/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Own-label vs. big brand food – what’s in your trolley?

Lots of different types of baked beans

Is our love affair with food brands dying out? New research into who buys what at the supermarket indicates that it’s certainly on the wane – and that we could be enjoying supermarkets’ own-labels in their own right.

More than two-thirds of people believe own-brand foods are as good, if not better than, leading famous brands. Half think they’re identical in quality and 19% go so far as to say that they’re superior.

It’s a far cry from the days when it was seen as cheap and chavvy to buy own-brand foods – the preserve of students and slackers. Nowadays, not only are we buying the supermarket’s own, we’re also rather enjoying them.

Market analyst, Datamonitor, which carried out this research, says that nearly half of us are choosing where to shop based on where we can get our faves. ‘Consumer perceptions are evolving,’ says Datamonitor analyst Mark Whalley. ‘No longer is there an overwhelmingly ‘snobbish’ mentality towards supermarket brands.’

He says that sales of own-label grub increased during the recession, but now people are realising that there are some very credible alternatives to big brands, and many of us are continuing to buy based on quality, not cost.

So where do you sit on this fence? I’m definitely wavering in the middle. When it comes to cereal, juice and tea I regularly shun the brands, but I’m not being torn apart from my favourite Yeo Valley yoghurt or McVities Digestives. And on the rare occasions when I need a fizzy caffeinated drink, only a Coke will cut it.

It’s good to hear the humble own-label is enjoying the limelight for a change. While I am a self-confessed snob on some brands, making do with foods that aren’t all-singing and all-dancing is something more of us should aspire to.

What do you think of supermarket own-label food?

It varies so I buy according to product (76%, 254 Votes)

It's good quality and I buy a lot (19%, 62 Votes)

Can't stand it - I don't buy any (5%, 18 Votes)

Total Voters: 334

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Benn99 says:
7 March 2011

I’ve always been a fan of own brand, but often found value products to be pretty nasty. About two years ago we started shopping at Aldi just to give it a go and save some pennies, and I honestly find their meats and veg to be much superior to the bigger local supermarkets, just a shame they don’t have the things for treats, like instore bakery and hot counter.

Zerocredit says:
7 March 2011

Keep hearing good things about Aldi. Do you have particular bargains you can recommend?

Zerocredit says:
7 March 2011

It’s really a case of trying them and deciding which ones you like. In my case I like most own brand things and mostly go for the ‘Basic’ or ‘Value’. For tins of tomatoes, plain natural yoghurt, frozen peas – you’f be hard pushed to tell the difference. One or two things I have tried and not liked and so go back to the brand – because in my view its worth it. It’s really a question of whether the better taste is worth the extra – and that to some extent depends on your budget.
I would recommend anyone to try the basic brands just once – and even test it out in a ‘blind’ taste, before they continue automatically buying the more expensive brands.

Depends on the individual items – as ZeroCredit says.

In Waitrose and The Co-Op I think own brand is almost always superior than big name brands.

I would never dream of shopping in Tesco to save my life, but I have had the misfortune to be given some Tesco brand foods at other people’s houses and it was diabolical.

Some Sainsbury’s stuff seems OK, but I must say that some seems a bit iffy.

I’m afraid I think more about whether the items I am buying are full of artificial additives than I do about the brand. If something cheap (regardless of brand) is less full of additives than something expensive I’ll buy the cheap one!

My Mum prides herself on having fed all her children ‘value’ brand food when we were young, so now that we’re adults we all genuinely prefer the cheapest options. Give me rubbish instant coffee and cheap OJ from concentrate any day of the week!

Depends on the product – I prefer Heinz Beans to Sainsburys – But Sainsburys “taste the difference” Porridge is superior to any Main brand. But one has to buy and taste to have an opinion.

Funnily enough, I’ve found myself recently surprised by brand names vs. own brands.

I’ve been on a stir-fry splurge just recently & have alternated between Waitrose & Tesco’s.

I admitted to my flatmates with some surprise that: –

Tesco’s win – in my opinion – hands down on the quality of their stir-fry ‘salads’ (own brand) and prawns (a personal favourite addition)

However Waitrose have Tesco’s beat on the quality of the noodles & sauces.

Daftly, I win as Waitrose sauces & noodles are less expensive than Tesco’s anyway – as is Tesco’s ‘salad’ & prawns.

Yay for stir-fry’s! 🙂

Fat Sam, Glos says:
8 March 2011

As Zerocredit says, it depends on the food and therefore a period of trial and error. My general rule is, if it contains the same thing then it must be exactly the same thing.

