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I Buy Generic Brands and Store Brands Sometimes

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When I was in college, some of my poorer friends (that is, unsubsidized by the government or their parents) would get their products as cheaply as possible. I have distinct memories of afternoons with certain friends and the beverage of choice for lunch being “No Frills Cola.” These days, I don’t go so far, but I do opt for generic brands when the perceptual difference between the generic and the name brand isn’t significant enough to be worth the difference in cost.

Whether you are buying generic or name brand products a great way to save money on both kinds of purchases is to sign-up for a Upromise Account. Upromise is a great program to help you save for your child’s education, just by buying everyday products.

Over time, these choices save quite a bit of money without sacrificing experience.

Soft drinks. When I’m eating out, I usually choose to drink water, lemonade, and once in a while, Sprite (or the functional equivalent offered, like Sierra Mist). From my home, I buy name brand orange juice (Florida Natural or Tropicana), varieties with the added calcium and Vitamin D as I do not drink milk. I’ve tried other types of orange juice, but these are the only brands that taste good to me.

no-frills.gifI’m not a big soda drinker, but when I shop for home, I will pick up the store brand Black Cherry flavored soda or Root Beer. The store brands taste just as “good” as the name brands, and provide just as little nutritional content.

Pain relievers. In the last few years, Aleve has been the only over-the-counter pain reliever that consistently eliminates my headaches, after going through phases when my body preferred Advil and Tylenol. The good news is that the generic version of the drug in Aleve (naproxen sodium) is just as effective for me. Also, the generic costs anywhere from 50% to 75% of the price of the name brand.

Bread products. The store brand wheat loaves, hot dog rolls, and hamburger rolls are all excellent. They don’t carry that much of a price savings, but I see no need to overpay in this category. On the other hand, what I put in or on bread products will generally be name brand items, like Nathan’s or Hebrew National hot dogs, or fresh from the grocery store’s deli counter or butcher.

Gasoline. I herd a commercial on television recently about a certain name brand gasoline supplier which mentioned that their brand is much better in terms of performance than “cheap” gas. This is an outright lie. When you have two stations on the same street corner, and one is a generic brand and the other is well-known name brand, chances are almost absolute the two stations are getting their delivery from the same supplier… and the same truck. There is some research here, if you’re interested.

There are some purchases where the store or generic brand’s discount is not worth the difference in experience.

Certain toiletries. I’ve done quite a bit of experimenting with this, and I have come to the conclusion that Cottonelle is my favorite toilet tissue. It’s not as expensive as some other brands, but it’s quite comfortable. If I want thin, scratchy paper, I’d use the rest room at my office. On the other hand, I can deal with store brand paper towels as they’re fine for cleaning up spills.

Musical instruments. When it comes to acoustic instruments, the best manufacturers are clearly defined. I would only buy a Buffet clarinet, a Bach trumpet (or another top notch brand), or a Martin guitar.

Once I’m able to afford a piano, I’ll get the best brand my budget allows, and you can bet Yamaha will not be on that list. I have never heard a Yamaha piano whose sound I liked, and they were everywhere in college.

Clothing. All I ask is that my clothes stay together after multiple wears and washes. Some brands are much better than others when it comes to durability. I’m not looking to buy brand name clothes as a fashion statement, but a $12 pair of generic jeans may last 6 months of just occasional wear while a moderately priced basic brand name pair of jeans, will cost 2 to 3 times more but will last 6 times longer. Often, when I want to make sure the fit is just right, I have to pay additional money to a tailor to alter the clothing, so I’d like to keep my purchase costs as reasonable as possible while still get some good quality threads.

Why do people buy generic? For most, it’s probably a price issue. If the generic or store brand is as good as the name brand, you might as well save some money. Also, psychology plays a role, like it does everywhere else. Some people just feel good that their money isn’t going to some major corporation’s marketing campaign or research and development budget.

Updated April 12, 2011 and originally published April 24, 2007. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Emily

I love Cottonelle tp too. My husband and I weren’t planning to join Costco because they don’t sell Cottonelle, but then his brother got us a membership, so we tried the brand they have (also a name brand, but I can’t remember which). We were pleasantly surprised by the new tp, and are saving TONS of money.

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avatar Cheryl

I am also a fan of Cottonelle! WHile I do buy store brands/generic of many items, I will not sacrifice on my toilet paper! I wait for it to go on sale at Target, and combined with a coupon can get a 12 pack of double rolls for $5.

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avatar BillyOceansEleven

I’m not much of a brand snob. I still remember loving the Chek root beer and cream soda sold by Winn-Dixie growing up.

With respect to gas, the only differences between one brand and another or no-name gas is the additives that get put into it. There are relatively few refineries in the US, and all of them refine gasoline to about the same specifications. Some brands do put additives at the terminal (local distribution station) before it is put on the trucks and sent to individual stations. However, especially at the regular unleaded level the differences have virtually no effect.

