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Generic vs. name brand: A taste test

By Kyle Benjamin, Weekend Anchor, kbenjamin@keci.com
Published On: Feb 14 2013 06:57:16 PM MST
Updated On: Feb 15 2013 02:28:46 PM MST
MISSOULA, Mont. -

Whether you shop from a list, or just grab whatever looks tasty, chances are you take a look at the price tag, maybe even compare brands.

But in the never ending effort to stretch those hard-earned dollars, many opt for the generic. Picking up the store label can save a few bucks. But that begs the question: Are you losing taste by saving money? Another question to ask: Can you tell the difference?

So we set up a blind taste test to find out, and enlisted the help of a variety of shoppers.

Dennis O'Brien shops for himself. His family hasn't joined him in Missoula yet. "I tend to buy brand. Because I don't buy quantity, I tend to go for quality,"says O'Brien.

Laura Balis is a young, married professional. She shops for herself and her husband.  "We are pretty cheap, so I try to buy what's on sale, or what's cheaper. He likes more junk food, so I try to buy healthy to keep us both happy."

Barbs Schott, a self professed health nut, eats what's best for her body.

"Usually I look at nutrition when I shop. Name brand or generic, it doesn't matter."

We picked up cereal, potato chips, crackers, various juices, bread, peanut butter, jelly, a popular diet soda and bottled water. We asked our twenty volunteers to try each item and fill out a survey.

So what's the verdict?

The potato chips, with the same look and the same crunch should have been a toss up, but the survey says the name brand chips taste better. But you'll pay about $1.30 more.

How about the soda? Same color, same fizz, nearly the same bottle. Our volunteers ruled it a tie. Some respondents saying they couldn't tell a difference. The generic soda is $0.79 for a two liter bottle.

The designer water that's $4.00 for a six pack?

"I thought the water tastes the same. Definitely. So water, I guess, is just water," says Schott.

You'd save $1.40 with the generic bottled water.

The story is the same for the cereal, peanut butter and apple juice. No clear favorite. But the difference is obvious to some.

"A lot of the other ones we're very similar, but the canned peaches, I found quite a bit different," says O'Brien.

The name brand jelly chosen as the favorite by 60% of our testers. But it is $0.60 more.

"The jelly for instance, I found a noticeable difference between the A and the B sample, both in flavor and texture,"says O'Brien.

The generic fruit and orange juice get the nod by one vote each.

"I could definitely tell the difference, especially with the fruit products, the canned peaches for example. The name-brand peaches were much better than generic. They actually tasted like peaches.  Same with the orange and apple juice,"says Schott.

So based on our incredibly informal and semi-scientific study, it's generic products by a hair. The survey says five of the generic products: the cereal, peanut butter, apple juice, diet soda and bread taste the same as their name brand counter-part.

Balis says, "I would probably spend the extra on some of them, where I could tell a difference, like the canned peaches and crackers."

It looks like you won't be sacrificing taste to save some money. Here's how it breaks down: The name brand products totaled $38.67. We paid $22.06 for our generic snacks. A difference of $16.61. If you went exclusively generic, the store loyalty card would net $ 5.07 in savings on your bill. You would only save $3.11with the loyalty card if you went exclusively name brand. 

Perhaps though Barbs Schott sums it up best, "I would not sacrifice taste to save the money, cause if it doesn't taste good, why are you eating it?"