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I have no love for generic brands. No love at all. I grew up eating the cardboard crud and my resentment is deeply engrained in my DNA. But, as a grocery-savings expert, I frequently talk about the name brand/generic debate. My message is usually something like, “It’s a common misconception that it’s cheaper to buy generic foods than name brands with coupons.” But, what if you don’t have a coupon? Would you go generic to save?
According to a Nielson survey, shoppers have taken notice of new and increasingly high-quality private label products. Today, almost three-quarters of shoppers (71%) say private-label quality has improved over time. Plus, supermarket brands typically cost at least 15 to 30 percent less than national brands.
With one out of every four products at the grocery store a store-brand, it can be difficult to determine the best value. So I organized a blind-taste test. I gathered a few dozen family and friends, blindfolded them, and passed around samples of twenty-five different products. The votes are in, and here are the results:
1. Oscar Mayer vs. Great Value Bacon
No pig should give its life for sub-standard bacon. There’s a lot that goes into the perfect slice (think fat to meat ratio; 60/40 is ideal), and straight-cut edges. Jagged edges can lead to more curling and uneven cooking. The national brand we tested was simply not a cut above the store brand. Our tasters were split 50/50 in trying to determine which bacon was the superior product.
2. Clabber Girl vs. Great Value baking powder
I used Clabber Girl for the longest time because my mom and grandmother always used it when I was growing up. Truth is, we baked a batch of cookies with all generic baking staples, and there was literally no difference in the end product. Save some cash and go with generic.
3. Seattle’s Best vs. Starbucks coffee
Seattle’s Best isn’t a store-brand, but it was the least expensive coffee, even cheaper than the store brand, so I decided to test it against Starbucks coffee, the most expensive bag at my local Target.
Our test group found that Starbucks is still lightyears ahead of store brands. Tasters preferred it 100% of the time.
4. Gold Medal vs. Great Value flour
There’s a lot of baking that goes on in my house, which means I go through a lot of flour. I baked two rounds of cookies with each of these brands, and my family tasted little to no difference. If anything, they liked the Great Value batch a little bit better.
5. Chobani vs. Great Value Greek yogurt
70% of our taste testers agreed—Chobani beats out Great Value when it comes to texture and taste. Also, everybody was mad that I didn’t get them a better flavor. Plain yogurt is kinda gross.
6. Mrs. Butterworth’s vs. Great Value syrup
I felt like I knew how this one was gonna go down before I ever tasted it and not just because of my preconceived notions. The thin and runny consistency of the store brand was enough to turn off our tasters. Compared to super-sweet Mrs. Butterworth’s, the watery generic never stood a chance. Let’s face it—if you’re going to have all the calories in syrup, you might as well get the good stuff.
7. Darigold vs. Great Value milk
Both milks below are actually processed at the same dairy (a ‘plant-code’ is stamped onto every dairy product in America), so the $1.67 generic and the $2.45 name brand are literally identical. Definitely go generic on this one!
8. Simply Orange vs. Market Pantry orange juice
For most refrigerated beverages like orange juice, you’re actually better off with store brands. Because they’re produced regionally, there’s usually less processing and transportation involved than with national brands, which impacts freshness. Our test subjects picked Market Pantry OJ over simply orange 54% of the time.
9. Nabisco Oreo vs. Great Value cookies
After 103 years, there’s still only one Oreo. Did you know that since 1997 Oreos have been Kosher and even Vegan? It’s true. While store brands, especially Walmart’s Great Value, have made strides and closed the taste-test gap, Oreo is still the clear winner in look, texture and taste. If you’re gonna binge on the calories, why not accept the higher cost and throw that into the pity party.
10. Jif vs. Great Value peanut butter
In addition to the fact that you’re getting 10 more grams of fat with Great Value than with Jif—Jif is smoother and more flavorful. 78% of our tasters preferred it compared to Great Value. And considering it’s often only a $0.60 difference, it just takes one decent coupon to close the price gap.
11. Nabisco vs. Great Value saltine crackers
When we put our tasters to the test, 80% of them preferred the original, name brand Nabisco saltine crackers. And no wonder—unless soggy cardboard is your thing, you’ll want to go name brand on this one.
