Generics vs. Name Brands: An Ask the Audience

Ivy says:

Yes, another ask the audience question right on top of yesterday’s. But I wanted to ask this one while I was thinking of it, and hey, kids, it’s Friday. And it’s the middle of the summer and it’s not miserably hot, and I’m going to do something fun today. Next week, we’ll answer a bunch of questions and I’m going to try to work on my granny square tutorial this weekend. But today, it’s ask the audience, kiddies!

Our fabulous commenter Amanda said on this post that there are certain food items she will only buy the name brand of. I’m totally with her on this, there are some things I only like the name brand of, too. Let’s explore:

Ketchup: This is the biggest one- I only like Heinz ketchup. In a pinch, if Heinz isn’t available or is CRAZY expensive, I’ll get Hunt’s. But to me, nothing tastes nastier than generic ketchup. Of course, I don’t like ketchup all that much to begin with, ha.

Ranch Dressing: If I’m going “cheap”, I’ll do Hidden Valley Ranch, but my very favorite is Annie’s. Or, I’ll make Mr. Ivy make his own ranch dressing, which is based off the recipe of a place he used to work for. But generic ranch, no way. Kroger’s generic ranch is the WORST.

Soda: It’s Dr. Pepper or nothing, kids.

Oh, and these aren’t food items, but:

Pet Food: One of my cats has asthma so we must buy him food that doesn’t contain wheat, corn or soy. Because of that, we buy only certain name brands of cat food, and they can usually only be found at places like PetSmart. I went ahead and did a no wheat, corn or soy diet for my dog and he seems healthier because of it, too.

Toilet Paper: No John Wayne TP for my precious rear. it’s Charmin (or Quilted Northern) for us.

Everything else I pretty much buy the generic for, unless the name brand has a better sale. So, Home Eccers, what are your must-haves for name brands? Or does it matter to you at all?


  1. John Igler on March 1, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Just want to say…nothing wrong with getting the name brand when it's on sale!

    I've seen more and more sites like this: Kleenex Coupons

    While the coupons aren't always better than the off-brands, what I love is being able to Google my grocery list. Then I find the coupons FOR THE ITEMS I WANT TO BUY THEN, rather than having a coupon tempt me to buy something I don't need.

    My little tip…Google is your friend.

  2. tazz on February 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    I compare the ingredients – and most often go with the store brand. I've had a few mishaps in the quality of some pastas but saving money is my main concern so it's all worked out.

  3. Eyebee on July 2, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    I am not brand loyal much at all. I’ll try a generic if it’s cheaper, and if I like it, I’ll stick with it.

    I don’t use ketchup myself at all, and I don’t drink ANY kind of soda.

    Mostly of our grocery stuff is fresh. Fresh fruit, fresh bread, fresh meat. We get a very few tinned items, which we keep for emergencies or when we run out of fresh.

    We do get canned tomato sauce, but store brand is fine (we do practically all our food shopping in Publix).

    Not on any particular health kick, but I really like Publix Greenwise Vanilla Soy milk. I can’t taste the soy – it’s more like drinking half and half, but it’s got to be that brand, the other ones they do taste like… soy milk!

    I enjoy a beer some evenings, and I’m particular what I have. With all my food and drink I’m big on flavor, so the “lite” stuff, is out, and most of the megabrewery offerings like Bud and Miller.

    Within reason I’ll pay more for something I enjoy more.

    Same with coffee. I’m not any kid of expert on coffee, but I try different blends until I find those I like. On the occasions when we’ve bought the cheap store brands I can tell the difference for sure.

    Don’t get me started on cheese. I’ve never found any cheese that lives up to real Cheddar. That’s real Cheddar from Cheddar, a small village in Somerset, in England. It’s wonderful, and even before getting to try some a few years ago, I though most supermarket cheese was bland… Extra Sharp, Strong? Oh Per-leeze!

