What other consumer goods have "premium" versions that are identical to the budget version?
September 29, 2008 12:43 PM   Subscribe

The only difference between regular vodka and super premium vodka is the price. Double shielded, gold plated speaker cables work just as well as cheap ones. What other consumer goods have "premium" versions that are identical to the budget version?

I'm not really looking for a debate on cables or liqour, just examples where packaging and price tag determine the difference on bulk goods.
posted by andrewzipp to Work & Money (55 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bottled water.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:50 PM on September 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Anecdotally, I've always heard that generic grocery store brands - dog food, canned veggies, frozen entrees, the works - are the exact same stuff as the premium brands.

Woodford Reserve and Old Forrester (bourbons) are the same liquid; the former costs about three times as much, because it's taken from barrels that are aged in the "sweet spot" of the warehouse.

See also: Veblen goods.
posted by jbickers at 12:51 PM on September 29, 2008


Pet food. Store brand foods are generally manufactured by the same company in the same facility using the same ingredients and the same recipe as the premium stuff. Sometimes the only difference is a flavor spray. Now that spray may be the difference between Mittens eating her dinner or dumping the bowl in protest, but there really isn't much of a difference nutrition wise. Dogs, being on average somewhat less picky, will probably do just as well with the store-brand as they will with Purina or Iams.

Two things here. First, different generics are manufactured by different companies, and there isn't a readily-available way that I'm aware of of telling who makes what. Second, this is not to say that the baby/adult/geriatric formulas aren't different. They are, at least technically; whether or not this makes an actual difference is a different question. But the difference in formula is within brands far more than between them.
posted by valkyryn at 12:52 PM on September 29, 2008


Store-brand Triscuits ("Woven Wheats," in my supermarket) are identical to the name-brand ones. Mouthwash. Sour cream.

Never buy generic cotton swabs (they skimp on the cotton). Other than that, I've found most grocery-store off-brands to be just as good as the original.

(I will take issue with your vodka comparison, though. Maybe not in a mixed drink, but holy carp -- have you tried to do a shot of Smirnoff versus a shot of Grey Goose? Two different worlds.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:54 PM on September 29, 2008


That was true about Woodford Reserve for the first few years it was sold, while first batch was being aged, but Woodford is made at it's own distillery now.
posted by andrewzipp at 12:56 PM on September 29, 2008


Not precisely the same thing, but you can usually find soy sauce, oyster sauce, and similar ingredients for Asian cuisine much cheaper in Asian markets (which is to say markets that cater specifically to Asian-American folk).
posted by lore at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2008


OTC drugs.
posted by smackfu at 12:58 PM on September 29, 2008


batteries
posted by alkupe at 1:04 PM on September 29, 2008


(I will take issue with your vodka comparison, though. Maybe not in a mixed drink, but holy carp -- have you tried to do a shot of Smirnoff versus a shot of Grey Goose? Two different worlds.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:54 PM on September 29

Grey Goose is absolute garbage, and only crafty marketing has made it a premium vodka. Now I am not saying that Smirnoff is any better, but a good vodka comes from Russia or Poland, not from France.
posted by Vindaloo at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Vindaloo is right, premium vodka isn't the same product as regular vodka, unlike speaker cables or bottled water.
posted by Jairus at 1:15 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sugar. They actually fill the bags with the same stuff.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:19 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I worked in the QA lab in a butter factory. The $5.00 Land O Lakes Super Premium Deluxe Butter came out of the same 6 bajillion gallon tank as the $1 IGA butter with the lame generic packaging.

Although, it could be that what happens to the butter *after it leaves the factory is what you are paying for. Maybe the generic stuff sits in a roach infested hot house and the primo stuff sits in a frosty fortress of butter-itude.
posted by ian1977 at 1:21 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The only difference between regular vodka and super premium vodka is the price.

