Review: So Good Flavoured Almond Milk

So Good Australia has finally introduced its almond milk range to the ready-to-drink market. Coming in 375ml bottles with three flavours – vanilla coconut, dark chocolate, and date and caramel – So Good is confident about the drink’s potential success, thanks to its healthy twist.

“We see a great opportunity to introduce our products to the petrol and convenience channel and provide something new to shoppers to meet their changing needs,” Emma Seberry, senior brand manager at So Good told Retail World. “Consumers currently see a massive trade-off between something healthy and something full of flavour, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Based on the nutritional content, the almond milks are indeed healthier than your usual bottled dairy milk. They have 30-40 per cent less sugar, and thus have less calories. Furthermore, despite being dairy- and lactose-free, each of them still have around half the recommended daily calcium intake in a bottle, along with vitamin E. But do they meet Seberry’s promise of “full flavour”?

I have only tried two out of three flavours (vanilla coconut and dark chocolate), but I can say that they are certainly not bad. They feel less creamy than regular dairy milk, but still have a bit of thickness to it. The flavours also taste nice and natural – I love the fragrant coconut note that gives the vanilla variant some sweetness to it. Compared to regular almond milks, which could be pleasantly neutral at best or vapidly watery at worst, this range is definitely the more delicious kind.

However, the “full flavour” also comes with a price: higher calories and sugar. While the amount is indeed lower than dairy flavoured milk, it’s still up to 33 per cent higher than plain almond milk. Many will probably dismiss this as a small, insignificant difference, but others might take more precaution.

What’s more of an issue to me is the price. At $4.49 RRP (or $1.19/100ml), the almond milks are much less affordable than its Original counterpart (around $0.25-0.33/100ml) or ready-to-go dairy flavoured milks on the market (ranging from $0.3-0.6/100ml). The convenience of a healthy ready-to-go drink might make this price worth it for some consumers, but for me, I’ll probably stick to the litre cartons.

In conclusion, So Good’s new almond milks may be a great compromise for those who want to start a healthier lifestyle but still need some sweet treat. However, that compromise is probably a bit too undecided, and comes at a steep price.

+:

  • Great taste
  • Lower calories and sugar level
  • Variety in flavours

-:

  • Pricey
  • Not as healthy as other almond milks

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Review: Uniqlo

This week in fashion is Uniqlo, a Japanese casual wear retailer. The brand largely focuses on basic daily wear instead of new trends on the market. This means you can find almost all your clothing needs here: from underwear to winter coats. The brand also offers a variety of fabrics with different price range, such as cotton, wool blend, fine merino wool, and cashmere.

With higher quality, comes higher price – that is to be expected. But in Uniqlo, you’re getting your money’s worth and more. The basic apparels are high quality and long-lasting – my supima cotton tees, which are quite affordable, still retain its shape and colour well even after years of wear. Unlike some other brands, most of Uniqlo’s clothing are also thick and durable enough to endure the harshness of tumble drying and other daily activities. Some of the features advertised feel gimmicky – I feel like my Heattech shirt, priced at $19.90, doesn’t really provide extra warmth as it promises – but it doesn’t bother me too much.

Uniqlo has both physical stores and online shopping website (offering free delivery for orders above $50). Online shopping might be your preferred way to purchase, especially if the physical stores are crowded. However, be mindful that Uniqlo uses CouriersPlease, a courier service with notorious reputation. Thankfully my experience has been alright so far (i.e. the package eventually arrived safely at my address). The return policy is not too bad either, with the options of returning in store or through post ($7 handling fee).

In conclusion, Uniqlo is a great shopping destination for casual, daily wear. If you have some more cash to spare, try their fancier fabric options; if not, even the cheap ones are great.

+:

  • Sells things you will actually wear on a day-to-day basis
  • Value for money
  • Practical returns policy

-:

  • Does not have the trendiest items

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Review: Nissin Teppan Yakisoba

When it comes to instant noodles, there are plenty of options that you can get your hands on in Australia. Today, we’re going to review Nissin Teppan Yakisoba.

The product is similar to the more popular Indomie Mi Goreng in many ways, including the cooking method and the taste. Even though the product is described as “fried noodles”, it is boiled instead of pan-fried. The water is then drained, and the noodles mixed with the soy sauce, seasoning oil and seasoning powder included in the package. The powder contains dried chilli flakes, giving it a spicy touch.