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avatar Kevin M

I agree with most of what you say. Of course, everybodies taste differs. For instance, store brand sodas are generally far inferior in taste than the name brands. Again, just my opinion with my taste buds.

The gas issue is only partially correct. The gas very easily could be from the same refinery, but the additives will be different. Only Chevron has Techron. That’s not to say Techron is any better than other gasoline’s additives. It’s just different is all.

As far as pain relievers go, the store brand version of Advil is just fine for me. Same exact active drug. Toiletries, whatever is cheapest as long as it meets my minimum requirements. Whatever 2-ply TP is on sale is good enough for me.

I think store brand breads are often superior. Same with milk, etc.

Another thing I noticed was cereals. Store brands just don’t quite cut the mustard. Oh, they are OK, but it’s obvious they are just poor imitations of the name brands. The texture and flavors just aren’t quite right.

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avatar Patrick

I definitely agree on buying quality instruments. I bought a Martin, and it was everything it was supposed to be. But you can look for used instruments and still get great deals. I got my US made Telecaster in mint condition (w/ hard case) for $400.

For band instruments (clarinets, trumpets, flutes, etc.) wait until the school year ends. The students that quit throughout the year and those who graduated are looking to get whatever they can for it. The worst time to buy a band instrument is right before school starts for the obvious reasons.

As for sodas, I try to stay away, but generic orange and root beer work for me. Not so with Coke or Dr. Pepper.

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avatar Willster

Pain relievers and other OTC medications are a big one. In almost all cases (exceptions being time-release pills, and cases where gel-tabs might be preferred, etc.) the generic brand contains the EXACT SAME ingredients as popular more expensive brand names.

I agree with the comments about toiletries and soft drinks though, there is a definite inferior quality to the house brand in this case…and not worth it in my opinion.

One thing I found very interesting is that some major brands often repackage their own products into “house brands” to capture different demographics. I don’t recall other product’s, but I know for sure that Walmart’s house brand coffee is just re-packaged Folgers.

If you do a search on said topic you’ll probably be sure to find some informative posts on the subject.

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avatar Dan

I always loved the folks that were snobby about the brand of gasoline they bought.

Right after 9/11 I did some security work at a terminal, as stated above, this is where the gasoline goes into the trucks from the pipeline. Anyway there were a ton of no name trucks going to ma & pa gas stations, but then there were name brand trucks going to a brand that had “Superior Gasoline.” It was all the same stuff.

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avatar James

Word.

Store brands are usually the same quality for significantly less money. We get store brands all the time.

Best,

James

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avatar B

I find that store brand cheese tastes exactly the same as, say, Kraft cheese.

But I have determined that for ice cream, name brands are far superior. Give me Breyer’s, Homemade brand, or Ben and Jerry’s any day over the Kroger brand.

For toiletries like soap and shampoo, I always get the generic if it’s available, except in a few circumstances where I really love a particular product (like Herbal Essences shampoo, where they don’t have a generic equivalent).

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avatar Nathania Johnson

I shop for groceries at Walmart at I buy their Great Value brand all the time. Especially for bread, cheese, and frozen vegetables.

But their prices are so cheap, that I can “splurge” for Breyer’s ice cream, which is only $2.94 there.

I don’t mind buying clothes from there or Target either. You can usually tell which ones are going to last and which ones are cheap. And for ladies who like to switch up their wardrobe frequently, we don’t need jeans that last 3 years.

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avatar dakboy

I’ll at least try generic brands for many products. However, for food, I am often disappointed and go back to name brands.

Tissues, paper towels, soaps, etc. it’s easy to go generic and/or bulk to keep costs down. The last time I tried store-brand peanut butter, it was terrible.

As for grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, I’ll only buy things there that can’t be easily screwed up. Ziploc bags, aluminum foil, etc. Actual food (especially meats & produce) I won’t touch – we tried their offerings a couple times, but the quality was horrible. Now I go to a local butcher shop for my meats and get higher-quality stuff at the same or lower prices than the supermarket has.

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avatar Jason

The downside to choosing breads at any chain store is that they are produced with high fructose corn syrup. Serious! Read the labels, it’s really scary. It’s not just bread either, many meats are made with high fructose corn syrup. I’m all for buying generic, but at the same time you do get what you pay for in many cases.

I buy bread from a local baker and meat from the local butcher. Since the bread is baked everyday I can get a discount for the day old bread (really, it could sit on a shelf for a week, but this guy insists on it being fresh). The butcher also gives discounts for volume (great for a family) and will trim the meat for you (great time saver!).

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avatar Matthew

high fructose corn syrup isn’t rat poison, I think anyone who acts like it is is just misinformed. It’s just a sugar that naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables and it’s only used because one of the few remaining import tariffs in the U.S. is on actual sugar (which has a real name that is almost as scary “sucrose!” oooooooh!). That’s why they use it. As long as you eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and complex carbs, get enough sleep, some fresh air and exercise and don’t spend you’re whole life stressed out and scared about non existent boogeymen, chances are you’ll live a long and healthy life.