Moskovskaya vodka is a great Russian vodka that is one third the price of Stolichnaya. It's hard to find in the U.S. but Trader Joe's often has it.
posted by cjets at 1:21 PM on September 29, 2008


I wasn't asking about vodka.
I was asking for other examples where absurd premiums are charged to put the country of origin, or some other nonsense, on the label for the "connoisseurs", when the contents are the same.
posted by andrewzipp at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2008


House Paint. The exact same can of paint can be sold under many different labels. For instance, Sherwin Williams owns at least a dozen different brands (Martin Senour, Pratt-Lambert, Dutch-Boy, etc) and definitely doesn't produce different mixing bases for each of those. I worked for a paint company (not S-W) and the book (and it was a physical book) that held the cross-references between the manufacturing codes and the product codes was a serious corporate secret and revealing information from it was a fire-able offense. The same can of paint could go for anywhere from $10/Gallon to $40 depending on the product line.
posted by octothorpe at 1:36 PM on September 29, 2008


This question is kind of a double to this one, but since the old one's closed, I suppose it will stand. Anyway, I'll re-post my original response to the question below:

When I was a kid I remember taking a tour of the big Wonder Bread factory in our town. I was scarred for life when I realized that one of the production lines for loaves of bread that I was following split into two packaging lanes just before the plastic went over the loaf. One lane was for Wonder, the other was for the local supermarket brand.

Maybe its just bread and a few other products, but for as long as I can remember my rule has been to go with what tastes / smells / feels / etc. the best and try the other one from time to time if its on sale. Sometimes that means I'm buying the generic regularly, sometimes reverse.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:38 PM on September 29, 2008


Hardback vs paperback books? I'm not sure this is the kind of example you are looking for, but substantively this is the same argument as your gold-plated vs regular cables: their ability to convey data is identical.
posted by jtfowl0 at 1:38 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


when the contents are the same.

And people are pointing out that the contents aren't the same. If you're just looking for things you think are the same, I don't think anyone can help you but yourself.
posted by Manhasset at 1:40 PM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


Hair gel.

More specifically, the Longs Drugs knockoff of L.A. Looks works just as well as the real thing for a lot less money (actually, maybe even a little better as the hold is just as good, but it doesn't flake as much).
posted by The Gooch at 1:41 PM on September 29, 2008


Generally speaking, all clothing detergent is about the same. There are minor brand differences but they all clean equally well.
posted by Class Goat at 1:44 PM on September 29, 2008


ice cream

a local factory in my area, makes a name-brand ice cream and also the no-name brand-X generic version sold on the same shelf in the supermarket (and the brand X is pretty tasty too).
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 1:45 PM on September 29, 2008


Not sure if I've got the model number correct, but there was a make of Lexus (I think the ES300) that was mechanically identical to a Toyota Camry V6 but cost much more. I'm sure there are other automotive examples.
posted by mattholomew at 1:45 PM on September 29, 2008


Not quite the "premium" thing, but the trucks from different oil companies that supply gas stations regularly load at each other's depots if that's logistically more efficient. If they do so, they will transform their rival's product into their own distinctive version using certain additives, or so I'm told.
posted by willem at 1:47 PM on September 29, 2008


The regular shipping from Apple and the Express shipping from Apple. Apple has a "will ship in X days" thingy when you buy stuff online from them. In my experience the regular shipping arrives just as quickly as the express though they charge more for the latter.
posted by Manhasset at 1:47 PM on September 29, 2008


This guide to premium vs store brands is excellent for food shopping in the UK - it's unbelievably detailed, maybe to a fault, but will probably convince most people to give the non-premium stuff a try on most things.
posted by hazyjane at 1:50 PM on September 29, 2008


Shampoo! $25+ for premium vs. $1 for White Rain/Suave. Cosmetics also have an incredible price range and there is negligible difference between a $5 and a $35 premium mascara besides the logos on the packaging.
posted by abirae at 2:01 PM on September 29, 2008


