Oat of their minds?

New from Quaker, which surely is the champion of making one product in many versions (sorry, Oreos, it's really no contest), comes Perfect Portions: instant oatmeal in a multi-serving bag. That's mildly interesting, but there's a surprise; hang in there.

Here it goes: A box of plain unsweetened Quaker instant oatmeal weighs 11.8 ounces; it contains 12 envelopes, each about 1 ounce. Perfect Portions (choice of cinnamon or maple) comes in a 12.7-ounce bag and, unlike almost all the other Quaker instant oatmeal introduced in the past 50 years, is unsweetened. You add as much sugar (or, the bag suggests, honey or some other sweetener) as you like. The bag is said to contain eight servings, but if it was prepared in the 1-ounce serving size of the other instant oatmeals, it would make more than 12 servings. In any case, you prepare the amount you want.

When Mr. Tidbit started to jot down the shelf price of Perfect Portions at one store, he blinked. Hard. So he went to an online store. And blinked again. Perfect Portions fails to follow the rule that new versions of existing products cost more.

Indeed, it costs less!

At the first store, the 12-serving box of plain, unsweetened Quaker instant oatmeal was $2.99; that's 25 cents a serving. The 12.7-ounce bag of Perfect Portions was only $1.99 (not an introductory price), so 12 (1-ounce) servings would be 17 cents each — 32 percent cheaper. (If you made the 50-percent-bigger eight servings to the bag as the label suggested, those giant servings would be 25 cents each.)

At the online store, Quaker's regular instant oatmeal was $3.49 (29 cents per 1-ounce serving); Perfect Portions was only $2.69 (22 cents per 1-ounce serving) — 24 percent cheaper.

FYI, sugar-centered oatmeal eaters: The many sweetened versions of Quaker instant oatmeal cost about 5 cents more per serving (same shelf price per box; 10 servings instead of 12). They typically contain about 12 grams of sugar per serving. Adding that amount of sugar to a 1-ounce serving of Perfect Portions adds only about 2 cents, making it an even bigger bargain!

Mr. Tidbit is still blinking.

Al Sicherman