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Store brand or name brand? 5 tips

You’re caught between two prices: a well-known name brand and a generic that’s cheaper but may not be as good. Here are 5 winners and 5 losers.

By Stacy Johnson Apr 2, 2013 1:40PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News


Image: Full Shopping Cart in Grocery Store© Fuse/Getty ImagesI’ll admit it: I can be cheap.

If I see three prices on the shelf, I’m normally going to pick the lowest -- more often than not, the generic or store brand.


I've got plenty of company. With store brands about 25% cheaper than name brands, two-thirds of Americans are choosing them, says Consumer Reports.


But store brands and generics come with risks.


While they're often just as good, that's not always the case, and you don’t want to get shortchanged when it comes to quality or taste.

Through trial and error, here are five things I always buy generic:

  1. Alkaline batteries -- The major difference between name brand and store brand is cost. Don’t bother shelling out the extra few bucks; in many cases, you’ll end up getting the same amount of energy for less.
  2. Eggs -- If you cook at home a lot, you should always have eggs in your fridge. And if you’re not concerned with buying organic eggs, use the store brand.
  3. Sugar -- It seems store brands tend to clump together more, but since it dissolves anyway, buying the store brand is smart.
  4. Plates and bowls -- As long as the plates look decent, are dishwasher-safe and don’t blow up in the microwave, there’s no reason to pay top dollar for plates and bowls. You can pay $75 for a single Ralph Lauren dinner plate, or less than $25 for 12. 
  5. Pasta -- Pasta goes for about $1.35 a pound, according to the BLS. But I get it cheaper when I buy store brands. Locally, pasta goes on sale for $1 per 1-pound box. The main ingredients are the same: durum wheat and semolina.

Now, being cheap doesn’t always result in a win. Sometimes I buy something and realize I’d have been better off with a name brand. Here are five from my never-again list:

  1. Flour -- If you’re using flour for basic cooking, such as breading chicken or making waffles, store-brand flour is fine. But if you bake your own bread or make your own pasta, buy the name-brand, unbleached stuff. It has a silkier-feeling, finer grain that bakes into a tasty texture.
  2. Light bulbs -- One or two store-brand incandescent light bulbs will do in a pinch, but if you’re buying a bunch, you’re better off buying an energy-efficient bulb. They last about six times longer and can save about $6 a year in energy cost compared to a traditional light bulb, according to
  3. Juice -- This is a tossup, so check the ingredients. For example, quality orange juice should have one ingredient: orange juice. Watch for brands with high-fructose corn syrup or a water ingredient listed before the juice ingredient.
  4. Silverware -- I'll pay more for silverware that's dishwasher-safe. Check it for a grade of 18/10. It has a better corrosion rate, according to the Cutlery and Allied Trade Research Association
  5. Socks -- I don’t mind paying more for socks. Store-brand socks tend to unravel and wear out more quickly than name brands. Name brands also offer more options, such as odor absorption and thicker padding, which could be important if you have an active lifestyle. And in winter, my feet freeze, so I’ll opt for thicker, name-brand socks.


How to decide

The lists above work for me, but your priorities and tastes may differ. Follow these generic tips and you’ll walk out of the store with the best values:

  1. Compare and contrast. The best way to tell if you’re buying a good value? Compare the ingredients. Store-brand acetaminophen shares identical ingredients with name brands like Tylenol.  If you're comparing something like clothing, feel them side by side. Look at the stitching. While it's not always possible for the untrained eye to spot the difference, it often is.
  2. Stick to trusted ingredients. I avoid foods with high-fructose corn syrup, mechanically separated meats and hydrogenated oils. Compare nutritional value labels and see if the two match up. You don’t want a high-fat product loaded with sugar when the name brand is more nutritious.
  3. Ask your friends. You’re not limited to one store. Ask your friends what generic brands they like and why.
  4. Compare unit price. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. Look at both brands’ unit price, not the overall price. Sometimes container size distorts the cost.
  5. Try before you buy (a lot). Generics aren't cheaper if they're not as good and as a result, go unused.  Don't be tempted by super-sized discounted generic packaging until you're sure you're going to be happy. Start small. And when you find something that works, or doesn't, make a note of it.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Apr 3, 2013 10:21AM

Store brands are typically produced by the same manufacturers as store brands. As a teen I worked in a tomato canning plant where I saw paletts of store brand label cans right next to name brands.


