War Of The Off-Brand Sodas - Which Cheap Soda Is Best?

We all love sodas ... with the possible exception of when we brush our teeth and immediately thereafter drink some Diet Coke (inadvertently creating a taste in our mouth similar to that of shampoo mixed with battery acid).

Still, the good stuff can become expensive, especially if you tend to go through the stuff like it was oxygen molecules and you’re buried alive. Budget-wise, you will find you’re spending more on soft drinks than gasoline and it gets you just about as far; what can you do? Is there no hope but to gain some self control and try to curtail your soda habit?

Yeah, right. The obvious answer is, of course, to start buying cheaper pop. Some innovative soda substitutes have been waiting for you on your grocer’s shelves, abandoned and alone. But the kick is they’re generally half the price of the brand name sodas! And for good reason, as you’re about to find out.

As part of our site’s ongoing dedication to customer service, we are proud to provide the world’s first taste test of the off-brand sodas. Some of the grocery stores listed below may or may not be available in your particular neck of the woods, but our high soda budget prevented us from flying around to various parts of the country to sample the local pop. If you’re significantly intrigued by any of the following, however, you’re more than welcome to travel to the West Coast and give any of them a shot. May the least worst man win!

(EDITOR'S UPDATE: This article was published in 2006 and has not been updated. We have kept this article on our site for folks who are curious about these off-brand sodas as the reviews on these soda are still accurate today. Unfortunately, some of the brands covered in this article are no longer available and the prices of these sodas are now mere relics of history.) 

Albertson’s Black Cherry

Smooth as a cloud, as flavorful as something with a lot of flavor, Albertson’s Black Cherry was the first contestant on our chopping block. With the help of my trained staff of qualified researchers - who mainly consisted of my friend, Merritt, who is a diabetic and was risking his life drinking so many crappy sodas (but for so great a cause!) - we evaluated the drinks in terms of cost, flavor, aftertaste, scent, consistency, bottle design, and overall, on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being absolutely vile and 10 being the regular flavor of the name-brand soda or energy drink quality). Our results were as follows for Albertson’s Black Cherry:

Flavor: 6. It was pretty good in terms of how it actually tasted at first, seeming to generate a fairly accurate representation of cherries. However…

Aftertaste: 4. The aftertaste wasn’t that great. It tasted flat, and had little bite. You had to keep drinking it in order to get the full effect (maybe that’s Albertson’s intention, however).

Scent: 8. It smelled like cherries. Not bad.

Consistency: 4. Very flat-not a lot of fizz. And this was right out of the can.

Bottle design: 7. A cheerful font coupled with a good contrast of color. I would buy this based on the look alone.

Overall: 6. A decent competitor to regular black cherry drinks, the let-down of the aftertaste is cancelled out by the low cost.


Sam’s Choice Mountain Lightning

Available at Wal Mart, Mountain Lightning is the low-cost equivalent of Mountain Dew. But since Mountain Dew is my favorite pop by a mile, the bar was set pretty high. Let’s see how it measured up.

Flavor: 5. From start to finish is aftertaste, like you’re not really drinking it in real time. It tastes like chemicals, and has very high citric acid levels with low caffeine levels. That being said, it wasn’t too bad.

Aftertaste: 4. The citrus really kicks in and leaves a fruity aftertaste. Not very good.

Scent: 7. It generally smelled Mountain Dew-esque.

Consistency: 6. Pretty fizzy. Maybe a little too fizzy.

Bottle design: 8. It really grabs your attention with the lightning bolts, though it is a naked rip-off of Mountain Dew’s color scheme.

Overall: 5. The bar is set pretty high here, and this is probably as good as anyone who isn’t Mountain Dew can ‘dew.’


Albertson’s Citrus Sling

We think Citrus Sling is trying to be Squirt or Fresca, though the taste is so much unlike either of those drinks it’s kind of hard to tell. A hint for all you Midwest types: Albertsons is known as “Jewel” out there. Same store, different name.

Flavor: 2. Very poor imitation, this tastes like a carbonated lemonade. Merritt called it ‘Citrus Rubber Band’ and thought that was very amusing.

