House brand vs big brands

Shoppers seek value and become more receptive to lower-price alternatives during a recession. This is when private label brands- or house brands – can have a potential advantage over other brands.

In the past month, almost every shopper has likely picked up a house brand product, whether consciously or not.

In Australia, patrons of discount supermarket Aldi are probably the most conscious of their house brand purchases, but if you walk into a Coles or Woolworths, you may be surprised by the number of house brands you’ll find.

Sticking to name brands rarely makes sense when the only meaningful difference between a national brand product and its supermarket version is the price.

The quality of house brand products is often comparable to their brand name counterparts, sometimes they are even made by the same manufacturer, just packaged differently. A quick glance over the ingredients can tell you when this is the case.

Whether you buy them or not, store brands actually lower prices across the board. The introduction of house brand labels puts pressure on national and global brands to make a better product at a cheaper price, meaning the overall average price for that product decreases.

The phenomenon isn’t limited to supermarkets though, it extends to home improvement, office supply and big box stores.

Here are 10 products where you can skip the big brands, pick up the cheaper house brand product and save some money while you’re at it.

Cleaning products
Many people buy a mix of store brand and brand-name cleaning products, especially when brands are on sale for a competitive price. Unless you’re loyal to one brand of cleaning products and believe it outperforms all the others, you’ll likely get the same results and save money with the private label version.

If you try a generic all-purpose cleaner and it doesn’t match your standards, you’re only a couple of dollars out of pocket. However, if it does work well, you could save yourself a lot of money over time. The best thing to do is to always check the labels; you may find that your favourite product uses the exact same ingredients as a cheaper, generic one.

Of course, truly innovative products do come along now and then. But the majority of the cleaning products aren’t really that different from each other.

You may be able to save even more with the DIY approach. Many household tasks can be tackled with vinegar, baking soda and a little time and effort.

Every medicine has two names:

  • the name it’s given by the pharmaceutical company that markets the drug
  • a generic name that describes the drug’s active ingredient.

When an active ingredient is first identified as being a treatment for a medical issue, it is protected by a patent for several years. This is to allow the company to make enough profits to cover the research, development and marketing of the drug.

Once the patent expires, other companies are able to make generic versions with the active ingredient.

Generic medicines can only be sold in Australia if they meet the same strict standards of quality, safety and effectiveness as the original.

Baking ingredients
Turns out, there are only so many ways to sell basic ingredients such as flour, sugar, and salt which means generic and private label options are essentially the same as name brand ones. That could save you some serious cash, depending on how often you bake, of course.

The only ingredient in sugar is, well, sugar and that doesn’t change based on the name on the bag.

Along the same lines, the ingredients listed for brand name flour and private label flour are usually identical. The only thing that’s different is the price.

Children are more likely to ask for high-sugar cereals they’ve seen advertised on TV brand loyalty is developed from a very young age. Making the switch to generic gives you an opportunity to discuss things like branding, advertising and marketing with your child or grandchild, and can lead to discussions about ingredients and sugar content.

Generics or private label products in this category (some of which are bagged rather than boxed) generally cost around 40 per cent less than their brand name counterparts.

Candles can set a romantic scene, cast a dinner table in a warm glow and banish the darkness on a winter’s night. They can also burn a big hole in your budget.

Save money on dinner table tapers, pillars and votives by choosing no-name candles. Place them in attractive candle holders or on a tray or stand. Once you remove the wrapping from name-brand candles, any difference will be invisible.

Gift wrapping and paper products
Gift bags, boxes and wrapping paper are likely to be ripped off and recycled. Save money by avoiding any brands in this area. Purchasing a large roll of brown or printed craft paper is one way to keep you in gift wrap for years. If you are partial to some fancy wrapping, stock up at the times of the year when rolls are on sale like just after Christmas!

Canned beans and vegies
It’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to pick out an Edgell from a Golden Circle pea once your meal is cooked. The only thing you’ll want to watch out for is sodium content. Check the nutrition panel to make sure the cheaper option isn’t loaded with it, as they sometimes can be.

Over the counter medications
These are in the same vein as generic vs brand name medicines. They must contain the active ingredient described and are required to conform to safety and effectiveness standards.

You’ve probably noticed a significant difference in pricing for store brand pain relievers, allergy pills and antacid medications. One study found that buying the generic version of over the counter medications can save consumers as much as 73 per cent.

If you’re a diehard Heinz fan, get a friend or relative to set you up with a blind taste test with your usual and a store brand alternative to see if you can really tell the difference.

For example, the ingredients in generic mustard are typically identical to those in most well-known brands. Same with mayonnaise, it’s just a mix of oil, egg yolk, and an acid, how much different can they make it?

Snacks and sweets
Snacks and sweets can make up a large part of your grocery budget, but private labels are often just as good, if not better than big name brands. It’s all down to tastebuds and preference but if you have to go out and stock up on store brand choccies to try, who’s complaining? Especially when it could save money on your weekly shop.

But are house brand products always cheaper?
In the end, it just comes down to doing your research. Don’t grab the store brand or private label product just because you assume it’s cheaper than the name brand. Check your prices and always compare price per kilogram.

The trend towards private label brands has been accelerated by the success of Aldi where proprietary brands make up the bulk of their merchandise. This, of course, keeps prices down.

Where do you do your grocery shopping? What makes you put an item into your basket? Do you buy name brand products when you shop?

If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.

Related articles:

Written by Ellie Baxter


Which supermarket is cheapest for brand name products?

Consumer group CHOICE compares prices on 150 products at Aldi, Woolworths and Coles.

Woolworths awarded Australia’s healthiest supermarket

The ‘Fresh Food People' awarded healthiest home brand packaged products.

Supermarkets urged to stop promoting unhealthy foods

Do supermarkets need to be more responsible for Australians' dietary habits?