One fateful day in January, editor-in-chief Mary Melton bit into a Nature Valley granola bar that would change the course of snacking history at Los Angeles magazine. The bar was three years expired, its normal collection of oats and nuts a rock-hard fossil of what used to be, causing the vending machine to be ripped from the office with the promise of a new one—a better one—to go in its place.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity. Some thought it would never come. Some lost hope and bought a stash of rice cakes from Trader Joe’s. Then, last week, out of nowhere, an indeed new and improved vending machine appeared.
Consumed by snacklust, we went completely overboard and fired the whole damn menu. Seasoned amateur junk food scientists Thomas Harlander, Julia Herbst, Lesley Bargar Suter, Audie Metcalf Ruyle, and myself ranked all 34 vending machine items on a scale of 1-10 on pure deliciousness.
(SUPER SERIOUS DISCLAIMER: Audie was unfortunately not able to taste test several items as she has an intense tree nut allergy. Oh, also, all apologies to Eclipse gum, which, though in the vending machine, was not included in the experiment because it is technically not meant a food. I’m sure it’s quite minty, though.)
34. Snapz Organic Apple Cheese Crisps – 1.4
Though the scale was supposed to be from 1-10, multiple participants (me included) went rogue and gave it a well-deserved zero. If the only options are Snapz and a piece of drywall, you have a real decision on your hands.
33. Whole Earth Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn – 2.6
Everyone agreed that they do, indeed, love kettle corn. Everyone agreed that they do not love this particular kettle corn. Cool packaging, though.
32. Oven Baked Cheddar & Sour Cream Ruffles – 3.2
The awkward hexagonal shape makes these nearly impossible to eat without cutting the corners of your mouth. Ruffles should have fired that chip architect.
31. Zone Perfect Nutrition Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar – 4.0
It’s like candy bar made love to a protein shake, but their baby somehow got the worst qualities of the two.
30. Act II Butter Popcorn – 4.2
Not much love for the movie theatre staple. Also, anyone who’s ever been in an office where someone burnt popcorn in the microwave is likely to harbor some serious resentment.
29. Hawaiian Luau BBQ Kettle Chips – 4.6
Audie was adamant that these were the better of the two BBQ chip options (more on that later). Audie was way off-base, as anyone in their right mind could tell you that these chips needed like 95% less sugar and walked the line separating what is and isn’t candy.
28. Bowl Noodle Soup Sabor Picante – 4.8
There was little sabor to be found in the lowest scoring of all three noodle soups.
27. Mr. Nature Unsalted Trail Mix – 5.0
Easy fix here, Mr. Nature: take the un out of unsalted.
26. Skinny Pop Popcorn – 5.0
Though it may be almost entirely flavorless, Skinny Pop somehow managed to jump ahead of all its corny contemporaries. That says more about the other popcorns than it does Skinny Pop.
25. Instant Lunch Chicken Flavor – 5.3
Audie had never made a cup of noodles before. She was ridiculed mercilessly for it.
24. Miss Vickie’s Smokehouse BBQ – 5.6
Lesley brought up a good point: Who the hell decided to put two varieties of BBQ potato chip in this vending machine and not make one of those Lay’s KC Masterpiece, AKA the consensus best BBQ potato chip in the world? A complaint has been filed with HR, as this constitutes a hostile work environment.
23. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos – 5.6
Many were worried that these were too spicy to casually snack on throughout the day. Middle school educators across America would agree.
22. Fruit by the Foot (purple flavor) – 5.8
Sugary nostalgia outweighed the concern that there is neither an ingredients list nor nutritional information on the packaging. Also, worth noting: this was my first vending machine purchase, and I regret nothing.
21. Famous Amos Double Chocolate Chip – 6.0
Everyone agreed that this is not as good as the original Famous Amos flavor, but it benefits from being the only cookie option in office.
20. Crunchy Cheetos – 6.2
Not tasty enough to warrant the orange stains on your keyboard.
19. belVita Cinnamon Brown Sugar Breakfast Biscuits – 6.3
This had the lowest variation among all respondents, with three rating it a 6, and Thomas, ever the whole grain lover, giving an optimistic 7.
18. Nature Valley Oats ‘n Dark Chocolate – 6.3
There was so much pent up resentment that we got this instead of Oats ‘n Honey. So much. Still pretty mad about it.
17. Cup Noodles With Shrimp – 6.5
Easily—EASILY—the most luxurious of all the cups of noodles. Nothing says “success” like eating shrimp out of styrofoam.
16. Bon Appetit Blueberry Muffin – 6.8
It’s like a scientist created the perfect extract of blueberry muffin, then inserted that into a somehow-permanently-moist, indestructible pillow of sugar bread. If not for Julia Herbst’s incredibly ill-informed one-point rating, this would have been rated much higher.
15. Nutella & Go!- 6.8
Who doesn’t love an interactive snack? More like “funtella,” amirite?
14. Starburst Original – 6.8
I was shocked to find out that yellow isn’t everyone’s least favorite Starburst flavor, just as Audie was shocked to find out that pink isn’t everyone’s favorite.
13. Planters Spicy Nuts & Cajun Sticks Trail Mix – 7.0
This had the highest gender split among, averaging a 4.5 from female respondents, and 9.5 from male. Make of that what you will.
12. Welch’s Fruit Snacks – 7.0
Even with the reduced sugar they’re hitting near the top ten! Props to Welch’s.
11. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – 7.0
Oh mainstream candy. You bring us back to a simpler time.
10. Snickers – 7.3
Many of us not named Lesley Suter were shocked to find out that we enjoy Baby Ruth more then Snickers, even though they have almost identical ingredients.
9. Caramel Almond & Sea Salt Kind Bar – 7.5
Though universally agreed that this was not the company’s best effort, there’s no such thing as a bad Kind Bar.
8. Peanut M&M’s – 7.5
If you try really hard, you can convince yourself that, technically, it qualifies as trail mix.
7. Flamin’ Hot Funyuns – 7.6
There’s something about all the onion powder and MSG that pairs so beautifully with the violently red dust.
6. Miss Vickie’s Jalapeño – 7.6
Miss Vickie is the most decorated Kettle Chip artisan for a reason. She knows her stuff. Spicy, but not spicy enough to ruin your day.
5. Rice Krispie Treat – 7.6
We all agreed that the prepackaged kind that sticks to the wrapping is way better than any of us could do at home.
4. White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cliff Bar – 7.8
Somehow, this tastes more like a candy bar than almost all the candy bars.
3. Baby Ruth – 7.8
2. Takis Fuego – 8.0
“They have a gorgeous corn flavor, but they need just the tiniest pinch of sugar to counter all the citric acid,” Lesley Suter, proving why she has won multiple James Beard awards.
1. Miss Vickie’s Sea Salt & Vinegar – 8.4
Not only is this a testament to Miss Vickie and her dedication to her craft, but it’s a testament to snacking simplicity. There’s no gimmick here, no crazy packaging, just a great, crunchy chip packed full of flavor that you could eat any time of the day.