What name-brand grocery items are worth the extra money?
May 4, 2017 5:47 AM   Subscribe

Last night I opened two bags of frozen peas: one Hannaford's (store brand), and one Trader Joe's. It was like they were two different foods. The Trader Joes peas were plump, sweet, bright green and the store brand stuff were pebbles. I have only bought storebrand everything for so long that I'm wondering what else I'm missing out on?
posted by pintapicasso to Food & Drink (68 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Wait...isn't Trader Joe's a store? What was the store brand called?
posted by amtho at 5:56 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That may have been a bad example. Hannaford is a grocery store here in New England.
posted by pintapicasso at 6:04 AM on May 4, 2017

Mayonnaise is one of the things I never get the store brand of. Hellman's, or, if I'm in the south, Blue Plate (which is the absolute best) are just better than store branded versions.

Everything at Trader Joe's (almost) is store-branded, but they're a special store. They also sell the very very very best vegan chorizo if that's your thing.
posted by dis_integration at 6:13 AM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm kind of a Trader Joe's partisan on everything. Pretty much everything in their store is "store brand" but really what that means is they slap their name on to products that you'd recognize from other brands (e.g. I'm convinced their frozen pizzas are from Amy's and their boxed organic mac and cheese is totally Annie's, their organic dairy is really Organic Valley, etc...), and those other brands are good, premium brands. So you wind up paying store brand prices for real name brands that have had the serial numbers filed off.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:15 AM on May 4, 2017 [21 favorites]

As in your example, one store's brand of something can be great and another's can be awful, so no one can really answer that. It all depends on what store you're talking about.

That said, I have not been happy with Hannaford store brand anything. Even their milk. If your comparison is Hannaford, I recommend trying alternatives to their store brand for just about everything.

When we used to live in Wegmans country, I bought a lot of their store brands: pasta, peanut butter, tuna fish, frozen veggies, coffee, bread, milk, yogurt I can't even remember everything. The store brand was my default purchase.

Whole Foods store brand dairy items are actually relatively cheap and good: milk, yogurt, etc.
posted by Kriesa at 6:15 AM on May 4, 2017 [8 favorites]

The only mayonnaise I'll use is Best Foods Light. (I think it's called Hellmans east of the Rockies.)

Ketchup. I like Hunts (no HFCS) and Heinz.

Peanut butter. I bought a store brand the other day and it was gross. Better to buy Skippy or Jif (although note that there are now a zillion "peanut butter spread" products in those brand lines so be careful what you get.)

People say the Goya black beans are better than other canned varieties, I haven't tried.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:16 AM on May 4, 2017

I haven't eaten sliced American cheese in forever, but I recall Kraft being really good, and store brand slices being melamine. Why, Mom, why?
posted by notyou at 6:16 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Name brand Doritos are far superior to any store brand nacho cheese tortilla chip.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:18 AM on May 4, 2017 [7 favorites]

Yogurt: store brand can't ever touch the quality of Fage or Noosa.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:19 AM on May 4, 2017 [10 favorites]

I didn't believe it, but a bet with my wife and another friend demonstrated that both of them could tell the difference between name-brand Triscuits and Aldi ones.

(I still say they're the same but apparently that's because I'm a degenerate)
posted by DingoMutt at 6:24 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Things I never buy in store brands: paper products (especially toilet paper), plastic wrap/bags, cheese, peanut butter, yogurt, chicken broth/stock, soda, sponges, ketchup, cookies.

Things I always buy in store brands (or whatever is least expensive): canned vegetables and beans (except for tomato products, for which I always choose Red Gold), OTC medications, sugar.
posted by DrGail at 6:25 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sharp cheddar: you'll never find a store brand as good as Tillamook or even Cracker Barrel. (Or at least I haven't anyway, someone PLEASE let me know if there is one, my cheese budget will thank you!)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:26 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Scotch tape.

Consumer Reports always includes house brands in their ratings.
posted by brujita at 6:27 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah, Wegmans' store brand is pretty good. Some grocery stores have a basic store brand and another premium-level store brand, and the premium store brands tend to be good (I really miss President's Choice). Target store-brand stuff is usually good; drugstore store-brand stuff is usually not (except for actual drugs and stuff like rubbing alcohol).

