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Trade big brands for store brands and you’ll save big bucks – an average of 25 percent, according to industry experts. In Consumer Reports’ recent comparison of store-brand and name-brand versions of 19 products, the savings ranged from 5 percent (frozen lasagna) to 60 percent (ice cream).
In CR’s blind taste test of grocery staples, store brands tied name brands for taste in 10 instances, with one product, Giant Eagle chicken broth, beating out its name-brand counterpart, Swanson. Giant Eagle (52 cents per serving) is a simple, mild broth with a slight taste of roasted chicken. Swanson’s broth (66 cents per serving) tastes highly processed, has hints of dehydrated spice and off-tastes, and varied a bit from one sample to another.
While many of the store brands were as tasty as the name-brand alternatives, Consumer Reports found that a tie in quality did not necessarily indicate flavors or styles were identical. While Freihofer’s wheat bread and Hy-Vee wheat bread tied in taste-tests, Freihofer’s has mild grain and malt flavors while Hy-Vee has a sourdough flavor.
Eight name brands came out on top in the taste-off, including Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream over Kroger Private Selection, Stouffer’s lasagna over Eating Right lasagna and Quaker oats over Publix Old Fashioned oats.
Many big national brands also produce and package a wide variety of store-brand products, including Hormel (canned meats, bouillon and desserts), Marcal (paper towels, tissues and napkins) and Reynolds (foil, plastic wrap and disposable plates and cups). There are rarely any clues to a store brand’s heritage, and suppliers can change at any time. There’s also no guarantee that national brands simply slap different labels on products rolling off the same assembly line.
Here are some of the toss-ups in Consumer Reports’ blind taste-tests:
• Cheese crackers: Sunshine vs. Dollar General’s Clover Valley. Sunshine (38 cents per serving) has more sour-dairy flavor (think sour cream), with a cheesy flavor at the finish; Dollar General’s Clover Valley (19 cents per serving) is slightly saltier and more toasted.
• Cottage cheese: Friendship vs. H-E-B. Friendship’s small curds (68 cents per serving) are soft, and the product is bland overall. H-E-B’s curds (31 cents per serving) are chewy and a bit salty, with a tangy, slightly sour-dairy flavor.
• Cranberry juice: Ocean Spray vs. Meijer. They are of about equal (though imperfect) quality. Ocean Spray (44 cents per serving) has more fruit flavor and tastes slightly less “cooked,” but it’s a bit bitter and has an odd perfumelike note. Meijer (37 cents per serving) is tart – more sour than sweet. Both contain juices from other fruits, such as grape and apple.
• Granola bars: Nature Valley vs. Walmart’s Great Value. Both tested products are chewy and have nuts, raisins and dried cranberries. The dried fruit is slightly more flavorful in Nature Valley’s bars (56 cents per serving) than in Walmart’s Great Value bars (33 cents per serving).
• Greek yogurt: Chobani vs. Winn-Dixie. Even for CR’s experts, it was hard to tell the two products apart. Both are tasty, but the Winn-Dixie ($1.09 per serving) is a bit sweeter, with slightly more dairy flavor than the Chobani ($1.31 per serving).
• Peanut butter: Skippy vs. Wegmans. Both are fine choices. Skippy (20 cents per serving) is a bit sweeter and slightly more bitter than Wegmans (15 cents per serving), which tastes more roasted.
• Ranch dressing: Hidden Valley vs. Target’s Market Pantry. They are of about the same quality, but they taste different. Hidden Valley (22 cents per serving) has black-pepper bits and flavors of Parmesan and Dijon; Target’s Market Pantry (10 cents per serving) has more prominent buttermilk and vinegar flavors.
• Walnuts: Diamond vs. Costco’s Kirkland Signature. They’re basically interchangeable, but Costco’s Kirkland Signature walnuts (35 cents per serving) are slightly sweeter, with a little less roasted flavor than the Diamond (52 cents per serving).
Store brands often are just as good as name brands, and cost a lot less.