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Is the store brand just as good as the name brand?

One study shows that those in the know - from chefs to pharmacists - think the less expensive choice is the right one.

By Mitch Lipka Sep 18, 2013 4:26PM

Image: Cleaning products (© Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X/Corbis)When it comes to food or drugs, consumers like so-called private labels -- the generic or store brands -- but not nearly as much as pharmacists and chefs do, according to a study by University of Chicago researchers.


If they have a headache, nine of 10 pharmacists would reach for a generic remedy, the Booth School of Business study found. About seven in 10 consumers have the same inclination. The upside for making such choices is obvious. Cost. Buying a brand name aspirin rather than the store brand could cost more than triple, the study showed. The ingredients, however, are identical.

Making the change to store brands from name brands could mean big savings for a lot of families.


"Why are consumers willing to pay more to buy brands," the study asks. "One possibility is that they are simply making a mistake."


Advertising, the researchers suggest, could be leading consumers to overpay for nothing more than the benefit of having a different name on the label. That enriches the company, but gives the consumer nothing more for their money.


On average, American families could save 19% on their overall product purchasing if they shifted entirely to private label items when they are available. The researchers concluded that the more educated the consumer is about the products the more likely they are to make that choice.

Chefs, for instance, are far more likely to choose private label pantry staples such as salt, sugar and baking soda -- understanding that those basic ingredients are the same as brand names, just less costly. More than 80% of chefs purchase private label staples compared to 61% of typical consumers.


"If you look at places where generics and brands are very similar, if people were informed, they wouldn’t buy brands," economic professor and study co-author Matthew Gentzkow said.


University of Chicago cited Chicago chef Peggy Ryan as an example. She said she learned while working at a restaurant that cheaper store brand sugar and white flour were just as good as the name brands. So, she now shops the same for home. "I definitely will buy a store brand instead of a major brand," she said.

Do you buy store brands? Are you brand loyal? Have you found there to be a real difference in quality?


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Sep 20, 2013 11:16PM
Kirkland brand from Costco is the best ever.
Sep 21, 2013 8:02PM
For medicines and food staples such as flour and sugar I go generic all the way. For prepared items like mayonnaise or soup I look at the order of ingredients and hidden flavor boosts or seasonings and judge case by case. Generic soap or paper products are seldom cost effective because they usually require more product to do the same job. Costco Kirkland brand is usually higher quality than any comparable name brands. Just like most things in life there is no simple answer.
Sep 23, 2013 3:48PM

Very few items am I brand-specific on: Colgate Total, Irish Spring, Dawn, Gain laundry powder, FOLGER'S and the products for my hair, Other than those, store brands.

Sep 20, 2013 6:52PM
When it comes to medicines, I always opt for generics. When it comes to food though, quality and taste can vary greatly, so there is no guarantee what ends up in my shopping cart.
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