Name-brands vs store-brands…the truth, REVEALED! (Duhn, Duhn, Duuuuuhn)

Name-brands vs Store-brands...the truth revealed! What you probably didn't know (and should!). From

I was recently contacted by a food science major at NC State University who was doing a thesis paper on buying name-brand vs off-brand, or store-brand, items. She found me online and asked for a quick interview via email to help her with her research. I was happy to oblige. I thought I would share our Q&A in case it helps any of you! I'm fighting every urge in my body to re-write the whole thing and make it a very Jordan-esque megapost…but I won't. I'm fighting it. And it hurts. So here it is, in the raw, my personal opinion and knowledge regarding name-brands vs store-brands.

Just to give a little background, these answers are NOT based solely on opinion. I've made it my job, my mission, to become a frugal-living expert over the last few years. My knowledge and answers are based on research and info, in this case mostly coming from getting a private tour of how Costco works by a Costco GM himself! So take it for what it's worth…but I'm guessing he knew what he was talking about 😉 Enjoy!

1. What is your take on off brand grocery items vs. brand name items?

The secret that most people don't understand about off-brand items is that they are often made by in the same factory as the name-brand products! Take Costco for example. They don't have their own Kirkland diaper factory…or light bulb factory…or battery factory. That would be expensive and inefficient. They simply outsource the manufacturing to the name-brand guys!

Take their batteries, for example.

They outsource the making of their Kirkland batteries to Duracel (the other brand they carry in their stores). Duracel is willing to do this because they are now making a profit off of Duracel batteries AND Kirkland batteries, even though Kirkland batteries are so much cheaper. It allows them to get a bite out of both consumers – the ones that prefer name-brands and the ones that don't care. Kirkland is happy because they are also making a profit on both items. So at the end of the day, the Kirkland batteries are literally identical to Duracel…just with different packaging and pricing!

The other thing you have to understand about name-brands is that you aren't paying more for quality…you're paying more because they spend millions of dollars on commercials, advertisements, packaging, marketing, and market testing. That's why their prices are higher…not necessarily because they are filling their products with better ingredients or materials.

2. When shopping, does appearance of the product (packaging) affect your purchases? Why?

Yes, packaging makes a difference to humans in general. To me personally? Nah, not any more, because I've done my research and know the tricks that are used against us. For example, off-brand companies purposefully make their packaging and labels as plain, simple, and “old school” as possible because it appeals to the frugal consumer; it triggers something in our brains that lets us “know” we're getting a better deal on a product.  On the flip-side, the packaging on name-brand items is flashier, more professional looking, and is made to appeal to those who are willing to pay more for “higher quality”.  Everything – from the colors, fonts, labels, and shape of the packaging – is intentional, and it all makes a difference (or else they wouldn't do it!).

3. Being a bargain shopper, do you automatically go for the off brand products even if it doesn't taste the same as the brand name products?

Yes, always. I will almost ALWAYS go for the off-brand items. There are very very few things that make a difference in taste and quality, so I start with the cheapest and go up from there if I'm dissatisfied.

4. Do you think there is a big difference in the way males and females grocery shop? Based on price/appearance? Why?

Interesting question…but I would say yes. I think men tend to be less frugal. Maybe I'm wrong on this. But I think a guy would rather grab exactly what he needs, regardless of cost, just to get in and out of the store quicker. Women are willing to fuss and take time weighing options. So I think men would be more likely to grab the first thing they see and go…which would be the name-brand since it catches the eye better usually.

5. Do you buy off brand medication or brand name medication?Why?

Yes, absolutely. I got a personal, private, behind-the-scenes tour of how Costco works from an actual Costco GM (yes, it was fascinating!). He is the one that explained to me first-hand how their Kirkland products work (how they are outsourced to the name-brand guys and just packaged differently). He gave a great example of why we should buy off-brand medications:

He said Prilosec OTC is the most popular OTC heartburn medication, and is a top seller for them in Costco. The secret is that Prilosec is the company that makes the Kirkland off-brand of OTC, which also sells well. But the interesting part is that Costco was actually able to go to Prilosec and have them tweak and change some things in the Kirkland brand, so now the Kirkland brand actually works BETTER and is cheaper than Prilosec!

