Money Saving Mondays: Generic Groceries

With just a few exceptions, shopping experts say you almost always save and lose nothing buying store brands

When it comes to grocery shopping, no one knows more than coupon queen Kathy Spencer of or Laurin Mills, founder of The Dinner Daily, a Westford, Mass., publisher of affordable menus designed around what’s on special this week at specific grocery chains.

Something Spencer and Mills agree on: You almost never go wrong saving money buying store brands rather than costlier national brands,

“Store brand products are often the same exact ingredient or product-- it's just packaged differently,’’ Mills said. “I think many of us thing of these generic store-brand products as mysterious or suspicious, and we just think they can’t be as good as the premium brand that they sit next to, because we tend to just, psychologically, think the more you pay for it the better it is.’’

Mills agrees and says she’s especially fond of Stop & Shop’s store brands. “I've tested a lot of generic brands and Stop & Shop, always, I’m just never disappointed with their store brand.’’

Mills tests out before sending them to her subscribers recipes made with what's on sale or special each week at specific store chains. She's learned that cheaper store-brand tomatoes or pasta or chicken broth have zero impact on taste. “For things like stews, casseroles, stir-fries where you're not going to be taking that ingredient and using it in isolation, it's going to be part of a greater recipe -- there really is no reason to buy the premium brand,’’ Mills said.

Mills said she has found exceptions, like breakfast cereal and store-brand breads that just don’t measure up to national-brand taste and texture. “Paper towels, trash bags, sandwich bags – I have noticed a difference in quality.’’

And Spencer said that “if you want Kraft mac and cheese, you want that very specific taste, or Velveeta [cheese], if you get a generic, it might not have that strong flavor.’’

But both have found many examples of store-brand products they and their families actually like the taste of better than national or brand names, including packaged coffee and peanut butter at Market Basket. Spencer said she learned “Stop & Shop had a French bread pizza that I bought because it was really cheap, and I didn't have a coupon for the brand name, so I bought that, and I actually liked that a lot better.’’

Bear in mind, Spencer has closets in her Boxford, Mass., home entirely full of food she got for free through creative couponing and exploiting price match guarantees, and has been known to drive down the street with 40 boxes of free ice cream she gives away to neighbors thanks to coupon deals she maxed out on. “A lot of times, if you use coupons, you can get the [name brand] product for less than you would for the generic, if you watch the sales, if you do the math with a coupon.’’

But if you can’t coupon like Kathy, or don’t have the time or inclination? Mills said she’s come to conclude, “Is it worth it for me to spend 25 to 30 percent more, just to have that brand name on the packaging? Most of us, when we look at it. it just doesn't make any sense.’’

So if you’ve been on the fence about going with a cheaper store brand instead of a brand name, these two experts would encourage you to go ahead and take the plunge. Most likely, you’ll save money and be just as satisfied with the product.

And if you’re disappointed? It will be a very cheap disappointment.

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