It’s Sunday morning, and you’re standing in aisle 5 of the local supermarket about to buy the national-brand bottle of the all-purpose cleaner that the television commercial said will melt the mildew off the shower wall.
But then your line of vision shifts a few inches to the right. And you see it: the store-brand version of the same product. The label isn’t as flashy as the name brand, but it’s cheaper and maybe just as effective.
In fact, 55 percent of grocery shoppers say they frequently purchase store brands, and more than 77 percent say the store brands they buy “are as good as, if not better than, national-brand products,” according to a 2009 survey commissioned by the Private Label Manufacturers Association, an organization that represents makers of store-brand items.
One of the things you should consider when choosing food is whether you’re going to mix it with other items. Kelli Grant, senior consumer reporter at SmartMoney.com, says experts who do recipe-tasting will say that if you’re turned off by store-brand vegetables, don’t have them on the side. Instead, include them in vegetable soup, for example, where the difference in taste is hidden. And have the national brand on the side.
Coupons are continuing their comeback. In mid-2006, consumers reversed a 15-year decline in coupon usage by redeeming 2.6 billion manufacturers’ coupons. Grant says that store-brand products almost never go on sale, so consumers may be able to find better deals on national-brand products by matching store sales with manufacturers’ coupons.
She says that Teri Gault, founder of www.thegrocerygame.com, is known for her ability to match sales with coupons.
“She can very famously go into a store and buy $70 worth of groceries for $10,” Grant says of Gault.
Scott Wempe, assistant manager of store operations at Hy-Vee, 3504 Clinton Parkway, says the store-brand canned goods at his store are more popular than the national brand, but items with a specific taste such as barbecue sauce and cereal are more popular among the national brands.
In many cases, the two brand products are made by the same company. Manufacturers of national-brand items will create less expensive, but comparable, versions of the same product and then slap the local store label on it.
Grant says some companies, such as 4C Foods, are candid about making and distributing both national and store-brands.
Others are not.
“Ultimately they do want you to buy the brand-name product,” says Grant. “They don’t really want you to know that the green beans you’re buying are identical to the can next to them.”
Warehouse clubs are a good way to save money with store-brand medication. Grant says consumers can get 30-day supplies for as low as $5, which, depending on the medication, is cheaper than Wal-Mart or Target. The Food and Drug Administration requires that store-brand medication meet the same efficacy standards as national-brand medication. So your drugstore ibuprofen is just as effective as its more expensive national-brand counterparts, which include Advil and Motrin.
“I see the generic brands as being better quality than the average person would because I’ve tried most of them,” Wempe says.
Still not sure which all-purpose cleaner to buy?
Experts say for basic cleaning, the store brand will do the job. But for tough assignments such as the mildew, it’s best to splurge for the national brand.
Generally, Grant says, national brands have superior pet food, diapers and paper products. But store-brand produce, pantry staples and skincare products are normally as practical as the national brand.