Mattresses. (Too busy to find it right now, but there was a recent askme re: mattresses, with some interesting info.)
posted by inigo2 at 2:02 PM on September 29, 2008


I'd like to correct the OTC drugs answer that was best answered- I think they meant generic drugs, which are drugs that are chemically identical to a Name Brand drug. OTC just means you can buy them without a prescription. So, Zyrtec versus store brand cetirizine. Generics exist in both OTC and prescription drugs. As a side note: for some people, for whatever reason, Brand Name drug x works better than the generic. Sometimes people demand the Name Brand despite the usually higher cost, but for some, a brand name can be deemed medically necessary.
posted by MadamM at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2008


I've been told that the filler (the 'inactive' stuff that makes 5mg of medicine into a pill) between brand and generic Rx drugs is of a different (proprietary, for the latter) makeup and may contribute to different effects.
posted by griphus at 2:11 PM on September 29, 2008


Pet food. Store brand foods are generally manufactured by the same company in the same facility using the same ingredients and the same recipe as the premium stuff.

This can be right when you're comparing store brands and generics to Purina and Iams.

It is inaccurate when you're comparing store brands and Iams and Purina to crazy-dog-lady dog foods. The difference is immediately obvious from the ingredient list.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:17 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Google for NoKa chocolate, they made the news a few years (months?) ago, when a food blogger figured out they were essentialy reselling chocolate made by somebody else and charging astronomical markups.
posted by ghost of a past number at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's not clear to me whether valkyryn was alluding to this, but: baby formula. In the U.S., it's made to such strict standards that it is essentially identical regardless of what the manufacturer labeling implies.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:50 PM on September 29, 2008


Shampoo and soap. There's no difference between generic soap or shampoo and the exceptionally expensive stuff except the bottle, perfumes, and dyes. Unless it has added moisturizer or is somehow medicated (ie dandruff shampoos). Conditioners are another matter.

You would probably enjoy The Undercover Economist. In it there is a story of one printer made by a big name in electronics that was sold in an expensive version and a cheap version (with a different model number). The only difference was that they made the expensive one first and then spent some extra $$$ to make a chip that would slow it down, then charged less for the slower ones even though it cost more to develop them.

Strings, such as for guitars. There's just a few factories making them, and then various companies buy them up with their own logo and charge different amounts for them. Similarly, a lot of musical instruments that are made in the Far East are made, but then stamped with different brand names and priced differently when they reach the retail store. And a lot of Gibson and Epiphone guitars and banjos are made from identical hardware--the only difference is where they're assembled and the name on the headstock. But you'll pay dearly for the gibson name.
posted by K.P. at 3:02 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sometimes people demand the Name Brand despite the usually higher cost, but for some, a brand name can be deemed medically necessary.

I was thinking of the OTC generics in particular. Like Bayer aspirin vs store-brand. After 100 years, I don't think Bayer is hiding any secrets of making good aspirin.
posted by smackfu at 3:04 PM on September 29, 2008


Pet food. Store brand foods are generally manufactured by the same company in the same facility using the same ingredients and the same recipe as the premium stuff.

This is a really dangerous assumption. All dog food is not created equal. Do your research. Store brand names may be as good as Purina and Pedigree, but those are not particularly good foods for your animal anyway.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:07 PM on September 29, 2008


The only difference was that they made the expensive one first and then spent some extra $$$ to make a chip that would slow it down, then charged less for the slower ones even though it cost more to develop them.

Didn't later 486SX's work like that? Intel spends money to cripple a working chip, and then charges less for it?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:16 PM on September 29, 2008


You already mentioned speaker cables, but HDMI cables (and any other digital cable in general) are an even more stark example. With analog cables, one can maybe make the argument the the more expensive ones carry the signal better, minimize interference, etc.

