How are Brand-name foods repackaged?
April 25, 2006 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Yes, I'm hungry and poor. So, how can I eat like a King but pay like a pauper?

So it's my understanding that 50% of generic brand foods are actually just name-brand foods repackaged/labeled. Is that accurate? In addition, is there a list on line where I can find out what other names popular name-brand products go buy? (Why buy Rice Krispies when Crispy Cracklers are $2 cheaper and are the same thing). I'd be especially curious about parishable items but any and all information (even non-food) would be neat to know.
posted by ZackTM to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think kings eat processed foods. My understanding is that you'd get a whole lot more nutritious value for your dollar if you stop buying semi-finished or finished products. Make your own potato mash, tomato sauce, soup, and bake your own cookies (not with ready to bake mix). You don't need branded potatoes for it, or branded rice, or branded vegetables.

It will save you a lot of money, and maybe diabetes too. You should try it.
posted by NekulturnY at 6:27 AM on April 25, 2006

You'll pay much less for fruit and veg at an actual market than you will at a supermarket -- the supermarket itself being the brand name you're paying for in this situation.
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:32 AM on April 25, 2006

Response by poster: Hey now, the Burger King eats processed foods all the time!

Time is money and cooking real foods takes extra time! (Obviously I'm an American). Actually, I'm all for real foods and try to eat them as often as possible. But thats not the point of the question, so answering 'dont eat anything that you didn't grow yourself!' is kind of a moot point dontcha think?
posted by ZackTM at 6:35 AM on April 25, 2006

They are not name-brand foods repackaged and relabled, though some manufacturers have several lines of varying price, for instance Con-Agra and Phillip Morris each have multiple food lines, some of which are very similar. I would go so far as to say that name brand and generic are made out of the same basic raw materials and with the same basic production process. I'm a little startled though that your strategy for eating better quality food at lower prices involves brandname/generic switches. I'd have to go with what NekulturnY said myself. Stick with staple products -- vegetables, potatoes, fruit in season (avoid Wal-Mart, hit the farmer's markets), whole grains (e.g. rice, bleached even if you want), pulses (i.e. beans), modest amounts of meat if that is your thing and such. The trade off, of course, is that you actually have to know what do to with these things and be willing to take the time to do it.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:42 AM on April 25, 2006

From personal experience I've learned that the more basic an ingredient is the more likely it is that the generic brand will be equivalent. Ingredients like salt, flour, sugar, pasta, milk, butter, and olive oil are easily replaced by store brands. However, don't expect them to replace the finest olive oil or fancy sea salt.

I've also had good experiences with dry goods like cake mix, instant pudding and cookies. Don't buy things like off-brand oreos and expect them to taste like the real thing. Just buy basic cookies (like shortbread, etc.) that won't need comparison to anything else. The same goes for crackers.

I've had bad experiences with ice cream, tomato sauce, yogurt, and some nasty, nasty peanut butter. Of course, YMMV, but complicated foods where I am expecting a certain mouth-feel or taste don't lend themselves to private-labels as well.

Quality of generics will vary from store to store and even within the same store. We have Giant Eagles up here and the Giant Eagle private label is pretty good, but the 'other' store private label, Value Time, is pretty terrible. I also buy most of my snack foods at Target. The Archer Farms brand is pretty great for fancy treats.
posted by Alison at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: I think the problem is that the title and first lines of the question asked two different things, and people sometimes skip the title.

Zack's real question is How are Brand-name foods repackaged?

I don't have an answer just wanted to point out the disparity
posted by poppo at 6:43 AM on April 25, 2006

...and clearly mojo and alison have figured that out, so i'll just be running along now...
posted by poppo at 6:45 AM on April 25, 2006

Also, keep a pot of favorite herbs like basil, mint, oregano, etc. Fresh basil and oregano will make even the poorest, blandest spaghetti a real treat. Treat your herbs well and you will have a nearly unlimited supply during the warmer months.
posted by Alison at 6:46 AM on April 25, 2006

But thats not the point of the question, so answering 'dont eat anything that you didn't grow yourself!' is kind of a moot point dontcha think?

Actually, one of the questions you asked was "So, how can I eat like a King but pay like a pauper? ", so, yes it is the point of the question. It's a little weird to see people ask questions, and then discount advice from people who know more than they do that undermines the assumptions that led to the question in the first place.

