Consumer Reports Tastes Store Branded Foods, Finds Some Are Just As Good

Name brands exert a strong power over shoppers: 17% of us think name brand foods are more nutritious, even though there’s little nutritional difference between the two categories. Consumer Report performed taste tests on several food categories to determine whether name brands tasted better than store brands, and found that in some cases the store brands actually won.

Some of the store brand winners:

  • Chicken soup: Food Lion’s (36 cents per serving) Lotsa’ Noodles soup beat out Campbell’s Chicken Noodle (41 cents per serving) for having a little more intense flavor. Campbell’s had oily broth, with fatty pieces of chicken.
     
  • Orange juice: Publix Premium won over Tropicana for having a bit less of a cooked flavor with slightly less bitter taste.
     
  • Hot dogs: America’s Choice (A&P, $2.64 per package) beef hot dogs trumped Oscar Mayer ($3.65 per package) for their juicy and flavorful franks.

Although store brands performed well in the taste tests, “second tier” brands did not. The magazine says,

We tasted second-tier Kroger Value Sandwich Singles Imitation Pasteurized Process Cheese Food and Shoppers Value creamy peanut butter, bought at Albertsons. Testers said the Kroger faux cheese is inferior to Kraft and regular Kroger singles. It’s salty and chalky, with the artificial-butter aroma common in microwavable popcorn. The Shoppers Value peanut butter is so-so, with off-notes (raw-nut flavor) and a bit of bitterness, probably from peanut skins.

“Store brands vs. name brands” [Consumer Reports]
“Consumer Reports Latest Taste Tests Find Some Store Brands at Least as Good as National Brands” [PR Newswire]

Comments

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  1. pop top says:

    17% of us are too illiterate to read food labels and do comparison shopping.

  2. ElizabethD says:

    Stop & Shop’s house brand salsa is awesome. Easily better than some of the brand-name varieties.

    You’re welcome. 8-)

    • Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

      I swear by Safeway’s Select Salsas. I have had numerous people ask me if I made it, and I am a pretty good cook.

      • Dustbunny says:

        Ooh, ITA — I have a friend from England who always buysseveral jars of it to take home with him. Although last time one of them broke in his carry-on & that was a mess…

  3. elangomatt says:

    They should have tried Kroger brand Orange Juice. I am quite confident that it would beat out pretty much every other orange juice except for maybe fresh squeezed. To matters even better it is never more than $1.74 for half a gallon either.

  4. smartmuffin says:

    I always go for store brand graham crackers. Honey maid or whatever the major big brand is just never tasted good to me at all.

    • lettucefactory says:

      I was looking for a graham cracker for my kids that didn’t have HFCS or hydrogenated oils, and was amazed to find that the cheapo store brand was the only option that fit this category.

  5. ssm316 says:

    I don’t care if it costs triple. Cheetos the store brands are just nasty

  6. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    How does OJ have a cooked flavor?

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I think it’s referring to the pasteurization process. Even if all of the juice claims it’s “fresh-squeezed” the juice that comes in a carton (versus an orange) is pasteurized.

    • elangomatt says:

      Pasteurization no doubt. Pasteurized juice is brought up to a certain temperature to prolong shelf life and make it safer to drink. I am not sure what “cooked flavor” is, but I agree that Kroger brand OJ is better than most.

      • dreamfish says:

        Actually, pasturisation bring the liquid to a high temperature for only a relatively short period of time. It’s sterilisation that keeps it at the high temperature for longer and so results in a more ‘cooked’ taste.

        • elangomatt says:

          Are you suggesting that orange juice is sterilized? Pasteurization IS the process that reduces the chances of spoiling quickly. Bringing something up to a “relatively high” temperature for even a very short period of time still results in it being cooked. If the internal temp of beef is brought up to a 200 degrees even for just a short period of time, it doesn’t mean it is overcooked any less no matter how fast you bring the temp back down.

  7. Dapper Dan says:

    I buy Kroger everything over the more expensive counterparts. I am willing to loose a bit of taste, to save a bit of money.

  8. Mundo says:

    It’s probably because I’m broke most of the time, but I can never see myself paying anywhere near $2.50 for a package of hot dogs.

