Name brand vs. generic? A matter of price

May 29, 2008 8:09:42 AM PDT
The high price of gas isn't just hitting your pocket book when you fill up. It's also a big reason why prices are higher at the grocery store. Transportation cost is the main culprit for rising food prices. But we have some helpful advice when you put together your next grocery list.

Switching from national brand favorites like Kellogg's or Frito Lay to generics can save you money. But how much money?

We put it to the test at one local grocery store and no coupons were required.

Anita Acorn is a creature of habit. She always picks up Doritos because they're her daughter's favorite snack.

"I didn't notice the price," she told us. "I just came down the aisle saw the Doritos and picked it up."

Anita could have saved almost a dollar if she went with generic chips. In fact, if she purchased only generic products, she could save a whole lot more.

So with a grocery list in hand, we set out to buy 14 national brand best sellers and compare that to the store brands.

First, a gallon of whole milk.

At H-E-B, Borden's was $5.63 compared to the store brand at $3 a gallon. That's a savings of $2.63!

What about a dozen eggs? Eggland's Best Eggs was $2.39 compared to a dozen generic eggs at $1.58. That saved us an additional 81 cents.

We saved 99 cents buying generic chocolate chip cookies versus Nabisco's Chips Ahoy.

The cost of Ballpark hot dog wieners was $1.66. The generic equivalent was just 79 cents.

A jar of Prego Spaghetti Sauce was a $1.99, while the generic brand was a $1.05.

But our biggest savings was the sweetest of them all, ice cream.

The sale price of a half gallon of Blue Bell's Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream was $4.95 while the store brand vanilla was $2. That's a savings of almost $3.

We also saved 92 cents on cereal, 70 cents on crackers and 50 cents on orange juice by picking up the generic versions.

These are savings that literally add up in front of your eyes. They are big reasons why many shoppers are switching from the national brands to generic.

"I drive a hundred miles a day so it's killer," said shopper Maureen Moffett. "You have to have more money to put in your gas tank so you can keep going to work. You try to cut corners where you can without cutting quality."

So all total how much money did we save?

The national brands cost us $41.54, while the generic products cost $27.47. That's a savings of $14.07 and more than 33%. Remember, we're talking about the exact same shopping list with only 14 items.

I know what many of you are thinking. The generic brand isn't as good.

Guess what? The secret is that many of the same ingredients in the better known national brands are also in the contents of their generic counter parts.

Don't believe me? Well, we tested several products to see if shoppers can tell the difference between the name brand versus generic.

They're sitting right next to the best selling national brand, the generic equivalent. From crackers to ice cream, soft drinks and milk, you have an inexpensive alternative. So why do so many people pass them up?

"I just do it because in my mind you are going to get better and I want the best quality," said shopper Chandra Peele.

But does name-brand always mean better quality? Can shoppers really taste a difference? We wanted to find out.

First up, Frito-Lay's Doritos versus H-E-B's version. The shoppers were not told which was which.

It was a split decision. The store brand bag of chips is also 99 cents cheaper than Doritos convincing our taste testers to go generic.

The biggest generic winner was H-E-B's ice cream versus Blue Bell's Homemade Vanilla. Every shopper preferred the generic. It was on sale for $3 less than Blue Bell.

Not every generic product won-over our testers, though. H-E-B's cola lost out every time to the original Coke.

And over at Kroger, taste testers sampled pretzels, salad dressing, green tea and water.

Dana Inman couldn't tell the difference between any of the national brands versus the generics until it came down to price.

"I'd buy the Kroger brand if you can save a dollar, especially nowadays," she said.

The Kroger green tea was the taste test winner with almost all our samplers choosing the generic version over Lipton. Shoppers we sampled didn't have a preference in salad dressing because they say both tasted the same.

But Kroger's pretzels sticks lost to Rold Gold. Shoppers claim the national brand was better because it is saltier.

One store manager told me about 80% of their generic products are made by the makers of the more expensive national brands. It means consumers are really buying the exact product, but with a generic label.

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