Sometimes Taste Wins Over Saving Money!

We all want to save money when buying groceries. And research shows that one common approach to achieving this goal is choosing generic, store or house brands (also known as “private label” brands) over the usually more expensive national labels. But are you among those who hesitate to buy a house brand because you’re convinced you “get what you pay for?”

This is one of those financial aphorisms that’s always taken as pure fact. Higher cost is always assumed to equate with better quality, and when we’re shopping, it’s one of the things we keep in mind when deciding between brand-name products and their generic counterparts. We’ll buy the former because we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe the latter is just a cheap, watered-down knockoff that doesn’t look, taste or perform as well.

How wrong that assumption can be. Comparison studies show that when we pass on generic brands, we’re missing out. Big time. These studies show that generic products that are just as good — if not better — than the brand names we’re so loyal to.

One secret of store brands with seemingly bargain quality, is that they’re often made by the same companies that manufacture big name products. In fact, according to the Private Label Manufacturers Association, those generic brands can save you more than 33 percent than the national brand.

It just so happens that store brands have come a long way from the bottom-shelf, hokey-labeled products from decades past. The Huffington Post ran a cost comparison in 2014 on this very topic, comparing a few store labels with their competing brand names.

Kroger Breakfast Cereal. Depending on where you live, your favored supermarket could be Albertsons, Safeway, Shop-Rite, Food Lion, Winco, or Publix, and each will carry its own thinly disguised versions of popular breakfast cereals. If you’re on a budget, always choose the generic brand for cereal — it tastes the same and is often produced by the same manufacturer. Good examples are:

Kroger cocoa puffed cereal (28 oz.): $2.99; Cocoa Puffs (11. 8 oz.): $3.29

Kroger Fruit Rings (28 oz.): $2.99; Froot Loops (12.2 oz.): $2.50

Trader Joe’s marked-down, name-brand products. It’s a well-known fact that Trader Joe’s sells marked-down name-brand products disguised under its own label. Walk down any aisle of this modern-day trading post and most of Joe’s packaged goods are a near-identical (or in some cases, simply repackaged) version of the name brand. (The best part is that many of these products are organic):

Trader Joe’s chili: $2.29 (14.7 oz.); Amy’s Organic version: $4.19

Trader Joe’s Garden Vegetable Lasagne: $2.69; Amy’s Organic version: $5.39

Trader Joe’s Mac ‘n Cheese: $2.99; Annie’s organic version: $3.49

Kroger’s and Trader Joe’s aren’t alone in this movement. There are dozens of small companies dedicated solely to developing store brands and they work directly with the retailer to develop the item, create the label and set the price points.

Keep this in mind the next time you go shopping, and consider some of the following store products versus their competing name brands. You’ll be surprised how well they measure up, and how much money you’ll save.

All this said, there are 4 important points to keep in mind:

  1. Store brands will save you money (as mentioned about, more than 33 percent).
  2. HOWEVER, taste preference rules. While test kitchens conclude that national brands aren’t necessarily better quality or better tasting, I don’t care. There are simply some food items I’m willing to pay more for because I prefer the taste. Take mayonnaise. With an open mind and reasonable expectations, I’ve given the house brands a fair chance. But try as I have, my taste buds stand firm: they want Best Foods® (Hellman’s® east of the Rockie Mountains), period. You probably have similar examples of taste preferences.
  3. NONETHELESS, Thank goodness for those house brands. Choosing house brands of products we’re neutral over make it possible to indulge in buying those few products we have strong opinions about.
  4. BUT, keep an open mind. More and more good quality and great tasting house brands are showing up (Costco’s Kirkland label is another example). Thus, from time to time, give a store brand a try; you could be in for a nice surprise.

So OK, house brands have their money-saving place, thus we’ll turn to them. But, in spite of all the good reasons to choose a generic product, we like what we like, and are generally willing to pay a little more for it. So stick to your guns; it’s OK that sometimes taste wins over saving money!


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author!

blog comments powered by Disqus