Cheaper store brands not always worth savings

Tips for deciding if name brand or generic is the best value.

Generic brands can save money, but some foods are worth the name brand cost. Photo by: Rob Stinnett/Creative Commons | MSU Extension
Generic brands can save money, but some foods are worth the name brand cost. Photo by: Rob Stinnett/Creative Commons | MSU Extension

According to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report,  a family of four using a low-cost plan spends almost $650 per month on food. For most families, food is the third highest monthly expense behind housing and transportation. We clip coupons, shop specials, join food clubs and cut back on extras to keep food costs low. Another technique shoppers use to cut food costs is buying store or generic brand products.

Store brands almost always costs less (up to 25 percent less according to Consumer Reports) and often taste the same. Many of the generic brands have the same ingredients as their higher-priced counterparts; however, the generic brands are not a better value if you end up tossing the food due to taste or quality. Consider the following when making the choice between generic and name brands:

  • Chefs buy generic. A 2014 National Public Radio poll reported that chefs are more likely than the general public to buy generic baking products and teas. Most baking mixes, powder, soda, sugars and flours taste and perform as well as name brands.
  • Same manufacturer, different label. Rarely do we see the black and white packaging of early generic foods. Most generic food is sold as “store brands,” with some grocery chains having a high and low version of their generic items. Most store brands are manufactured through two venues: on the same production line as their name brand counterpart or by less well-known company according to an Ohio State University Extension article.
  • Store sales and coupons = name brand savings. Just because an item is usually cheaper doesn’t mean it will always be cheaper. When you combine a coupon with a weekly sale on an item you regularly buy, name brands can actually be cheaper than store brands. Be choosy which coupons you use. Many coupons are for convenience foods that tend to be more expensive and tempt you to buy an item you don’t normally use.
  • Read labels. Many generic and store brands contain the same ingredients as name brands, but others may not. Read the lables to compare ingredients and nutritional content. Some generic products are higher in fat, sugar and salt compared to the name brand.
  • Conduct a taste test. Not sure you want to start buying store brand versus name brand? Try the item before you make the switch. If your favorite item has a generic version, buy one before stocking your shelves.

For more articles on ways ot make your food dollars stretch, visit Michigan State University Extension.

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