What’s the verdict on the taste? Firstly, the flavour is great – a fantastic mix of sweet, salty and spicy. It’s a bit similar to Indomie, but it doesn’t have that weird aftertaste that you would usually get from eating the Mi Goreng. The texture is also nice and chewy enough. It would be great if other toppings such as dried seaweed or vegetables are included, but the noodle itself is wonderful.

At $0.7-1 per pack, it’s not the cheapest, but it ain’t too bad of a deal. This Nissin variety may be a bit hard to find at mainstream supermarkets – but venture to an Asian mart and you shall find it.

Teppan Yakisoba has 385 calories, which is relatively lower than its other counterparts. However, it also has 1.52 gram of sodium per serving, which accounts for around 30 per cent of WHO’s recommended intake – so, again, enjoy in moderation.

+:

  • Great taste
  • Reasonable price, although could be a bit cheaper
  • Easy to prepare

-:

  • Hard to find in mainstream supermarkets
  • Like other instant noodles, lacking in nutrients

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Review: Japan Crate

A box of authentic Japanese snacks sent to your door every month – what’s not to love? That’s what Japan Crate is all about. The website says: “Japan Crate offers the unique experience of Japan through monthly crates filled with candy”.

The service is based on a subscription box system, which hasn’t really taken off yet in Australia – giving it not only a sense of novelty, but also exciting anticipation in getting your next crate. You can also unsubscribe anytime, even after just a month. This is what I did, too – I was curious but didn’t want a long-term commitment, and the cancellation process was simple and easy.

The boxes are sent from Tokyo, Japan – but worry not, the international shipping is free! However, it can indeed take a while, and there is no tracking number. In the FAQ, the team said: “We did not want to raise the price of our crates or lower the quality/quantity of items and for this reason we will no longer be including tracking numbers for our shipments. We have found that nearly all crates are delivered in a timely manner without tracking.” I think it was fair enough, and indeed my package arrived safely over two weeks after the shipping schedule.

So, what about the content of the crate itself?

There are three options for the crate size: Mini (5 items, half pound, $US12 per month), Original (10 items, 1.5 pounds, $US20 per month), and Premium (15 items, 2.5 pounds, $US30 per month). I got the Premium crate, which included a DIY kit and a bonus item. The DIY kit for this month is Shin-Chan Puripuri Pudding, which can be cooked in a microwave, and the bonus item is a moldable sushi toy.

In terms of the snacks themselves, I wish there had been more variety. Three of the snacks are rice crackers and four of them are candies – all different brands, of course, but a more diverse range of snacks would be more interesting. Many of the snacks are pretty small, too – but I imagine it would be hard to pack 2.5 pounds in 15 big, full-sized items. It indeed is exciting to get authentic Japanese snacks that are hard to find elsewhere, but the price might be a bit steep if you want to try a wide variety of them.

All in all, should you try the subscription? Yes, mainly due to the novelty factor and the built-up anticipation of getting a new, unique “present” for yourself every month. But maybe opt for the month-to-month plan that you can cancel anytime instead of the 12 month prepay term.

+:

  • Authentic Japanese snacks that are difficult to find in Australia
  • Free shipping
  • Novel and exciting subscription experience

-:

  • A bit expensive
  • Limited variety
  • Small sizes

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Review: H&M

The Swedish label is one of the world’s biggest and most popular fast fashion brands. It opened its first outlet in Australia in 2014, and has spread across the country since. While its competitors, such as Topshop and Cotton On, have opened online store, H&M is still staying on the brick-and-mortar path – but worry not, you can still check out the full catalogue on its website. Although it focuses on casual wear, H&M also sells everything fashion-related and more: party dresses, suits and blazers, swimwear, bags and shoes, and even home goods such as cushions, blankets and towels.

So, in terms of affordable clothing, is H&M worth it? In short, yes. H&M offers a wide range of stylish apparels at a competitive price. From activewear to pyjamas, skirts to jeans, long-sleeve tops to cardigans, you will definitely find something you want to wear here. Some of the stuff, such as jackets and dresses, are more on the expensive side ($75 and above) – but indeed, they’re generally more fashionable than the ones you find at Big W or Target.