    Partly because of my diet, and partly because it’s cheap, I tend to go for Jennie-O’s Turkey Franks, which, as of this morning, was sold out at a nearby Ralph’s and was selling for $1.79 a package (but it’s buy 1, get 1 free). I realize it’s not beefy, but honestly, it’s not the sort of thing I look for when it comes to eating franks.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      We eat hot dogs so infrequently that we’ll buy Ball Park or Oscar Meyer every time. Generic hot dogs are kind of scary to me.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      Something has happened to hot dog prices where I live in PA – I went to the store the other day to pick up a pack ’cause I was hungry for them, and I nearly fell over! $4.99 for Ball Park! The lowest price I found was $3.29 for the store generic brand. There were some packages for over $5.00 a pound. Generic or not, I am NOT paying that much for a pack of hot dogs. Just across the meat aisle, I can get real beef for much less than that.

    • TheGreySpectre says:

      I buy hot dogs very rarely (generally only once or twice a year, if that). I tend to buy Hebrew nationals, They are miles above any of the other brands I have tried.

    • Conformist138 says:

      I love beef franks. I realize it’s not turkey, but honestly, it’s not the sort of thing I look for when it comes to eating franks.

  9. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    There are few foods that I absolutely demand brand name on, and that food is Heinz Ketchup. Other than that, I don’t really care.

  10. Jacob says:

    I performed my own root beer taste test this weekend, and I found that among plastic bottled root beers, the winner was A&W, but a very close second was Big K (Kroger).

    I found similar results when I tast tested Cheese and Macaroni, Kraft was the winner, but the Kroger store brand was a very close second. The Great Value Walmart brand was the orangest and saltiest, and the Kroger Value 2nd tier brand was rated the worst.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Meh. Macaroni and cheese is ridiculously easy to make from scratch. Ever since I discovered how to make white sauce, I don’t settle :D

      FROM SCRATCH > Store Brand > Name Brand, every time.

      • ExtraCelestial says:

        YES!! My mom is from the south and I had never even HEARD of this powdered cheese business until I went to college and my roomies forced it one me. Tried it once, never again. Make a big batch and warm it up throughout the week. It tastes significantly better and doesn’t defy any laws of nature.

    • nextyearsgirl says:

      Wait… so… you actually DO make your own taste tests at home?

  11. ExtraCelestial says:

    I’m a big fan of Whole Food’s 365 brand. It’s basically the equivalent of a name brand at any other grocery store, and it’s always riiiidiculously cheaper than the brand name specialty item it’s being compared to.

    I don’t think there are too many other times I go store brand. It’s not that I’m stuck on brand names in general, it’s just that I have specific brands that I like best for a specific item. Haagen Daz ice cream for example. I know it’s 10 times the price of that store brand gallon, but it’s richer, creamier and I am able to savor and eat less of it. Tropicana’s Simply Orange juice is the only one I will drink unless Bolthouse Farm’s Valencia oranges are in season or I can get some fresh squeezed at a Farmer’s Market. I also have rules regarding syrup (there’s nothing worse than oily syrup) and ketchup.

  12. edicius is an acquired taste says:

    There are a couple name-brand items on which I will never compromise: Corn flakes (Kellogg’s) and ketchup (Heinz). In both cases of those, the store-branded equivalents just always taste off and particularly in the case of corn flakes, they seem to be formulated very differently as well (Kellogg’s are big and wavy, store-branded are small and mostly flat).

    I’ve also tried cheaper hot dogs and they never seem to taste good to me or my wife. We always stock up on Nathan’s hot dogs and toss ‘em in the freezer when ShopRite has them on sale for 50% off.

    • 99 1/2 Days says:

      Crackers. I haven’t found any store brands that don’t taste like cardboard. The fake Townhouses/Ritz are the worst.

  13. Dead for tax purposes says:

    Market Pantry food at Target is great, never had a bad experience with anything I have bought!

  14. Foot_Note says:

    Ive had good results with i think all of “Wegmans” store brands (except the cheap pasta sauce(when i’m too sick to make my own(changed formula recently?))

  15. RickinStHelen says:

    For those of us old enough to remember the original wave of generic food products, this is not news. The first wave was frequently in a white box with black lettering, and was awful. Store brands were better, but did not match the quality of the name brands. Then, the industry wised up. For some foods, the can of beans that says (unsert your store brand here) comes from the same line and supply as the name brand. Some smaller regional comapies moved up by specializing in knocking off name brands, and sometimes surpassing them. Malt-O-Meal was a regional hot cereal before it got into the cold cereal business. In tast tests, they are frequently the best no-name brand, and sometimes out perform the brand they mimic. Add in the big boys like Walmart, and the quality is pretty good. For some items you can’t beat the original (say Coke, Oreos or Hydrox, etc) but for commodities, it really doesn’t matter store brand versus name brand. There are some items I will only buy the name brand, but for many others, I will give a store brand a try. I draw the line at Dr Thunder though.

