Top 5ive Items to Always Buy Generic

Kelli B. Grant

ARE YOU A CONNOISSEUR of generic products? If not, you should be — at least when it comes to some items.

While some brand-name products may taste better than their store-label counterparts, others are premium only in price. According to a 2005 study by Consumer Reports, opting for some store-brand or generic products can easily save you 50% — without cutting quality.

In fact, some store brands, also known as private-label brands, are produced by the same big-name companies churning out the products you know and love, says Joanna Pruess, author of "Supermarket Confidential." Yup — that's right. Some are identical (minus the fancy packaging), while others do use slightly different recipes. Exactly which companies are producing what and for whom isn't well advertised: Remember, they'd prefer you shell out for the pricier version. But 4C Foods Corp., for example, has been up-front about its brand-name bread crumbs, grated cheese and drink mixes being used as private-label at more than 50 chains.

Here are five supermarket products you should always purchase generic:

1. Produce
Choosing unmarked oranges over those with a Sunkist sticker on them isn't an apples-and-oranges conundrum, says Mary Hunt, publisher of "The Cheapskate Monthly" newsletter. Without the marketing sticker on, say, Dole bananas or Chiquita pineapples, the underlying fruit is identical. "It's crazy to pay more," she says.

Product Store Label Brand Name Savings
Bananas, per pound $0.59, Fresh Direct $0.89, Chiquita
$0.69, Dole
Navel oranges, each $0.89, Stop & Shop $0.99, Tropicana 10%
Strawberries, 1lb. $1.50, Stop & Shop $3.99, Driscoll's 42%
Iceberg Lettuce, each $1.79, Stop & Shop $2.49, Foxy 28%
* Based on prices from supermarkets in the New York City region.

2. Coupon-scarce goods
So is it always cheaper to buy generic? Definitely not, says Teri Gault, founder of the Grocery Game, a program that maximizes consumer savings by matching local supermarket sales with manufacturers' coupons. A good coupon, especially one that's doubled by the supermarket, can make a brand-name product the better deal.

But some branded items rarely, if ever, get discounted, she says. This includes butter, dry beans, spices and seasonings. So you might as well go generic — and consistently save.

Product Store Label Brand Name Savings
Dried split green peas, 1lb. bag $0.59, Stop & Shop $0.69, Goya 14%
Paprika, 4oz. $1.39, Spice Classic $5.99, McCormick 77%
Parsley, 0.5oz. $1.39, Spice Classic $2.69, McCormick 48%
Salted butter, four sticks (1 lb.) $3.29, Stop & Shop $4.59, Land O' Lakes
$3.99, Hotel Bar
* Based on prices from supermarkets in the New York City region.

3. Over-the-counter medications
Don't dismiss your drug-store brand pain, cold and cough medications. Advil, Motrin and Pediacare Fever (among others) are, by any other name, ibuprofen. And according to rules set by the Food and Drug Administration, any products with the same active ingredient must meet efficacy standards. In consumer-speak, that means your drug-store aspirin must be just as effective as its brand-name counterpart, Bayer. And the price difference can be astounding:

Product Store Label Brand Name Savings
Aspirin, 100-count bottle $1.99, Rite Aid $6.49, Bayer 69%
Ibuprofen, 100-count bottle $6.99, Rite Aid $9.99, Advil
$8.89, Motrin
Loratadine, 20-count package $9.99, Rite Aid $18.99, Claritin 47%
Naproxen, 200-count bottle $11.99, Rite Aid $14.99, Aleve 20%
* Based on prices in the New York City region.

4. Canned fruits and vegetables
Open up a can of Del Monte sweet corn and a similar can of the store brand, and you're not likely to notice much difference, says Joanna Pruess, author of "Supermarket Confidential." One caveat: When it comes to mixes, the name brand may have a slightly higher count of prized ingredients, say, cherries in fruit cocktail.

Product Store Label Brand Name Savings
Canned cut green beans, 14.5 oz. $0.79, White Rose $1.49, Green Giant 47%
Canned sliced carrots, 14.5 oz. $0.49, Stop & Shop $1.09 Del Monte 55%
Canned sliced peaches, 15 oz. $1.59, White Rose $2.09, Del Monte
$1.99, Libby
* Based on prices from supermarkets in the New York City region.

5. Pantry staples
Single-ingredient items such as flour, salt and sugar are held to government regulations for production, packaging and storage. In other words, sugar is sugar, regardless of its label.

Product Store Label Brand Name Savings
Granulated sugar, 5lb. bag $2.39, Stop & Shop $3.79 Jack Frost
$2.99, Domino
Iodized salt, 26 oz. $0.69, White Rose $1.99, Diamond Crystal
$0.99, Red Cross
$0.81, Morton
All-purpose flour, 5lb. bag $1.19, Stop & Shop $3.39, King Arthur
$1.49 Gold Medal
* Based on prices from supermarkets in the New York City region.

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