/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Are budget foods just as good as premium brands?

Supermarkets love to tempt us into buying their premium own-brand and branded food with mouth-watering claims that they’re tastier, finer, artisanal or just more fabulous all-round than budget alternatives.

But is there really much difference – apart from the fancy packaging and the price tag? Do you regularly buy a cheaper product and find that it does just fine? Maybe it even works better for what you use it for.

I’ve certainly found that can be true. Through trial and error, I’ve found out what I like when shopping in the supermarket for my weekly meals and it isn’t always those supposedly irresistible premium ranges.

Budget foods we’re happy to buy

I will happily buy budget tortilla chips for making nachos. And feta cheese and rice also seem perfectly good for the dishes I make with them.

But I’ve tried cheaper tomatoes and…well…I just don’t like them. Their starchy flavourlessness ruins a perfectly good sandwich, I find. So for salads and sandwiches, I’m afraid it’s the more expensive ones for me.

So as someone who loves a bargain, I was interested to know when others are happy to settle for the cheaper alternative and when it really is necessary to spend more.

Tinned tomatoes and tomato passata are items that are commonly traded down. But tomato sauce? Don’t mess around with the cheaper options – go for the branded, more expensive options, many people told me.

Other examples of where my colleagues trade down are on budget tinned veg and beans that might be cooked in a dish. But, when something is eaten on its own, such as yogurt or cornflakes, they tend to buy the more expensive product.

Chocolate, cheese, olive oil and pizza especially seem to be foods where only the best is good enough.

Do you agree? Which premium foods do you think are worth buying and which can you do without? Are there ways that you make a cheaper product taste better by cooking or preparation?


I am a Christmas pudding enthusiast and find the premium puddings too rich for me, especially if I’m going to have a decent portion. Gluttony comes but once a year. Or maybe twice.

I am happy with the standard rather than premium versions of different brands. None of them beat home-made Christmas pudding of course.

Any one who uses Balsamic; especially as a dip, should try the Rich, thick, unctious “Belazu”. Yes it is more expensive, but IMHO nothing. but nothing matches the taste – and I have not tried their £100 offering – way ott for my income!!

[This comment has been removed for breaching Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]

You need to be careful not to promote your own products as it can compromise your message.

Thank you for picking up on this John, as you can see this has now been dealt with.

Thanks Lauren . . . but it also leaves two comments at 08:27 (from DieselTaylor) and at 08:50 (from me) looking rather pointless, unless you can put them under the one above.

Much obliged.

Pemium foods ???just again a big con to tempt a few stupid programme spend more money on something most people would happily do without. Most sellers of anything willtry to con the public to by things that most do not need all over every day I find a new one. !

Supermarkets usually had three grades of own-label food product – basic/value/economy, regular/standard, and premium. In many cases now the choice has been whittled down to just two grades. The premium grade tends to be at a shade lower price than the national branded equivalent and could even be virtually the same product. It seems to me there is often no difference in food quality between own-label and branded products but the branded ones tend to have the taste and texture that people have grown used to. Once people have acquired a liking for the supermarket version satisfaction levels can exceed those for branded foods.

Many people are dissuaded from buying the basic level products because they don’t like the plain packaging – that is a marketing technique success since it would cost no more to make the appearance of the product just as appealing as the higher-priced items but keeping it low-key and putting it on the bottom shelf says to the consumer “you won’t like this – go for the upmarket version“. Snobbery is a powerful emotion to feed.

I have noticed that in a number of categories supermarkets are reducing the number of branded alternatives to their own-label products or de-listing them altogether so the only choice is own-label. Nevertheless, the game goes on: Tesco’s own-label chocolate chip cookies are available at two price points, 40p for the 250g ‘everyday value’ version and 60p for the 250g standard pack. The individual cookies look the same, taste the same, are the same diameter, and even the store cannot tell me what the difference is [other than the price]. The packaging for the basic product looks alright, that for the 50% more expensive version is more colourful and tries to mimic the Maryland branded product for which the ‘normal’ price is supposed to be £1.15 for 250g. The Maryland cookies seem to be either out-of-stock or available on special offer [57p currently]. If they are not all made by the same company [Burton’s Biscuits] I am a ginger nut. Since as often as not choc-chip cookies are dunked in tea the cheapest is probably the best.

