Are Generic Products as Good as Name Brands?

Allison Martin
Generic Label Groceries

On your latest shopping trip, did you consider a generic alternative to the item you were searching for? This is a common dilemma faced by consumers each time they spot a generic product at a much lower price point. However, determining the better value can be difficult as it depends on the item in question.

Food and Beverages

Whether it's meat, canned goods or bottled water, you may want to evaluate generic food and beverage options prior to making a purchase.

Meat

When weighing your options for meat selections, quality should definitely trump price. It's not necessarily a matter of generic or name brand, but the source of the meat and if they use pesticides or preservatives, Business Insider suggests. Additionally, you should be aware of the company's reputation. If it's a fly-by-night operation, how can you be certain that their internal quality control procedures are up to the par?

Evaluate companies that provide canned and frozen meats in the same manner to determine their reputation. Likewise, be mindful of the freshness and cuts of meats packaged by the butcher at the grocery store.

Dairy

Milk, cheese, and butter are all derived from the same source, whether generic or name brand, so the flavor should be comparable. It also turns out that the generic brand may provide the better value--in terms of price and quality--if it is "produced regionally, which means less traveling and processing," U.S. News reports. If in doubt, contact the dairy farm to confirm they go through the proper pasteurizing process prior to distributing products to grocers. You can determine the source of dairy by reading the label.

Pantry Staples

Examine the label of your most frequently used pantry staples, such as vegetable oil, flour, and sugar, and you will find that store brands and generics contain the same active ingredients. Pantry staples that you can try generics for include:

  • Plain brown or white rice
  • Flour
  • Dried legumes
  • Baking soda
  • Salt
  • Spices
  • Herbs
  • White vinegar
  • Vegetable oil (except for extra-virgin olive oil)
  • Sugar

Items you may wish to try for taste and texture inclue:

  • Pasta
  • Flavored rice
  • Condiments such as mustard, ketchup, and mayonnaise
  • Flavored vinegars
  • Olive oil

Canned and Frozen Goods

In most instances, canned and frozen goods must be seasoned to add flavor so the store brand option may work. To be safe, compare the labels and consider purchase a single can to confirm the contents are up to par before loading up the pantry. If you notice drastic variances, which is highly likely in items like soup and spaghetti sauce, you may want to stick with the name brand product if the price points are close.

Canned and frozen goods worth considering include:

  • Vegetables, such as corn, green beans and sweet peas
  • Fruits, such as applesauce, mixed fruit and fruit cocktail

Canned goods that may require a taste test include:

  • Soup
  • Chili
  • Spaghetti Sauce
  • Stew
  • Stock
  • Broth
  • Tuna
  • Legumes
  • Corned beef hash
  • Diced tomatoes

Prepackaged Entrees

The flavor of prepackaged entrees, such as lasagna, may not work for you due to variations in seasoning. By contrast, generic prepackaged produce and salad is usually the better value since the primary ingredients are identical.

Beverages

Although most name brand sodas have a generic alternative, the level of comparability is a matter of personal preference. Some flavors contain a larger quantity of sugar or flavored syrup than others, both which have a huge impact on the taste, so read the labels first before making a purchasing decision.

Some will argue that Dasani or Zephyrhills water is much more flavorful than their store brand counterparts, but it is a tough argument since water is flavorless. In fact, U.S. News includes water on its comprehensive list of products you should always buy generic.

Fruit juice is likely to be similar in flavor with either generic or name-brand, although a taste test may be in order. Check labels for additives and sugar when comparing generic and name brands, looking for juice to be listed as 100 percent juice.

Batteries

While you may be tempted to purchase an oversized package of batteries because the 4-pack of Duracell is the same price, think again before making a decision. If the generic alternative is not alkaline, the longevity and power source could be short-lived.

By contrast, the generics could be a better value, depending on their intended use, Rhett Allain, an associate professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University, told TIME. For simple devices like flashlights, generics are ideal. However, for more complex devices requiring a durable power source, such as video console remotes and electronics, name brand batteries are the smarter option.

Toiletries

Deciding on generics or name brand toiletries, based solely on effectiveness, is also a matter of personal preference.

Some have positive experiences with beauty and skincare products while others are completely disgruntled after the first use. To determine which option best suits your needs, start by comparing the active ingredients and perusing online reviews. If you like what you see, purchase the item and keep the receipt handy just in case.

As for the more standard items, like cotton balls and cotton swabs, the generic should work out if the texture and shape is comparable, and you can typically determine this before leaving the store.

Generic toiletries worth considering include:

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Cotton balls
  • Cotton pads
  • Cotton swabs
  • Nail polish remover

Generic toiletries that may require more caution include:

  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Soap
  • Facial cleansers and moisturizers
  • Razor
  • Shaving cream
  • Deodorant
  • Lotion
  • Makeup
  • Perfume or cologne

Over-the-Counter Medicines

Those generic medications on the shelves at drug stores and supermarkets are just as effective as their name brand counterparts. That is because they must meet the same stringent standards as name brand options to be granted approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the FDA, the "dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance, characteristics and intended use, must be identical."

There are -approved generic alternatives to select drugs available at your local pharmacy that could save you as much as 95 percent, notes Consumer Reports. However, you should consult with your medical provider before selecting this option if you have reservations.

Cleaning Products

Deciding on generic or name brand cleaning products is also a matter of personal preference. If the active ingredients, scent and texture of both items are identical, there is a strong possibility the generic option will get the job done. Cleaning products also made U.S. News' list of items you should always buy generic.

Are Generics Worth the Risk?

If you are searching for ways to reduce your expenditures on commonly used household items, including groceries, generics are definitely worth a try. In fact, you could save hundreds of dollars annually and discover high-quality items you would not have considered beforehand.

Are Generic Products as Good as Name Brands?