However, don't fooled by this article in regards to batteries. Generic brands may be produced in the same plant, but proper storage and length of storage differ considerably; which affects battery life.


Also, most grocery items (even chemical items) made outside the US are not of the same quality.

Apr 3, 2013 12:08PM
No on the batteries!  The are fine for every day use, but leave two flashlights on the shelf unused for 2 years, one with brand name and one with store brand.  Care to guess which flashlight will be ruined by leakage after 2 years?  I've seen it time and time again.
Apr 2, 2013 7:43PM
I buy generic migraine medicine because I found it works just as well as name brand.  Walmart's brand works great, for instance.  I like name brand, (Crest, Colgate) toothpaste and batteries, (Energizer) but buy them at the dollar store.
Apr 3, 2013 9:14AM
Often the only difference between the name brand and the store brand is what roll of labels they put on the package labeling machine.  For a lot of items either name or store brand all comes out of the same machine or vat of product.
Apr 3, 2013 4:39PM
I complained to the manager at Food Lion that he no longer carried my favorite brand of potato chips.  He told me to try the store brand: it's made by the same company.  It was close enough and half the price.

I try most store brand items first: if one is not as good as the brand name it's usually tolerable and I'll know not to buy that item in the future.  But for 90% of food items, the store item is my choice.  I'll spend extra for certain things like Bush's Baked Beans or Claussen Pickles, but when it comes to most canned soups and veggies, pasta and pasta sauces, bread and snacks, and even some frozen food items, the store brand is as good or better to my tastes.

Apr 3, 2013 9:11AM

only thing i buy name brand is PB...



all the other "generic" are made by "name brand" why wasted your money!!!!!!

Apr 3, 2013 11:09AM
I look at ALL the ingredients in a product and compare store brand to name brand.  Which one I buy  depends on what it is.  I do not buy store brand juices as they tend to have more sugary syrup & less real juice in them.  I also do not buy store brand batteries as I have found them to be less efficient over time.  For years I have purchased Albertson's store brand name products and have not been disappointed.  Their canned veggies seem to be better than name brands!!  I've also purchased store brand flour without a problem - and I bake bread.  Basically, I believe it depends on each person's individual taste and desires.  So, I'll keep doing what I've been doing and ignore this writer's suggestions.
Apr 15, 2013 6:30PM

Don't buy store-brand Chex-mix or Wheat Thins substitutes. Just sayin'.

Apr 15, 2013 8:51PM

This is a lesson I learned long ago.  I have been cooking since I was seven years old.  My mother was sick a lot and if I wanted to eat I had to learn to cook.  Later my late wife was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and the last ten years of her life were spent in a wheel chair unable to do much of anything so cooking was an absolute necessity.  So when shopping for groceries I became pretty proficient in picking and choosing.  In almost every case store brand canned goods have proven equal or even better than the name brands.  I also often notice less water in these canned goods than in the expensive ones.


Paper products like paper towels and toilet tissue are also good savers.  I buy in bulk from the club type stores.  I save a lot on the unit price and also by not having to make repeated trips to the store for more.  Meats are another area ripe for savings if you have the time and patience to dig a bit.  A professional butcher once told me that I should never cook fresh meat if I want it to be flavorful and tender.  He recommended putting it in the refrigerator once thawed and keeping it under forty degrees for several days until it turned grey before cooking.  Keeping that in mind I never hesitate to shop the manager's special area where old and re-wrapped meat is sold.  It is usually marked down sometimes more than half price and if I take it home and cook it within a day or so it is just fine.  I do this with beef but am a bit more careful with pork and chicken though and I definitely would not do this with any seafood products.


