When to Buy Generic and When to Spend More on a Name Brand

Archer Farms, Great Value, Kirkland Signature, Member’s Mark, 365 Everyday Value, Lucerne…any of these names ring a bell with you?


These are the generic brands stores sell products under. Supermarkets offer dozens of choices on any given item, generic brands versus name brands are one of them.

When I suggest buying generic brands to some people, their noses crinkle up in disgust and I hear something along the lines of, “I don’t like the taste of generic brands.” I always have a brief chuckle at notions like this.

What most people don’t know is that many generic brand lines, like Target’s Archer Farms and Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value are produced at the same factories as brand name products. The ingredients are nearly identical, the only differences are in packaging and the name.

Generic brands have gotten a bad rap in the past. They first became popular in the 1970’s when hyperinflation took away most families ability to pay for brand names. Generic store brands were no frills, lower costing versions of popular foods. Generally they came in plain white packaging with very little wording. There was almost no color or design on the packaging and the taste left something to be desired.

Thankfully, just like our clothes and hairstyles from the 1970’s, things have changed. Only the bad reputation has remained on some types of food. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you bought generic brand steak from Wal-Mart? Or generic brand shampoo from Target?

There are just some items we buy at grocery stores that we haven’t been able to get over the hump with. But it’s time to remove the stigma, because generic brands can be 30 to 50 percent cheaper than brand names. For a family that spends $100 a week on groceries, that can add up to a savings of $2400 a year!

Here is a list of 10 products you should ALWAYS buy the generic brands of to help save you serious money at the grocery store each week.

1. Baking Staples

Foods like sugar, flour, salt, and baking supplies are all the same. Table salt contains only two elements on the periodic table, there isn’t much room for difference when dealing with that few ingredients. It’s the same story with the other products.  Plus the FDA requires the same standards of production, ingredients and storage for generic versions of these staples as they for name brand lines. Buying a name brand of a food in this category is just throwing your money away.

2. Spices

Dried herbs and spices have identical ingredients too. There are only so many ways you can produce rosemary and paprika. The only real difference is the packaging or celebrity endorser the name brand version is paying for. Unless you’re getting fresh herbs and spices, stick with generic brands on this one.

3. Cereal

Cereal is one of the foods you can save on the higher end when you buy generic. It’s not uncommon to find generic brand cereal at almost HALF the cost of name brand versions. And if you are buying a traditional cereal like Cheerio’s or Corn Flakes then there is virtually no difference in taste between the generic and name brand versions of this breakfast staple.

4. Gasoline

Whether you buy from a name brand station or one you’ve never heard of before I will guarantee you the gas you pump is going to be identical. Those off brand stations get their gas from the same tank trucks that supply the name brand stations. Long time readers might remember that I grew up in a car manufacturing family. Someone from my immediate family has worked on cars for the last 50 years. So if this was one of those times where brand name worked better I would tell you, but it’s not. Quite often the gas with the name you’ve never heard of came from the same refinery than the one you have heard did. The only difference is the price. Save yourself up to 20 cents a gallon and go with the cheap stuff. Your car won’t know the difference but your wallet will.

5. Produce

An apple is an apple, an orange is an orange. There isn’t any difference between the Kirkland’s apple and the Granny Smith apple. Instead of choosing the brand name fruit look for freshness and if it’s ripe. To save yourself even more money buy produce when it’s in season. Buying fruits and veggies when they are in season will net you a great deal and you’ll get the bonus of eating a food that is bursting with flavor. Check out last week’s Easy Street article to find out which fruits and veggies are currently in season (along with all the other things that are on sale this month).

6. Cable Cords

I know this one, because I fell for it. Ever buy a new TV and the salesman while ringing you up suggests you buy one of those $100 HDMI cables. He’ll tell you everything he can to make you buy it. The signal will be stronger, the download times will be faster, the picture will look crisper, blah, blah, blah. In reality the cheaper cords work the same as the expensive ones. They both carry data and transmit a signal in the same way. Don’t fall for this trap like I did. It’s a waste of money. Save yourself $90 and buy the cheap one, there won’t be any difference on your TV, only in your bank account.

7. Make-up

This one took me years to believe. If you would have asked me when I was 19 if a name brand mascara worked better than a cheaper, off brand version I would of said yes. But it’s simply not true. Make-up is a lot like food in that often beauty manufacturer’s make Cover Girl or Revlon products in the same plant they make Dior or Clinique. It’s the same ingredients and the same product. Save yourself some money and hit the drug stores to try on some quality, generic brand lip gloss, blush, mascara, eye liner and other beauty products.

8. Cleaning Products

Dawn may have the power to cut grease, but so does Wal-Mart’s Everyday Value brand. Dish soaps, window cleaner, bathroom cleaners all do the same job no matter what name is on the label. This is especially true of single-ingredient cleaners like bleach. No matter what name is on the label it’s the same product. There aren’t different ways to make bleach. So choose the off brand cleaner to get your tile sparkling, your clothes clean, your windows streak free and your wallet fatter.

9. Batteries

This one will be hard to convince you of, I know it. Everybody buys name brand batteries because they last longer, just like their ads say. This is true. A bunch of studies were done that prove this. The thing is that while they last longer, they don’t last long enough to make up the price difference between the generic brand of batteries and the name brand ones. Generic brands can be as much as 50 percent cheaper. In this instance don’t go with the cheapest batteries, those usually are junk. But do go with a less expensive, off brand battery.

10. Baby Formula

We all want the best for our kids, this includes what we feed them. We tell ourselves that if it’s more expensive, it must be better for them. That’s just not true and the government says so. They created the Infant Formula Act and it says that the “safety and nutritional quality of infant formulas are ensured by requiring manufacturers follow specific procedures in manufacturing infant formulas.” Paying up to $13 more to feed your baby Similac over the Wal-Mart brand formula is wasteful since both products are certified by the FDA as healthy for your baby. The only major difference is in taste, texture and price.

The biggest reason to buy generic brand foods and items over name brand ones are the price. But now you know the other reasons behind buying generic. Now you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you aren’t pulled in by marketing hype and sneakily worded advertisements by these name brand companies. Next time you shop at the grocery store do a label check to see for yourself just how similar the two brands are and then look at their prices to see how far apart they are. It will blow your mind!

Keeping Money in Your Pocket,

Nancy Patterson


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