But digital cables are binary (literally and figuratively)- they either transmit the correct 0/1 or they don't. There's no quality middle ground. If the $10 cables you buy off NewEgg work, then it is impossible for the the $200 Monster cables to do any better.
posted by Nelsormensch at 3:31 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wedding services that are also available for non-wedding events. IOW, if you contract with a caterer to feed 200 people for a 4-hour party and call it a "family reunion," you will pay astonishingly less than if you call it a "wedding."

It even extends to dresses. Many brides try to save money by ordering a dress intended for a bridesmaid, but in white. They get you there too: 9 colors might cost, say, $250 each, but the white dress--exact same design--might cost $500, because they know you're trying to save money, and they don't want you to.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:33 PM on September 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


Not quite the "premium" thing, but the trucks from different oil companies that supply gas stations regularly load at each other's depots if that's logistically more efficient. If they do so, they will transform their rival's product into their own distinctive version using certain additives, or so I'm told.

It's actually slightly worse than this. There are only two grades of gasoline shipped in the pipelines. All the terminals get the same stuff. Midgrade is just a combination of the regular and premium grades. All of that gets stored in huge tanks.

A certain amount of additive is required to be added at the time trucks fill up. Suppliers may request additional additive, but there is no provision for "their own" additive, unless they add it on their own after the truck picks it up, which I've never heard of, and actually don't know if that would be legal.

On top of that, local gas stations are frequently supplied by different suppliers. Take-home point: there is no functional difference in the gas.
posted by odinsdream at 3:36 PM on September 29, 2008


This thread is really interesting. I think you'll get all sorts of answers from people who have poor senses (taste, smell, hearing), who don't check labels (lots of non brand name foods have high fat/sugar/salt content) and others who are typically insensitive to odd chemicals or who don't notice or mind when something breaks before its time.

I'm a sale-whore, but there are a few things I don't skimp on. That's food for me and my pets, good hair products that don't make my hair fall off, good cosmetics that don't burn my eyes, quality sound equipment for producing and mixing music, items made without latex (the product cheapout of the century), a nice scotch that goes down smooth and a bottle of water that doesn't dry my throat and taste mineral-ee (although I'd take free tap water any day).

Some things you just need to pay for.

Things I refuse to buy premium are: paper towels, 'j-cloths', bleach, dryer sheets, kleenex (in the winter I will usually buy a 'better, softer' variety), OTC generics and clumping kitty litter, to name a few.
posted by sunshinesky at 3:39 PM on September 29, 2008


My local store brand unscented clumping kitty litter, straight out of the package, may be one of my favourite smells in the world. It's just clay, I guess. It smells like a raw concrete stairwell. I love that smell, for some reason.

It doesn't smell so nice after a while, so it's really just that first pour that makes me not switch to a premium brand.

Besides, it's CLAY. It doesn't get more natural or healthy for my little pumpkin.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:06 PM on September 29, 2008


You know, someone could probably make a great documentary (or at least, a Michael Moore-ish film) out of all this...
posted by greatgefilte at 4:09 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if this is still the case, but when I worked in Radio Shack as a teen, our Archer Police Scanner was the exact same unit as the far more expensive Bearcat scanner, down to the screws. I disassembled one of each (gutting the one for parts for the other) and the only difference was in the labels. According to my boss at the time, Radio Shack manufactured the scanners and Bearcat simply re-badged them and marked up the prices.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:24 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eyeliners; many cheapo and luxe come from the same German factory. Actually, make-up aplenty.
posted by kmennie at 4:51 PM on September 29, 2008


Yeah, for what it's worth, there was a GREAT deal of difference between the generic Elocon and the brand name. It's a topical corticosteroid that I use for a skin condition, but the vehicle that the generic was based in was terrible. It was necessary that I pay 4 times for the brand name because of this. The core active ingredient is identical, but man...

I'd be more interested in cases where the "brand" name FAR outweight the "generic" in terms of quality. Kraft Mac & Cheese comes to mind... Ice cream... etc.

