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"Generics taste just as good as national brands" ... Really?

We all say it and preach (well most of us anyway) as if it's gospel, but how many of us have actually put the claim to the test?

I, mean, have you actually tried to verify that generics really do in fact taste as good as the national brand?

Verify as in do a blind tasting?

Well, today I did.

The following were put to the test:

1. Campbell's tomato soup
2. Hostess Twinkie's
3. Brach's Candy corn

Each test was done blindfolded and each food item was given to me randomly.

Results:

1. Tomato Soup (condensed)
Campell's soup was thicker and had more tomato-y taste to it. The generic plain brand tasted more like ketchup and was definitely saltier.
WINNER: Campbell's.
ADDITIONAL COST: $0.20.

2. Twinkie
The Hostess Twinkie and the generic plain brand (Cafe W from Walgreen's) were almost indistinguishable. The Twinkie probably had a bit denser mouthfeel, but everything else was pretty much the same.
WINNER: Cafe W
ADDITIONAL SAVINGS: $0.15

3. Candy Corn
First, Zac's Candy Corn didn't look exactly like Brach's. It was a little stubbier and more pale in color. (Ed note: because of the size difference, I did not handle the corn pieces, they were dropped into my mouth directly to minimize the impact of the difference in shape.) Shape differences aside, the Zac's simply were too sweet (yes, sweeter than even the Brach's) and did not have that notable slight undertone of vanilla, or is it coconut?
WINNER: Brach's
ADDITIONAL COST: $0.30.

So, there you go. A very unscientific test of generics v. name brands.

Probably doesn't solve anything, but just more food for thought ...

Cheers.

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  1. Well, I think it is useful, ipse, because it's a reminder that we have to try things, try to assess them honestly and be willing to question the "common wisdom", in order to get the most value for our food dollar.

    Without doing a blind test, I've tried many generic products and have been more than satisfied with them. For example, my supermarkets store brands of cold breakfast cereal "knock-offs" are very, very good and in a couple of cases, better than the original, IMO. And that's an item on which the savings is appreciable--usually, about 30 to 40 percent less. We like our storebrand bagels more than the national brands and they are about 25 percent less per package. OTOH, there are products where, not only do I not like the quality or taste of the storebrand, I don't even like other national brands, besides the "icon" brand. One example is Worcestershire sauce. Nobody measures up to Lea & Perrins, IMO. Another example is prepared Mayonnaise; I want Hellman's. I also won't buy my store brand of frozen veggies, because they add salt whereas the national brands don't.

    But I'm always willing to consider or try a store or generic brand, and that's all I use when it comes to things like foil and baggies, paper products and laundry supplies. The quality serves my purposes and the savings are tremendous on those categories in particular.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Normandie

      It never occurred to me that plain frozen veggies might have salt. I had to get up and check. Luckily, mine just say cut green beans and broccoli florets.

    2. Generics can, and do vary from store A to store B. (and within store) with store A's label pure junk, and store B's label across the board pretty darn good!! One very large national chain near me has what I would rate as a very good private label program..If they put their name on it, you can pretty much go to the bank that it will be a very good product...As good as national Brands? That would fall into the personal preference category ~~~ I do have some brand loyalty...Duke's Mayonnaise, Lee & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, Del Monte Ketchup, Campbell's soups etc. ~~~~ Blind tastings can be fun...and surprising!!

      1. My local paper does a weekly piece where they try one name brand item and two generics and rate them. In many instances, one of the generics does win. I find that a lot of the Target generics- Market Pantry/Archer Farms can be quite delicious. I was crushed to hear recently that one item I liked in the Archer farms was discontinued at the Targets in my area. I get generics in a lot of other cases as well. Many Kirkland brand items at Costco- like the EVOO are excellent as well.

        3 Replies
        1. re: queencru

          Archer Farms discontinues stuff almost as frequently as Trader Joes', in my experience.

          I agree with elfcook--some generics are OK, some completely suck.