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avatar andy

HFCS IS metabolized differently by the body than more natural sugars. It’s not “just a sugar” – it’s processed from natural foods, but you won’t find HFCS in things growing out of the ground.

HFCS is used because it’s CHEAP. It’s produced from corn, and corn farmers have one of the strongest lobbies in DC. They get HUGE subsidies for growing corn, which makes it ridiculously cheap when compared to cane sugar which is tariffed in part to protect…the producers of HFCS!

Drink a soda with real cane sugar, and then compare to the same one with HFCS (find Mexican Coca-Cola, or a leftover from Passover in your local MegaMart). You’ll taste a difference, and the cane sugar is much better.

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avatar Daisy

I’ve tried all the generic brands. For most stuff, it’s fine. However, I bought the Target brand zipper snack bags and was sorely disappointed. I bought them to package cookies for a bak sale. I only needed them to work for about a day, and only once. However, when I opened about 80 of the bags in a 100 bag box, they immediately broke to the point that they were unusable! A dollar NOT saved.

I’ve had MUCH better luck with Target clothes versus Wal-mart. The one pair of jeans I bought at Wal-mart lasted about a month, and the Target pair I bought lasted 4 years.

Soups that will be eaten by themselves need to be Campbell’s for me, but if they’re going into a recipe or casserole, generic is fine.

Milk is always a better buy as a store brand, as is butter. Oils are usually about the same. Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour has to be Hodgson Mills for me.

I think everyone has their “things” that they don’t want to take a chance on. Luckily for the generics, pretty much everyone’s “things” are different.

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avatar Laura

As for cereal, I prefer the Malt-O-Meal version of “Cocoa Pebbles” to the real things. I buy a lot of store brands from Kroger, Publix, and WalMart but don’t care as much for most of the ones from Ingles. Often it’s just a matter of trial and error to find out what’s good, and some stores will refund your money if you don’t like their products.

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avatar Cherished Childhood

A short time ago, peanut butter was being recalled. A batch had gotten messed up and the recall was for Walmart brand peanut butter AND a name brand (jiffy maybe?). It proved that they are one and the same from the exact same factory.

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avatar Misskris

When it comes to products like orange juice and toilet paper, I agree that the brand names have better taste and quality. However, I myself have found that buying generic brands for most products is a great way to save money. Majority of the name brands are equivilent to the generic, just more expensive. I think that many people who buy brand name products sometimes just buy them for the name. Consumers might not want to take the chance of buying generic, so they just buy the brands they are familiar with.

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avatar Connie M.

I’ve found that Target brand toilet paper is one of the cheapest store brands and I CAN’T TELL THE DIFFERENCE between it and the premium brands.

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avatar Rusty Waples

You need to do a bit more research on the discount gasoline piece. While many different tanker trucks may come out of the same terminal, each one gets a different additive package added to the base gasoline depending on which branded station it is going to. The top tier brands gasoline (www.toptiergas.com) have much higher levels of detergent additives than the discount brands. Clean fuel system = better performance and mpg.

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avatar Susan

I like the target up and up brand for trash can liners, paper towels, aluminum foil, and plastic bags. I save big on these items.

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avatar KG

I have worked for 3 consumer packaged goods companies and just to let y’all know, a lot of your store brand-generic products are made by brand name companies. they do this to keep production lines running at the highest profitable capacity; in fact they might actually make quite a few different store brands for the same item. this goes for pharmaceutical companies as well. there are some times in which the brand name cpgs might use lesser quality materials to keep costs down, but quite a few use the EXACT same ingredients they use in their name brands.

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avatar Lessie

I will buy generic brands on most things.. but ABSOLUTELY NOT COFFEE . . . It is terribly bitter or just completely disgusting ! ! And my DH will not drink generic beer Coors or Bud only.

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avatar Peggy

In reference to Generic Brand items or Brand Names, Wal-mart has Early Peas ( tiny English)
the name on the can is Dubon.i assume this maybe generic which is somewhat cheaper than
Leseur’s.growing up this type peas was called English peas.back to the Dubon Peas ,these
tiny peas are about the best can peas in my opinion other than Leseur’s.the taste is very good.
i do not however care for Greater Value Cinnamon Waffles.they were out of the Eggo brand
that my son likes.there is no comparison to me .my son and i like the Eggo Brand.as far as
cheese.i’ll stick with Kraft.other than most off Brands.the off brand i do not like.i’m very leery
of any cheese that won’t melt when you are making a Grilled Cheese Sandwich in a hot skillet.
i agree on buying the Great Value Brand in the Aluminum Foil.it’s o.k for a get buy.for some off
brand foil in some stores will rip a the least pull.

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avatar Heather

The Store brand TP does the job just fine. I can’t see spending extra dollars for something I wipe my butt with then flush down the toilet….it’s a huge waste! I buy store brand when ever I can.
The extra money I save, I can then use to pay for the few brand name items that are an absolute must.

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