    The only cheddar style cheese that actually comes anywhere near to pleasing my palate is actually on sale in Wal-Mart where we seldom shop for food. Their Vermont Extra Sharp has a reasonable flavor, and that’s about the best I’ve found in the local supermarkets so far, without taking out a second mortgage!

  4. DivaKitty on July 2, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    What a fun post & comments! I LOVE the Crayola comment, and TOTALLY agree. The texture & colors are much better, but what’s really important is THE SMELL. The smell of Crayola crayons is the embodiment of childhood!!

    I was always happy with the cheapest laundry detergent, but Hubby insists on Tide. His toothpaste is Colgate original, mine is Tom’s of Maine spearmint.

    I buy as few processed/premade things as I can, but when I do buy them, I get the highest quality, which usually means the highest price. Also we tend to buy things at Sam’s, so they are cheaper but usually name brands.

    Agreed that some cheaper brands actually have fewer additives – I just discovered that Falfurrias butter (I’m in Texas) is vastly superior to the twice-as-expensive Land O’ Lakes.

  5. Genevieve on July 1, 2008 at 10:28 pm

    I do Philly cream cheese. And I have to do brand name Advil as some of the generics have gluten in them (I’m celiac)… but man do I miss the generic prices!

    Not quite food, but it’s Crayola crayons all the way for me – you may keep the Prang and RoseArt and all the others – nothing says good clear colors like Crayola!

    Most of the time, I do a lot of shopping at our Grocery Outlet, so our brands change around by what they carry that week.

  6. Gnightgirl on June 24, 2008 at 9:07 am

    I’m with you on the TP: Charmin or Northern. I recently bought an industrial sized package of Scott tissue, only to discover it’s the harshest tp on the market. Never again.

    Oddly enough, my fav. generic is Jafeera tampons, at Aldi. $1.99 a box, and they’re every bit as uh… sturdy…as Playex or Tampax. I hate spending big bucks on necessities like that; the industry has us over a barrell–we HAVE to buy them…

  7. Leigh on June 23, 2008 at 9:08 am

    TP = Charmin
    paper towels = Bounty
    mayo = Duke’s
    sour cream = Daisy’s
    yogurt = Stonyfield Farm
    tissues = Kleenex
    Those are our main ones – I think most everything else I can do storebrand or brand hop…

  8. Teresa on June 22, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Rumford baking powder (no aluminum). French’s yellow mustard, Smucker’s strawberry jam, Crest toothpaste, 7th Generation dish liquid (for the hubby). Cheer powder w/ color guard, Palmolive baking soda dishwasher detergent (for me).

    Everything else…cheaper is better 🙂

  9. ScrappyQuilter on June 22, 2008 at 8:34 am

    Since I do most of our cooking and baking from scratch, generic stuff is fine….who’s gonna know if I use generic corn tortillas or baking powder or whatever? Whole grains, spices, coffee, tea, TVP, cocoa powder, etc come from Mama Jean’s Health Food Store bulk bins, I don’t know if that would count as generic or not. We hardly ever buy cereal, soda, or pre-cooked food (I’m a total “Tightwad Gazette” disciple).

    I do insist on good fresh fruit. Cheap stuff is small, unripe, and just not as appetizing. We get it at Sam’s club. It’s usually about 25% more than the cheap stuff at Walmart, maybe 10% higher than Kroger, but so totally worth it!

  10. Tara on June 21, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    I love the Publix generic packaging, just like Grace. And, in addition to having similar designs, most of the snack foods say something cute on the box. For instance, the ginger snaps container shows a cookie with turtle head, legs, and tail drawn around it and says, “Come on, get snappy!” beneath it. How could you not buy these generics?

    As far as the rest of the food I buy goes, I can go Publix brand generic on most things, except yogurt (Stoneyfield Farms non-fat tastes like the full fat version of any other brand). I usually buy whatever is the least expensive at the time I need it.

    I agree with everyone else though. Name brand TP is a must. I had a roommate in college whose father worked for a company that made the god awful industrial TP with the wood chips in it that you could use to sand a deck. Even though we could have gotten that for free, I bought Quilted Northern every quarter. Worth it.

