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Best store brands at the supermarket

Private-label goods can save you a bundle, but what good is low price without quality?

Published: April 08, 2015 09:00 AM

When it comes to quality, consumers don't want just the best meat and produce, but the best store brands, too.  Would you shop at a supermarket that sold lousy store brands? One of five Consumer Reports subscribers said quality store brands are a key criteria in store choice. Moreover, 65 percent of those surveyed for our new supermarket study said they buy store brands whenever they’re available. Rarely are those shoppers disappointed: 63 percent were completely or very satisfied with the quality; only 5 percent expressed even a hint of dissatisfaction.

Store brands, also known as private label goods, are a proven way to economize. How much can you save buying a supermarkets’ own label? Our studies over the years have been remarkably consistent. The average is around 25 percent vs. comparable national brands. Equally important, our testing has consistently revealed that many store brands are at least as good as their better-known counterparts.

Store brands can sell for less because it’s astronomically expensive to turn a product like Heinz ketchup, Tide laundry detergent, or Lays potato chips into a household name. Besides research and development, there are hefty advertising and promotional costs. Icons don't come cheap. Ironically, name-brand manufacturers often make store-brands, too, utilizing their expertise and excess capacity to generate incremental revenue. It’s the industry’s dirty little secret.

Read our new report on America's best and worst supermarkets. And learn about the the cost of organic food. Hint: Don’t assume that organic is always pricier.

That said, our survey clearly shows some retailers are doing a superior job with their store brands. Of the 68 grocery chains in our Ratings, 49 earned average scores for quality; twelve received subpar grades—including Walmart Supercenter, the nation's largest grocer. The overall winner for the best store brands was Trader Joe’s, followed closely by Wegmans, Publix, Costco, Raley’s, Whole Foods Market, and Harris Teeter.

The bottom line: The great thing about brands is that buying them isn’t a sweaty palm issue. We’re talking groceries, not a new car. The potential for significant savings is worth the low risk. And best of all: The stores stand firmly behind their products. Just about every retailer has a no-questions asked money-back satisfaction guarantee if the products fail to live up to your expectations. A few, like Hannaford and Giant Eagle, actually offer a double money-back pledge.

—Tod Marks

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