A popular example, "I'm building a deck and I need to know the best way to fasten balsa wood together?" The answer is "don't make a deck out of balsa wood." The answer is not "brads".

Time is money and cooking real foods takes extra time, hey? Maybe you could take a look at what you would be doing with the extra half hour a day it would take to make "real food". Also, sleep takes an inordinate amount of time out of my day, but I've learned to accept it.

So, here comes the answer: learn to cook. It's the only real way to save on food and not end up washing yourself with a rag on a stick.
posted by jon_kill at 6:47 AM on April 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

And clearly Alison is from Pittsburgh if she is talking about Gian'Igle and Archer Farms!
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:48 AM on April 25, 2006

Consumer reports Magazine often does generic or gtore brand vs. name brand comparisons. I don't know how much success you'll have at their Web site due to 'membership subscription' requirements, but as I recall a good number of store brands compared well. Using certain store brand non-food products (laundry detergent and the like) can save you a whopping amount of money too.
posted by Gungho at 6:49 AM on April 25, 2006

On preview: deleted a long treatise on how to actually save money while shopping.

How to get the best deal on processed foods? If you shop at most grocery stores, the generic foods will be close to the name-brand items on the shelves. It seems like comparing price should be pretty easy. Why is this hard? And why does it matter if it's made by the name-brand manufacturer or not? 99% of the time, the taste will be hard to distinguish anyways.

Here's another tip for saving money while continuing to eat your processed foods: Take note of how much they cost each time you go to the store. When you see a significant price reduction, stock up.

For example, the breakfast cereal I eat typically sells for $3 to $5 per box at most grocery stores. I never pay more than $2 per box. How? When it goes on sale, I buy lots.

Honestly, though, I agree with jon_kill. My weekly grocery budget is $30, and I get three nutritious meals per day for that. I'm no great chef. I spend less than 30 minutes most days on actual food preparation. It's not that hard to make basic meals by assembling ingredients, heating, then eating.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 6:55 AM on April 25, 2006

I am in Pittsburgh, now, but the awful peanut butter came from a Kroger down south. I think I got a batch that was cursed.
posted by Alison at 7:07 AM on April 25, 2006

If this is really a long term quest, spend a few bucks on a Cooks Illustrated subscription. They do a ton of food comparisons like the ones Gungho describes where they will tell you if the brand name vanilla is any different from the fancy vanilla that costs five times as much. It's not quite brand name repackaging, but it seems like the functional equivalent to what you are trying to do.
posted by jessamyn at 7:08 AM on April 25, 2006

Not sure where you're located, but see if you can find what most people call a "Dented Can" store, or perhaps a bakery outlet. Most of these have, in addition to the cans and baked goods, reasonably good deals on the kind of products you seem to be looking for.

Also, you might check out The Tightwad Gazette, which has lots of info on buying groceries more cheaply. A lot of it won't apply to you, but enough of it will to make skimming through it worth your while (so don't buy it, get the library to get it for you).
posted by JanetLand at 7:08 AM on April 25, 2006

You don't give any specifics as to where or how you live, but my own quest to answer this exact question has had profound effects on my life.

I like to eat. No... I like to eat good food. But I've been underwealthy my entire life, and let's face it -- people with little money have a hard time finding a variety of really good food.

It became clear really fast that if I wanted to eat like a king I had to eliminate as many steps along the preparation chain where the cost gets marked up. Given my station (moreso then than now), that meant two things: learning how to cook the food myself, and where possible, growing the food myself.

The first, anyone can do, no matter where you live. I started by learning how to cook all of the day-to-day foods I liked to eat. I got an evening job at a mom-and-pop family restaurant. Yes, I started by washing dishes, but in no time (days) I was helping the cooks prep, and within a couple weeks was actually cooking. I learned a lot in a very short amount of time. Two things were key: 1) it was a family restaurant (mostly ordered off the menu, but also with a small buffet) so I was exposed to a wide, wide variety of dishes; 2) it was not a chain, so all of the food prep and cooking was actually done in the kitchen and not in some food factory

There's lots of ways to learn the basics of cooking. My way worked very, very well. It's been a long time since that short stint in the restaurant, but now I have the confidence to cook from whatever recipe I have in front of me, and know enough to improvise whenever I want.