          1. re: coney with everything

            I still mourn the loss of the Archer Farms olive oil potato chips and bronze cut whole wheat spaghetti and am dearly hoping that they don't decide to discontinue the bronze cut whole wheat penne again as well.

            Every so often, Publix has been running a 'buy the name brand, and we'll give you our house brand of it for free' promotion and what they've had with that has generally measured up well. Their premium orange juice is also from 100% Florida oranges instead of imported fruit from Brazil.

            1. re: beachmouse

              I agree that the Publix OJ is quite good. I either get that or Florida's Natural since the others import from other countries. It's silly to be buying orange juice from elsewhere when you live in Florida.

        2. some generics are good, some are not. Kind of how I like some national brands, and not others. I will give generics a chance if the savings warrants it, but for some things I am willing to pay the extra cents, like other posters here.

          1. So Sandra Lee was right all this time.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Samalicious

              I'm too sketched out by the actual "generic" brands to try them (I'm thinking of a big black-and-white box that says "Potato Chips," for example).
              But I often buy the store brands - I think it just comes down to trying them out (like you are doing) to see which products really pay to spend that extra 30 cents on, and which don't matter.
              I generally buy store brand flour, sugar, etc.. Then there are a few things, like Safeway's store-brand pineapple salsa, that I think actually taste better than the more expensive types!

              On the other hand, there are some brands of products that I have an affinity for just because of sentimental reasons - I always buy Quaker oats and Arm & Hammer baking soda, for example, because that's what mom and I always baked with.

              On another note, I'm living in France right now and have been really pleasantly surpised by the grocery store brands here! You can buy things like Careefour brand pasta sauce with cepes and morels in them, for example, or frozen salmon pizzas or refrigerated leek tarts, and they are really tasty - better than the expensive brands back at home in the US. I don't even bother getting the more expensive brands at the grocery store here anymore.

            2. Well OK, let's get this out of the way first: as a grown adult, I still eat and enjoy Spaghettios. That said, I have actually done a blind tasting of no-names versus the real thing and there is a definite difference. The generics are all heavier on the sweet or salty notes, and don't have the fuller tomato flavor of real Spaghettios.

              1. I've never done a blind taste test, but I think I've been pretty impartial when I have tried to compare store and national brands, as I've had mixed preferences. When I do use packet style "X" seasoning (exaple: taco seasoning mix), I don't have a brand preference, as the differences, while present, are not significant to how much I actually like them (it's a variation in flavour, but I like both), and dehydrated potatoes are dehydrated potatoes no matter who makes them.

                Canned soups though I've nearly always noticed a significant difference, the store brands never seem to taste quite as good as the national brands. Chicken and beef base, I do prefer knorr to most store brands, though I'd have little problem switching if cost became an issue, since the store brands don't really suck, they just aren't as pleasing to my tongue.

                As to cereal, I agree with normandie, there have been a few times where the store brand was not just "just as good" as the national, but BETTER (for example, I like generic fruit loops over.... kellogs? or whoever makes it lol), and there is usually a substantial savings.

                1. I try generics all the time and as others have pointed out, it can be hit or miss. More ofthen than not, they are 'just as good' and occasionally markedly better than national brands.
                  My big discovery concerns canned tuna (specifically, "solid white"). Bumble Bee, Chicken of The Sea, and similar brands have all seemingly devolved into watery cans of flakey mush. I bought a can of store brand (Shop-Rite) tuna because of a too-good-to-pass-up price and was delighted to find that it was the 'solid white' tuna of old as I remember it. Been buying it now for years and it is consistently superior to my old favorite, Bumble Bee...the store brand contains a solid filet , far less water, and is still sold in a 6oz can.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: The Professor

                    That's funny you should mention canned tuna. When I was at Walgreen's yesterday I was really tempted to try their generic version of canned tuna, which was a whopping 0.75 cheaper than the Star-Kist brand.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      I prefer store brand or generic potato chips over the national brands, Lays has less of a "potato" taste and is greasier than generic...