    • zrecs says:

      You are very wise, for a small puppy.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      Oh, yeah, LOL, those space-age industrial chic white boxes, bags, and cans that said “SUGAR” or “BAKING MIX” or “OATMEAL” or “PEAS”. I thought they were cool, but I was eight or so. Mom used to buy them like they were holy, and Dad used to swear at them like they were produced by imps in Hell. My friends used to come over and ask if we were on welfare. Seriously.

  16. organicgardener says:

    Another no-substitute-allowed, for cooking or just spreading: Philly cream cheese! Other brands just don’t have the same taste & creamy texture, and some seem like they have gelatin or something in them.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      They do, some sort of gum–carob bean gum, guar gum, xanthan gum or carrageenan, normally. Philly has some too, just not as much.

      Interestingly, all the gums are natural products; carob and guar from beans, xanthan from fermentation, and carrageenan from seaweed.

    • lettucefactory says:

      I’m with you, Philly cream cheese is great. I don’t know exactly what it is they do differently, but there is a definite difference between it and every other cream cheese.

    • Arcaeris says:

      I made some cheesecake bars and I wanted to save a few $$ since it was for my coworkers and bought the generic Albertsons cream cheese – big mistake. It was readily apparent that the Albertson’s cream cheese was inferior and did not cook the same way. Never making that mistake again.

  17. punkrawka says:

    I bought Safeway-brand Mountain Dew (Mountain Breeze or something), and that was so nasty it ruined store brands for me for a while. Soda and cereal are two things that most off-brands can’t get quite right. Some of the other products that others mentioned above (OJ, crackers, etc.) are usually fine though.

    But seriously, Safeway-brand Mountain Dew should be illegal.

  18. longtimegeek says:

    It took a while to convince me but now I am convinced that If you watch sales, use coupons wisely, and have the available storage (pantry and freezer), you can consistently get the name brand at a better price than the store brands on most of your staple items.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      That’s a good point. For me, it’s about being an informed consumer and being willing to try different things. Looking for sales and coupons on those name brands you really value isn’t incompatible with being aware of the store brands that are equivalent. I really like the Post lightly frosted shredded wheat, and stock up when I can. When it isn’t on sale, there are a couple good store brands I can get for a good price.

      There are some things, like coffee, that I’m willing to pay for. My favorite coffee rarely goes on sale. I’ll gladly take a hit there if I’m saving in other places.

    • speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

      Consumerist-worthy insight. Bravo. Lack of shelf space is a killer. I do the best with what I have, but city apartments are not Costco-friendly.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      Indeed you can!

  19. Coalpepper says:

    I do mostly store brands, and always have, but never the value brands. Generally i prefer name brand products, but not so much so that i will spend the money on them just because of the brand. Now if between coupons and sales i can get the the price close (or in the odd case lower) than store brand, then i’ll buy the name brand even if i have to pay a little bit more for it.

  20. Scuba Steve says:

    I’ve found Walmart brand white bread lasts a long time and stays soft. While Kroger has horrible brand bread that pretty much comes from the store stale. I always get the name brand stuff at kroger.

    • elangomatt says:

      Kroger is the only place I can find the Blue Bunny bread that I like so much. Not sure if it is cheaper than “name” brand stuff, but it stays fresh for over a week on the counter for me.

    • 99 1/2 Days says:

      I’ve switched to the Walmart 100% whole wheat bread. It’s not near as mushy as Sarah Lee and Mrs. Bairds. Overall I really like the Great Value products. The pizzas are really good, also the spaghetti sauce.

  21. Cantras says:

    This I have noticed with the “second tier” brands. They’re always disgusting, unless it’s something impossible to mess up. Local grocery store has store brand and “midwest country fair” brand, and we’ll buy MCF sugar and absolutely nothing else. Their cheese feels like clay, macaroni and cheese is just yellow glop, even their apple juice is meh. Another store has “SuperValu” and that gave me a jar of strawberry jam that I couldn’t finish.

