What’s In a Name: Generic Brands vs. Store Brands vs. National Brands

Labels cover a multitude of sins when it comes to the packaging and marketing of national brands, store brands and generics. If food manufacturers were asked to "bare all,” there would be a lot of embarrassed advertisers and a lot of surprised consumers. Product swapping, label switching, and recipe imitating are common among manufacturers and packers. The result is a marketplace of products that may be more alike than one might think. Sometimes you get what you pay for, sometimes you don't. For example, there are only three manufacturers in the instant breakfast business in this country — Carnation, Pillsbury, and Dean Foods. If an instant breakfast label says anything but Carnation or Pillsbury, it was manufactured by Dean....... different labels, all the same product. H. J. Heinz, which no longer sells soup under its own name, manufactures 95% of store-brand soups. The Joy Cone Company — maker of Joy® ice cream cones — makes all supermarket brand cones, using the exact same formula they use for their name-brand varieties — the only difference is the box. Then, there are companies, like Kellogg's, that don’t supply store brands. Their belief is that to allow their cereal to be placed in boxes with store brand labels would cannibalize their own sales. There are no stringent rules covering national versus store versus generic brands. Who packs what and what label ends up on it is highly variable. Aside from national brands and store brands, there’s also generic brands. A generic food product might be of lesser quality than a store brand or name brand, but then it might not. In fact, in some cases a generic product might be equal to store and national brands. Some generics, in fact, are simply “leftovers” from a national brand. When it comes to cost comparison, brand name products can ring it at anywhere from 30¢ to $5 more, making many consumers believe they're paying for an extra dose of quality. Since that isn’t always the case, where does the extra cost come in? Advertising! Big brand names pay for commercials, magazine ads, and more, all of which must be paid off in some way, and that way is through a higher price.