Difficult to discuss this issue since it does not allow for generalization since often products vary from store to store. For example in some supermarkets mid-range own-label steaks are just fine to eat, whereas in other supermarkets one needs to buy the premium version to get similar taste. Another example is olive oil, yes in general expensive brands taste better, but a few expensive brands don’t warrant their premium price tag.

In short some products are worth paying extra for, but don’t assume premium is always better or tastier. As general rule of thumb if a product requires advertisements then it is probably just mid/low quality product sold as a premium.

Quite right Frenske. Aside from food the Nurofen case illustrates the huge profit to be gained from taking a standard product and advertising like crazy.

I have always found that the quality of the German chains who compete against the British incumbents has actually always been good be it food or product. I think this is in large degree due to their happiness to work on a lower margin and the German attitude towards quality.

You might be interested to know that the German consumer testing body does even do quick tests on those companies short run product specials so there is bar for them to jump.

It’s worth looking at the contents labels. How much meat does a sausage contain (I find the value versions ghastly)? Chicken Kiev – reformed chicken or whole chicken breast – I prefer food that has not been tampered with too much, like reformed ham vs whole. How much decent meat in a steak pie or lasagne?

However, i think much also depends upon confidence in the quality of the shop you might use. Rump steak from some is best used under your shoe, from others is the tastiest of steaks and as tender as it should be.

I enjoy food, am dubious about food of unknown origin or quality, to some extent believe I get what I pay for but, in the end, there is a perception – if I am confident in what i have bought I will enjoy it more.

Yeah true

Shazza says:
21 July 2016

Recently brought some budget mini apple pies and I have to say they were alright; they were over £1 cheaper than those “exceedingly” good ones and tasted good enough, I would buy them again.

Shazza, it is also worth distinguishing between branded products and own brands that are usually significantly cheaper – even if they are not “budget”. We rarely buy brands – our supermarkets regular offerings are just as good or better in our view.

I’d like to see own brands featured in Which?’s shopping baskets when comparing supermarkets. Much more reflective of real shoppers’ behaviour I would have thought, and therefore more meaningful. By all means show a cheapest “national brand” trolley as well for comparison.

I watched a programme on TV last night about a family which used to buy a lot of manufacturer-branded food products and were persuaded to switch to mostly supermarket own-label or cheaper commercial brands. It was called “Eat Well for Less” and was on BBC 1. It was also about healthier eating [the family of six were getting through 70 packets of crisps a week and had a whole cupboard under the stairs full of snack foodstuffs]. The programme overwrapped the contents of their food cupboards and fridge/freezer with plain product descriptions and substituted various lower-priced items for higher-priced products and asked them to tell if they were as good, better or worse than their regular foods. In most cases the family liked the tastes of the replacements as much or actually preferred them to what they had previously been eating. When all was revealed they could hardly believe that their new Cola drink [Pepsi at 99p] was better than their previous staple [brand leader Coca Cola at £1.15], that their new supermarket own-label Fish Fingers were superior to the branded products they previously bought, and that Dad’s can of supermarket Beer was – to his great astonishment – nicer than his regular and much more expensive tipple. Overall the family found they could save £85 a week but this included significant changes in eating habits and meal arrangements, fresh food instead of ready-meals, and drastic reductions in snack consumption which was replaced with home-prepared alternatives. The programme is part of a series and there is another one next week. It also contains good dietary advice and has irritating presenters [don’t they all?].

When food shopping, I think there’s a lot to be said for buying whatever you fancy – and then buying it again if you liked it.

In general, more expensive items are often nicer than cheaper items. I have discovered that both Sansbury’s and Waitrose have some really nice own brand product ranges, including “premium” offerings.

I agree that Sainsbury’s are certainly climbing up the quality scale and leaving Tesco behind. I also believe Tesco have delisted no end of products as part of their profits restoration agenda which obviously favours their own-label versions. I am not familiar with Asda and Morrisons. M&S don’t seem to have grades of product [value, regular, premium] – everything is excellent quality but some of it is not to our taste [I think they over-egg most things in order to differentiate them and their “Spirit of Summer” range is over-pepped for comfort in the back of the mouth]. Like Waitrose, their unimproved lines are perfect.