My very general guide is that if it's a specific product that only one national brand makes (e.g. Pop-Tarts or Oreos) or a non-food product that needs to be durable (sandwich bags), the store brand isn't likely to be good. For something basic like pasta, store brand is fine.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:44 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I asked the reverse question a few years ago , there might be something useful in there for you.
posted by Fig at 6:44 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thomas' English Muffins.

I've been noticing that the store brand frozen vegetables I get are not anywhere near as good as they used to be. I wonder why. I've never lived near a Trader Joe's.
posted by mareli at 6:52 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

oh how could I forget Quilted Northern Ultra Plush toilet paper. No other comes close.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:54 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Bush brand butter beans - the better butter bean. In general, in fact, I find that whatever no doubt sinister processing system they use, the bean skins on their beans are extremely tender and the interiors are mealy and good, while the various store brands I've tried have been smaller, blah-er and more lima-bean-y.

Also, Goya or La Costena refried beans are much better than both store brand and the more-common-in-the-US brands - one of them is vegetarian, but both have more flavor and are more like actual mashed beans than a puree.
posted by Frowner at 6:54 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Swanson Natural Goodness chicken broth.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:55 AM on May 4, 2017

Some kinds of pop need to be name-brand. I'm fine drinking diet "Dr. Bob" or "Mountain Thunder," but name-brand diet Coke or bust.
posted by DingoMutt at 6:56 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Butter, buuuuuutter. For example- taste test results. (I also fell in the rabbit hole reading their other taste tests.)
posted by inevitability at 7:12 AM on May 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

Ritz peanut butter crackers. And Cheerios.

There's a weird version of this with diapers where you'll find one brand that is comfortable on your child and that's it. In my case this is actually Hannaford brand pull ups, but I'm sure it goes the other way.
posted by selfnoise at 7:12 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The example you used were TJ peas and Hannaford peas. Were the TJ peas the organic ones? Because I've purchased both, and the OG ones seem to just be of better quality all around, and the conventional ones are like what you describe coming from Hannaford. Like, even in the TJ line there are some better options than other things. (I only know all this because furnace.kid is some sort of mutant child who enjoys peas more than most vegetables. I feel like I have to explain my grandular knowledge of the frozen pea market...)

BUT I'll echo what rabbitrabbit said, but a bit more broadly; store-brand cheeses are almost universally garbage compared with their brand-name comparison. In my experience, this holds true with most dairy, but having grown up in Oregon, and having had Tillamook products my whole life might just bias me that direction. Tillamook isn't always the 'best' in a category, but it's almost always better than the house brand. Especially their sour cream. Oh man. Cut rate sour cream is just a nightmare.

Also, Pop tarts.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:15 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Trash bags and cat food must be name brand in my household.

I'm going to respectfully disagree on the Pop-Tarts, I've had store brand that were fine - and they are always on sale and much lower priced. So I guess that is what you should look at too - what products are worth the extra money to you and your household? Yes, Kellogg's Pop Tarts are heaven, but the store brand will do just fine (for me) and I'd rather save the money - it's a Pop Tart. When it comes to cheeses, you might feel differently and really want a high quality cheese and don't mind paying for it. Similar to that is the Triscuit experiment noted here by that degenerate DingoMutt. Your mileage will vary.

Conduct your own experiments! Go over your shopping list and each week pick one item that you usually buy store brand and instead buy the name brand and, like with your peas, you can compare differences yourself. If you check the supermarket circular/coupons, you could do it by when those products are on sale as well.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:23 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I used to work for a company that produced both a branded food product and most of the Canadian store brands of same, as is often the case. The brand name stuff was superior. The ingredient lists could be the same but the brand name would get the freshest and best while stores often got what would have been thrown away otherwise. The one exception was No Name™ brand. They demanded a very high standard, and their product was identical to the flagship brand (Great Value™ on the other hand demanded the opposite).
posted by rodlymight at 7:30 AM on May 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

Trader Joe's is a spoiler because so many of their products aren't really "store brands" but rebranded, repackaged premium brands. For instance, I bet your delicious peas were Cascadian Farms, repackaged. More here.
posted by Miko at 7:30 AM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Scotch tape.