Why didn't Prilosec make the same changes to their product to get it to work better? Two words: red tape. It costs Prilosec so much money in market research, marketing, packaging, R&D to change a product, it can't happen overnight like it can with off-brands. Plus, the relationship Prilosec has with Costco is so valuable, they are willing to let Costco's product be better because it will only help their sales at the end of the day.

It's the same across the board: off-brand medications are nearly always as effective as the name-brand ones, because they are often made by the same companies or have nearly identical ingredients and effectiveness. When it comes to medicine people are more likely to buy name-brand because meds are something you don't want to mess with; you stick with the brand you trust, because you want it to WORK and you want it to WORK FAST. That's why they can charge so much; they know we will pay it.


It was a fun interview, hope you found it helpful in some way or another!

Are you a name-brand shopper, or store-brand shopper? Why or why not? I'd love your insight, so share with a comment below!



  1. AvatarLaura says

    I am a store brand shopper, assuming everything is full price. I do a lot of grocery shopping at Harris Teeter and they have a lot of buy 2 get 3 deals on name brand products, which almost always makes it more cost effective. Because of health concerns that run in our families, my husband and I eat as much organic or “clean” food as we can. Even then I shop at Trader Joes who make most of their own products and thus sell it much cheaper than essentially the same product at another grocery store. Example: organic rice at TJ is about 2$ or 3$ and at HT it’s 7$ or 8$! For rice! The only name brand products I’ve found I prefer is Tyson chicken patties (which I actually almost never buy any more because it’s not organic/clean) and Scotch packing tape.

  2. AvatarDanielle says

    Jordan…Thank you for telling me I need to buy more store-brand. I don’t know why but I always feel like store brand is better and that is just silly!!! I am going to try it your way from now on! One name brand I will always stick with is Herdez….there salsa verde is the best I have ever tried!!! But other than that, I will buy store brand 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    • AvatarFunCheapOrFree says

      That’s great! There is no problem with name-brands though, and in some cases the name-brand really can taste better. But I say start with the store-brand and then if you hate it, go up from there…but don’t start at the top and try to go down. I think you’ll find that in 95% of cases the store-brand is just fine, if not as good or better than the name-brand!! XOXO

  3. AvatarAngie says

    It’s funny that the question of gender came up because a few years ago I probably would have given the same answer you did. But now I’m married to a wonderful man who keeps me frugal and takes the time to get the good deals. On everything. If I’m the one shopping, I just want to get it done and get out. I don’t always take enough time to make the most frugal finds. And, though I have improved at being frugal and I do try, I tend to justify my mistakes by saying that I have leeway since he has saved us so much already. 😛

  4. AvatarAngela says

    My husband used to work for a major pharmacy and they had the same thing with Prilosec OTC. The funny thing was, he had customers all the time who would tell him that the store brand didn’t work as well as the brand name. It didn’t matter if he told them that it was the exact same medication, just in different packaging. They didn’t believe him and would spend more for something that had been put in a different box.

  5. AvatarJennifer says

    I’d be interested in what things you think are better in the name brand version. For instance I have not found an Oreo off brand that I think is anywhere near as good. But other than that I pretty much go for all off brand because of the reasons you mentioned! Thanks for sharing your insight.

    • AvatarRachelJL says

      Jennifer: If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, I think their “Oreo’s” (Joe Joe’s) are just as good, and in the case of some of their seasonal flavors, even better. Their chocolate covered peppermint Joe Joe’s during the holiday season tend to sell out quickly, and you’re lucky if you manage to grab a package.

      Growing up, one thing that my step mom taught me to get the name brand for was plastic wrap. I don’t think it’s always the case anymore.

      Anyone who has to eat gluten-free, I think that the Schar brand “chocolate O’s” are by far the best, and to me they even taste better than Oreo’s, which I never thought I’d be able to say. They usually cost a little more than the other brands, but I’ll willingly buy them less often in order to be able to eat them. I really think they’re that much better. I may just be picky. 🙂

    • AvatarFunCheapOrFree says

      Yes I agree!! Oreos can’t be touched by no-name brands. But if you think about it, “Oreo” is an item. That’s like trying to knock off “Twix”…a Twix is a Twix! No one can duplicate it! But store-brand sugar, four, canned veggies…that’s all the same.