One of the things you'll learn is how to use fresh, basic ingredients. Many of those things you'll need to shop for, but for others, well, that brings us to my second thing.

That, growing your own food, is tricky, but you don't have to go whole-hog. Several years ago, I lived in a second-floor apartment surrounded by a sea of concrete. Still, on my balcony I grew several pots of roma tomatoes, basil, oregano and other herbs, small pots of fast-growing salad greens and radishes, and so forth.

At other times, I rented an urban home with a yard. So my garden expanded. In a very small amount of space, you can grow pretty much every fresh vegetable you'll want. In many places, many more than you'd thing, you can grow year-round. The classic book Square Foot Gardening will tell you everything you need to know about that.

So, I knew how to cook for a king using the freshest ingredients available. Mission accomplished!

Except now that I had all that under my belt curiosity led my to try different varieties of vegetables, different cuts of meat, different types of dairy, what-have-you, to see how things tasted differently. I discovered heirloom vegetables, and rented a farmhouse outside of town to give my garden more room to grow. I got a few hens, because nothing beats an egg laid hours ago from a roaming hen.

And now I've got my own farm, I run a co-op of other farms in my area, and my freezer is full with pastured beef, pork, and goat from farms only miles away. I drink and cook with raw milk from a dairy near my house. Another makes award-winning goat cheeses. There is a bakery the next town over that not only uses whole grains and local ingredients, but also grinds all of their own flour just prior to baking. And of course I rarely have had to buy any sort of vegetable at the store.

I'm financially much better than I've ever been, but still not good enough to eat out often. But you know what... I don't have to, because every day I already eat like a king.
posted by ewagoner at 7:17 AM on April 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

poppo: "Zack's real question is How are Brand-name foods repackaged? I don't have an answer just wanted to point out the disparity"

Ah. Well, then. You can skip my answer.
posted by ewagoner at 7:19 AM on April 25, 2006

I know that Trader Joe's repackages some brands. They used to have frozen spinach pockets that were exactly like Amy's, but for half as much.
posted by amarynth at 7:31 AM on April 25, 2006

If you want cheap genaric foods see if there is an Aldi (they're even in wikipedia! or Save-A-Lot (also in wikipedia). They tend to be very, very cheap, even compared to traditional grocery store chain's genaric offerings.

Personally, I prefer Aldi, I think their stuff is of a higher quality, and, at least in my area, the stores are physically a million times cleaner and better organized than Save-a-lot, and have a decent selection of perishables (whereas the meat in save-a-lot always looked a bit past its prime to me). Plus, their name-brands are actually very good.

(although neither beats cooking from scratch for cheapness)
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:35 AM on April 25, 2006

A lot of the price advantage of generic brands comes from reducing packaging costs. You can maximixe this by buying in the largest quantities available that won't spoil before you use them. You also might want to look into any local food co-ops or buying clubs. When I was in college, I joined a group of folks who bought bulk cheese, grain, peanut butter (the good kind - just ground peanuts) and such, and met once a month in a church basement to divvy it up. We saved a ton of money that way. Today, there are more options for buying in bulk at even standard grocery stores, but you may still want to explore food co-ops in your area.
posted by mediareport at 7:37 AM on April 25, 2006

I work for a company that is a brokerage for private label (store brand) food products. Very often, large grocery retailers will sample products from several different manufacturers (sometimes the same manufacturers as national brands) and choose the best based on several criteria including flavor, price and time-constraint.
You will find that many retailers have several different tiers and categories for their store brands. For example, many chains are developing their own Hispanic and Organic brands. Premium is also a big category.
Major categories, i.e. cookies, soda, potato chips will typically follow the look and taste of national brands at about 75-85% of the price. Most retailers have "value" tiers which cover the basics, paper towels, sugar, flour, etc., and are (for the most part) way below the quality and price of the national brand.
I still use national brands for some specific items, but have found lots of store brand items that I LOVE much more than the national brands. If I were you, I would start with some basics, pasta, canned or frozen vegetables and condiments for example. Costco has an excellent brand, Kirkland Select, if you have a store nearby.
posted by elvissa at 7:39 AM on April 25, 2006

