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Angela Colley, dealnews contributor
Once upon a time, consumers seemed to care deeply about whether their kitchen cabinets were filled with familiar names and food mascots. But these days, are you any more likely to prefer Kellogg's over cereal from Target?
According to Deloitte's 2013 American Pantry Study, it appears as if the cachet of a major, recognizable brand name is losing its significance for shoppers. Out of more than 4,000 participants, 88% said that they believe "private label" brands (sometimes known as generic) are just as good as their national brand counterparts, while 70% didn't feel buying a private label brand was a sacrifice. And even more surprising, only 27% of respondents said they planned on buying national brands more if the economy improved.
So while the old standbys like Coca-Cola, Folgers, and Yoplait may be winning fancy awards, private label brands are becoming more popular with the everyday consumer. (Perhaps that's why major brands have been getting more inventive with their marketing.) In fact, the very term "private label" seems to imply a greater level of acceptance, since it's a far cry from the penny-pinching connotation of "generic."
Of course, private label brands have a few advantages — like price. According to Consumer Reports, store brands are 25% cheaper on average than national brands, which can mean big savings on your household and grocery bills. For example, if you typically spend $120 a week at the grocery store, you'd save $30 buying generic. Over the course of a year, you'd save $1,440.
Taste and quality might also be a factor. Not so long ago consumers equated store brand with adjectives like stale, tasteless, or cheap. Now, that's less likely to be the case. Consumer Reports tested 19 different private label brands against national brands. Ten private label brands tied for taste and quality with the national brand, and in one case it even beat out the national brand. For example, Consumer Reports had a hard time telling Chobani Greek yogurt and Winn Dixie's brand apart. The testers found that Costco's Kirkland Signature walnuts and the Diamond brand were "basically interchangeable." And for cheese crackers, Sunshine might have a hint of sour cream, but Dollar General's Clover Valley brand is basically the same thing.
Of course, that isn't always the case. Not all private label brands stacked up to national brands in Consumer Reports' test. Bush's baked beans had a slightly smoky, slightly sweet taste while Consumer Reports said Food Lion's brand had a "harsh, ashy artificial smoke flavor" and a bitter, "metallic off-note." Tropicana beat out Walgreens' Nice! brand in the orange juice category, and Kroger's Private Selection cookie-dough ice cream had an artificial taste and small-sized cookie-dough bits that didn't compare to Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream.
Still, the savings you'll get on private label brands make them hard to pass up. For example, the above study shows that Chobani Greek yogurt retails for $1.31 per serving while Winn Dixie's Greek yogurt only costs $1.09 per serving, a savings of $0.22. Meanwhile, Diamond walnuts cost $0.52 per serving, or almost twice as much as the generic option.
For value and taste though, some store brands are better than others. While Consumer Reports approved of several brands, there are dozens that remain untested, like CVS Pharmacy's Gold Emblem or Total Home, Target's Archer Farms, or Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value. Readers, what are your favorite private label brands? Which do you think are just as good as the national counterpart? Are there any that are flat out better?