  22. The Brad says:

    If you shop at Target I would avoid anything Archer Farms related. So many bad tasting products.

  23. ArmandCaba?ero says:

    I know I like the Wal-mart Great Value ‘shake’n’bake’ mix as well as the name brand for like $1.50 LESS.

    But I’ve been warned off the GV mac’n’cheese. and generally, the Kraft brand is on sale oft enough to save up.

    tho, I haven’t comprised on soda yet, I’ll do without before I’ll try the store brands having been burned pretty badly before.

  24. cromartie says:

    In a lot of cases, store brand and name brand foods are made by the same supplier (or sub contractor), so they won’t taste drastically different.

    In a fair number of the “value brand” third tier foods, an independent manufacturer that was bought out by a conglomerate (like Ralston, for example, who owns, among others, Ripon Foods in Ripon, WI) has been retooled to make this type of food.

    Shasta, which is now retooled as a third tier soda, is actually owned by National Beverage Corp, who also manufactures a fair number of generic store brand sodas (including Big K, if memory serves) and private labels for smaller grocery chains. (And owns Faygo. That’s right Detroiters, it may still be made in Detroit, but the profits go to Ft. Lauderdale now).

    Finally, it isn’t a food example, but it’s one of my favorites; I once visited a plant that made Q Tips. Not only did they make name brand Q Tips, but they made store brand and value line Q Tips. The cotton was the same, the sticks were the same, only the amount of cotton on each end varied.

    • mbz32190 says:

      I only buy “2nd tier” store brand items where quality does not really matter (things such as sandwich bags, salt, other basic items). I tried the “Shoppers Value” cookies once, and in the trash they went.

  25. Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

    Target brand items often don’t contain HFCS, while their brand name alternatives do.

  26. magnetic says:

    My general rule is that if it’s just a component of something else, go store-brand. If it’s a snack in itself, buy brand.

  27. Ce J says:

    I buy a lot of store brands. I love Whole Foods store brand (365 something or other) and the Costco store brand (Kirkland). ALWAYS great products there.

    I’ve also had good luck with Target’s Archer Farms brand and Kroeger’s store brands, especially the Kroeger Private Selection. Our Kroeger-brand store closed here, unfortunately, and the store brand at the store that replaced it doesn’t hold a candle to the Kroeger stuff.

    I won’t buy store brand soda. But that’s about the only thing I won’t try if the product itself meets my criteria.

    • rorschachex says:

      I once bought gnocchi from the Target brand and they were surprisingly very good, and much cheaper than the more traditional Italian-branded gnocchi pasta.

  28. DariusC says:

    Aren’t the store brand foods made in the exact same factory? Especially cereals?

    Oh, and always go with hormel chili… store brand (southern home) sucks.

  29. Beeker26 says:

    Anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to eat “Imitation Pasteurized Process Cheese Food” deserves to get a mouthful of artificial microwave butter flavor. For pete’s sake people, JUST BUY REAL CHEESE.

    • elangomatt says:

      Food snob much? Obviously you don’t realize that some people actually like the flavor of the processed cheese food.

      • Beeker26 says:

        I’m certainly no food snob. But I can’t imagine anyone preferring the taste of that garbage to real cheese.

  30. anonyname says:

    Target’s Market Pantry tortilla chips are excellent! They are far better than Tostitos or any other brand.

  31. rorschachex says:

    What about Wegmans? When I went to school in upstate NY, I would just buy the Wegmans brand stuff since it was usually as-good or even a little better than name brand stuff (bread, chips, soda, pasta, etc).

    • SugarMag says:

      I love Wegman’s store brand and prefer it usually.
      I just wish it was a bit closer but it is not boohoo.

      I like Safeway’s store brand a lot too.
      I think America’s Choice is often crap.

      • rorschachex says:

        I have since moved back to NYC and greatly miss Wegmans. Terrific food, pretty reasonable prices, and amazingly friendly/helpful staff.

      • Foot_Note says:

        lets not forget the important part, on how weggies treats the employees,e tc :)

    • crunchberries says:

      Wegmans brand foods are awesome. I’ve never had a bad experience with anything I’ve bought and they’re a lot cheaper than brand labeled foods.

  32. nobomojo says:

    I personally love Harris Teeter brand products. not sure if that’s a southern chain or not, but I like HT. the prices are usually higher but they have good sales, great selection, and the best store brand products.

