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Consumer Reports compares store brand foods vs. big name brands

Posted Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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YONKERS, NY— From oatmeal cookies to frozen broccoli, Consumer Reports blind taste tests found 23 store-brand foods that tasted as good as, or better than, their big national brand competitors in head-to-head tests of 29 food products.

Consumer Reports tasters actually preferred Archer Farms Chewy Soft Baked cookies (Target), Kirkland Signature Organic Medium Salsa (Costco), Great Value Whipped Topping and Great Value Au Gratin potatoes (Walmart) to similar products from Pepperidge Farm, Old El Paso, Betty Crocker and Kraft.

“Our tests should erase any lingering doubts that store-brand packaged goods aren’t at least worth a try. In many cases, you’ll save money without compromising on quality,” said Tod Marks, Sr. Project Editor, Consumer Reports Shopping.

Consumer Reports tests also found 19 other store-brand foods that tasted just as good—albeit a bit different— as their name brand competitor. Duncan Hines Family Style Chewy Fudge and Target’s Market Pantry Fudge brownies, and Grey Poupon and Publix’s GreenWise Market Organic mustard are just a few items on store shelves locked in a taste test tie.

The store-brand foods that Consumer Reports tested cost an average of 27 percent less than big-name counterparts—about as much as consumers will find across all product categories, according to industry experts. The biggest price difference: 35 cents per ounce for Costco’s vanilla extract vs. $3.34 for McCormick’s. (Prices are the averages Consumer Reports found across the country.)

However, Consumer Reports says the price gaps have less to do with what goes into the package than with the research, development, and marketing costs that help build a household name. Tasters found America’s Choice (A&P) Plus multigrain spaghetti with omega-3 at $1.59 per box to be similar to the costlier Barilla Plus at $2.25 per box (14.5 oz for each box). Testers found the difference to be marginal; both pastas have a mild whole-grain flavor and are quite tasty with a nice sauce.

“Today’s store brands are not the no-frills generics folks remember from the 70s. They enjoy more prominent placement on shelves, snazzier packaging, more promotion, and, in general, higher manufacturing standards than in years past,” Marks added.

Whatever stores are doing, it’s working. In the most recent supermarket survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 70 percent of respondents said they were highly satisfied with the quality of store brands they’d bought.

The taste tests were not a total landslide victory for store brands. Six out of the 29 head-to-head taste tests still went in favor of the national brand. Tasters found Ocean Spray Craisins, KC Masterpiece Original barbeque sauce, Oscar Mayer precooked bacon, Quaker Natural Granola Oats, Honey & Raisins cereal, and Kellogg’s Pop Tarts to be better than the store-brand challengers.

Prices will vary, but switching to store brands can be a low-risk way for shoppers to cut their grocery bill—since many store-brand products come with a money-back satisfaction guarantee from the store. Consumer Reports estimated that a family of four could save as much as $1,168 a year on dinner by substituting just four products. For example: Great Value lasagna (Walmart) for Stouffer’s lasagna; 365 (Whole Foods) broccoli florets for Birds Eye broccoli florets; Market Pantry (Target) brownies for Duncan Hines brownies; and 365 (Whole Foods) vegetable juice for V8 vegetable juice. This assumes the family eats the same meal everyday, but Consumer Reports finds you could reap similar savings with other substitutions.Complete results of the head-to-head tastes tests and additional store brand and grocery product recommendations are available at The October issue is on newsstands starting September 1, 2009. To subscribe, consumers can call 1-8....

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

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Consumer Reports compares store brand foods vs. big name brands
The store-brand foods that Consumer Reports tested cost an average of 27 percent less than big-name counterparts
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