E.g why would anyone buy branded chopped tomatoes, because last time I looked on any of the tins they all said ‘Ingredients: tomatoes’. Same with spaghetti, pasta (all 100% durum wheat) and in any case, the flavour is produced by the sauce you’re making.

I swear by Tesco own brand – Fruit ‘n’ Fibre. Tastes just as good, contains the same nutrients if not more than well-known makes and best of all, is considerably cheaper.

You can apply the same to drugs. Why pay 10x more for branded paracetomol when you can buy exactly the same supermarket label for 40p?

The difference is where there is a mix of ingredients in a product. As mentioned above, I prefer Branston’s beans, Heinz ketchup, Whiskas meat in gravy (my cat, not me! well, only if I’ve had a skinful and am hungry), As a general rule, after some trial, I completely avoid anything from the ‘Discount Brand’ range. I don’t know if they haul the stuff across a factory floor and then run it through a wad of well-worn socks first but it tastes absolutely ranc’.

Zerocredit says:
8 March 2011

Wholeheartedly agree about basic drugs – paracetamol, Ibruprofen etc. I understand they are exactly the same as branded and yet many times cheaper – and if in any doubt you can always check with a Pharmacist. I remember seeing a tv programme where they checked branded paracetamol against unbranded – and people who took the unbranded but thought they were taking the branded – said they worked better. Shows its all about marketing!!

Fat Sam – your comment on basic drugs is really interesting. I’m going to be a teeny bit of a nerd about this, because it’s a fascinating topic, so apologies in advance…

There’s been quite a bit of study into placebo effect that shows often branded drugs *do* work better than ‘cheap’ versions. This is because of the expectations most people have about the drugs rather than the fact that they are actually better (they’re usually the same ingredients).

Essentially, some trials have demonstrated correlation between the branding of a medicine and it’s efficacy, regardless of whether that medicine is any different to the one it’s being compared to. There’s an example Dr Ben Goldacre uses quite a lot, in a Disprin trial, which I can’t find the reference for, but here’s an example of another: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6786566?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn

But I should point out that this doesn’t stop me buying the cheapest Aspirin when I have a headache, and I doubt it will stop you either! I suspect some of the effect wears off if you know about it =)

Gastronomics says:
9 March 2011

I recently wrote about this, and the biggest surprise to me was that the own-brand products were often not – as I had previously assumed – the unhealthier of the two. I compared Tesco and Kellogg’s Bran Flakes, and Lidl and Knorr Cup-a-Soups and in both cases the own-brand had significantly less calories, less fat, or less salt. Perhaps as customer demand goes up so too does the quality?

Rob says:
22 March 2011

Cheaper foods contain fewer calories you say? Surely that’s as you would expect – cheaper ingredients may have less energy / nutrition in them, I wouldn’t say fewer calories is a mark of quality. You’re perhaps thinking fewer calories = more healthy? Not always true! Some people need a lot of calories (athletes, growing lads, etc.).

I actually prefer Asda’s cola to Coca Cola or Pepsi. I think it’s a tiny bit drier.

keith says:
11 March 2011

Surely some of the “own labels” are now big enough to be regarded as brands in their own right. For example we buy a lot of Waitrose Essentials because we trust the Waitrose name but would not touch Tesco Value for the opposite reason. With some items we do go for own label over brands eg Waitrose soups we find much more flavoursome than conventional Batchelors or Heinz (which all taste of tomato irrespective of the label) Generic drugs are certainly a no brainer—-anyone’s ranitidin is equally as good as the expensive branded Zantac.
PS Branston baked beans are far superior to Heinz. They taste not only better but different–try them!

Aldi stuff is good and you can’t tell the difference with most of it. Their tinned soups are lovely, Roberts Toastie Loaf £1.00, own fresh Columbian coffee excellent and they have a good range of cooked meats for packed lunches. Try their Titan chocolate bars and you’ll think you are eating a Mars bar, they also do Jive (Twix) and Racer (the one with peanuts in) bars. Can’t beat their fresh meat for price, gammon steaks, fresh fruit & veg. and eggs.
But some things, like Yorkshire Tea, can’t be matched!

