate). I’ve never worked out why I can keep boxes of nice chocolates for months but biscuits have to be eaten, especially stem ginger cookies. 🙂

In the pre-recessionary days when tea and biscuits were served at business meetings, it was interesting to observe behaviour. People who came from another building or organisation used to arrive early and scoff all the Bourbon creams. Next in the “pecking order” were the custard creams followed by the plain digestives, the rich tea, and the ginger nuts in that order. Late arrivers might have to gnaw at a Garibaldi or scrape up the crumbs of a Lincoln. I never saw a chocoate-coated biscuit at these meetings. I think the secretaries used to purloin these in advance for the private offices and their bosses’ tiffin.

I do believe the McVitie dark chocolate digestive [or the “McVitie & Price Homewheat Chocolate Digestive” as it was called when I was growing up] is the most toothsome of all the brands available although Sainsbury’s runs it close. M&S and Cadbury are a little overloaded for my taste. I am not sufficiently familiar with any of the other chocolate digestives s to pass judgment. I think McVitie’s also lead the way with Hobnobs and Jaffa Cakes over their own-label copies. For dunking, I think Bourbon Creams are my favourite and nobody can beat Huntley & Palmer’s [previously Peek Frean’s] on taste and texture.

Perhaps the recent report on Obesity from the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges will provoke the government to putting VAT on Jaffa Cakes. The Customs & Excise tried to classify them as a biscuit once before but the Court decided – after a grand sampling session no doubt – that they were indeed a cake and therefore zero-rated. The clue is in the name presumably. Alternatively, we could just rename the entire genus “Obesity Biscuits” and see how popular they remain.

John Ward, the star of the dunking biscuits has to be the Ginger Nut! Perhaps they were left till the end at business meetings so they could be dunked in private afterwards.

I had never consciously considered the hierarchy of the biscuits presented in business meetings, though I do have an awareness of what to expect from different organisations. The local council generally does provide biscuits but – presumably as a result of funding cuts – the quality has suffered over the years, making Bourbon and Custard Cream a safer choice than anything with a chocolate coating. Meetings with Natural England are the highlight, though that is thanks to one generous employee and a local shop. I doubt that Defra provides NE with funding for biscuits these days.

John’s suggestion for classification of biscuits could be the basis of an interesting taxonomic study. It would be interesting to know whether certain species are best served with tea or coffee. Producing biscuits suitable for dunking may require collaboration between engineers, physicists and chemists.

Lidl’s biscuits are ghastly as with much else
besides (not all)….go for the premium ones
when on special offer, then stock up.

I buy Dark Chocolate HobNobs as I find them delicious – In Sainsburys they are often under a pound a packet – So I buy a packet or two then – One packet lasts my three dogs and I about two weeks – so often have three months supply – we share a biscuit or two between the four of us daily.
Please don’t write in about how dangerous dark chocolate is for dogs – not actually true in normal quantities – the toxic level of dark chocolate is 6 ounces for a 50 lb dog according to a number of vet’s studies – that is around 100 times the amount in a quarter of a HobNob – Even I haven’t eaten 6 oz of chocolate in one go – and I NEVER leave them around outside the fridge as they go stale .
In addition I’ve helped run a dog adoption kennels for large dogs (roughly 100lbs each) (Metric obsessed posters please convert) – some of our dogs have been given chocolate daily by well meaning adopters – In 50 years the number of dogs suffering overdoses of chocolate ZERO – the number of daily chocolate eaters living over 14 YEARS (a good age for a large dog) around 10 a year.

In these days of austerity, we should ban biscuits, bottled water, free tea and coffee from all public meetings and replace them with vending machines – proceeds to help pay off the deficit. We could also sell off the Houses of Parliament’s wine cellar and serve British Drinks to foreign visitors – Irn Bru and Dandelion and Burdoch. I have other ideas for running the country if you are interested.