  11. WackyLisa on June 21, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I learned quickly that buying generic didn’t save a thing if it didn’t get eaten/used. I don’t save money if I use twice as much either.
    The thing is. each store’s generic products are different so I have to keep track of which store I can get the generic at and which I can’t.
    I have food sensitivies so I do have to read labels carefuly but surprisingly sometimes the store brands have fewer addatives than the name brands. Kozy Shack Chocolate Pudding vs Price Chopper Chocolate Pudding.
    I agree with ppl about TP. I deserve gourmet TP. I’ve put up the with stuff that gives you splinters but it’s just not worth it.
    When trying something new I’ll buy one and take note of how it goes over. If it doesn’t go over well I’ll then try something more expensive if I have to.
    One treat we always get is the Progresso tomato soup for grilled cheese and soup night. I found out how good it was when it was on sale one day.

  12. Cindy on June 21, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    Must have Marva Maid Skim Milk. I usually only drink skim milk, and the Food Lion brand is too watery. Fortunately I have military Commissary privileges, so I get the Marva Maid for cheaper than the store brand at Wal-Mart or even Food Lion! Marva Maid is a Virginia dairy (which happens to be where I reside), and I haven’t seen it much out of Virginia, NC, WV, and maybe Kentucky. If I don’t make it to the Commissary for whatever reason, I will go a week without milk before spending the money on a store brand somewhere else. I generally pay about $1 less at the Commissary for Marva Maid than I would at Wal-Mart or Food Lion for the store brand. The Marva Maid is about $2 more per gallon at those stores.

    Before you all think I save tons of money at the Commissary, let me tell you, I only save money on milk, bread, eggs, meat and vegetables. I feel I get a better deal on the fresh veggies there because the quality is much better even if the price isn’t any better. The rest of it I can only save money on if I buy name brand, so for my name brands–Purex Free, Charmin, Duke’s Mayo, French’s Mustard, Heinz Ketchup and box cereals (whatever I’m in the mood for)–I tend to shop there. For the rest of it, I will go the 1.5 miles down the road to Food Lion. If I don’t catch the Commissary on my way home, and I need something other than milk, I will get it at Food Lion if I need it that bad.

    Lately, the Commissary has started selling a generic brand, so I have been able to buy more things at the Commissary for less.

    • Tagmall on February 10, 2011 at 5:51 pm

      Cindy I am a Dairy Engineer. Until recently food lion brand milk and Marva maid brand milk were all the same. Same cow, same, tanker same, silo same, HTST same, homogenizer, same jug filler. So as far the milk looking different or tasting different it is in the mind my friend.

  13. katie on June 21, 2008 at 12:23 am

    I’m so with you on the Heinz thing – Hunt’s is too sweet. Blech. Also, Pampers, Kraft mac n cheese (if I’m going boxed), Campbell’s soup, various cereals, Coke (and only Coke) & Simply Orange (it’s so worth the extra $1).

    On some things, I prefer generic – Kroger milk, Kroger shredded cheese, & Kroger hot dog/hamburger buns.

  14. PollyS on June 21, 2008 at 12:12 am

    We have been buying most everything generic for years. In January I became a groupie for Money Saving Mom. Since I have been using her coupons and deal methods I have been able to buy name brand items for less than the generic.
    I can honestly say that there are very few differences between the generic and name brand…save coffee (MUST have my Dunkin’ D!), ketchup (any name brand will do, generic brands are watery. Yuck) and feminine products (need I say more ladies?).
    But it does seem ironic that I get what some consider a superior product for quite a bit less.

  15. Lizzie on June 20, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    I did a post about this a while back…too much detail to rewrite here, LOL, so I apologize for the linking – but I’m with you…some generic items are nasty, and others are top-notch. It’s a ‘try and see’ kind of game. Being Australian, we’re far more limited in some items than in the States – we don’t have warehouse clubs (although there was a segment on the news this week saying Costco is coming to Melbourne! That’s only, oh, EIGHT HOURS away, sigh…LOL), we don’t do coupons at the grocery store, and there’s a MASSIVE duopoly re supermarkets, with two main players bullying the smaller shops out. I totally cry whenever I see another post about CVS, too….LOL.