Aftertaste: 2. Gross from start to finish, afterwards, and everything in between.

Scent: 4. Kind of weird, it would make you cautious to drink this.

Consistency: 3. Extremely flat, this lacked in fizz consistency-wise but tried to make up for it in taste by blasting you with the watered-down citrus flavor.

Bottle design: 3. Pretty boring. The colors are weak and there isn’t a lot of contrast. You could easily miss this in the grocery store-it doesn’t jump off the shelf, begging to be purchased.

Overall: 4. A poor imitation of whatever it’s trying to imitate. When you can’t even tell what that something is, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.


Big K’s Red Crème Soda

Available at Smith’s Food and Drug (although I take it it is also available at K-Mart given the name?), this was a tasty little number. Big fans of Barq’s beverages, especially their very tasty Red Crème Soda flavor, we had pretty high expectations for any competitor. Surprisingly, Smith’s did pretty good.

Flavor: 9. Surprisingly good. It certainly didn’t have the ‘bite’ that Barq’s products are famous for, but the flavor was spot-on.

Aftertaste: 7. Good, which is saying a lot in this group. It has a consistent taste, both initially and aftertaste-wise.

Scent: 10. Smells exactly like the original. Someone did their homework.

Consistency: 7. Again, not as much ‘bark/bite’ effect as the original, but certainly not as flat as the others we’ve sampled so far.

Bottle design: 2. Extremely poor. It doesn’t help that half the bottle is in Spanish and you have to turn it around to get the English translation. If you’re not keen enough to think to turn the label around, you’d never know what this is unless you were bilingual. You come to America, you learn the language. Simple as that!

Overall: 8. A worthy replacement, especially given the low price and the fact that 2-liter Barqs are either non-existent or difficult to find.


Sam’s Cola

I’m not a big fan of Coke/Pepsi in the first place; they taste like generic syrup-flavored colas to me. But even I know the Real Thing (though by far not my favorite) is much better than this. I know Wal Mart has done more for the low-income families in this country than almost anyone, but they really should be ashamed of themselves for this creation.

Flavor: 4. It somewhat tastes like Coke while it’s in your mouth, but once you swallow…

Aftertaste: 1. It becomes completely vile. An awful aftertaste that will have you reaching for something, anything else, to cleanse your palette. We would have spit it out if we hadn’t already swallowed it.

Scent: 8. Smells pretty much like Coke.

Consistency: 3. Exists in a dimension somewhere between flat and fizzy.

Bottle design: 5. Eh, it’s OK. Strong, 'sexy,' colors, it seems to be fusing both the red from Coke and the Blue from Pepsi.

Overall: 3. A decent smell and an OK bottle do not a pleasurable beverage experience make.


Big K Citrus Drop

Another Big K product, Citrus Drop has the distinction of being the only soda in the group with its own catch phrase (“Pop the Drop”). This is obviously a take-off on “Do the Dew” from Mountain Dew, but still, you’ve got to hand it to them.

Flavor: 6. Tasted more like Mountain Dew than Mountain Lightning did, for sure. But it’s still not Mountain Dew.

Aftertaste: 6. It tastes about the same going down as it does going in.

Scent: 8. Smells like Mountain Dew. Probably feels like Mountain Dew if you were to pour it on your head.

Consistency: 7. Still more flat than Mountain Dew, it was probably a tad bit better than Mountain Lightning.

Bottle design: 8. Really good. Nice clean lines, good use of color, uncluttered design scheme. A winning label.

Overall: 6. Better than Mountain Lightning, but still not the “Dew.” Bonus points for the “Pop the Drop” phrase. We enjoyed the neon-like quality to the beverage itself-it seemed nuclear. Merritt wanted me to add that the drink cointains brominated vegetable oil, yet is not a significant source of saturated fat, which is nice.


Albertsons Dr. Bold

Courtesy of Albertsons, Dr. Bold has perhaps the greatest name of a soda ever, with the possible exception of a drink called “Dr. Smooth” which Fred Meyer used to have prior to its leaving my state and becoming the pale imitation, Smith’s Marketplace. A Dr. Pepper homage, it doesn’t entirely live up to its name.