For me, it has to be Tesco bourbon creams every time. I’ve recently been experimenting with bourbons from different ranges at different price levels, and I believe bourbons in the ‘value’ category actually have slightly less cream inside and a very slightly different tasting biscuit. Instead, I’ve opted for the own-brand, but not the ‘value’ brand. And John Ward – you’re spot on with the biscuit hierarchy!

I have to ask where Stem Ginger Cookies come in the hierarchy, and whether inexpensive variants exist.

John Felix. says:
22 February 2013

As someone,including family,never eat milk chocolate digestive biscuits,I am surprised you did not include plain chocolate biscuits in your survey.

Couldn’t agree more John – plain chocolate biscuits are much nicer than milk (unless you go for Belgian Chocolate). When I was young we used to get Victoria Wafers – thick triangular wafers coated in plain chocolate. Whatever happened to them? Just like Cadbury’s plain chocolate with roasted almonds.

Regularly buy biscuits from Aldi,most of which taste much like the brand buys. Only exception is chocolate which I buy from Sainsbury.However, being a saintly person I only eat about two biscuits a day with coffee of tea,so tend to last me a long time.

Martin says:
24 February 2013

Why didn’t you test dark chocolate at the same time? I buy McVitie’s dark chocolate, though the old recipe was better.

Martin (and John)

I assume that Which? has chosen Milk Chocolate Digestive for their trial because it is one of the most popular biscuits. It shows that it is worth trying cheaper biscuits rather than buying a more expensive brand. The same could apply with the dark chocolate version or other popular biscuits.

My only real brand allegiance has been to Nescafe instant coffees. I discovered Blend 37 when I was a student in the early 70s and then Alta Rica when that was launched. I did my own blind taste tests regularly to start with but then just carried on buying one or other of these coffees for years without thinking about price. As a result of an earlier Conversation I decided to do another test, bought a variety of unfamiliar coffees and set about another taste test, the first for years. I now know that I’m a lot less fussy than I used to be and now pick from about six type of coffee, depending on price. It is saving me money and means that I am doing less to support Nestle, a company that has attracted much public criticism.

EthnicCoffeeSearch says:
6 April 2020

Your stem ginger n Nescafe coffee love tells me that we share a lot of similar tastes. What coffee did you switch to?

I’m with Malcolm R on ginger biscuits being best for dunking. chocolate digestives are for crunching, not dunking. I wonder if there should have been an additional test for the number of crumbs left sitting on your jumper after you’ve eaten one? It can be embarassing if you only notice the evidence much later.

If we are referring to Ginger Nuts, they are small enough to be popped in the mouth with negligible danger of crumbs escaping. I prefer other varieties, even at the risk of producing crumbs.

Ginger Nuts are a bit big for one gentlemanly mouthful. My technique is to dunk it quickly halfway and consume (you don’t want sludge in the bottom of your tea cup), dunk the remaining half half way and consume, then crunch the last quarter.
The worst biscuit I have found for crumbs is Jammy Dodgers.

I did hesitate to make my ungentlemanly but practical suggestion, Malcolm. There may be a solution, if the bags of small Ginger Nuts are still available. I’m not sure about the etiquette of dunking and Wikipedia suggests that it is still be frowned on in the UK.

Surprised no one’s mentioned “mooo” buscuits. Most varieties of these malted milks are acceptable, though Fox’s are special. They’re so small that the calories -sorry, kilojoules – don’t count and a pack lasts for at least ten cups of tea. Mc V probably do the best digestives for cheesecakes and, once in a blue moon, I get a packet of chocolate ones. Cadbury’s fingers are tempting too. Home made shortbread, just about takes the biscuit -totally wicked!

Dunking is not in the same etiquette category as Burger Eating Contests from the home of Wikipedia.

I personally rarely eat MILK CHOC biscuits since first buying some dark choc. digestives from Aldi several years ago. A lovely, creamy chocolate taste, not powdery & @ 39p for 200 gms. fantastic value. Their ginger nuts also taste great & superb value too.

