When the Price is Right – Buy Generic

If you’re old enough to remember the 1980’s, then you’re probably old enough to remember a time when the Pepsi challenge was a prevalent marketing strategy. The idea behind the Pepsi challenge was that a Pepsi representative would set up at a shopping center or grocery store and provide samples of both Pepsi and its leading competitor, Coca Cola. A customer would sip each one and without knowing which one they were drinking, would comment on the beverage that tasted better. After years of running this campaign, it was determined that Pepsi was the clear favorite among American consumers and even till this day, Pepsi uses that information to their advantage.

Ultimately, Pepsi was offering you the option to buy what tasted the best, period. Not which bottle looks cooler, not which name sounds more recognizable and certainly not the one that gave you quantity over quality. These days, consumers don’t often buy the product that is simply the best for their needs. When it comes time to buy the Coca Cola or just “cola”, Kellogg’s or store-brand cereal, or even the BMW or the KIA, consumers put too much weight on the name of the product and not enough weight on the quality of the product.

It’s no secret that I like to save money at the grocery store, but even I fell into the trap of always buying name brand products in lieu of their generic counterparts. Strangely enough, my mind tells me that the products are well worth the extra cost, even though I have rarely ever tried the generic version. Because I am always looking for a good way to save a few bucks here and there, I decided that I would start buying generic products when the price was right and test them out myself. If the product tasted terrible or was unsatisfactory in any way, I would stick to the name brand version. However, if I couldn’t tell the difference, or hopefully it tasted better, I would stick with it and save pennies on the dollar every week, which would eventually add up to a nice chunk of change at the end of the year.

I started with cereals, then moved on to soups, canned vegetables, cookies and worked all the way up the frozen foods section. Why spend $4 per half gallon on Breyer’s ice cream when I could spend $3.29 on the Winn-Dixie version? After a few months of trying the generic version of almost every product I usually buy, I was pleasantly surprised at how many tasted just as good if not better. Sure there were a few that were downright uneatable, but the experiment had definitely worked in my favor. A few quick calculations showed that I saved around $7 per grocery store visit, which would save me hundreds of dollars each year. Pretty sweet.

But just as there were positives to this idea, there’s one glaring negative that really wasn’t that big of a deal to me but may be for some. Status and success in this world of ours is generally defined by our possessions, so in essence, the more cash, the more flash. The reason that the banker drives the Mercedes and not the Jeep has little to do with the overall performance and features of the car, as I’m sure you can find almost any feature in any model these days and more to do with the name brand itself. Let’s be real here people, if I were going to trust my money to an accountant, would I want him driving a low-end automobile, or a high-end automobile? Sounds a little conceited but it is what it is.

So when I would entertain friends and family and they wanted a Dr. Pepper, I would hand them a Dr. Chek. When they wanted Tostitos and Salsa, I would hand them a bag that said “Corn Chips” and the generic version of Salsa. Immediately the conclusion was drawn that I’m struggling to make ends meet and I can’t afford the good stuff and no matter how hard I tried to convince them that this, in fact, was the good stuff, it didn’t matter.

You won’t find me wearing designer jeans, shirts or shoes because I’m always the guy with the Target dress shirts for $9.99 and the discounted sneakers for $19.99 but I NEVER let price get in the way of quality or comfort. Buying generic at the grocery store, clothing store, furniture store, car dealership and plenty of other places can save you hundreds if not thousands every year. Give it a shot and I promise you won’t be disappointed.


1 Wojciech Kulicki February 11, 2010 at 9:16 am

I love generics, although it’s been a long and hard road trying to convince my wife to get on board, too.

I’m not into the whole “image” thing, either–although I hear you about expectations. As an architect, people expect me to drive a decent car because I “make a lot of money” (notice the quotations lol).

Ironically, this works the other way too. My old boss used to drive a BMW, and many of our clients would remark–“Oh, so that’s where our fees are going.”

So if you’re concerned about image, it’s quite the fine line. Personally, I just try to focus on what’s best for us and not worry about how people will perceive it.

2 Kyle February 11, 2010 at 9:30 am

Image is definitely somewhere my wife and I differ. I have no qualms about driving a beater, wearing 5 year old jeans, or eating generic food. Luckily my wife is cool with most generic foods, only things like peanut butter are name brand in my house. Everything else is either Great Value or Kroger brand. In fact if you are interested my take on the matter, check out Store Brand Vs. Name Brand

3 Lillie February 11, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I have never been one that needed the designer brands and have gradually warmed up to generic foods. At least, I’ll give them a try or the benefit of the doubt. If it works and doesn’t sacrifice the quality that I’m accustomed to, no problem. I love the extra savings.

4 LeanLifeCoach February 12, 2010 at 9:22 am

As a life-long self described brand snob… I am now a convert. Over the past 18 months I have converted to a number of generics. The way I look at it now is that it’s always worth a shot. In a few cases the generics don’t cut it and that’s OK because the savings of the ones that work make up for it!

Side note.. I worked on a project last year looking at the failure of New Coke… turns out that the Pepsi taste test worked as long as consumers only had sips. Give them a whole can to drink and the tide shifted to coke. Go figure?

Personally, I’m a pepper!

5 ParisGirl111 February 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm

I eased into using generics slowly by switching to the generic paper towels and toilet paper. Then, moving to milk, then to soups. If you do it gradually, it won’t be a big deal if you find some items that you don’t like in the generic. I have some things I could care less about buying name brands in, but somethings that I must have the name brand..Coke, All, and Starbucks. 🙂

6 ParisGirl111 February 16, 2010 at 2:07 pm

There are also great deals to be found with online coupons. Most grocery stores are now offering savings that you can load onto your shopper’s card for that store. example: VIC card

7 youngandthrifty February 16, 2010 at 2:22 am

I’m a generic buyer as well for most things. I think generic medications are one of the best ways you can save money vs name brands, like Tylenol.

I could tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke back then! I loved that challenge.

Pepsi is sweeter and Coke is fizzier.

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