Anne says:
11 March 2011

What about Lidl – their drugs ie Ibuprofen and diarrhoea relief are super cheap as is Aldi Ibuprofen. Waitrose have good priced paracetamol capsules. Aldi Scotch oatcakes and also their dishwasher tabs own brand are super cheap. Try Waitrose Essential baked beans – unbeatable. Anyone who hasn’t tried own brands should give it a go – not always the best but usually the cheapest – try checking the contents label too. What I love about Lidl and Aldi is that they have unusual products from across Europe and excellent prices – look at their pasta and pasta sauces…. need I go on.

phil says:
14 March 2011

I have tried many of the own brand products by several of the larger supermarkets and buying brands I have never heard of from Aldi as well as the big named stores as well. In some cases I have been quite surprised. I will certainly not be buying Sainsbury’s own brand soups ever again, and based on the thought that they are making their own soup I will never buy chicken from Sainsbury’s again either. Then again some of their lower priced frozen items are far better quality and value than you would expect. It really does pay to shop around if you have time and no parking issues.

One major complaint I do have is Marks & Spencer. I went into their outlet in Sheffield railway station. I thought the food prices looked wrong. I went to their central Sheffield store a mere 5 minute walk away. The difference in prices is a phenominal. On principle I will never again buy from any of their stores until they change this dual (rip-off) pricing policy. Voting with our patronage is the only way we can teach these people how to behave.

Andyffff says:
16 March 2011

I would never buy anything from Tescos, let alone their own brand stuff.

Dee of Hornchurch says:
18 March 2011

Because I suffer from Migraine headaches, I have to read every bottled drink, jams, in fact most items where ASPARTAME is included, as this triggers off a bout of headaches for me. I know there are lots of pills or tablets on the market for this complaint, but I would rather not take them, and look for the foods without the ASPARTAME (THIS ITEM IS A SUGAR ENHANCER) I find that the cheaper non-brand products usually have ASPARTAME, so unfortunately for me I have to buy the dearer brands which usually have sugar or saccharine. If anyone knows of a non-store brand, which is without ASPARTAME, I would be forever thankful. Dee of Hornchurch…………..

– store brand, of the che

When will people learn about perceptions?
The big four supermarkets play on these as regards own brands versus named brands.

Own brand products are now the price named brands should be, named brands are grossly inflated in price.
The perception is that own brands are cheaper, they are not.
Heinz soup is one of many examples – heinz soups have shot up in price over the past 12 months, hitting 82p a can in the tesco and asda stores where i live – own brand soups have risen in price to 52p per can, what heinz used to be before own brand soups took over half the space formerly occupied by the heinz range of soups.
This is happening across the supermarket.
Biscuits, cereals, washing powder, ready meals/pizzas, bread, toilet rolls, herbs, shampoos, etc.
Some named brands have resisted, vosene disappeared from tesco and asda shelves at the same time, for over a year, staff at both stores informed me that “they have stopped making it” – yet it was still available on local markets for a much lower price, as it is now.
When vosene returned to supermarket shelves, it came in at a much higher price for a smaller pack size.

Supermarket own brands are not good value at all – much higher profit margins are made on them, they give the supermarket bigger bargaining powers over suppliers when they squeeze margins, many suppliers have gone out of business because of this.
Burtons biscuits, established and run for over a hundred years went bust after making supermarket own brands and were then squeezed on prices because they were tied into contracts. The supermarkets took their business elsewhere and burtons went under.

Food inflation is at record levels because of the supermarket’s monopoly in almost every town and city in the country and needs addressing urgently with a regulator that is 100% independant from the supermarkets, tough action on pricing and blatent misrepresentation are paramount.

I leave you with one final example. Heinz sponge puddings – price increased for no apparent reason by supermarkets and shelf space was cut by two thirds, in favour of own brand version at the old heinz version price.
Amount of stock on shelf of heinz version limited to one tray for a 30,000 foot superstore that sells about 100 sponge puddings a week, leaving many people no option but to put the supermarket own brand in their trolley, when they visit once a week.

The sooner more people wise up to what supermarkets are doing and how they are damaging the british economy, the sooner we all will get some protection from them and food prices will return to normal levels and we’ll all be better off!

Bugaboo says:
30 May 2011

I admit (pre children )I used to be a die hard big name brand fan and would only use’branded’ products and shopped in one of the big four supermarkets! One day I decided to give Aldi and Lidl a go. I was sceptical at first, as I wrongly assumed that their food and drink would not match the quality of the big supermarkets.

I now do the majority of my weekly shop in Aldi and buy the items I can’t find in Aldi’s in Waitrose and ************ Sainsburys. Waitrose’s essential range is fantastic quality and reasonably priced. I now use Aldi and Waitrose for the majority of my household cleaning prouducts (the only exception to this is washing powder, I use Persil Bio) and toiletries/skincare. Aldi’s nappies and baby wipes certainly give pampers/ huggies a run for their money! My kids also prefer Aldi’s baked beans to Heinz, their own brand instant coffee is also good. Waitrose essentials bubble bath and shower gel is also good for every day use! I have tried Lidl’s Formil washing powder and it is quite good. Personally I do not like Asda, Tesco and Morrision’s own label and economy ranges, as I don’t feel that they offer the same quality as Aldi or Waitrose! I still buy Coke, uncle Ben’s Rice, Persil washing powder and Kellogs Cornflakes, but that it is it. I am totally converted to Aldi ( I find because there is less choice I am in and out much quicker and therefore saving money) I would say to anyone wanting to save on the cost of their weekly shop try Aldi.


