Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2020.
What’s in a name? A lot actually.
We often default to certain brands when shopping simply because of the name on the package — and the reputation that comes along with it, thanks to clever advertising.
We buy Bounty paper towels because they’re the “quicker picker-upper” and Frosted Flakes because “they’re gr-r-reat.”
But on the shelves next to those items you can often find a comparable store-brand version that costs less — sometimes significantly less. We often refer to these as generic products. Sometimes these rival versions are even made in the same manufacturing facilities and have little to no noticeable differences.
Ultimately, the decision to buy a store-brand product or your favorite name brand is a subjective one. There’s trial and error involved, and in some cases you might land right back on the premium paper towels because you find that they really do pick more up, and quicker.
But before your next shopping trip, it’s worth considering how much money you could save if you take a few name brand items off your list.
Comparing the Cost of Store Brand Vs. Name Brand
I visited two stores — Publix (a southeastern grocery store chain) and Walmart — to do a little price comparison.
(Note: Prices were sourced on Feb. 19, 2020 at stores located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Sales tax was not factored into this example.)
|Product||Store Brand at Publix||Name Brand at Publix||Store Brand at Walmart||Name Brand at Walmart|
|Jif peanut butter||$2.39||$2.72||$1.58||$2.22|
|Kraft cheddar cheese||$3.85||$4.19||$2.08||$2.38|
|Diet Coke, 2-liter||$0.75||$2.19||$0.68||$1.74|
|Dove body wash||$3.99||$6.81||$3.47||$5.58|
|Adult extra-strength Tylenol||$6.99||$10.29||$1.98||$9.47|
A shopper at Publix would save $12.72 or about 35% by buying the store-brand version of these eight items over their name-brand alternatives. A shopper at Walmart would save $13.10 or nearly 45%.
Consider that I only used eight items in this example. When’s the last time you went to the grocery store and walked away with just eight things?
The greater the grocery haul, the greater the savings by choosing the cheaper alternative. And since you likely go shopping more than once a month, you could see a significant difference in your monthly budget by swapping out name-brand items.
Store Brand Vs. Name Brand: How to Decide
Since store-brand merchandise costs less money than name-brand counterparts, a common perception is that they’re of lesser quality.
But that’s not always true.
One reason name-brand items are more expensive is because it costs money to market those products to the public. Consumers pay the price for those commercial jingles that stick in their heads.
Most store-brand products are made to closely compare to their name-brand products. If you check the ingredients, sometimes you’ll find they’re made of the exact same stuff — though the recipes may differ slightly. What the decision really comes down to is preference.
We asked The Penny Hoarder community members about buying store-brand items over name brand. Respondents said they often choose store-brand products to save money but still have name-brand preferences when it comes to certain items, despite any cost savings.
“I will use generic for anything but my hair products,” said community member KellyFromKeene.”Otherwise, [with] food, clothes [and] household supplies, I will get the generic if the ingredients are the same.”
Community member Jobelle Collie said she’s partial to Dove bar soap, Olay moisturizer and Palmolive green dishwashing liquid but buys generic trash bags, office supplies and kitchen staples like salt, pepper and sugar.
Sometimes going with the store brand is a matter of trial and error.
“I definitely try to choose store brand, at least initially. Sometimes, I can tell the difference,” said community member Sthom. “For example, I tried my store’s brand of filters for my Brita: I could tell the difference immediately, so I switched back. That happens sometimes.
“Recently, I tried my store’s brand of peanut butter,” Sthom continued. “I’m partial to smooth [Jif] but the store’s organic smooth brand was less than $2.00 — around $1.18, unbelievably — and was just as good if not better.”
Tips for Weighing Store Brand vs. Name Brand Products
When deciding between store brand and name brand, keep these things in mind:
- Try swapping out the name-brand version of single-ingredient items — like flour, rice, milk and eggs — for the store-brand version. You may find there’s less variation in taste or quality than multi-ingredient items like cookies or soup.
- Use spices or other ingredients you have at home to dress up a store-brand product — for example, adding basil and garlic to a jar of pasta sauce.
- All store brands aren’t created equal. You may dislike the taste of store-brand cereal or the quality of store-brand toilet paper at one grocer, but another store’s products could be more on par with the name brands.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires generic medications (over-the-counter and prescription) to have the same active ingredient, strength and dosage form as the name-brand equivalent. Both products should be medically equal.
- Store sales and coupons can cause name-brand products to cost less than the store version. Store brands aren’t always the cheapest option. This is a great time to indulge in your preferred brand and save money.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.