Paycheck Chronicles

Store Brand Groceries

There are many different ways to save money on your grocery bill.  One way is to change the brands that you purchase, usually by moving to economy brands or store brands.  Are they any good, or are you just wasting your money?

Keep in mind, these are not our parents' "generics."  Gone are the white boxes with boring black print, and in comes the snazzy labels and upscale products that rival name brands.  In fact, many store brands are made by the same companies that manufacture the name brands, just using different labeling or packaging.  If you are shopping in a civilian grocery store, they often have a "try our brand" guarantee.  If you are unhappy with the store brand, you can bring it back if you are unhappy with the product.  Stores are promoting the value and quality of their own brands for several reasons.  First, customers are becoming more value conscious and less impressed with fancy stores and crazy sales strategies.  Stores don't want to alienate customers by putting their own name on an inferior product.

There are categories where the differences are obvious:  store brand sodas rarely taste like their brand name counterparts, and my daughter can spot most store brand oatmeal before I'm even done cooking it.  I won't buy store brand soups because I just don't like them.  However, in most products the difference is negligible.  Frozen vegetables?  Usually identical.   Cheese?  Pretty darn similar.  And so far, my Cheerios-addicted daughter hasn't complained about all the non-Cheerios brand cereal I've been sneaking into the container.  The website WalletPop has done a lengthy side-by-side comparison of numerous products and agrees:  it all depends on the product.

How much can you save?  In an ABC news report , the editors saved about 25% by purchasing store brands at three different stores.  Their experiment included 9 household items and included both a regular grocery store and a super-store.  It's not scientific but it does illustrate the potential savings.  I think that their numbers may have been a little low - I've seen other studies with significantly higher savings.  If you are a savvy-coupon cutter and stock up when certain products are on sale, then the savings will be a lot less.

Of course, the military commissaries don't offer store brands, but they do often offer an economy brand.  For example, the commissaries sell Quaker oatmeal products and they also sell Ralston oatmeal products.  Most of the time, (but not always,) the Ralston brand is less expensive.  You have to keep your eyes open and be aware of your prices to make sure you're choosing the least expensive option.

I recommend a little experimentation.  Pick the three items that you purchase the most frequently and try the least expensive brand available.  If you like it - great!  You've just easily saved a bundle on your groceries.  If you don't like it, try to take advantage of any store guarantee.  Chances are you'll find that at least one of your regular products has a less expensive choice that you'll enjoy.


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