This reminded me of the time that I bought duct tape at the dollar store and it literally fell off of the box I taped it to. It had less adhesive than a post-it note.
posted by vignettist at 7:31 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Trader Joe's is a spoiler because so many of their products aren't really "store brands" but rebranded, repackaged premium brands.

Because of this, you can get some really fantastic wines at lower prices under the TJ's label.
posted by vignettist at 7:32 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

When I've bought frozen blueberries at Costco they are giant and sweet, whereas any generic brand are tiny, and less sweet.
posted by vignettist at 7:37 AM on May 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

HoneyMaid Graham Crackers are far far superior to store brand. They're like two different products. I typically buy store brand everything but one day the store/generic brand was out of stock and I had to buy the HoneyMaid. I will never ever go back. Ever.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:40 AM on May 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

Kleenex/Puffs. If you have a cold and are blowing your nose a lot, store brand tissues will tear up your face.
posted by aimedwander at 7:44 AM on May 4, 2017 [16 favorites]

I've noticed store brand pretzel rods are more "burnt" than Snyder's but it's not a deal breaker for me.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:59 AM on May 4, 2017

posted by hydra77 at 8:00 AM on May 4, 2017 [15 favorites]

Someone already mentioned it, but store brand Oat-Os or whatever NEVER taste like Cheerios. Not ever.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:05 AM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I once bought a generic can of baked beans for my very, very rare Full English feast (not even every second year). Actually I bought two. The one I opened was so disgusting I went back to the store with the other can and asked for my money back. They gave me the 0.25, but didn't want the can. They couldn't sell them to anyone.
posted by mumimor at 8:08 AM on May 4, 2017

Q-tips, toilet paper, canned tomatoes. Agree that Goya canned beans are generally better than the store brand or most national brands (as are their dried beans, actually). I totally disagree about pasta; a lot of store brand generic pasta isn't even made with semolina and to me it tastes like wheat paste.

Cheese, cream, bacon, eggs.

Although these are all things that are generally significantly better if you can source them from a farmer's market or local grower, that's even pricier than the store brand and obvs. not available for a lot of people during much of the year.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:11 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Back to Trader Joe's: their extra virgin olive oil is very good -- far better than a lot of fancier ones I've tried. (Not the organic stuff -- just their standard olive oil in a tall thin bottle.) And yeah, I also disagree completely about pasta; you can totally tell the difference between good and bad because the bad ones use farina instead of semolina, and Trader Joe's spaghetti is quite good.

I also never buy generic band-aids (or whatever we're calling non-generic band-aids these days, you know what I mean) because they never stick for more than a half hour or so. Really, never.
posted by holborne at 8:22 AM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Store brand plastic wrap/cling film is literal trash. Saran Wrap is worth the extra dollar or two.
posted by TomFoolery at 8:32 AM on May 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Maybe I'm a snob, but I think the only product where generic is just as good is seltzer.
posted by neroli at 8:48 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a big store-brand shopper in most ways, but I have been reliably disappointed every time I try to use store-brand plastic wrap instead of Saran or Glad, and the same with garbage bags. My tendency to cram garbage bags maximally full has resulted in some notable sad-trombone moments when using store brands--it's all Hefty and Glad now.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:11 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been noticing a lot of difference in crackers quality now that I buy more (to feed/tempt the kid). So far my grocery store falls pretty short on their Ritz, Townhome, and Club takes, but they REALLY screwed the pooch on their Goldfish knockoffs ("Penguins"): they taste like sorta-cheese-flavored paste. But their frozen veg is good. Completely agree on plastic/paper products being pretty low quality.
posted by pepper bird at 9:14 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree with everything above and would distill it to "name brand for anything paper, plastic, or adhesive." Ziploc bags, garbage bags, paper towels, toilet paper.