Quality-wise, it’s what you can expect from a fast fashion brand – the clothings are generally fine and can withstand at least a year of wear and tear, but if you don’t apply sufficient care they might not last as long. Also, as it is with other affordable brands, the shoes are very cheap but flimsy and low quality – so curb your expectations.

All in all, H&M is a great all-encompassing affordable shopping destination. But if you want a more enduring or ethical purchase, it is probably wise to look elsewhere.

+:

  • Affordable prices
  • Great variety
  • Stylish clothes

 

-:

  • No online ordering option yet
  • Some apparels are on the expensive side
  • As with other fast fashion brands, might have quality issues

 

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Review: Vaniday

Middle-man services are very popular these days – from transportation like Uber to food ordering platforms like Menulog and Deliveroo, these help connect us (customers) with businesses easily. Today, I’m going to write about Vaniday, a wellness-and-beauty service booking platform.

How does Vaniday work? You can either go to the website or download the app, and then search for affiliated salons and/or services in your area. From there, you can compare prices, choose a salon and book an appointment right away. There is an option to pay in advance with credit card – otherwise, you may choose to pay directly at the salon after the treatment.

Vaniday offers 10 per cent cashback reward for every order you make, incentivising you to book again and again through their platform. On top of this, sometimes the salons offer special prices that are only available online through the platform.

But is booking through Vaniday worth it? Well, it depends.

The quality of salons on Vaniday’s directory really varies – some provide good value for money, while others are a miss. For some reasons, the user reviews don’t really help either: firstly, the low amount of sample reviews – only 1-5 reviews per salon – mean that they are often not representative. Secondly, the reviews often discuss just one particular service. Just because a salon does excellent manicures, it does not mean that a good haircut is on the table as well. So there isn’t any reliable way of choosing a good salon other than doing your own research, which is kind of impractical and beats the purpose of a directory platform anyway.

Furthermore, the website could use an improvement. When booking with salons that accept credit card payment, the option to pay in person disappears.

All in all, should you use Vaniday? If your favourite salon(s) is in their list, go for it. But for many people like me, who would rather pay a bit more than risk the chance of sub-par, unrelaxing treatments, Vaniday would just be a thing to use every once in a while.

+:

  • Ability to filter salons based on services, price range and area
  • Special prices/promotions
  • Cashback program
  • Option to pay in advance

 

-:

  • Some features don’t work properly on the website
  • Salons’ quality varies; hit and miss

 

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Review: Shin Ramyun

In a world full of instant ramen/noodle options, picking one out of the many brands could be confusing and overwhelming. But hey, that’s what reviews are for, right? Today, we’re going to be checking out Shin Ramyun from the South Korean company Nongshim. There are four types of Shin Ramyun – cup, bowl, black, and the regular pack – but I will be focusing on just the latter one.

At 120g net, the noodle is big enough to fill you up. Other than the dry noodle and the seasoning, it also comes with dried vegetables such as green onion, mushroom and pepper. It is served with soup.

What’s the verdict? The noodle is soft but still chewy enough for biting. Furthermore, the hot, spicy taste from the seasoning is deep and flavoursome. To get the best out of the seasoning, it is recommended to use all the seasoning powder and as little water as possible for a rich soup.

It is, indeed, not suitable for people who can’t eat spicy food – but others will definitely enjoy a bowl of this. Also, just like other instant noodles, Shin Ramyun is high in carbohydrate, sodium and fat, and poor in other things such as protein, vitamin and minerals – so consume in moderation, and eat them with extra vegetables and protein.

+:

  • Tasty soup/seasoning
  • Sufficient portion

-:

  • Might be too spicy for some
  • Like other instant noodles, lacking in good nutrients

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Review: StudentVIP

For those unfamiliar with the brand, StudentVIP is a university student platform that users can use to review subjects, hire tutors, and buy and sell textbooks and notes. StudentVIP is also affiliated with Lost On Campus, a campus mapping app.

So, is the platform any good? Well, the review feature is pretty useful for comparing subjects – but the small number of reviewers means that the ratings might not represent the average opinion. Nevertheless, it’s better than nothing.

The buy and sell feature is also great – it allows you to search textbooks based on title, author, and even ISBN (to make sure you get the right edition!). The prices are determined by the sellers, but they are generally at least 15 per cent below the RRP.

