I recently read an interesting article on NPR that asked, “When do chefs and doctors buy generic?” The article said that, “pharmacists and doctors are more likely than the general public to buy generic medicine…and chefs are more likely than the general public to buy generic food.” I’ve always been a pretty devoted generic brand shopper for purely economic reasons, so I found it fascinating that these experts in their fields are more likely to go generic. NPR has some great charts that break down which products chefs and doctors tend to buy generic that you can see by clicking here.
The article really got me thinking about generic vs. name brands so I decided to do a bit of digging to find out if you are sacrificing anything by buying generic.
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Are generic brands cheaper than name brands?
Not necessarily! If you shop sales, price match, or use coupons, there are many times you can get name brands cheaper than store brands. I found a great example of this from Mary at Mission to Save. She once bought 16 boxes of name brand cereal for $.48 a box by taking advantage of sale prices, doubled coupons and fuelperks savings. I don’t know about you but I have never seen a store brand box of cereal for $.48!
In an interesting trend, generic brands are also raising their prices at a higher rate than name brands. According to the Wall Street Journal, generic brands have raised the prices of nonperishable food by 5.3% compared to 1.9% for name brands. For perishable food, generic brands have raised their prices 12% compared to 8% for name brands. However, the WSJ also says that generic products still cost about 29% less than most name brands. But there are instances where the generic product is actually more expensive than the name brand product. For instance, generic diapers at Sam’s Club are more expensive than the name brand diapers.
In the end, it just comes down to doing your research. Don’t grab the generic product just because you assume it’s cheaper than the name brand. Check your prices and always compare price per ounce. And don’t be fooled by sales! Like I mentioned above, sometimes name brands are cheaper when they’re on sale but that isn’t always the case.
Why do name brands tend to cost more than store brands?
It kind of depends on the product, but for the most part, name brands have to put a lot of money into research, development and marketing cost to build up their name. Name brands may have fancier packaging, a wider range of flavor choices, or contain trendier supplements than generic brands, but they aren’t necessarily made of high quality ingredients.
Are name brands higher quality than generic brands?
Again, not necessarily! My friend Jordan at Fun, Cheap or Free has a fantastic post on generic vs. name brand. In her post she mentions that she once bought a jar of organic jam at Costco because she assumed that it was higher quality and healthier than the generic brand. But upon closer inspection the non-organic, generic brand actually had less sugar and carbs and more real fruit than the organic jam. Don’t let the buzz words and fancy packaging on more expensive brands fool you! Always check your labels. In my own shopping, I’ve found it easier to finds things like 100% whole wheat pasta by going generic. Many of the name brands have additives that I don’t want to feed my family!
When it comes to any one ingredients products, like sugar, salt, flour, baking soda, it’s safe to say that the name brand product won’t be better than the generic product. So I would always go generic in those situations.
At Costco, you’ll often find that the generic brand is actually better quality than the name brand products. Kirkland Signature canned tuna is actually made by Bumble Bee to compete with their own, lower quality product! Many people are extremely loyal to Kirkland Signature paper towels and toilet paper because they are cheaper than the name brands and are known to be higher quality.
Many generic brands are the exact same product as the name brand. They are even manufactured in the same facilities! The only difference is the generic brand is packaged differently.
Heather and Joanie at The Krazy Coupon Lady tested 25 generic and name brand products with a whole bunch of their family and friends. You can see their results by clicking here. The generic products won out more often than not!
When shopping for food, do name brands taste better than generic brands?
I think this completely depends on the person! There are a few products where I’m loyal to a specific brand. I’m a Diet Coke girl all the way and can’t stand generic cola. The taste difference might be all in my head but I’m willing to pay the higher price for Coke. I’m also really picky about store bought salad dressings and have never felt like the generic brands taste as good. I’m loyal to a couple brands of chips and still can’t resist good ol’ Kraft Mac & Cheese from time to time. But I’ve found that I like generic cereal better than the name brands!
In 2012, Consumer Reports did a blind taste comparing 19 generic and name brand products. The generic and name brand products tied in 10 cases. The name brand won in 8 cases and the store brand won once. You can see the results of the taste test by clicking here. A survey that same year also found that more than a quarter of shoppers bought generic brands for reasons other than price. Meaning, that shoppers may actually prefer the generic brand for taste and quality.
For non-food items, do name brand products work better than generic products?
With regards to medications…the FDA does mandate that generic mediation contain the same active ingredient as the name brand. However, generic brands may have different inactive ingredients. I found an interesting article from ABC News discussing a generic drug that used a different time release agent than the name brand. Because of this, the generic drug was released into the body much faster than the name brand and caused unwanted side effects for many people. So I’ll say again, always check your labels! If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the inactive ingredients in a product, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or pharmacist. If you tend to get overwhelmed by all the choices in the pharmacy, check out this article from The Atlantic that has some great info on how to decipher drug labels.
Most of the time you’ll find that for basic, over-the-count medicine, generic works just as well as name brands. In fact, according to the FDA, about 50 percent of generic drugs are manufactured by the name brand companies.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, when buying over-the-counter medicine to treat a headache, one in four people will buy a name brand product. However, if that person is a pharmacist they are almost certain to buy a generic brand. In a study entitled, “Do Pharmacists Buy Bayer? Informed Shoppers and the Brand Premium,” researchers echoed that finding. The general public buys generics 70% of the time whereas pharmacists buy generic 90% of the time. The study showed that people generally buy name brands when they lack the information or time to make an informed decision.
How about things like cleaning, laundry, beauty and household products? I don’t feel like this area is quite as clean cut as medication. It depends on the product and your personal preferences. I have friends that would never even dream of washing their clothes with anything than Tide or who would never brush their teeth with anything but Crest or who have only ever bought Charmin toilet paper. In my opinion, I don’t think you should knock the generic brand until you’ve tried it. If you buy a generic all-purpose cleaner and it doesn’t work you’re only out a couple of bucks. But if it does work you could save yourself a lot of money over time! As always, check your labels! You may find that your favorite brand name products uses the exact same ingredients as a cheaper, generic product.
I’ve also found that you can make your own products even cheaper than you can buy generic products and they are often more effective. Here at OGT an extensive archive of homemade solutions:
When I first sat down to write this post I figured I would put together a list of things that are worth buying name brand and a list of times where generic is just fine. But after reading countless articles I concluded that it really just depends on the person, the product, and the store. Always read labels and make sure you’re comfortable with the ingredients any product contains. Compare prices from brand to brand to make sure you get the best bang for your buck. And don’t even discount generic products!
What do you buy generic and when do you splurge for name brand?