Finally rice and beans are best bought by the bag.  Buying preprocessed and prepackaged stuff is costly and really is no better tasting.  You just pay a lot more for convenience.  Take a little more time and just cook it and save the money.  It only takes me about fifteen more minutes to cook regular rice versus the boil-in-bag stuff for instance.  Also those single serve coffee makers are a real scam.  You wind up paying nearly $30.00 a pound for coffee for crying out loud.  Reheated coffee is just fine for me and with a good Bunn maker it only takes about 3 minutes to brew up a 10 cup pot.  The trick is don't just let it sit on the burner when done.  Turn it off and decant off the remaining into another pot for reheating later and set the Bunn up to brew a fresh pot when ready.  These are just a few of my saving tips.  Hope they help someone else.   

Apr 15, 2013 6:40PM
Cheap CVS aspirin does wonders for me....a buck for 130.  Two or three several times a month....that's it for me....I'm over 70. 
Apr 15, 2013 6:06PM
Someone actually gets paid to write this nonsense?? Wow.
Apr 15, 2013 9:13PM
The elite and those who want to be elites will buy brand name and let everyone know.  They might be less inclined to let people know there is little in the refrigerator other than the light. But, they'll drive their Escalade wherever they go.  The average person who knows what it is like to be poor, and those who love laughing at the elite, will buy the generic brands.  Same stuff....lesser price.  I would drive my Ford Falcon anywhere they would drive their Escalade, and a lot of other places too.  They don't want to be seen at Piggly Wiggly or Food Depot. They want to park their Escalade out front at Publix or Winn Dixie where cheese cost twice as much.  Same product, twice the price.
Apr 15, 2013 10:04PM
I don't like all store brand groceries, but I have a few store brands I have used for 15 plus years and love every item as good and better than the copies. I agree nothing is better than Jif.....
Apr 2, 2013 7:08PM

Most store brands are made by the brand names anyway. In order for the store bands to be sold cheaper the brand names who are making the store brands skimp on things. The article mentions socks, I bet for instance Hanes made those store brand socks and inorder to offer those socks so cheap they used less material. The past mentioned probably had thinner packaging than brand name packaging or less of a certain ingredient to justify the lower cost. Store brands are CHEAP because they are CHEAP. If you can afford brand names, stick with them.

Apr 3, 2013 11:49AM
I agree with the suggestions except  for sugar. I only use named brand sugar. Beet sugar does not bake as well as cane sugar. The texture is not as good with the store brands.
Apr 15, 2013 5:21PM
lottsa palaver but not much was said.
Apr 16, 2013 1:06AM
Since my income is pretty limited the majority of my shopping is store brand items and I'm not dead yet. Love to save money where ever I can!! 
Apr 15, 2013 7:38PM
Based on years of personal experience, I always buy Duracell batteries.  They last longer in use and can be kept in the battery drawer for a long time and will still be good.  Pretty well everything else: generic.
Apr 3, 2013 1:15PM
I tend to use some store brands when I shop. Some of the items that I have tried I can't find a store brand/ generic that I like so I use the name brand. when I shop I look at  both the unit price and the size of the container, I cook for my wife and myself so I don't need a huge amount of many items even things that I use a lot of. (Note: I do most of the cooking) I buy store brand eggs, milk, and bread most of the time. I watch the sales as often when the name brands go one sale the store brand is also on sale as well.
Apr 15, 2013 9:57PM

Aldi foods has made a name for it's self as the leader in "private label" not generic products.

They must be doing something right, because we are expanding & opening new stores all the time.

If you have an Aldi in your area, check it out. We have a double back guarantee on our food products.

Even as an employee I don't like every single item we carry, but I can tell you that you will truely save

lots of money.

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