Entering a grocery store in New Orleans, we are confronted with row after row of choices, all competing to get our hard earned dollars. Bright packaging, advertising campaigns, and promises of quality and flavor tempt us. Other brands focus on marketing to niches such as “all-natural” or “low-calorie”. We are greeted by advertising on the television, radio, internet, and in print.
It doesn’t take long for the budget conscious shopper to notice that store brands or generic brands are often much less expensive than name brands on the grocery store shelf. But are they a bargain or not? There are no easy answers to that question.
Most of us, at some point, have tried a generic or store brand that was definitely sub-standard in quality, with issues such as peanut shell pieces in crunchy peanut butter, off flavors in canned goods, or frequent inclusion of things such as pieces of pits with the fruit. On other occasions, we may find the store brand to be of higher quality than the nationally advertised brand. What does this mean for a consumer in New Orleans?
Generic and store brands focus on two things: prices being lower and word-of-mouth advertising. Ask your friends and family about their experiences, pay attention to which brands that they find satisfactory. Buying generic can save money, but only if the product is of sufficient quality to satisfy your family’s desire for flavor, quality, and nutrition. Many store brands are in fact packaged by the same company as the name brand product was, the difference lies solely in the label. Others are closely mimicking a name brand product, especially in the cereal section. Some products bear little resemblance to name brand products, in flavor or quality.
Certain products are more likely to be very similar if not identical, such as canned fruits and vegetables, dry goods such as rice, beans, flour, sugar and salt, or cereals. Canned soups are usually very similar too. Products such as canned pastas and chili can vary widely.
All food is produced in factories and canneries that meet the same federal standards and must pass inspections. With the recalls in recent years, consumers have been made aware that often many products are made at the same location and then labeled accordingly, including both national and generic brands. Purchasing a generic product is not going to change whether or not that product met the standards set by the FDA.
Try one first. Don’t buy a dozen unless you are sure the product will be satisfactory. In addition, some people are uncomfortable with unfamiliar brands and labels, a prejudice that is very difficult to overcome. If a product is rejected for any reason, purchasing it is not a budget wise decision, and paying the higher price for the familiar name brand is the wiser choice.