So, I do not come from a frugal background. Both of my parents worked and we were solidly middle to upper middle-class my entire childhood, and while my mom was raised very poor, my dad certainly was not, and his worldview in that respect won out when it came to their shared life. We always bought name-brand products and shopped at higher-end stores and bought the best quality of everything we could (or even sometimes couldn’t technically) afford.
You know. Like you do.
And being raised this way, I’ve always held a somewhat elitist attitude toward generic brand products. Clearly if it’s cheaper and the packaging is uglier, the product itself must be absolute crap, right? I mean, really, generic brand products are just for *whispers* poor people…right? And these asinine beliefs were further added to when I started dating my ex in 1998, as he was way into the whole pro-organic, anti-GMO nonsense, and we lived in Marin County, CA, one of the wealthiest counties in the country, where the connection to reality is all too often tenuous at best, so the reigning thinking was the more expensive, the better.
Luckily my science-loving SLNH (scruffy-looking nerfherder) eventually helped me understand that “organic” is basically just a marketing ploy and no healthier for us or better for the environment, and anti-GMO hysteria is supremely misinformed and misguided. My final conversion to reality in this area happened after our babies were born and I found myself lost in the depths of modern, privileged mother-shaming regarding the “toxicity” of apparently, like, everything, and realized it was time to actually do the research for myself. And I’m not talking about Natural News and Mercola “research.” I mean teaching myself how to objectively read and understand and judge the quality of scholarly scientific articles so I could bypass the pseudoscientific filter so much of our especially online information comes to us through these days. And in this way, I was able to stop feeling any guilt whatsoever about buying conventional products, which started saving us a lot of money.
But it wasn’t until our income plunged last year when we took a chance on a new career path for my SLNH (spoiler: it ended up being a terrible decision) that I finally decided to reexamine my feelings toward generic brand products. Because, you know, suddenly we were poor. Thankfully my foray into skepticism had already convinced me that buying generic OTC medicine is a no-brainer, but my deeply-ingrained biases still left me with a decidedly icky feeling when it came to purchasing generic food products. But with less and less money available for groceries, it suddenly became harder and harder from a logical standpoint to stand there in an aisle and still eschew the cheaper, sometimes much cheaper, option.
And then I realized that I’ve already for many years bought generic products at two stores without ever really thinking of them that way–Trader Joe’s, where almost everything is generic, and Costco, where there is basically always a generic option. And both TJ’s and Kirkland products are generally extremely good-quality, so with that in mind, I decided to get over myself and start trying generic products at my main stops convenience-wise, Safeway and Target.
And you know what?
Generic brand food products in general are fucking AWESOME and I stand soooooooooooo corrected.
I’ve been a big label-reader for many years now, first focused on sugar content and “nasty chemicals” (spoiler: everyfuckingthing is made of chemicals), and then later on the ingredients I need to avoid because of IBS, so I naturally started comparing labels on generic and name-brand food items and dude, guess what? Sometimes the generic option is actually healthier. And how do I asses that now? I generally focus on three things–sugar, protein, and fiber, ideally looking for products with more protein and fiber than sugar, depending on what type of food it is, of course. I do buy some higher-sugar products sometimes, but generally only if they also have a high protein and/or fiber content. And so many products that are billed as even nominally “healthy” are so packed full of sugar and not much else, it’s somewhat astonishing. What we call “breakfast bars” for instance, also known as NutriGrain type fruit/cereal bars, are something I’ve always stayed away from because they’re kind of nutritionally devoid. But prepackaged bars of any kind are really fucking convenient, especially once you have kids (yes, yes, my inner environmentalist cringes admitting this), and come to find out, Safeway’s brand are like half the cost and have less sugar and more protein/fiber, so, you know, fucking WIN.
And there are now some generic products I actually find I like better than the more expensive name-brand option. You know how La Croix is all the rage (again) right now? Well, I only like grapefruit-flavoured fizzy water and guess what? I like one of Safeway’s generic brands of grapefruit fizzy water wayyyyyyyyy better than La Croix’s. Deli meat? I only buy their in-house prepackaged turkey, chicken, ham, and salami now because I find it to consistently be much higher quality and fresher–and, of course, considerably cheaper. And for most of my life, I have been a staunchly Rosarita vegetarian refried beans type of girl (vegetarian not because there’s anything wrong with eating lard, but simply because I like the consistency better), but recently I tried Safeway’s brand and guess what? I think I actually like them better! And they’re so cheap! Craziness! And when it comes to sandwich bread, it must meet certain requirements of both mine and my five-year-olds (whole wheat, low sugar, higher fiber/protein, not full of seeds, thinner/softer crust, etc.) and their generic bread meets all the requirements, is half the price of the bread I used to buy, and is delicious.
SO MUCH WINNING.
Now, does this mean that every generic product is as good or better than the name-brand version? Not in the slightest. There are definitely a few things I’ve tried that just weren’t worth the lower cost–I may not be picky about organic, “natural,” or name-brand foods anymore, but I’m still damn picky when it comes to taste and quality. But I would say the majority of food products I buy now–dairy, bread, deli meat, frozen veggies/fruit, canned goods, etc.–are generic brand and I literally could not be happier about it.
So, if you’re somewhat elitist like I used to be, I wholeheartedly encourage you to reexamine your privilege and biases and branch out a bit at the market.
Because turns out commoner food is super tasty.