                  2. I'm not certain if this is true any more but there used to be a clear distinction between "generic" , "store" and "name" brands. If you're comparing "store" to "name" brands, I think you're getting a better quality product than if you are comparing "generic" to "name" brands.

                    I used to work for a soap manufacturer and there were different formulas for all three. Some "store" brands used better formulas than the "name" brand. Conversely, the "store" brand may be manufactured by the "name" brand company but there would be some ingredient differences. I'm sure some of the "name" brand manufacturers want to keep their product's quality higher than the "store" brand. The "generic" brands were manufactured with a very basic formula that didn't change from batch to batch, which is why costs were held down. I'm sure the same holds true for food products.

                    The good old "generic" brand (black print on white background) probably has gone by the wayside. I think most folks think of "store" brand as "generic" but there is a difference!

                    Paper products (foil, wraps, bags etc) probably don't have much of a difference.

                    I will buy store brand and compare but I try to buy as much fresh food as possible.

                    1. It honestly depends on the product... some store brands are made with cheaper ingredients and they don't taste as good, while some are indistinguishable. You have to try a can/jar/bag and see for yourself before you know if it's really worth the money to buy more.

                      Take salsa - the cheapest store brand has corn syrup, vegetable gum etc in it to stretch it out (ewww, icky!) but a slightly more expensive store brand from a different store is delicious.

                      We eat a lot of fiber bars... Target has a store-brand version that just doesn't taste the same, but the ones at Walmart are indistinguishable from the expensive ones.

                      1. As others below have noted, the comparison should be store bfrands, not generics, vs name brands.

                        Consumer Reports did a store vs name test on a variety of items a couple months ago. The store brands won some, the name brands won some, and there were ties in some categories too.

                        I do our regular shopping at Harris-Teeter, and I find myself buying the store brand item more and more. For example, cereal. My kids couldn't possibly tell the difference between Froot Loops and the H-T equivalent at half the price.

                        Another one: pasta. Unless there's a good deal on the Barilla, I'll buy the H-T pasta every time.

                        Canned veggies: We've tried many of the H-T products. On a few Mrs W has told me to stick with the name brand; on most the H-T works just fine.

                        Over at Costco, the Kirkland canned tuna is outstanding.

                        I wish we lived closer to a Wegman's because I love that place in general and their store brand products are really good.

                        1. Interesting trivia: The only way to get 100% hawaiian pineapple juice is to buy "store brands". Dole and Del Monte source their juice from the Philippines and elsewhere. Store brands, "Western Family" e.g. are stamped "100% Hawaiian" on top of the can. adam

                          1. I recently bought the store brand of "Ritz" crackers and remembered why I don't buy the store brand of crackers.

                            1. This also brings to question what is generic vs name brand vs store brand. Is Zac's candy corn a generic or is it a lesser known brand? I think it depends on the brand and the item. I like Kirkland brand items, sometimes more than the name brand. But Kirkland is pretty big and growing and at some point, it'll be a name brand. I'd also hypothesize that the more processed the food is, the more important the company that produced it is--not that one is better than the other but there's a bigger preference between Coke and Pepsi than Poland Springs and Deer Park bottled water. And, a big part of it is what you're used to--if you've grown up on Brach's, then Zac's won't cut it.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: chowser

                                "But Kirkland is pretty big and growing and at some point, it'll be a name brand."

                                Chowser, Kirkland is huge, but since it's available only at Costco, I think by definition it's stilll "just" a store brand.

                                Now, having said that, there are many products at Costco that have both a name brand AND Kirkland on the package (e.g., Mariani dried fruit). I think of those as name brand products. I haven't researched whether such products differ from the name brand only equivalent I would buy at the Harris-Teeter. Anyone with some extra time, feel free to help out. 8<D

                                The canned tuna is a "pure" Kirkland product, so it still falls under the store brand category.

                                1. re: Bob W

                                  I was thinking of tuna as one of the things that I prefer over national brands. And I just bought EVOO on the recommendation of my italian teacher who loves to cook. I think it might be Bertolli or a repackaged brand.

                                  Is a "name brand" by definition one that is sold in multiple outlets? Is it size based? I'm just being nit picky about, say DonSueMor madeleines which used to be sold only by them but has expanded to many stores. Same question as when a restaurant w/ more than one location becomes a chain. Kirkland brands are probably as big as name brands so what's the difference in quality for the OP?

                                  1. re: Bob W

                                    At the time of the adulterated Chinese wheat gluten-caused deaths of many cats and dogs in America, a lot of prior nutritional analyses of commercial pet foods were reprinted. Kirkland brand dog kibble was very highly rated. A knowledgeable friend told me 15 yrs ago that it was formulated by the same expert who did Hill's Science Diet. I have been feeding it ever since. At the time, I compared the nutritional values (identical) and ingredient (almost identical) lists. Six yrs ago I stocked up on several months' worth of 20# bags of Iams because I was scheduled for major surgery, after which I would not be able to lift the 40# Kirkland bags. During that period, I noticed that the dogs drank fully twice as much water. Neither label lists sodium levels but I assume Kirkland's is lower.

                                    I recently discovered the Market Basket (Massachusetts-based supermarket chain) whole wheat spaghetti (durum whole wheat flour is the only ingredient) has a lot better taste and texture.than my previous favorite, Healthy Harvest. I'm sure they don't make their own so it's likely that other chains' house brands are the same product.

                                    I am also loyal to Bounty towels and green Palmolive dish liquid.

                                  2. re: chowser

                                    Yeah, I guess I should have been a bit more clear.

                                    I was really trying to compare "store brands" to "name brands". I was just loosey-goosey with the term "generic" to denote "store brand".

                                    Honestly, I haven't seen a true "generic" (i.e., plain wrap, with black and white lettering) since my pre-pubescent days ...

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Anyone remember the brand "no frills" which was white with black lettering and two narrow red and blue stripes running around it?

                                  3. This is just a question for everyone: In my family we've always referred to generic brands as "mongrel" brands. Anyone else use that term? Dad W. used it and we carry on the tradition.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Bob W

                                      Yup! We'd always tease my mom. "Is this real or some mongrel brand?"

                                      1. re: PrincessBakesALot

                                        LOL beautiful. Perfect usage.

                                        We had a store near us for a few years called Wholesale Liquidators or something like that. They specialized in mongrel brand products. Since we eat so many canned mandarin oranges we tried their off-brand version. (About 20 cans worth, unfortunately.) They didn't measure up to the beautiful Dole mandarins at all. Most of the segments were broken. It was more like mandarin orange puree. Tasted ok, but very unappealing. Score one for the name brand!

                                    2. Back in the day, I specifically remember Pathmark (in NY) as having the black & white packaging for the generic brands. I haven't seen that at any other store in years. National Brands vary by state as well. I live in NC now and shop at two major grocery stores that don't carry generics, just store, regional & national brands. I also shop at Walmart, where some of their store brands are just as good as the nationals.

                                      I get their cereal, real butter, milk (which is the cheapest in my area) garbage bags, flour, sugar and wheat bread to name a few items and they are as good as the national brands. I make most of my own soups now but if I get any canned, it has to be campbells or progresso. I don't like store brand tuna fish, it's just not the same.

                                      When I buy my groceries, a lot of the times, I'll buy according to what I'm going to do with the product, like if I'm making corn pudding, I'll buy the store brand cream of corn because it really doesnt matter.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Cherylptw

                                        "When I buy my groceries, a lot of the times, I'll buy according to what I'm going to do with the product, like if I'm making corn pudding, I'll buy the store brand cream of corn because it really doesnt matter."

                                        Yes! As I noted above, if an ingredient is going into some sort of multi-ingredient dish for my kids, I will almost always buy the cheaper store brand -- the savings can really mount up and they are too young to notice. Sorry kids!

                                      2. My #1, all-my-life, mustn't be without, comfort food is Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup. It can get WAY over a dollar a can which pains me (but only a little). A couple of years ago I tried the Safeway brand, not side-to-side, or blind but Campbell's taste is imprinted on my psychic tastebuds. The Safeway brand didn't even come close.

