Does your child ever groan when you buy generic brands at the grocery store? That’s what happened recently on one of my shopping trips. I was trying to comparison shop when I reached for the generic brand peanut butter.
“Dad, do we have to get that?” whined my 12-year-old daughter. “We always get Jif.”
“You don’t even eat a lot of peanut butter,” I replied. “Besides, your sister is the peanut butter connoisseur of the house. Let’s test it out and see what she thinks.”
Much to her chagrin, her five-year old sister loved it! Oh, did I mention our food budget also liked it? There’s a $1.80 difference between comparable jars of Publix peanut butter and Jif and a $2.50 difference between the Publix brand and Skippy or Peter Pan.
This led me to do some field research on food prices, using my high school personal finance class as data collectors. I gave them a list of about 20 items and asked them to comparison shop the difference between name brands and generics at their local grocery store. They were then to calculate the difference they would save by buying the generic brand.
The result was a real eye opener for them.
Comparison Shop Data: Name Brands vs. Generics
On average, students saved around 15% ($15-20) on the items I had listed for them, while mostly shopping at Publix, Kroger and Wal-Mart. We had a couple students save around $30. At first they didn’t think that sounded like much, but then we started doing some calculations.
I asked them to figure out how much they could save over a ten year period if they were able to reduce their grocery bill by $25 a week buying generics. After a few short seconds doing some basic calculations on their TI-89s, their eyes got real big. “$13,000!” To a high school student, that amount of money is like winning the lottery.
“So, if people know they can save big money by purchasing generics,” I prodded, “why don’t they?”
As if rehearsed, the entire class shouted back at me in unison “TASTE!” As I laughed, they spent the next 30 seconds – as only a high school class can – talking over one another in a frenzied story-telling session, detailing all the generic foods their parents buy that they don’t like to eat.
Taste is probably the #1 reason people don’t purchase generics. That goes for our family as well on some items. However, the quality of generic products seems to have improved greatly since I was a teenager. A quick survey of our kitchen yielded the following food items (besides peanut butter) whose taste does not deter us from purchasing the generic brand:
nuts, syrup, honey, Crispy Rice cereal, cream cheese, string cheese sticks and other sliced cheeses, frozen vegetables, canned green beans, spaghetti, canned mushrooms, pizza sauce, lemon juice, stick butter, yogurt, milk, salsa, canned fruit, pepper (and other spices), vinegars, sugar and flour, rice, cooking oil, baby carrots, French toast sticks, bread crumbs, apple sauce and garlic bread.
However, taste alone is not the only reason people don’t purchase generics. There is also:
Brand Loyalty. The decision to purchase an item is based on what the buyer (or their parents) have always done. Can’t deviate from tradition.
No Comparable Option. My boys like the Low-Sugar Quaker Instant Oatmeal combo pack of peach and strawberry. (They actually mix one peach and one strawberry packet together for breakfast.) That is a pretty specific item that has no option in a generic at our grocery store.
Packaging. This impacts our buying decisions more than we realize. Brand name items are packaged to catch our attention, with color and well thought out graphics. Generic packages look real plain. Subconsciously we associate cheap and boring packaging to mean cheap and boring food product.
Ego. Some people will not stoop to buy what they think is an inferior product because it makes them look bad. “Imagine the horror and shame if the dinner guests found out I served a generic brand. I’d never hear the end of it.”
If you want to save money on the grocery bill, purchasing generics must become a mindset. Comparison shop prices in your store to see how much you could save. Your budget will love it and your taste buds might not revolt like you think.
Simply saving $25 a week over 10 years will foot the bill for a year’s tuition at University of Georgia. Sorry teenager of mine.
Questions: Have you ever chosen to comparison shop generics vs. name brands? What are some other reasons people don’t buy generics? What is the one food item you could never substitute with a generic?
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