I think I would add cleaning products. Store scrubbing bubbles are terrible.
posted by radicalawyer at 9:14 AM on May 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I get the generic of ziploc sandwich bags all the time, because I rarely need them to be perfect. for quart size, I have generic "storage bags" and brand-name "freezer bags" (the thick kind) because those have different purposes in my life (collecting vs protecting)
posted by aimedwander at 10:45 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sometimes there are differences within store brands, too. Here in the midwest/south region, the Kroger brand of things is much better than the cheap Psst brand, across the board on everything. I hate to say it, but I think the best way to compile a list such as the one you are talking about is to experiment with name brands and store brands, and determine how much the taste/quality difference is worth to you as compared with the price difference. This sounds onerous, but undertaken over a period of several years of adult grocery shopping, I've pretty much found my store brand/name brand balance. (For me, it's store brand everything unless there's a specific reason not to, such as with mac and cheese, toilet paper, dish soap, salsa, and a few other specific items. Will dip into the Psst brand only on things used as ingredients for other things, like flour and sugar.)
posted by likeatoaster at 11:02 AM on May 4, 2017

Yep, at HEB, for instance, their Hill Country Fare line is the lowest priced and lowest quality; they have a zillion other HEB names for mid-range generics, and then specialty stuff is branded Central Market.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Post Grape-Nuts in generic form (usually "Nutty Nuggets") just aren't the same.
posted by asperity at 12:07 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Nabisco Premium Saltines. Haven't found a store brand yet that is as good. They're either mealy, malty, over/under baked, or just taste "off". Even the kids can tell.

Also, Kellogg's Frosted Flakes.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2017

Dish soap. Dawn is more concentrated/stronger than Up or other store/discount brands.
posted by rhizome at 12:44 PM on May 4, 2017

I also never buy generic band-aids (or whatever we're calling non-generic band-aids these days, you know what I mean) because they never stick for more than a half hour or so. Really, never.

The plastic ones don't, that is true. The fabric ones do though!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:10 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ice cream for me. Tillamook and Ben & Jerry's are my go-to brands here.
posted by Aleyn at 1:36 PM on May 4, 2017

You might find these Good Mythical Morning episodes helpful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:47 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Hill Country Fare line of generics from the HEB grocery store, as fiercecupcake mentions, is really bad. Their canned peaches are fine, but just about nothing else is. The cost savings on buying the cheaper product is more than made up for by the wastage on the ones that are no good (but not quite worth the bother of returning to the store). Meanwhile, HEB Our Finest products are perfectly acceptable, and HEB Central Market products are often better than any other brand.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 2:40 PM on May 4, 2017

Tin foil! And yogurt (I am currently obsessed with noosa and nothing compares). If you bake, I also think spending for King Arthur Flour is 100% worth it.
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:48 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Orville Redenbacher's Original Yellow Gourmet Kernels, in the clear plastic narrow-necked bottle.
It pops to a higher volume per unit volume of kernels, has have fewer unpopped kernels after popping, and is crisper after popping. The quality of the product is very consistent from purchase to purchase.
posted by the Real Dan at 5:19 PM on May 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Pretty much everything, unfortunately, though I do find Kroger brand raisins to be vastly superior to name brand. With bread, ignore brand and check for expiration date. Canned fruits, not much difference. Canned vegetables, noticeable difference. Frozen vegetables, noticeable difference.
posted by Beholder at 5:40 PM on May 4, 2017

I'm a big store-brand shopper (but we don't eat a lot of processed or canned food), but graham crackers, Cheerios, Q-tips, toilet paper, aluminum foil, English muffins.

One reverse one was that Fresh Grocer (Shop Rite) french toast sticks beat Aunt Jemima, Eggo, or anything we found at Whole Foods by a long shot.
posted by Pax at 6:07 PM on May 4, 2017

Freakonomics did a whole episode on this. How to Save $1 Billion Without Even Trying.
posted by Gotanda at 6:16 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Red Oval Farms stoned wheat thing are better than the store brands. I eventually decided I wasn't willing to pay the premium, but I could definitely detect the difference.