Also, Trader Joe's is almost entirely private label and has some absolutely amazing food.
posted by elvissa at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2006

I think you answered your own question. Do your shopping at stores that sell Crispy Kracklers as well as (or instead of) Rice Krispies and look for product packaging that resembles the name-brand products you know. While not food shopping, I was just in the CVS drug store and noted that there must be some reason why the bottles of CVS's store brand shampoo/conditioner mix is the same shade of green as the bottles of Pert Plus.
posted by emelenjr at 7:46 AM on April 25, 2006

Aldi is the shit for real (and they own Trader Joe's).
posted by youarenothere at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2006

I second trying out Costco's Kirkland Select line for some things, especially olive oil, as well as their great fragrance free laundry detergent. I belong to a CSA ( to get my fresh vegetables, which is expensive up front, but they offer a discount for people who volunteer, and helps me not to eat Rice Krispies for breakfast lunch and dinner.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:05 AM on April 25, 2006

Yes, I'm hungry and poor. So, how can I eat like a King but pay like a pauper?

When I was in school and broke I had 3 staples...

99 cent burritos from the convienent store, tasty, affordable and very filling

Stove top stuffing, affordable, very filling and rather tasty, plus it gave me that home cooked feel...

Can of tuna mixed with a box of maccaroni & cheese... you guessed it, cheap, tasty and filling...
posted by Cohiba4009 at 8:14 AM on April 25, 2006

"Dirt-Style Gourmet"

4 Stars

by PodGuide TV

"If you've ever been in that situation where you have 2$ in your pocket, only spray cheese and tinned lima beans in the cupboard, and want to make a meal thats slighty edible, this is the show for you. It's guerilla gastronomy from a real guy in a real kitchen with a real budget (ie hardly any). College Students' stomachs can belch a sigh of relief everywhere - one of the best cooking shows for your video ipod."
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:40 AM on April 25, 2006

I've only seen the first episode so far, but the host's logic is very sound.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:41 AM on April 25, 2006

Oh, and Aldi is the place to be for canned goods.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: What, is this private label week? I don't know if such a definitive list exists, but since I live with Private Label Guy, I can tell you that there really are only a few manufacturers out there. See if you can find a copy of PL Buyer magazine. Lots of info there about who makes what and who resells it.

As for store brands looking just like the national brand, that's a choice the marketing folks make...not to hoodwink people into accidentally buying the store brand, but because consumers have demonstrated that they feel more confident that the store brand is the same as the national brand if they look alike.
posted by Biblio at 8:44 AM on April 25, 2006

There are several supermarkets quite close to my home. I can go buy the same foods in each one, and the one in the "fancy" area of town charges fully twice what the one in the "seedy" area of town charges. My typical example is red peppers, which are $4.99/pound at the expensive supermarket, $1.99/pound at the cheap supermarket, and $0.79/pound at the chinese supermarket. Somebody is getting gouged on their red peppers.

The process of making most prepared foods is identical. Say, a can of ravioli. Chef Boyardee goes through the same process to create the recipe, arrange to have it prepared in giant vats and canned and shipped to a supermarket, as does Generic X Canned Ravioli. The results may not end up precisely identical but they're going to be pretty close. There is no reason to assume either Chef Boyardee or Canned Ravioli is going to be better or worse than the other, but Chef Boyardee definitely costs twice as much, because your purchase price has to pay for TV ads, newspaper ads, Madison Avenue marketing firms, more executive salaries and so on.

Basic advice: go to the seedy-area supermarket rather than the fancy-area one, and buy generics whenever possible.
posted by jellicle at 8:59 AM on April 25, 2006

Response by poster: Yeah, I definitely messed my question up by trying to be witty with the title, my bad.

Poppo was right. All I really want to find is a database that says:

Brand name - Generic Brands
Rice Krispys - Krispy Crackles, CrunchyCracktaculars, Kroger brand Kracktastic Crunchies


Actually I had Aldi in mind when I asked this question. I love Aldi! Too bad they don't seem to have any in Wilmington, NC (where I live). I miss Mamma Cuzzi's!!
posted by ZackTM at 9:04 AM on April 25, 2006

The problem is that most name brand manufacturers don't want this information released. For example, every supermarket brand battery is made by the big guys (Rayovac, Duracell, Energizer, etc) but there's no way to find out exactly who makes it because why would you pay $1-$2/battery for Energizers when you can get the same thing for less than half the price?

