Store Brands v. Name Brands? Reasons to Buy Generic Groceries

My mother always bought name brands.  Was it the taste?  No, she didn’t want the black-n-white generic cans and boxes in the cart.  What would people think?

Luckily, food manufacturers and marketers have become smarter and that part of my mother didn’t rub off on me.  And in these tough economic times, frugality rules!

Most people think the generic brands taste bad or are of low quality.   On the contrary, the ‘generic’ foods of today, smartly packaged as “store brands” are often times your favorite brands with a different label.  HUH??  Name brand companies compete for the lowest bid to get the store brand label.  From apple juice to grass-fed New Zealand lamb in the butcher case.  It optimizes their factory output and allows them to average out costs of ingredients.  It allows the food manufacturer to hedge their bets in a sense by playing both ends of the grocery shopper market.  

How can you tell?
Look at the label and list of ingredients.  If they are the same or near-same, give the store brand a try.  I’m at the point now that I forgot I used to buy the name brand on some items.  I simply couldn’t tell the difference in a taste test.

Generic Groceries to Buy
Staples such as rice, flour, sugar, salt, milk, applesauce, apple juice, frozen vegetables, frozen juices, vinegar and pull-ups for the toddler all make for great store brand or generic purchases.  Some items I just can’t leave the brand – Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, toilet paper, certain salad dressings… no generic substitutes that are comparable so far.  (Note: if you have children, do not try and swap out the Kraft Mac & Chew or you will forever be stuck with the generic on your shelf.. mine is going to the food bank).

How much can you save?
Plenty!  On average I’m finding by buying the store brand I can save 30% or more on my entire grocery bill.  This does not include store specials or coupons which also come in handy and can help with the grocery budget.  While this post is a few years old, it does a great job of showing the generic v. brand price on the grocery list.

Who’s buying generic?
These days it’s the same as asking “who’s going green?”  The answer – who isn’t?  Even the Wall Street Journal covered our changing habits in frugality at the check-out referencing a report out by Information Resources Inc. (IRI) titled  “Shopper in Crisis” citing

 41% of upper-income consumers reduced spending on nonessential groceries, and a fourth of these consumers said they gave up favorite brands over six months in 2008. Nearly one-third of high-income shoppers said they bought more private-label products during the second quarter, up from about 20% in the first quarter of this year.

So Today’s Budgeteers – what do you buy generic and what brands won’t you part with, even when it comes to your last dime?


A reader sent this in from WordSpy: 

Cowpooling pp. Purchasing a whole cow or side of beef from a local farmer and sharing the cost among multiple families. [Blend of cow and carpooling.]

It struck me as an old tactic that may make a comeback.   1920’s grocery prices show round steak at $.36/lb. which struck me as pricey given that the average salary in 1926 was $1313.00.   No doubt that families did pool their resources or traded crops, goods and services…but I bet they weren’t using the term carpooling!  (For the record, the cost of a car in 1926 was $350.00)

I recall in the 1980’s, door-to-door salesman that tried to sell my mother a freezer full of beef.   Thankfully, my mother had grown up on a farm in Ohio and was familiar with the farmer’s co-op prices and recognized the deal for what it was… a load of bull.

So how do you find a source of bulk meat?  Ask friends, ask a local butcher, Google or lookup local cattle farms.  Some farms already have meatclubs or co-ops that you can become a member of.  If not, the farm or ranch may know of other families looking to go in on a side of beef or the whole cow.