  16. candice on June 20, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    Cheeses must be name brand for me…even parmesan. I don’t mind generic canned tomatoes, but other canned goods are usually name brands. Name brand cereal too….wow, come to think of it most my food is name brands. I’m a snob, I guess! Oh well….

  17. Barbara on June 20, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    I can’t do generic ketchup (Heinz) or generic orange juice (Tropicana). Other than that I’m mostly flexible I think.

  18. Daphne (One Mom In Alabama) on June 20, 2008 at 7:55 pm

    The main one for me is Orville Redenbacher popcorn. All the others taste stale to me.

  19. Jasi on June 20, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Target Generic rocks my socks on quality and price at this location. It makes up all of our paper goods, diapers, wipes, freezer bags, foil, hand soap (refilled!). I’m totally impressed.

    Most canned goods come from Trader Joe’s which has really competitive prices for out here and they’re mostly organic.

    Everything’s a schlep in PA, so I don’t have as much time to shop around for a few cents (thanks, high gas prices).

    Only brands: my dijon (Jewish girl’s gotta have good mustard!), his mayo Helmans, a few cleaning products that really do the job and Dawn dish, Cascade machine (only thing that doesn’t leave grit!!!), Purex Free (‘cos I’m not spending $8 extra for them to hold the perfume). Anything else is up for grabs.

  20. Christine on June 20, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Total agreement on the “John Wayne TP”! Too funny!

    I use store brands for most everything. I find the regular price on the store brand is almost always better than the name brands, even with coupons and sales.

  21. Sandyjoys on June 20, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    A little TMI – but Always with wings. Even my husband knows what package to buy!

    I never had an issue with generic pasta, but recently our store brand has come out of the box broken and sticks together when cooked. So we started buying whatever brand name is on sale.

    Cereal and soda are always brand names, and when I buy them for a treat, only real Oreos will do.

  22. Paula in NH on June 20, 2008 at 3:46 pm

    How funny you should ask this. DH commented to me the other day that I’ve been buying more generic brands at the grocery store. I told for some items it’s just plain cheaper.

    For name brands: Quilted Charmin for me too. Heinz ketchup, Miracle Whip (never Hellman’s), Claussen pickles, Cabot Hunter Sharp Cheddar Cheese, just to name a few.

  23. jag on June 20, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Have to have Heinz ketchup, Claussen pickles, Campbell’s soup, and Newman’s Own Ranch or Ceasar dressing. Just about anything else can be generic.

    It’s Charmin for us too. My mom always got toilet paper that was so rough and thin that it made using the paper at my public high school feel like I was wiping with a cloud from heaven. Once I had my own bathroom to stock, it was Charmin and no substitutions.

  24. JimK on June 20, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I’m brand loyal for a lot of things. Toilet paper, laundry detergent, bacon. And trash bags. Vitamins and supplements, I’ll gladly take generic. Cat food has to be specific brands and flavors or they just won’t eat it. I’m also devoutly loyal to Petco’s Pet Gold clumping litter.

    I buy brands a lot, but try to get things on sale or with a coupon so the brands are comparable in price to store brand.

    @ Slartibartfast – “ALWAYS get generic frozen veggies (including taters). Why pay extra to Ore-Ida or Green Giant for the exact same thing?”

    I find that generic frozen veg are far worse quality than name brands. More stems, more of the worse bits, less quality, almost always taste just a little less fresh, a little less…well, good. I usually wait for a sale and stock the freezer with name brand when I can get it.

    Maybe it’s my local (Stop & Shop) but I hate their frozen veg

  25. Angie B on June 20, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Generic mustard is ok, but we must have Hunt’s ketchup and Miricle Whip. I agree on the tp, no generic. There are just some things that are sooo wrong. Kroger has a lot of store brand things that I buy, like the Big K colas, but Ivy, my daughter is with you on DP, no generic there.