  33. ames says:

    I miss Stop & Shop’s Raisin Bran. It was the BEST. (They still sell it, but I don’t live in that city anymore.)

  34. Bryan Price says:

    Some are, some aren’t. The store brand American cheese that I’ve bought in the past, won’t be bought again. Not when I’m leaving half the slice on the wrapper because it won’t come off.

  35. Dallas_shopper says:

    Of course the winner food had to come from stores not in this area (Food Lion, A&P, Publix) and the shitty ones had to come from chains with a presence here (Kroger, Albertson’s).

    Ain’t that a pisser. Kroger’s store brand sucks for most food.

  36. target_veteran says:

    Does Trader Joe’s store brand stuff count for this? That stuff is normally amazing.

  37. Steve H. says:

    Giant Eagle has several lines of this. The “Giant Eagle brand” is actually pretty good across the board. Their “Valuetime” brand has pretty much scared us off, after several attempts with different products. Before I bought Valuetime, I didn’t think it was possible to mess up butter.

    Giant Eagle also has a third brand that’s supposed to be a premium brand, called “Market District” The packaging is always fancier, but frankly I’ve found the quality to be lacking. Anyone else in the Western PA/Ohio area care to comment?

  38. prismatist says:

    I have had amazing success with Loblaw’s “No Name” private label products up here in Canada. Even if I had more money than I knew what to do with, there are certain products that I would still buy “No Name”. They exceed name-branded ones in both flavour and nutritional value. Tomato soup (better than Campbells), Peanut Butter (only Adam’s all-natural is better), Ritz-style crackers, and more. I am actually very impressed with the brand and would at least try it for any processed food product.

  39. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I shop mostly at ALDI and a lot of their food is pretty good. The woven wheat crackers are as good as Triscuits, saltines are saltines no matter WHERE you get them, and the cheese is usually pretty good. The only thing I don’t like is the lunch meat.

    Name brands I won’t budge on include:
    –Cheerios.
    –Oscar Meyer hot dogs.
    –Kraft or Annie’s mac n cheese.

    I’m trying not to eat so much processed food either, which makes it easier.

  40. kitty says:

    Great Values everything tastes better than the name brand anything

  41. jimstoic says:

    All of those items sound so awful they make me literally cringe. “Imitation Pasteurized Process Cheese Food”?

  42. webweazel says:

    There are very few things we buy that are name brand anymore. We do TRY a store brand first, and if we like it, we buy it exclusively in the future. Different stores have different formulations, like WalMart vs. supermarket, so one you like at one store, you might not like at the other.
    There are a few things we do not negotiate on, though. Name brand all the way. Of those items, there simply is no equal. Or better. Anywhere.

  43. baquwards says:

    I find that “ingredients” are usually just as good in store brands as their name brand counterparts. I know that many swear by a certain brand of canned tomatoes for sauce, but I have had really good luck with Food Lion brand or Aldi brand canned tomatoes, and couldn’t really tell the difference in finished sauce from when I used name brand.

    It is when you get to processed foods that recipes and formulas can vary. I still give store brands a shot most of the time, I end up liking most of them.

  44. 99 1/2 Days says:

    Campbell’s is awful. Just about every brand is better. Progresso is miles better.

  45. 99 1/2 Days says:

    The GV powdered creamer is all I will use, unless somehow I manage to stumble upon Cremora Extra Rich. I don’t see how Coffeemate ever got popular. Unless other people like clumps of creamer in their coffee.

  46. JadePharaoh says:

    “The Shoppers Value peanut butter is so-so, with off-notes (raw-nut flavor) and a bit of bitterness, probably from peanut skins”
    That’s because the brand name peanut butters add sugar. This off-brand might as well, but maybe not as much. That’s why you want to compare labels. That’s how I comparason-shop store brands and name brands. Sometimes the store brand is indeed superior, other times, it has a lot of extra fat and sugars in which case it’s not such a bargain.

  47. KrispyKrink says:

    Target and Safeway brands are always on my preferred list compared to the “name” brands.

  48. SJActress says:

    The only things I buy name brand: Kraft Horseradish Sauce and McCormick’s Taco Seasoning (because I know it’s gluten-free).

    Everything else…meh.

  49. britswim04 says:

    Great Value brand Focaccia Crust pizzas are THE BEST store-bought-home-heated pizzas I have ever had. Better than California Pizza Kitchen brand, better than DiGorno… everything. These things are like … I don’t know. Crack.