12. Pantene vs. VO5 hair products
In the U.S., only 2% of hair-care sales (as of September 2014) come from private-label brands. The gap between name brands and generics is wide. I don’t have to tell that to 98% of you. We couldn’t even convince most of our participants to try VO5.
13. Post vs. Great Value shredded wheat cereal
Nine out of 10 doctors recommend it, and so did our taste testers—the two worst things about generic shredded wheat is lack of salt and poor texture. Over 90% of tasters preferred the name brand. The other 10% disliked both cereals.
14. C&H vs. Great Value Sugar
It’s all the same here. I grew up using C&H, but once I switched to the generic I realized that the difference isn’t worth the cost (because there isn’t really a difference at all).
15. Ore-Ida vs. Market Pantry Tater tots
Our blind taste testers were split right down the middle with this one! While the Ore-Ida tots held their shape, the generics fell apart. However, when it came to taste, many couldn’t tell. The generics are at least worth a shot! Save a few cents and let us know what you think.
16. Bounty vs. Up & Up paper towels
Bounty DuraTowels don’t lie—they’re truly durable and can last through several of my kids’ messes! While the Up & Up brand might save you a little bit of cash, the Bounty paper towels last longer in my house.
17. Cheerios vs. Great Value toasted oats cereal
Did you know that the average preschooler views 642 television ads for breakfast cereal every year? Kids have a built-in preference for name brands before they learn their ABCs. So, is it all a giant scheme to keep us from realizing the generic Cheerios taste every bit as good as the name brand?
NOPE. Generic cheerios are gross. And lucky for you, there is no category (save medicines) with a higher volume of coupons. Cereal coupons abound. Find one now (just search the word ‘cereal’) and skip the generic.
18. Arm & Hammer vs. Great Value baking soda
Mostly, baking soda sits in my fridge to soak up smells (and occasionally I might use it for baking). While the bright orange box is prettier, I’ll vote to cut the costs here since the ingredients are the same, and quite frankly—there’s not a noticeable difference between the two.
19. Heinz vs. Market Pantry ketchup
Store brand ketchup manufacturers are getting close to cracking the secret Heinz formula. Consumer Reports made staffers who regularly purchased Heinz ketchup do a blind taste comparison with a store-brand alternative; more than 40 percent preferred the store brand. Oh, snap.
Our tasters were fooled as well! The most noticeable difference was in color–Heinz is a deeper red. We were all shocked at how similar the two ketchups tasted!
20. Honey Maid vs. Market Pantry graham crackers
Market pantry takes the gold home here too. I thought for sure I would be able to tell the difference between Honey Maid and Market Pantry, but I totally failed and so did 70% of our taste testers who actually preferred Market Pantry’s version. You need to try it to believe it!
21. Quaker vs. Great Value granola bars
Great Value’s granola bars are something I’ll never buy again, regardless of the price difference. They are dry and overly sweet. (And for the record, we tried Market Pantry granola bars as well, and they were even worse!) Kudos, Quaker.
22. Coppertone Sport vs. Equate sunscreen
There are a few very important factors to study when you purchase sunscreen: SPF rating and UVA and UVB protection. An SPF rating of 15 or higher is shown to prevent skin cancer, and those labeled “broad spectrum” protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. As long as your sunscreen includes these qualities, then less expensive generic brands are just as good as the more expensive versions.
23. Up & Up vs. Tylenol Pain Relief Medicine
While not viable with the taste test, it should be noted that generic drugs yield greater savings and a certifiably identical product to the name brand. FDA regulations are universal. If you only give up one name brand this year, make the switch in the medicine cabinet.
24. Ghirardelli vs. Great Value semi-sweet chocolate chips
Sometimes you just have to go big or go home. Go big with this one, and fork out for the fancy Ghirardelli chocolates.
25. Great Value Ice Cream vs Breyers
The price gap between these two products is wide. Compare $1.98 to $3.98! Whoa! I have to call this last taste test a draw, because while nearly 60% of our testers preferred Breyers, that means almost half of them were fooled, and with a 100% price markup, I think this savings is worth considering.
So, there it is. I’m fully prepared to hear from you in the “comments” section. Go on! Tell me that I’m crazy to say that Heinz is on top, that I’m mad to think generic graham crackers taste like the real thing. I was singing the same song, right until I tried them with a blindfold on. . .