Flavor: 8. It’s actually pretty close. I was surprised.

Aftertaste: 8. Decent aftertaste-no weird mystery flavors like the other drinks.

Scent: 9. Smells almost exactly like it. I thought we could trick people into thinking this was Dr. Pepper if you served it with ice.

Consistency: 5. Flat-ola.

Bottle design: 10. Perfect bottle design-I would and did buy this for the label.

Overall: 10. Normally this would get about a 6 or so, but it gets 4 bonus points for the name, which is far better than Dr. Pepper. Who really wants to drink something that has ‘pepper’ in the title? No, no. It needs to be something more Bold. Dr. Bold. Shaken, but not stirred. This truly is a drink deserving of its own line of action movies.



Dr. Bold. For the name.



By Christian Hoopes
Featured Blogger

Aug 28, 2006
by Kailani (not verified)

What a great post! You sure

What a great post! You sure did some extensive research! I also enjoyed the photos!

Here via Carnival of Family Life.

Aug 30, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

How could you neglect

Safeway's Cherry Select. A staple of my childhood, its true cherry flavor and lack of syrupy sugardeath made Cherry Select the hit of my circle of friends. How could you not pick up a case and try it?

Aug 30, 2006
by Abacus53 (not verified)

Big K Soda

Big K Soda is named that as it is sold in Kroger stores. I worked in a Fred Meyer (also a Kroger chain) for months without knowing why we sold Big K.

Aug 30, 2006
by Earl (not verified)

War of the Off-Brand Soda

I believe that Citrus Drop was trying to mimic Sun Drop, and not Mt. Dew. Just a thought. Not sure if you can even get Sun Drop outside NC, VA, and SC. That's the south for y'all!

Aug 31, 2006
by G (not verified)

how much (volume) did you taste?

you need to do some consistent drinking of these sodas to give an effective test (i.e. at least a full can or two)

it's the reason that the pepsi challenge never translated into market share...

when people blind tasted pepsi against coke, they naturally preferred the sweeter pepsi.

but if they'd had to drink a full can of each soda they would go for coke...


Aug 31, 2006
by Em (not verified)

How come cheap soda is so carbonated?

Hello. I didn't see it mentioned in your report but it's been my experience that the cheaper to soda the more carbonated it is. Did you happen to document if this is in fact the case? And, if so, do you have any guesses as to why this may be the case?


Aug 31, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

"Big K" is also sold at King

"Big K" is also sold at King Soopers here in Colorado.

Sep 4, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

you could always shop around

you could always shop around for a sale instead of lowering your standards. just bought a 12 pack of diet coke for $1.99. woo hoo.

Sep 7, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

personally i like the diet

personally i like the diet cola from the dollar general stores, clover valley is the name i think and diet cola bubba from save-a-lot is also good

Sep 7, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

Your test subjects seem

Your test subjects seem pretty bad. I think Publix makes good knock-offs, but I guess they aren't available on the west coast.

Sep 7, 2006
by blondehoney024 (not verified)

Soda Brands

The Big-K sodas can be bought at Kroger too, if you have a Kroger in your state; And no, it can not be bought at K-Mart!! Some bad reasearch there that you did not even know something as simple as that.

Sep 7, 2006
by Jay Rogers (not verified)

off-brand colas

I like Sam's Diet Cola, about as well as i like Diet Coke (for which I have a small addiction). I don't like the regular Sam's Cola, any more than I can stand "regular" Coke. Wish we still had an Albertson's here in Little Rock.

Sep 8, 2006
by Rhinestone Kevin (not verified)


Great review! I enjoyed reading it and your pictures were awesome. Keep up the good work!