However, this convenience comes at a cost: privacy breach. In 2015, Honi Soit reported that the company shared the personal data of over 530,000 students to a private education provider, which used the info to make unsolicited phone calls and sell diplomas. The personal information included phone numbers, email addresses, and degree details.

Since I joined the platform, I indeed have received some calls from unknown numbers trying to offer me study programs. Even worse, from time to time StudentVIP would send me emails on behalf of a third party to advertise products which may or may not be related to uni student life, such as magazine subscription. While the company promised that they wouldn’t spam (“We promise no more than one per week, and usually not that often. All should be relevant to students studying in Australia”), it is annoying enough to make me cancel my membership.

Bottom line? While StudentVIP offers many useful features for uni students, their services are not unique. Your university should have a secondhand bookshop, or you can try finding your faculty group on Facebook and go from there. Privacy might or might not be your priority, but there are better options out there.

+:

  • Practical
  • Opportunity to reach a large number of peers (especially if you are selling)

-:

  • Intrusive advertisements
  • Potential privacy breach

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Review: CouriersPlease

I have to admit, I’ve never used CouriersPlease to send parcels myself – only when buying things from some online stores. However, this limited experience is enough to make me swear off the brand.

The delivery process is never smooth – the couriers would usually leave a card without attempting to knock the door or ring the intercom. The card would either contain information on how recipients can request redelivery online, or that your parcel has been delivered to your nearest newsagent.

One time last year, I received a card confirming the latter – but there was no information about which newsagent my parcel was delivered to. The tracking website yielded no result either(!). I had to call every newsagent in my suburb to confirm if my parcel is indeed in their store, and as a result I had to walk 20 minutes away from home to pick up said package.

A few months ago, I had to deal with CouriersPlease again when they left a card for redelivery. Somehow the website didn’t work, so I had to call the customer service to book the redelivery – another hassle. This time, the courier indeed redelivered my parcel – but again, he/she failed to ring the intercom, and left the parcel in an uncovered, unsafe spot in my apartment lobby. Furthermore, the package looked dirty and crumpled, as though it had been cramped carelessly in a narrow space.

I’m not alone either – almost 700 Google users gave CouriersPlease an abysmal average of 1.4 out of 5 stars.

What’s confusing is that CouriersPlease is not even the cheapest shipping service out there (at least for individuals). So what gives? Dear retailers, there are other, better courier options out there that won’t leave your customers frustrated. Please don’t settle with this one.

+:

  • Redelivery option

-:

  • Poor service
  • Unreliable website
  • Impractical for recipients

Rating: 1.5/5 Stars

Review: Menulog

When you’re too busy to cook, food delivery is a great option. The emergence of online food ordering services like Menulog is indeed a godsend, helping you avoid picking up your phone and actually talking to someone. But does Menulog tick all the boxes when it comes to getting your food?

Firstly, let’s talk about restaurant/food choices. Menulog definitely covers a lot of restaurants from your neighbourhood, but they are usually from the lower end of prices and styles – this means that your favourite burger shop or high-end salad joint might not deliver through Menulog. This might not be an issue anyway, though, if you are just looking for cheap eats and quick, filling bites. The restaurants would mostly be available throughout the day, too (not just evenings), so you can order your lunch easily here.

What about the ordering process itself? It’s pretty easy and user-friendly, with options to pay with credit/debit card, Paypal or cash. If you don’t meet the minimum order (usually $20-30), Menulog also offers the choice to order more or just pay the rest of the amount. After ordering, Menulog also gives you the option to re-order the same thing from the same restaurant. Some incentives, such as loyalty discount and price cuts for first orders are also provided.

Finally, the delivery fee and speed vary depending on the restaurant – some offer free delivery, while others require you to pay $3-5 per order. This might be a more affordable pick than other ordering services that apply $5 flat fee for delivery. The food couriers come from the restaurants, and some can get the food to your door in less than an hour while others might take 90 minutes or more during rush hours (e.g. dinner time).

All in all, Menulog is great for busy lunches, group meals, and those just looking to get local, affordable fix.

 

+:

  • Usually features cheap local favourites
  • Little to no delivery fee, depending on the restaurants
  • Available for lunch and dinner
  • Discounts available
  • Diverse payment options

 

-:

  • High amount of minimum order, requiring one to order a lot
  • Lower-end choices

 

Rating: 4/5 Stars