My suggestion is just to make it a rule to always buy the store brand. Since your concern is about saving money, give up the idea of eating like a king.
posted by exhilaration at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2006

Aldi is great if you have one nearby. They have things like individually packaged frozen fish fillets in sauce, cheap. Bake one while a pot of brown rice simmers and toss a handful of bag salad into a bowl. A tasty and healthy meal. And the $2.49 a bottle Winking Owl wine is drinkable, with practice.
posted by LarryC at 9:53 AM on April 25, 2006

You could also travel down to your local library to look through consumer reports.
posted by radioamy at 10:31 AM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: We have Aldi's in Fayetteville, Zach, so if you're up this way you can always stock up.
posted by konolia at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2006

There's a Stouffers factory outlet near where I live (it's a small building in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere) but I go there every once in a while for dirt-cheap TV dinners (WeightWatchers, Stouffers, etc) prices are ~50% of what the grocery store charges.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:58 AM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: Eat like a king...
Shop at Big Lots! if you have them near you. Lots of name brand stuff for cheap, including some strange things (canned yellow tomatoes, Delmonte brand, for 15 cents a can -taste the same as red.)

Some stores grind up beef and pork and sell it for about a dollar slightly before the sell by date (just be sure to cook or freeze it when you get it.)

Look at the sales fliers - stores hate me - I go in and buy nothing but what is on sale and end up saving more than I spend. (And it is stuff that we will be using that week for meals.)

Buy a roast (pork, beef, chicken, whatever is cheap) and eat it for several days. Have roast one night, curry the next, tacos the third, soup on the last.

Get a freezer and use it. Buy stuff when it is on sale and you won't be scraping for change to buy stuff that isn't on sale. Get your corned beef at St Paddy's day, turkey at Thanksgiving, ham around Easter.

Find a produce stand if you can and buy your vegitables there.

Learn how to cook rice and beans. They can be made in so many ways, and they are cheap.

If there is an employee owned store near you, check it out. It may be much cheaper.

Forget Sams and Costco (and other member clubs.) You can usually get generic for cheaper at the store when it goes on sale and you don't have to pay a membership.

Wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 12:43 PM on April 25, 2006 [2 favorites]

Clip coupons and read those weekly supermarket ads obsessively. I don't know where you live, but usually coupons come in the Sunday paper, which is packed with a bunch of other interesting stuff (i.e., bigger entertainment section, more comics, etc.) so I consider buying the Sunday paper to be fairly worthwhile (note: I don't have a regular newspaper subscription.) Don't fall into the trap of buying stuff just because you happen to have a coupon for it - that's what the manufacturers want you to do. Only buy stuff that's advertised on sale + you have a coupon for it.
posted by invisible ink at 1:04 PM on April 25, 2006

Best answer: Hehe... well, you can have the poor colege student lunch my friend came up with: Go to Baja Burrito and order 8oz (4oz each) of pinto beans and rice - $1.25. Go to the salsa bar and dump in fresh cilantro, chopped onion, squeeze plenty of fresh lime and add 1 tbsp or two of your salsa of choice (Mexicana is always good) .. Mix up and eat with the tortilla chips they give you (free). Very tasty little meal for less than $1.50 with tax.

Beans and rice together comprise a complete protein (adequate substitute for meat) and they are really, really cheap and you can make a thousand variations of just beans and rice... Mexican, Caribbean, Creole, etc.
posted by mojabunni at 1:55 PM on April 25, 2006

I think you may be barking up the wrong tree in looking for a database with "Rice Krispies - Krispy Crackles."

What matters isn't whether Krispy Crackles are made by the same people that make Rice Krispies--it's whether or not you like Krispy Crackles...and of course, the best way to determine that is, well, to buy Krispy Crackles. There are items for which I actually prefer the store brand (some corn chips), and there are items where I wouldn't eat the store brand if you paid me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:39 PM on April 25, 2006

I must second Aldi's as well. I only buy canned goods from there.
posted by mothchick at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2006

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