Dee says:
18 July 2011

Cant believe how many brand snobs there are …. well actually YES I CAN, cos many peeps are just brainwasehd muppets who’ll believe black is white if it comes in a FANCY enough box ….. dont u guys know that most of the branded stuff is made in the same factories as the own brand (OB) label products??? I know this for a FACT on many foods, biscuits, beans, tinned foods, cereals, frozen foods, petfood …. blah blah blah ….. the manufacturer simply puts the different supermarket OB label on thats all, as opposed to the overpriced brand which big time suckers fall for … more fool u if u like branded, ur a victim of ur own superiority complex … on “blind” tests u wouldnt notice the difference between ANY brand over own label, and half the time u only “think” u dont like OB, cos you’ve already seen the label and have therefore already made a judgement that its crap based on media manipulation of you as a consumer …. and when I say “blind” I mean someone putting 3/4 different brand/own brand products of an item in front of you and asking u to tell which one is the brand over the OB, I know for a fact that ur all fooling yourselves with BRANDS, cos I’ve done MANY blind test to prove peeps WRONG, and I won every single time ….. I once put 3 portions of beans out and ask the guy to tell me which one was which, and he said he thought they were ALL own brand and that I was pulling a trick on him …. needless to say, I’d only put Heinz, so doesnt that say something??? …… just saying :S

I’m not a brand snob Dee, although I understand exactly where you’re coming from, I buy branded goods out of principle.
I refuse to buy any supermarket own brands, as they are over inflated in price.
Asda’s “chosen by you” range is their own brand in different packaging (more marketing) as they reduced the shelf space of branded goods on the particular product and flooded it with their own brand at the price the branded goods used to be. (if that makes sense)

I either wait until there is a clear out of certain brands by the supermarket and the price is dropped – back to its normal level most of the time – and buy a few in, or I source branded goods cheaper at local independants/markets etc.

It speaks volumes when a local independant can stock branded goods from the local cash and carry, then sell them at prices cheaper than the supermarkets can (and making a profit) when supermarkets have huge buying power and stock up in bulk.
The problem comes when, as in many areas, supermarkets have undercut independant shops out of business, then push up all their prices as there is no alternative.
People on twitter are up in arms about spotify charging £9.99 for their service in the UK but only $9.99 to american users… it baffles me why supermarkets are immune from the same public outcry, when they price by demographics?

Grumpy says:
21 July 2011

Thankfully, I am not one of many pensioners living on purely a basic pension but I do feel sorry for those people who do. Mine is substituted by my disability allowance for which I suffer constant pain which is almost unbearable at times. I eat very little and will not scrimp on the few things I enjoy. In the past I have always bought Bourneville chocolate, a luxury some will say but now prefer Morrisons, which I only tried because they had sold out of B’ville. It is considerably cheaper and has a milder smoother taste so I guess that has proven a point. Most ‘own brand’ cleaning products work as well if not better than the branded ones, many people tend to use it far too liberally anyway. I have always bought Fairy Non Bio as my Husband has sensitive skin but since moving to Wales with soft water I can now buy Fairy or Persil Non Bio whichever is on offer. The big names seem to fight each other with offers, so it is a ‘win win’ situation when we stock up. Using less and still getting the same results also helps, especially with washing powder on a lower temperature. I shop in a wheelchair and find Supermarkets tend to put their own brands at eye level and many cheaper brands on higher shelves out of reach.My Husband does most of the weekly shop and has become quite ‘savvy’ with prices, he shops at Iceland and Home Bargains for offers especially the few branded goods I prefer (yes Heinz everytime) before we go to our main store for the remainder. Nevertheless, our bills like everyones still rise nearly every week. The sooner a pill substitute for food is produced the better, it would just add to the numerous amount I take every day, saving time, now there’s a saving, something you aren’t able to buy

Ambersparkle says:
5 May 2013

I have to shop online, as am in a Wheelchair, and do not get out often, but have the time to go all over the net seeking bargains wherever they are. Must say, have been trying own brand Biscuits, and none of them come up to branded, I would be glad if someone had found a nice Biccy, in unbranded , .