If you like dark chocolate as such, the Moser Roth dark choc. from Aldi is really fantastic, very creamy, even @ 85% cocoa & no ‘baddies’ in the ingredients either! 125 grammes in 5 small bars per pack for just 99p!

NB I’ve no connection with Aldi, just think they have excellent products generally & save £’s on our weekly shopping.

Nei C says:
13 March 2013

Like several of your commentators I only buy the dark chocolate versions, but I think the following comments on the old and new McVities CDB’s will apply to both.

1. The new pack says in large letters “Now with More Chocolate”. Technically correct, but could you tell the difference between 29% and 30%?

2. The salt content has been doubled from ½% to 1%. Next time you eat a McVities CDB’s just look at and picture what 1% of it would look like! It is a lot, and we are supposed to be trying to reduce the amount of salt in our diet. I think this would be worth a comment in the Which magazine.

I looked at M&S dark chocolate digestives. 28% Dark Chocolate (35% cocoa solids), 0.78g salt equivalent per 100g. Up to 50% the price. Nice biscuits.

It is a long time since I ate McVitie’s Milk Chocolate Biscuits, but just lately, I have been fancying them especially since I had to order some for my dad. So I ordered a packet.

What a disappointment. What have they done to them?

The biscuit used to have substance as though it was made with a wholemeal flour complete with bits, but now it tastes like compressed powder.

They used to have a good layer of chocolatey chocolate on them but now they have this thin layer of brown stuff that you have to imagine is chocolate.

The ingredients say 30% chocolate, but does this look like 30%?

I definitely won’t be buying these again.

No, Alfa, it certainly doesn’t. What is the 30% supposed to be measured against? Is it the overall weight of the biscuit including the chocolate, or the weight without the chocolate? It clearly isn’t 30% by volume.

I haven’t eaten a chocolate digestive biscuit for a long time now. I had some McVities plain digestives recently and thought they were fairly awful with a very pasty texture. I wouldn’t even use them in a cheesecake.

The percentage refers to the weight of ingredients in a product. If all the biscuits are similar McVities could be challenged.

Like Alfa I remember that the digestive biscuits used to be made with wholemeal flour, bits of which would find their way into the gaps between my teeth. This was not as obvious with chocolate digestives.

I like to bake my own biscuits and could do with some wholemeal flour. Is it OK to use wholemeal bread flour for general baking, because that’s all I have at present.

Interestingly these appear on Which? Best chocolate digestives 2020 with a score of 74% (Lidl were top with 77%).

McVities came in a close second – good news for those that prefer to buy a brand or if you shop in a range of supermarkets. Praised for its firm biscuit base and more importantly its strong flavour, our tasting panel were impressed with the trusty stalwart of British teatime. But, they do come at a cost. Unless they’re on offer, you’ll have to fork out more than twice as much as you would at Lidl to get your hands on these chocolatey treats.

I wonder how many years ago these were actually taste tested because that is not how I would describe them.

As to using wholemeal bread flour for biscuits, I don’t see why not, could you maybe mix in oatmeal? In a rush to complete a food order, I accidentally bought a 3 kilo bag of porridge oats (one regular size usually lasts us months) !!! We like plain oat biscuits so perhaps I should try making some.

I will have a go at making biscuits with wholemeal flour. My recent effort at oat biscuits was disappointing but not as bad as the previous version. Porridge oats vary in how they are milled and I have been using ones that are too coarse – rather like oatmeal.

I will have a go at Em’s recipe (in the lockdown hobbies Convo) when I can devote a whole packet of butter to the exercise.

Chilli Favuzza says:
8 June 2020

I have tried Digestive biscuits from Aldi and the one’s from Lidl and the best ones are from Aldi. The Lidl Digestive biscuits leaves a lingering nasty after taste. Test it for yourself.