Dole canned pineapple used to be noticeably better than the store brands, but the last batch I bought was a sad disappointment
posted by Bruce H. at 6:43 PM on May 4, 2017

Oh lord, dental floss. All the generic versions I've tried are prone to unraveling. I have spent too many tired minutes trying to floss the floss out from between my teeth. I am not convinced I would do any worse by flossing with my own hair.
posted by aws17576 at 8:33 PM on May 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Scrubbing Bubbles! Generic just cleans like foamy water.
posted by moons in june at 8:49 PM on May 4, 2017

Another Trader Joe's plug: their Dijon mustard is kilometers better than other supermarket options.

Jam and preserves are worth spending the extra money. More generic jars end up in the back of the fridge at our house, exhumed months later, whereas Bonne Mama preserves are finished with efficiency.
posted by bendybendy at 7:44 AM on May 5, 2017

Oh, I forgot about artificial tears - my ophthalmologist says I should only use name-brand drops in my dry, crackly eyes.
posted by DingoMutt at 10:22 AM on May 5, 2017

Something that is just a part of a recipe, say, frozen spinach that was getting tossed into a dip, butter or eggs for baking - I buy generic. Same with "mixer" drinks like club soda or smoothie ingredients. Something that is a vessel food like ice cream cones or crackers for a cheese tray, I buy generic. Same for starchy bland things like oatmeal, pasta and cereals (except for personal and unique favorites like Reeces Puffs).

Paper, plastic, cleaning supplies etc I just buy Kirkland brand from Costco because it ends up being the same price or less than the generic, but better quality and it isn't going to spoil before we use it all.

I insist on name brand when it comes to sauces or ingredients that I'm going to use to make other things taste better, and which also have a long shelf - like ketchup, mustard, oils, etc. (the exception being premium store brands like PC Black Label which are usually unique offerings that are very high quality). Any time something generic sits unused and gets tossed I make a note that we're not doing that again. I also tend to like name brand for prepared foods like hummus or anything involving dairy. In a pinch I buy store brand soda but generally regret it.
posted by SassHat at 10:39 AM on May 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I like SassHat's distinction, I'd never thought about it that way. When I use mayo as a spread I prefer Hellmans; when I'm making chicken salad it really doesn't matter. Things that I'm going to taste clearly and experience the full texture of are worth the trouble. Kinds of food that I personally enjoy are worth a name-brand (eg cheese, I love cheese and even for "non-fancy" cheese like block mozzarella, there is the good brand, the acceptable to buy if they don't have the good brand, and the few times I've bought anything else I've really regretted it so I would rather have none in the house than that crap... But crackers? Nah, I don't really care. Ritz taste nice but any off-brand "butter-flavor rounds" would be fine with me.) Your example of peas is interesting, because over half the time I have peas they're an ingredient in curry or other dishes, and they're kind of minor, a bit overcooked, and it seems as if worrying about it would be overkill. But sometimes I just cook up frozen peas and serve them as a side dish, and I could see having a real opinion about what they taste/look like.

At that point it becomes a philosophy issue: do I always buy generic because it rarely matters? buy exactly what I want depending on the cooking I'm planning? that's too high-maintenance, default to buying only name brand because it sometimes matters? You've now caused me to think entirely too much about this!
posted by aimedwander at 2:22 PM on May 5, 2017

> dental floss

Safeway's dental tape is the best floss ever (I do mean the tape, not the floss). My dental hygienist told me about it, and I'm a loyal convert.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:49 PM on May 5, 2017

That's not true, the Reach/Listerine stretchy plastic tape is the best.
posted by rhizome at 4:01 PM on May 5, 2017

Do you eat dairy? Go for the good stuff!

You're in New England? If I can't shell out for the even pricier super-local stuff, I always go for Cabot: butter, sour cream, cheddar and Monterrey jack cheese, cottage cheese.

For milk, I get local & localish stuff: Mapleline Farms, Our Family Farms, McCray's.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:52 AM on May 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm a snob, but I think the only product where generic is just as good is seltzer
Counterpoint: CVS brand seltzer actually sucks; they add some unusual salt to it that I dislike.

How hard is it to just carbonate water without throwing some industrial mineral in it?
posted by aspersioncast at 10:35 AM on May 8, 2017

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