  6. AvatarKelly says

    I go for whatever is cheapest (store brand or name brand on sale). Two notable exceptions are canned tomatoes and deli meat. I’ve found that store brand diced tomatoes tend to have more skin & core pieces than name brands. And we only like Boar’s Head deli meat. But I’m willing to pay more for those two items because I save so much everywhere else!

    • AvatarFunCheapOrFree says

      I think that’s great! You have to find what you prefer and stick with that. That’s why I always tell people to start with the store-brand and move up from there – because there WILL be noticeable differences with some items, and not with others. So finding your preferences here and there is great!

  7. AvatarRebecca says

    I was wondering the same thing as Jennifer. 🙂 I have found there are a few things my family (read- picky kids) won’t eat because it tastes different than the name brands. Thankfully, I usually make/bake everything so they don’t know what the packages look like! But I am curious as to which things you do spend the money on instead of buying store brand. Thank you for sharing this!!!

    • AvatarFunCheapOrFree says

      Yes it was a great question! See my reply to her about the Oreo thing. There are definite differences between certain items. If you would consider it a “knockoff”, then it probably won’t taste as good…like a knockoff “Oreo” or “Snickers” would never taste the same. But there’s no such thing as knockoff four, canned corn, or chicken stock. Does that make sense? Thanks for reading!

  8. AvatarDina says

    I must admit that I’m a name brand shopper, in particular when it comes to food. We eat mostly organic and fresh foods, but if I buy a packaged organic item, I don’t care as much what brand it is. But for non-organic items, I have found that there is a difference in quality/consistency in some items. For example, my mom bought off-brand sweetened condensed milk and left it here in my home. I used it last week to make rice pudding and found it much, much thinner than the name brand that I usually use. I find the same with tomato sauce. I can’t say for sure that flavor is affected, but the consistency definitely does seem watered down to me.

  9. AvatarSharla Arnold says

    I’m a long time Costco/Winco shopper and I more often than not go for the store brand. However, I’m curious about Wal-Mart, specifically food items. I know their prices are inexpensive but if you compare the quantity of the packaged product to another store, Wal-Mart is always less. Also, I have a friend who patented a product and Wal-Mart wanted to sell it. But when the negotiations came down, Wal-Mart wanted the manufacturer to use cheaper (and therefore lower quality) materials to keep costs lower. I would never doubt the quality of Costco, but a private tour of Wal-Mart would be very eye opening.
    Sharla Arnold recently posted…Hobo Dinner Recipe for CampingMy Profile

  10. AvatarErin says

    Store brand all the way. My kids prefer the Wal-mart frozen waffles over Eggo ones. The only thing that they complain about is the store brand Froot Loops and Cheerios. I have to side with them on the Cheerios one.

  11. AvatarHollie says

    It totally depends! If everything is full price then I’m definitely a store brand loyalist but if I’m shopping the sales like I typically do sometimes the name brand can be cheaper per unit depending on the sale and if I can use a coupon on it too.

  12. AvatarNina s says

    Store brand shopper all the way! The only difference is diapers! I prefer huggies over any other diapers out there! Store brand items are so much cheaper and it’s the same quality as the brand name ones! Only exception is some “cheaper” juices and products have high fructose corn syrup in them whereas the brand product doesn’t have it. Then I’m willing to pay more for it!!

  13. AvatarAndrea Tackett says

    I always tend to go for store brand just because it seems to be the same but at a better price. However, if I go shopping with my husband he insists on getting name brand because he can “taste the difference” I think that is all in his head. How can I get him to stop buying name brand? He has switched some things over to Kirkland brand because they are so much more affordable. I love costco just for the Kirkland brand especially for diapers and wipes for my kids.

  14. AvatarAlyssa says

    90% of the time I go store brand. However, if there is a deal on name brand that makes it cheaper than store brand, I get it. For example, I usually buy Kroger Brand butter $2.99 however, Lands if Lakes was recently in sale for $1.59! Needless to say, I bought 10lbs of butter and stocked my freezer!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *