Frugal shoppers know that swapping private-label products for brand-name ones can save big bucks at the supermarket checkout--an average of 25 percent, according to industry experts. And our tests have found that many store brands are just as good as the big names. If you're still reluctant to buy them, here are some more reasons to give them a try, along with tips for making the smartest choices:
- In a recent comparison of 19 grocery staples, our sensory experts judged that the store-brand and name-brand versions tied in 10 cases, the brand name prevailed in eight comparisons, and the store brand bested the name brand once.
- You might prefer the taste of the store brand to the name brand. Store brands and name brands rarely taste identical. That's because two products might have ingredients of similar quality but taste very different. For example, our taste testers called Skippy and Wegmans creamy peanut butter a tie. But they found Skippy a bit sweeter and slightly more bitter than Wegmans, which had more of a roasted flavor.
- Some of the same companies produce and package competing name and store brands. Among them are Hormel (canned meat, bouillon, and desserts); Marcal (paper towels, tissues, and napkins); McCain (french fries, appetizers, and frozen pizza); and Reynolds (foil, plastic wrap, and disposable plates and cups)
- Shoppers are most likely to buy store-brand paper goods and plastics. They're more leery of store-brand pet food, soda, canned soup, and wine.
- People are buying more store brands than ever before. Almost two-thirds of shoppers surveyed last summer said that their grocery carts were at least half full with store-brand products.
- It's a good idea to compare the Nutrition Facts labels of store and name brands before you buy. We recently compared 33 pairs of similar foods. About half of the items were about the same in nutrition. But we found some major differences between the rest, most often in sodium content. For example, Great Value Vienna Sausage contains 88 percent more sodium than Libby's, making the name brand more nutritious. Price Chopper's Clear Value Italian Dressing costs less than half the price of Ken's Steak House Italian. And Ken's is loaded with fat.
- Pay attention to serving size when you compare store and brand names, even if products look the same. A serving size for Hy-Vee Split Top Whole Wheat Bread is one slice (90 calories). A serving size is two slices (130 calories) for Freihofer's Split Top Wheat. That means the store-brand bread will set you back an extra 50 calories per sandwich.
For more on ways to save on food, read our review of the best and worst supermarkets and watch the video below. (This article is adapted from Consumer Reports Money Adviser.)