Remember that most private labels ARE made by the brand name manufacturers. But sometimes they use lower grade component ingredients or slightly watered down forms of them. But yeah, sometimes, they're pretty much exactly the same.
posted by disillusioned at 6:12 PM on September 29, 2008


Besides, it's CLAY. It doesn't get more natural or healthy for my little pumpkin.

Or more environmentally destructive!
The United States Geological Society estimates that 85 percent of the 2.54 million tons of clay used in this country every year is used for absorption of pet waste, with cat litter being the dominant. There are about 20 companies operating such mines in 10 states.
We've been using pine pellet litter for quite awhile now and I can highly recommend it. It absorbs the ammonia smells much better than clay and also naturally absorbs wetness as part of how it works to break down into smaller pieces, which means you have less waste to scoop each time you clean it. It's also made from a byproduct of wood industries.
posted by odinsdream at 7:20 PM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Trader Joe's store-brand products are often identical to things you'll find at twice the price at Whole Foods. My most recent discovery was Sahale Snacks, which has a Trader Joe's generic. I was missing my Pasadena Pecans and discovered that Sahale Snacks had them under some other name.

A friend of a family friend owned a meat-pie factory in South Africa and once read with much amusement a news story that drew stark contrasts between competing brands of pie, secure in the knowledge that those pies were in fact identical in ingredients and assembly, with a few distinguishing finishing touches. I suspect that this is the case for most prepared food products, but Trader Joe's makes it particularly blatant.
posted by crinklebat at 7:42 PM on September 29, 2008


House Paint... For instance, Sherwin Williams owns at least a dozen different brands

If you buy the absolute cheapest paint available (which may well not be made by Sherwin Williams), you will find that it has very poor coverage, leading to needing spend more time and money applying more coats of paint.

Regular and premium vodka, OK -- but really cheap vodka? Think different. Think awful.
posted by yohko at 8:05 PM on September 29, 2008


Suntan lotion. It's the spf that counts.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:06 PM on September 29, 2008


K.P. writes "In it there is a story of one printer made by a big name in electronics that was sold in an expensive version and a cheap version (with a different model number). The only difference was that they made the expensive one first and then spent some extra $$$ to make a chip that would slow it down, then charged less for the slower ones even though it cost more to develop them. "

This isn't a secret anymore; high end printers are available slow or fast and the only difference is a code you upload over the network. The sales people will tell you when you buy the slow version that if you ever need the fast version they can get you the code in a couple hours (for $$$$ of course).

ROU_Xenophobe writes "Didn't later 486SX's work like that? Intel spends money to cripple a working chip, and then charges less for it?"

Yes. Originally 486SX were DX with co-processors that had a manufacturing defect. As yields rose they had fewer defective chips however still had demand. So they'd take perfectly good DX chips and burn a hole with a laser through the co-processor.
posted by Mitheral at 8:49 PM on September 29, 2008


Lancome and L'Oreal are sister companies. Other than packaging, many of the Lancome products are nearly identical to the cheaper L'Oreal version in the drugstore.
Lancome Artliners and L'Oreal Line Intensifique, I'm looking at you.
posted by 26.2 at 4:39 AM on September 30, 2008


I worked at a cheesecake factory when I was temping once, and they had to stop the conveyor belt to change packaging from a cheesecake brands, to supermarket own-brand boxes.

The cheesecakes were the same ones though!
posted by tanc at 8:09 AM on September 30, 2008


Colbert Platinum?
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:35 AM on September 30, 2008


http://www.drugdelivery.ca/

Canadian escrow for generic versions of patent-protected American-brand drugs made in other parts of the world. I've saved about 60% on costs for some of the more expensive ones, and they work exactly the same.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 2:03 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


One thing I always do when buying groceries is read where the private label is made. I don't know in the US, but in Italy every product is required to have the location of the production site. And what do you find out? Than the cheap yogurt is made in the same factory as the expensive one, like many cheeses, noodles, cookies, etc.
posted by uauage at 11:29 AM on October 9, 2008


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