Brand Eating: Is There Any Point to Choosing Brand Names Over Generic?

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It’s important to eat well. After all, you are what you eat. And that’s why you fill your cart with brand name items every time you go grocery shopping.

Of course, it’s more expensive, but since you’re paying for better quality, it’s worth it, right?

Well, not necessarily. In fact, your grocery bill is probably 25 percent higher than it needs to be. Keep reading to find out why brand eating might not be the smartest way to shop anymore.

Do Higher Price Mean Higher Quality?

Some brand name food items are two to three times more expensive than the store brand varieties. But a lot of the times, when you purchase brand names, you’re not really paying for a better product.

Instead, you’re usually paying for the advertising, which includes everything from television and radio commercials to billboards, as well as newspaper and magazine ads. Ironically, this is the same advertising that made you want to buy the item in the first place!

The Power of Branding and Marketing

So, if generic brands are comparable to the brand names, why do you reach for the expensive option instead? A lot of our decisions surrounding food have to do with our perception of ourselves. When we purchase brand name items, it’s like we’re reinforcing our status in the world.

What’s more, if you go cheap and buy generic, you can feel like a miser, instead of a frugal, smart shopper. This drives many consumers to purchase the more expensive brands, not necessarily because they’re better products, but because they believe their life is better with them.

Store Brands Are Getting Better

In Consumer Report’s 2012 October issue, they showed the results of blind testing, in which food tasters tried products from 29 categories. The result? 19 out of 29 times, the generic brands and name brands tasted equally as good.

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This makes sense when you consider that in the November 2014 Nielson survey, 71 percent of consumers reported that the quality of generic brands had improved.

And even though both brands taste pretty much the same, the generic brands cost up to 30 percent less than the national brands on average!

Compare Nutrition and Ingredients

Many generic food products are actually manufactured in the exact same facility as their name brand counterparts. So, before you pay up to 30 percent more for a box of cereal, take both brands and compare the nutritional information and the ingredient list.

Do they both contain the same active and inactive ingredients? Are the ingredients listed in the same order? If so, generic is probably your best bet.

Comparing this information can also help you weed out cheap substitutes for higher quality items. That’s because generic brands can be sold at a cheaper price because they contain more fillers, preservatives, and different ingredients all together.

So, be sure to compare the ingredient and nutritional information side-by-side.

When You Should Buy Generic Brands

Regulated items are usually very comparable, whether you buy generic or national brands.

This is especially true when it comes to food staples like flour, cornstarch, sugar, pepper and more. Certain cereals, such as the all-time favorites, Bran Flakes and Cheerios, share the same aisle with decent knock-offs.

So, here’s when it’s better to buy generic:

  1. Milk

Generic brand milk is sometimes sourced from local farms, so there’s a chance that the cheaper option is actually better quality than the national brand. Other times, generic and brand name milk are processed at the same dairy farm, which you can see based on the “plant code” listed on the milk carton.

As always, don’t just compare the prices. Check out plant code and expiration date of the two brands before you purchase.

  1. Fruit Juices

The same thing goes for many fruit juices. National brand juices may go through much more processing and contain lots of preservatives. In contrast, the generic brands are sourced from local manufacturing centers, so they’re not only cheaper but fresher beverages.

  1. Baking Staples

When it comes to staple foods like sugar, salt, flour, cornstarch, and baking soda, follow the example of professional chefs. They only buy name brands for these foods 20 percent of the time!

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That’s because these foods are pretty much the same across the board. Obviously, there are different types of flour, but when you compare brand versus generic, you won’t be too disappointed.  The same thing goes for pancake and biscuit mixes.

  1. Popsicles

When it comes to these sweet, refreshing treats, you’re better off choosing generic brands. Because unless you’re looking for an ingredient list full of whole fruits, and zero added sugars, you probably won’t be able to tell much of a difference.

  1. Canned Goods

Naturally, you can purchase imported Italian tomatoes, but if that’s not important to you, you’ll save money without sacrificing flavor by purchasing generic brands of vegetables, fruits, and legumes.

  1. Water

Fiji water might seem more appealing, but is it worth paying two to three times more for store brands?

When You Should Consider Brand Eating

Taste is subjective, and that will determine whether you buy generic or brand names. But there are some national brands that are just better. Here are a few:

  1. Coffee and Teas

The quality of brand name coffee and tea is usually far superior to store brands.

  1. Chocolate

A lot goes into a good bar of chocolate, and it’s quite hard for generic brands to compete with companies like Lindt and Ghirardelli.

  1. Condiments and Spices

Many store brands use cheap fillers in their condiments and spice bottles. Of course, it all boils down to taste, but usually, national brands offer superior goods in this department.

  1. Ice cream

Cheaper blends usually use fillers, stabilizers, and lower-quality ingredients. Look for national brands that contain fewer, but better ingredients like real vanilla, eggs, and whole milk.

How To Pay Less for Brand Names

If you have your favorite (expensive) name brand food companies, how can you have your cake, eat it, too, and not pay full price?

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Try these easy tips:

  • If you use the food item often, use coupons
  • Start a store membership, or a shopper’s club/loyalty card
  • Stock up when it’s on sale

Are you paying too much for your food because you always buy brand names? You can save some money and enjoy yummy food by reaching for the generic brands.