                                        On the other hand, I've recently discovered Kirkland brand kettle chips which are better than anything I've ever had. (A Top 10 comfort food is also Wavy Lays).

                                        So, yes, you have to try them. Kinda like voting. I always say if I don't vote, then I can't complain afterwards.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          A greasy-handed second for the Kirkland kettle chips! Thick and crunchy.

                                        2. Most of the time, I can't detect much difference between store and national brands. However, a few years ago I tried the Kroger cream cheese in place of Philly. It was like tasteless paste - sort of like eating a really thick version of that papier-mache glop. It was foul beyond words. I have stuck to name brand dairy stuff ever since then.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: tonina_mdc

                                            I'm with you on that. One of the few items I absolutely will not cut corners on. I have never come across a store brand that measures up.

                                          2. One thing that has made me reconsider the thrill of going generic is the quality of the packaging. Store brands save a ton with cheap packaging that might otherwise extend/improve the life of the product contained: I recently bought a store brand pancake mix (I always make my own batter, but was curious to see if I'm doing that for nothing- never again), and the weak paper cardboard kinda disintegrated even though I was opening it correctly, and there was no way of resealing the package that contained enough batter to feed a barnload of Norwegian bachelors. In this case, the quality of a name brand would have made a difference.

                                            Also, a friend of mine used to be a tomato buyer for Heinz- he claimed that they went out of their way to use a superior roma. Heinz ketchup, if you're into store-boughten ketchup, is waay better than any generic I've ever tasted.

                                            But I did once enjoy a white box with a black stripe labelled "chocolate flavor chip-cookies." The best flavor of Chip Cookies is hands down Chocolate. I wonder if they made oatmeal flavor chip-cookies?

                                            1. Funny story from the eyes of a 2 year old... my friend's daughter likes those Striped Shortbread cookies, the ones with chocolate on the bottoms and stripes across the top with the hole in the middle. So my friend just bought the generic store brand since they were on sale for a couple bucks less than the Keebler brand, and didn't care since her tot was the only one eating them. As an afternoon treat, she opened the cookies to give one to her daughter, who took one bite, handed the cookie back, and said, "No Mommy where are the real ones?" ...It doesn't take age to have a discerning palate...

                                              1. Depending on the generic, you can find wild discrepancies between packages of the "same" thing. There are, of course, several different variations on raisin bran. A while back, I bought a box of a generic that was exactly what I liked: the soft flakes that disintegrate in milk. When that was gone, I purchased the same package, and found something entirely different inside.

                                                Moral: Some generic brands purchase from a variety of producers and package the goods themselves. Others actually make them.

                                                1. Next time try it with 3 actual foods.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: andtheodor

                                                    What would a generic of an apple be?

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      "Red Delicious" would probably come pretty close to being a generic if there were such a thing in the apple world.
                                                      They are indeed red, but generally pretty bland. I think they were originally selected for propagation more for their looks than their taste or texture.

                                                  2. Many store-brand items are made by name-brand companies. Ex.: Keebler may make the store-brand cookies. It varies wildly by store and particular items within a store.

                                                    1. It's definitely a case by case situation. My example is the time I bought Harris-Teeter's own canned cheese ravioli in tomato sauce (generic of Chef-Boy Ar Dee - yes I know, real gourmet food - what can I say?). The H-T version was flavorless in comparison.
                                                      Yet I know there are other things under the store brand that are not that noticeable in their differences.

                                                      1. It definitely depends on the product and which generic from which store. Probably what time of the year, too, as lots of stores source their generics from different places.

                                                        Recently, though, I've been digging Target's generic "fig cookies" over Fig Newtons. Regular Fig Newtons are just too tart and not enough sweet for me, plus the cookie part has been so incredibly crumbly the past few packages I've bought. The Target brand fig cookies are always soft, sweeter and not so tart (a personal preference, I know), and a whopping 6 cents cheaper. :o)