Sep 9, 2006
by Megan (not verified)

this was a great article,

this was a great article, very intersting. but FYI Big K soda is a store-brand from the Kroger Company (based in Columbus Ohio) which owns other grocery chains (i dont know there names)

Sep 9, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

off brand soda

2 recomendations

Walmart- Sam's Choice root beer

Sweet Valley Diet cola from Aldis

Sep 10, 2006
by Rich Media (not verified)

Big K

Big K is indeed the house brand owned by the Kroger Company, which is based in Cincinnati, OH (not Columbus as was previously posted).

Kroger is in the top three or four grocery chains in the country, who I believe also owns Albertsons, along with many other regional chains.

I've been drinking Big K pop since I was a kid, and while none of it can be called great, it is also not bad, for whatever that is worth.


Oct 26, 2006
by Alan Wild (not verified)

Some more Big K recommendations

I buy all of my soda at Kroger for the wide variety of generic, flavored, diet sodas. I drink

  • Diet Orange
  • Diet Ginger Ale
  • Diet Dr. K
  • Diet Big K
  • Diet Big K -- Caffinee Free
  • Diet Cherry Big K
  • Diet Citrus Drop

But right now my far-and-away favorites are #2:

  • Diet Big K with lime

and the overall winner

  • Diet Drop Red

Which is Kroger's take on Diet Montain Dew Code Red. I could drink gallons of the stuff. I buy at least 6 2 liters of it every other week. It's a good thing it's calorie free... although, my wife is concerned about all the artificial sweetner I'm drinking. :)

Oct 27, 2006
by Lazy Man And Money (not verified)

Soda wars

I wish you had mentioned Diet Rally soda as well as Sam's Choice Diet. Good reviews though!

Dec 5, 2006
by Anonymous (not verified)

mountain lighting

i noticed that to
i used to by M.D. but its like 3.00 and M.L. is 2.00 and M.L. Tase BETTER

u site is good.

keep up the good work!

Jan 20, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)


Kroger own's Ralph's (in California and some other western states) they also own Fred Meyer and quite a few others... i have drank big k pops all my life, and when i can't get the store brand... i prefer big k over any others.

Feb 22, 2007
by Joyce Clark (not verified)

Big K Diet Drop REd

How much caffiene does Diet Drop Red have?

Aug 30, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Inventive name sodas

I've always been amused by the imitation names like Dr. Topper, Mountain Lightning, and my favorite by far, Bubble Up (clear lemon lime pop)

Jan 27, 2008
by Anonymous (not verified)

big k vs coke

wat do u guys think will win email me

Mar 5, 2008
by Anonymous

Dr. bold

www.myspace.com/bitchnuggaproductions has a wicked sweet dr.bold video, if u like dr.bold check it out.

also i had cinnamon toast crunch and dr.bold for breakfast today, casue i was feelin a little blod
dammit dr.bolds so awsome

May 25, 2008
by Anonymous

Big K

As others have mentioned, Big K is sold at Kroger, not K-Mart.

It's also Kroger chains, which is why you saw it where you did.

You need to try the Big K Ginger Ale. It's putrid. Tastes almost like cream soda after it's been digested.

Jun 15, 2008
by Anonymous

Big K sparkling water

I've been drinking the Big K for a while. It's about $2 a 12 pack. They also have a Big K sparkling water in a can. My girlfriend got me drinking the stuff. So sparkling, so trashy. (my girlfriend, the canned water is actualy pretty good)

Jul 13, 2008
by Anonymous

Good post I didn't really

Good post I didn't really read it kind of skimed found this article actually looking for cheaper soda. Anyway I've never tried Albertson's which is a brand you have in there a couple times, but for my money the best off-brand soda I've had is shasta they have extensive flavors, and it's 1.29 for a 12 pack at my grocery store, and thats the best I've found. Thanks good post

Aug 22, 2008
by Anonymous

Diet Soft Drinks without aspartame

Dollar General did have the best. Not sure what they are going to. But the Clover Valley diet cola was GREAT!

Sep 4, 2008
by Anonymous


I have been drinking these for a number of years now and find they are really worth the money. You really cant tell te difference between them and COKE or PEPSI. I really enjoy them and hope you continue to make them. I also drink SAMS coffee and really enjoy it. THANK YOU for all your products. o

Dec 11, 2008
by Anonymous