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Managing Brand Creep in Grocery Shopping

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When I read the original title of this article (How to Shop Sensibly for Groceries When Someone in Your Family is a Brand Loyalist) to my husband, he immediately chuckled and said “I don’t know how you do it but somehow, you do.” There is no question in our house about who has the specific brand “preferences” – he’s the one who has brand loyalty and it has been difficult for him to embrace generics.

I try to convince him that in most cases, generics are basically the same exact thing without marketing, which equals a lower price for the consumer, but he won’t believe me. And, I think he still doesn’t, but he does grumble a little less most of the time.

The fact that my husband is less than adventurous in his brand selection and likes to stick to the trusted old favorites he “knows” doesn’t mean I have to spend top dollar on everything I buy. There are some simple strategies I’ve employed to keep our budget under control but also keep my spouse happy.

Identify Needs vs. Wants

First – determine what is just a preference, and what is actually a specific need. There are things my spouse just thinks he likes better, and then there are things that he actually prefers, and my challenge was to determine which was which. To figure that out, I did a number of blind taste tests – not like you see on TV (although that could work too) but in my case, I did them unbeknownst to my spouse. Please don’t get all up in arms that I was tricking him – I told him all about my plans and the tests, I just didn’t tell him specifically when and where they would happen.

From cereal to soda to deli meat to peanut butter to pasta (and many things in between), I bought the generic version of the item and tried it out on my spouse without notifying him of the timing of the change. If he accepted the item as normal, I’d show him how it was the generic version and that would become my go-to item. If he had some sort of “what is this?” reaction, I knew he could tell the difference.

Embrace Your Preferences

Once you know what of the many preferences the person has is actually impacting their quality of life, embrace that preference (no matter how wacky you might think it is). Many of the things my spouse thought he really *needed* he realized that he was just accustomed to using a certain brand, either because of the marketing or it was what he had used as a kid. But there were a few items where he could noticeably tell the difference, or he simply drew the line at experimentation. Such as deodorant, and it wasn’t worth my time to argue with him. (He also has a specific bagel preference as well as a preference in some types of cereal among a few other things.)

My purpose in this was not to make my spouse crazy, but to trim down unnecessary “brand-name” spending as much as I could. For these items, I had to come up with ways to incorporate them into our budget but make it cost effective as well. Here are some of the tips I use to incorporate “high end” items in our house without breaking the budget:

Become a sale-watcher. We get the Sunday paper at our house, and I go through all of the circulars to look for my specific brand name list and see if any of them are on sale for a good price. I have the luxury of living in a fairly urban area where many of the stores are grouped in close proximity, so I can go to a number of different stores (if needed) in a single trip.

Use coupons to your advantage. Coupons are great, but they work even better if you wait to combine them with a sale price. You can clip coupons yourself or use a coupon service to order many multiples of the same coupon to be able to use them for stocking up. But therein lies the question – how do I know when to stock up?

Keep a price book. For me, this is the key to all my shopping effectiveness, not just knowing when to stock up. If I keep track of the price of items over a period of time, I can start to see trends in the pricing and almost anticipate when there will be a sale at a particular store.

Having someone in your family who is tied to name brands doesn’t have to be a complete budget buster. With a little detective work and planning, you can sort out what the real preferences are and come to a compromise that makes you and your family happy. And compromise is the key to successful relationships, after all. Well, compromise and understanding that I am always right, but that’s a topic for another post….

(Photo: lyza)

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12 Responses to “Managing Brand Creep in Grocery Shopping”

  1. Patrick says:

    Great read. I never understood the brand loyalties. I have been able to pay far less than generic brands for products by using coupons and sales. Only in these situations would I choose a brand name over a generic brand.

  2. My Journey says:

    In my MUCH younger days I worked for Vitamin Shoppe, and learned that their generic is actually made by the larger more known company, since VS didn’t even have a Manufacturing arm.

  3. Blackie says:

    I have two brand allegiances;quality and price. Whomever can bring those to my table on any given day is the winner. Does any one recall in the sixties when Sears had a wonderful SLR camera at a very decent price? Turns out they were selling Nikons under the Sear’s brand.

  4. I think it’s actually a fairly common occurrence for the generic brand of a food to be packaged in the same facility by the same machines from the same stock as the brand-name foods, the difference, many times, being just the amount of money spent on advertising and marketing.

  5. tperko says:

    There are some things that I always go for the brand on. I know it is ridiculous – I will have to focus on breaking the habit!

  6. Keith Morris says:

    Great post! Can you explain how one goes about making and maintaining a price book?

  7. tom says:

    I really think the brand name products in most cases taste better than the generic. I would, however, love to do some taste tests!

    I don’t think most of the food brand names charge a higher price because of marketing. What marketing do they do? When was the last time you saw a commercial for Hunts tomato sauce? Or Dole canned fruit? Or even Heinz ketchup? There are many brand name product that do a lot of marketing, but they generally have intense rivalries with competitors like Pepsi, Gatorade, General Mills, Kellogs. I don’t know what would account for the higher price, because they can?

  8. If you’re brand loyal, try shopping at one of the food warehouses like Sams Club, Costco, etc. They have mostly brand names, but usually cheaper than store brands in the grocery chains. Right now you can buy Natures Own bread at Sams for less than the generic brand at the local grocery store. Thomas’s English Muffins too.

    Regarding the grocery chains though, never assume store brands are always cheaper. At one of our local stores, 48 oz cans of Dole Pinapple Juice is 10 cents cheaper than the store brand and has been for a while. There are other examples of this.

  9. I would be interested to see how much money someone is saving from this approach to shopping. It always interests me when people get this specific to see how it really improves their bottom line or increases their savings.

  10. Neil says:

    There are certain items – usually things that have a formula such as pop, hamburger helper, and those sorts of things. Food items like cheese, chicken, juice, etc. are exactly the same.

    The things that I watch for most, and am willing to pay extra for, are fresh vs frozen, and with juices, whether they are made from concentrate or not. These are the things that affect quality…not the name on the package.

  11. superch665 says:

    Family was so happy when I bought Chef-Boy-R-Dee canned pasta instead of the store brand. It was worth the extra 10 cents (although to me they taste the same).

    I’ve noticed that generic zip-top bags and trash bags do not have the same quality plastic or zips as name brand. To me this is also worth the extra money.

    To me it’s trial and error to find what generic is just as good or better than the brand name. But definitely you can save some money if you at least try.

  12. Am says:

    Prices are changed daily in grocery stores. the cereal that was 3.65 Monday could easily be 3.89 Wednesday.

    Just be aware of this.


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