The Guide to Buying Generic Products

Learn how to shop smart when shopping for generic groceries.

If you've ever found yourself questioning whether generic products are as beneficial as the real thing, you're not alone. Many Americans face this conundrum when they navigate the supermarket, wondering if buying generic means skimping on quality or if buying name-brand is just a big marketing ploy. Consumer expert Hitha Herzog, Good Housekeeping executive editor Meaghan Murphy, and Good Housekeeping nutrition director Jackie London investigated shopping trends and found that almost two-thirds of consumers reported that their grocery carts were at least half full of store-brand products, specifically milk, bread, baked goods, and cheese. Here are some generic food secrets you may not know: 

Generic Foods Are Often Identical to the Brand Name Version 

As London explains, manufacturers often use their excess supply to support retailers' generic brands. National brands are often the same suppliers of generic brands or are sharing the same facility and equipment. The difference often lies in the packaging, marketing, and advertising of the product. When it comes to generic products, there's less advertising spend and consumer research which works out because they get to sell the same product for less money. 


More: 9 Smart Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store

Generic Brands May Use Money-Saving Tricks 

Brand name goods can typically cost about thirty percent more than generic products but it's possible that generic food manufacturers are cutting corners to keep the costs down. Make sure to check the label to see if your generic food is made of cheaper ingredients (substituting high fructose corn syrup for sugar), etc. The ice cream industry is known for using a few tricks too, specifically when pumping tons of air into generic ice cream containers to increase their profit margins and require less ice cream per container. By looking at the mass of the ice cream and the volume of the container, the experts were able to tell that the generic version was less dense which translates to more filler air per unit. 

Generic Products Rate Just as Highly as the Regular Products 

Consumer Reports conducted blind taste tests, having the participants try 19 pairs of staple foods. The results showed that national brands and store brands were tied 10 times. So it's possible that at least some of the time, the difference in taste is more psychological than factual.

More: The Ultimate Food Label Guide

Here are how some everyday products stack up: 

Generic or Brand Name: Trash Bags

After testing the stretch and wear of generic garbage bags versus brand name bags, the brand name version was able to keep its shape and withstand the weight of more garbage than the generic kind. If you want to avoid rips, spills, and a big mess, you may want to invest in the brand name bags. 

Generic or Brand Name: Dish Soap

When conducting a dish soap test, the Good Housekeeping team discovered the brand name dish soap will give you more bang for your buck. The main job of a dish detergent is to get oil and grease off your dishes and all dish liquids can accomplish this goal to some extent. However, the brand name dish detergent tends to do a better job so you need less product per wash. The total cost of the soap may be higher but you can stretch it further so it pays to invest in the brand version. 

More: The Big Box Store Shopping Guide

Generic or Brand Name: Paper Towels

Murphy explains that when brand name towels and generic towels are put to the test, the brand name version will typically be more absorbent. So if you save a few dollars buying the generic version, you may end up using up more product to clean up a mess and run out faster. Stick to the brand name when shopping for paper towels to get the best value.

Generic or Brand Name: Pantry Staples 

As London, explains, pantry staples like salt, sugar, flour, and beans, "are simply what they are". Meaning, sugar is only going to have sugar as an ingredient, beans are just beans, salt is just sodium and chloride, so there are no other ingredients that can skew or impact the performance of these products. When it comes to your pantry goods, you can stick to generic and save some money. 

More: 10 Foods You Need to Power Up Your Pantry

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