  26. Heidi @ Carolina Dreamz on June 20, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Love this topic. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, lately.

    I’ve really become a brand name whore, lately.

    I’m going to blog this, sometime this week, and I’ll come back and link ya, but in direct response to this post and the comments, its funny, to me, how different we all are..

    I must have Hunts! I just must. I feel its thicker than Heinz. My grandma always had generic catsup and well.. I can’t do it.

    I find more pieces of non-fruit in name brand canned fruit, too. So I usually buy whatever is cheapest, with a direct desire for “freestone peaches” regardless of sugar content. My bad. 🙂

    I love MM toilet paper from Sam’s. I won’t go back.

    I prefer Hellman’s/Best Foods Mayo. I can’t say that I like any generic condiments. I think.

    I’ll save my generic medication issues for the post I’m working on..

    I can’t eat Ranch because of MSG. Does your recipe have MSG????

  27. Slartibartfast on June 20, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I am generic crazy. I don’t do canned foods if I can help it, otherwise, I’d have to insist on name brands there.

    My kids swear the generic cereals don’t taste as good. Part of the payment for chores is that they get name brand cereal.

    I’ll buy ANY other brand than Charmin. It doesn’t go through the pipes well, and some of it…how do I say this?…stays behind. My favorite brand of tp is Costco’s.

    I guess they don’t quite count as generic, but the $1 Totino’s frozen pizzas are great in a pinch.

    ALWAYS get generic frozen veggies (including taters). Why pay extra to Ore-Ida or Green Giant for the exact same thing?

  28. hsgbdmama on June 20, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Pepto-Bismol and Vicks vapor rub, Suave and White Rain hair care products, soap and dh’s and my deoderants are the main “brand name” stuff that I can think of that we “must” use.

    Otherwise, we use Members Mark toilet paper from Sam’s (works just fine) and quite a few other MM products, Great Value from WM, grocery store private label and the Aldi’s private label stuff.

  29. Micah on June 20, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Life is much too short for low quality toilet paper. We definitely do Charmin or similar quality. For dishwashing stuff and other generics, the Costco store brand is really not very bad. It seems higher quality than other generics and is available in HUGE quantities so I don’t have to worry about buying more than a couple of times a year.

  30. Momala on June 20, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Tide! I will only wash our clothes in Tide. I have bought a cheaper laundry detergent to wash towels in, but I just think nothing cleans clothes better than Tide. I mean, Tide will clean grass and mud stains out of jeans without pre-treating! And, as I have 3 boys, we have a lot of grass and mud stains.

  31. Jenn @ Frugal Upstate on June 20, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    I’m not particularly brand loyal. I do shell out for Crest because Yankee Bill likes it (and hey-the man deserves to have his toothpaste).

    Um, actually that’s about it. I guess the only other one would be I prefer a name brand dish soap because the generic ones you seem to need to use more, but I’ll go with the cheapest name brand.

    Everything else is all good.

  32. grace on June 20, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I do the generic on most things, except cereal. Generic peanut butter is actually better (IMO) than most name brands!

    I especially love doing generic from Publix simply because the packaging is all the same so when all the generic publix products are lined up in my pantry, there’s something calming about the similar packaging. Hello OCD!!

  33. Jeffraham Prestonian on June 20, 2008 at 11:56 am

    I like most of the Aldi brands, including the soymilk (1000x better thzn Silk!), coffee (in the little bags — the Beaumont cans are HORRIBLE), the spaghetti sauces, the cheeses, lunch meats, pastas and the frozen pizzas. The frozen biscuits are not as good as Mary B.’s brand, but no others are, either. The Fruit Dazzle, I have written about, before.

  34. jim voorhies on June 20, 2008 at 11:50 am

    aspirin and ibuprophen I do generic (or cheap brands). I don’t much in foods. Pears and peaches in cans, for instance, in generic and store brands, tend to have parts of the core or seed still attached. The quality is not as good.

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