Since I’m spending the week continuing my old “Save Money On Groceries” series, I think it may be time to revisit the idea of generic items and private-label products. As I wrote before:

The next time you go grocery shopping, look at your cart. Is there anything there that you like, but is unnecessary for you to buy THAT brand in particular? Let me tell you a secret. Generic foods/store-brand foods are often just as good as some of the better name brands sold on the same shelf. They’re less expensive because the grocery store wants to make sure that you can still get what you want even though you’re not paying as much as you might for the name brand. This way, they can ensure that you’re not pricing yourself out of owning the product entirely, and they can still squeeze a couple extra dollars out of you.

Now, let’s talk about generic and store brand foods. Most store-brands, regardless of the store, are made at the same production plant and then shipped to the production plants for these stores for labeling. Guess what else – did you know that MANY national name-brand manufacturers also produce those same store brand products? Which means… yes – Reynolds’ Wrap might’ve made that store brand aluminum foil. Yes, Mott’s might’ve made that store-brand applesauce. Don’t believe me? Ask MainStreet:

Many of the national brands actually produce store brand products, so besides the packaging, you may not even notice a difference between generics and their brand name counterparts.  For example, Alcoa, the maker of Reynolds Wrap Aluminum foil, produces store brand foil. McCormick produces herbs and spices without its signature label, and Birds Eye, known for its frozen vegetables, produces a number of frozen and canned vegetable products, according to Consumer Reports.

One major reason for the deep discount on store brands is they “don’t carry heavy product development, advertising and promotion costs,” says Tod Marks, a Consumer Reports researcher who blogs by the name “Tightwad Tod” on ConsumerReports.org.

Let me dig a little bit deeper, though.

Store brands are also called “private label” products. I know y’all hate wikipedia, but I’m quoting it anyway:

Private label products or services are typically those manufactured or provided by one company for offer under another company’s brand. Private label goods and services are available in a wide range of industries from food to cosmetics to web hosting. They are often positioned as lower cost alternatives to regional, national or international brands, although recently some private label brands have been positioned as “premium” brands to compete with existing “name” brands.

Richelieu Foods, for example, is a private label company producing frozen pizza, salad dressing, sauces, marinades, condiments and deli salads for other companies, including Hy-Vee, Aldi, Save-A-Lot, Sam’s Club, Hannaford Brothers Co., BJ’s Wholesale Club (Earth’s Pride brand) and Shaw’s Supermarkets (Culinary Circle brand). [source]

There are two things to note, here. Firstly, I don’t expect to see this information on wikipedia, but the fact is that the same private label companies that manufacture products for the store brands also manufacture products for the international brands, as well. You won’t find that information in a press release (or even listed in a recall notice) because that’d cost someone money.  If you take two containers of the same product from two different brands and compare the packaging, the “from” location, the nutritional information (as in the calories, the fat grams, the sodium and carb counts) and the ingredients… and all of it is the same? They were manufactured at the same location and are of identical quality. The only difference would be… the price.

A big reality is that the fastest (and, in a way, creepiest) way to find out exactly who is responsible for making what products… is to pay attention to food recalls.

Yes… food recalls. Want an example?

Spooked by the half-billion salmonella-tainted eggs floating around the United States, some consumers might be tempted to skip the egg salad and opt instead for a “deli sandwich.”But that could be a painful mistake, especially for Walmart shoppers. Get this, from the USDA’s meat-industry watchdog, the Food Safety and Inspection Services:

Zemco Industries, a Buffalo, N.Y., establishment, is recalling approximately 380,000 pounds of deli meat products that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Yikes. And what, pray tell, is “Listeria monocytogenes”? According to FSIS, “listeriosis can cause high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, and nausea.” Worse still, it can also cause miscarriages and stillbirths, as well as “serious and sometimes fatal infections in those with weakened immune systems, such as infants, the elderly and persons with HIV infection or undergoing chemotherapy.”

And where did this massive cache of dangerous luncheon meat end up? “The products were distributed nationwide to a single retail chain,” the FSIS press release states demurely, too polite to call out retail mammoth Walmart, the largest seller of groceries in the United States. It also refrained from fingering Tyson Foods, the globe’s second-largest meat company, as the ultimate source of the bad meat. Tyson, it turns out, owns Zemco Industries. [source]

The same “private label manufacturer” that provided Wal-mart its meat… is owned by a national brand. It’s not a far stretch to wonder what other brands Tyson supplies under “other names.”

As a beginning clean eater, it’s a bit of a struggle and takes quite a bit of time to find the right blend of brands for your home. But once you see the change in your wallet… it all starts to feel worth it. Give it a shot and see what works best for you!

Other posts in the series: