Gas prices are skyrocketing, and until supply exceeds demand, there’s nothing we can do about it.
Well, there is one little thing. As you have noticed, rising fuel costs result in higher grocery prices.
If you haven’t already made the switch to cheaper store-brand items, now is the time.
The savings average about 25 percent. A shopping cart with $60 worth of name-brand products goes down to $45 when you buy store brands. It’s sort of the reverse gas pump effect.
Look for no-frills labels like "Food Club" or "Great Value." They do not have catchy ad jingles.
But you love cheese, and even though Kraft will cost more, it must be better, right? Or you’re almost out of Kleenex. Well, paper is paper, so why spend more when you’re just going to blow your nose?
Is there really a difference? It depends on who you ask.
Jesse Lewis, who served for years as an executive at Red Food Stores, and more recently Food City, is now a consultant. He just may be the store brand’s biggest fan.
He admits that several decades ago, there was a sizable quality gap. But no more.
“Let me assure you,” Lewis said, “store brands are equal to, and often better than, national brands.”
He is especially impressed with cheese and dairy products. “The USDA has really tightened up,” he said. “Everything is inspected and regulated before it gets on the shelf. Those blocks of cheese and butter are all good no matter the label.”
He said milk products are basically the same despite a huge price difference.
“You will see a name brand for $5.99 a gallon next to the store brand for $2.99. Quite often, it’s all coming out of the same tank,” he said. “The key to good milk is refrigeration. You can buy cheaper milk with confidence, and like all store brands, it’s 100 percent guaranteed. You can’t beat that.”
When it comes to ketchup and mustard, he says, “I never buy the name brands. The store brands taste great on a hot dog. I can’t tell any difference.”
He admits not all products are equal. “Hard as they try, the private brands have never matched Coke and Pepsi. The cheaper colas are okay, but they don’t taste quite like the big names.”
Paper products have also provided a challenge. “Facial tissue, toilet paper and aluminum foil have been harder for the private manufacturers to duplicate. But they’re much better than they used to be.”
He says the quality of trash bags, no matter the brand, is easy to spot. “If you need strength, look for a 3 mil, not a 1 mil.” (The term "mil" is used to describe thickness in thousandths of an inch. "1 mil" is one thousandth of an inch, 3 mil is three thousandths of an inch.)
Where do the cheaper brand products come from? Despite popular belief, off-brand cereal does not consist of the corn flakes that Kellogg’s rejected.
Supermarket chains join cooperatives that manufacture and package these products for national distribution. There are no advertising costs, nor are the products delivered in bright trucks like those you see for Nabisco. This alone keeps costs down.
When I did my own research, I was impressed with most store brands, but there were a few exceptions. I strongly prefer “real” Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts, Oreo cookies, Campbell’s soup, and Q-Tip brand products as opposed to their cheaper counterparts.
My wife insists on the name-brand cleaning supplies. And I am very picky on toilet paper. I must squeeze my Charmin.
Jesse Lewis sums it up by saying: “American consumers are so fortunate. We get the best value on groceries and the best nutrition of anywhere in the world.”
He gives some of the credit to the store-brand labels. “They keep costs down. Imagine what the famous labels would charge if they didn’t have that competition,” he said.
“What people don’t know would amaze them,” he said. “I wish they could see the journey that bananas make, from thousands of miles away in Central America to your local store. And then you can buy them for 15 cents each. We are truly blessed.” Yes, we are.