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Off-brands can be right on the money
Saturday, February 9, 2013
We all have certain brands that we’re loyal to no matter what, but bargain shoppers also love the prices that are associated with generic products.
By stacking coupons and taking advantage of sale prices, it’s possible to get big brand names for cheap, or even free, but it may not be necessary to go through all that work.
Based on my personal experience and those of the testers at Wisebread and Daily Finance, here are some generic products — or private label, as some stores call them — that are just as good as the brand name.
Medications: The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) keeps close tabs on medications and it requires that generic products have the same active ingredient as patented medications. It is possible that there could be some differences in absorption between the two, so consult your doctor before making a big switch.
Single-ingredient items: Flour, sugar, pepper — each of these products contains only one ingredient, so what distinguishes a brand name from the generic?
In some instances quality may be a concern (products like olive oil, for example), but for your everyday household needs, the generic products are a perfectly suitable substitute. The brand name products rarely have coupons available, too, so it’s tough to find a better deal than your local grocery store’s brand.
Produce: The story for produce is similar to single-ingredient products. What makes one head of lettuce better than another? If you can remove the brand label and not tell a difference in quality, go with the cheaper option. This is especially true for pre-packaged produce, like bags of salad mix, baby carrots or fresh herbs.
Baby formula: This item came as a shock to me, but thanks to the Infant Formula Act you don’t need to worry the brand of your formula mix.
The act, signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, states that “commercially produced and marketed infant formulas meet accepted nutritional standards and that consistent quality is maintained in their preparation.” It also requires the formulas be tested and gives the Secretary of Health the authority to adjust nutritional standards as necessary.
All products on the store’s shelf must also be certified by the FDA.
Dairy: In many cases the store brand of milk (and similarly fresh orange juice) is produced locally. That means it might go through even less transportation and processing than the big name brand.
Batteries: Yes, the Energizer Bunny might keep going and going for a little while longer , but the difference in performance isn’t significant. The extra definitely not worth the price difference you could take advantage of with the off-brand. If you have kids with toys that eat up batteries, give them a try.
Household cleaners: Unless it’s a brand new product that no one has thought of yet, most household cleaners are about the same. If you’re looking for something eco-friendly and cheap, you can even skip the generic products and mix up your own. Vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice can be just as effective as chemical-filled cleaners.
Now, some generic products you may want to steer clear of:
Diapers: While most diapers are made of the same materials, brand names tend to fit babies better. A bad fit could mean terrible things in the world of diapers and babies.
Paper products: Toilet paper and paper towels can be a lot cheaper, but you often get less per roll than with the brand names. That means you’re not saving as much as you think. These products can also be much less absorbent, meaning you have to use more.
Trash bags: Generic trash bags are made much thinner than brand names, contributing to their cheaper price. There are few kitchen disasters worse than a bag of trash busting before you can get it out the door .
Some products are totally up to personal taste, though they should be comparable to brand names. Soda and cereal top that list.
As with all of the products mentioned above, give the cheaper option a test run and see how you like it. You may be pleasantly surprised, or you may go running back to your favorite brand.
What are your favorite off-brand purchases? What products do you remain brand loyal? Join the conversation on the Shoptimist blog at blogs.roanoke.com/shoptimist.
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