Generic vs. Name Brand — Is There a Difference?

Generic vs. Name Brand — Is There a Difference?

You’re at the grocery store to pick up some olive oil. The generic is almost 15% less than the name brand you usually purchase and you’re wondering: should you get the generic? Is there a difference in quality? Is there a difference in nutrition?

There is not one set answer. It depends on what the generic brand is replacing. In some instances, the generics provide the same or better quality and nutrition than the name brands do. In other cases, you want to stick with name brands. 

When to Consider Generics

You're probably good to go with generics in three main instances: If the generics are produced locally and may be fresher than nationally-created name brands, if the food item is a staple item, or if some certification agency guarantees the food item.

Produced Locally: This includes locally raised meats and produce items. In some cases, especially if a supermarket is a local or regional chain as opposed to a national chain, things such as orange juice, greens, vegetables, and fruits may come from producers located in your general area. Your supermarket should be able to tell you where the item is sourced. 

Staple Items: Things like salt, spices, sugar, and flour can be considered staples. There is almost no difference between name brand parsley in comparison with generic parsley. Generally speaking, salt is salt. Sugars and flours have been tested, and the difference between the two versions is negligible.

Guaranteed: Infant and baby food items are those that are guaranteed to have a minimal nutritional standard. The same type of nutritional guarantee exists with milk, eggs, cheese, and bread. 

Outside of these instances, other cases when it makes sense to at least try the generic to see if you like it include teas, soups, pickles, dried fruit, cereals, snack items, and bottled water. 

When to Stick to Name Brands

When a food item is not regulated, and you can see a wide variety of ingredients and nutritional quality within one item, you might want to stick with the name you know. Of course, if it’s something you purchase often and the price difference is considerable, it’s worth it to put the time and effort into researching the generic version. Simply take a quick picture of the ingredient list and nutrition information and do a little research before you head back to the store. 

These items can include olive oils, ice cream, meat products, and bread. Take ice cream, for example. There are so many varieties, and the nutrition labels vary widely from one producer to another. Add a generic brand to the mix and instead of having a substitute, you may simply have another variety. Olive oil is another example. Many olive oils are not 100% olive oil and may include unhealthy vegetable oils instead of what you expect. Once you find a high quality 100% olive oil, it’s good to stick with it. 

According to consumer reports, there are some items where the generic version just doesn’t fare as well in taste tests. These include steak sauce, ketchup, tuna, cottage cheese, and baked beans.