Only Suckers Don’t Buy Generic


The more informed you are, the more likely you are to choose store brands. Pharmacists, for example, are especially likely to buy store brands of headache medicines. Chefs are far less inclined to select national brands of salt and sugar than are nonchefs who are otherwise demographically identical. In other words, national brands are succeeding largely because of consumer ignorance.

You can count me among the nonchef idiots who pay three times more for brand-name pain relievers et alia instead of CVS-brand something-or-other. This BloombergView piece has almost convinced me to shake off my leftover childhood class anxiety and stop doing things like buy the most expensive pregnancy test because that probably means it’s the best.

The study was huge, as per my bloggerly estimation, using purchase data on more than 77 million shopping trips to compare shopping choices to consumer’s profession and backgrounds.

Also, yow:

If all consumers were better-informed, then, consumer markets would look very different. Total expenditures on headache remedies, for instance, would fall 13 percent, and retailer profits would rise 5 percent as people bought more in-house brands. And if people bought store brands whenever they could, they’d save as much as $44 billion.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons


68 Comments / Post A Comment

beastlyburden (#6,122)

My dude and I squabble about this all. The. Time. He’s thinks that I’m playing with life and death every single time I buy Walgreens ibuprofen instead of Advil and that our clothing will burst into flames if we use Costco dryer sheets instead of Bounce.

@fo (#839)


“use Costco dryer sheets instead of Bounce”

There *is* a noticeable difference in the fragrance. No judgment on which scent is ‘better’, tho.

chevyvan (#2,956)

@beastlyburden I can settle this: use 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar like you would a fabric softener and get rid of dryer sheets and/or fabric softener. And the (generic) brand of vinegar is like $1 per gallon.

EmilyStarr (#4,035)

@chevyvan We use tennis balls.

lemonhead3159 (#6,051)

Oh man. I buy store brand everything. I even do the Sunday food tastings where Giant Food has you sample store brand items and name brand items and rate them and then you get coupons for… store brand items. Added to the list of things this Millennial isn’t buying: national brands.

andnowlights (#2,902)

I’m brand loyal to a couple of things: Advil, Pillsbury all purpose flour, Tide detergent and Crest. Otherwise, store brand is totally fair game, especially when it comes to stuff like spices, face wash and toilet paper. Those things don’t matter that much to me (people who have sensitive skin may get different mileage out of name brand face wash, though) and I am allll about the drug store makeup, which in some internet circles is SO not classy of me.

limenotapple (#1,748)

@andnowlights I was going to mention flour, for when I bake (otherwise I don’t care) and cereal. Also, the generic of my face wash is different even depending on where I buy it. The Walgreens brand is different from the Target brand, which is different from the name brand. It all worked out for me, but my husband had some skin issues from the Target one.

garli (#4,150)

@andnowlights Yes! Flour is so important. Also chocolate.

chic noir (#713)

@andnowlights – I like some drug store makeup. I find it can be hit & miss. NYC long lasting eye pencils are very good. I have issues with drugstore lip glosses and foundations. As a Black lady, I find that many Drug store brands don’t always have my color in all of the newer formulations.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@garli @limenotapple I made the mistake of buying generic flour one time and all my favorite baking recipes were just wrong- either too flat, too puffy, etc. It was bizarre!

@chic noir My makeup needs are very, very basic- I just can’t get into it! I tend to stick to Cover Girl for my foundation and eyeliner, Maybelline for my mascara, and whatever taupe/beige isn’t sparkly for my eyeshadow. They really don’t make darker ones, though! That’s definitely true. I tend to really only wear Burt’s Bees for chapstick, though I did buy a Cover Girl lip… thing… that I like a lot!

JtotheBtothe (#6,872)

@andnowlights I think I read somewhere that Tide is the most valuable brand in America. I could be imaging that, but I’m too lazy to google it. All I know is that my mom used Tide, and now I do too.

@chic noir Not sure where you live but if you live in an urban area with a high population of black people you can find Iman,Shea Moisture and Black Essence makeup products at Target. These brands have more shade options for black women.

guenna77 (#856)

all OTC meds – store brand all the way. they are totally identical, and in many cases (perhaps even the majority) they are made by the same supplier, at the exact same facility, on the exact same assembly line as the name brand. the only difference is packaging. if you pay for name brand, you are absolutely ONLY gaining the name (and a placebo effect).

and sometimes store brands are better. i like giant greek yogurt way better than chobani, and giant brand seltzer instead of vintage. target brand baggies, paper towels, trashbags, shower gel. there are few things i’ll pay name brand for.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@guenna77 With Advil, you are also paying for a sweeter, thicker coating on the pills.

Worgchef (#6,838)

@guenna77 Generic drugs FTW. Our first kid went through a lot of infant ibuprofen. Difference between target brand and Advil was on the order of 3x! We switched fast. I also take the generic Zyrtec; difference there is more like 5x.

I don’t hesitate to buy generic drugs. I am 100% confident they will yield the same experience as the name brand (they are, after all, chemically identical).

Other stuff, though, I have to try out. Sometimes, as you point out, house brands are equivalent or better. But sometimes not. The darn Target trash bags had a weird wavy top that was impossible to close correctly. Drove me crazy for the six months it took to use up all those bags.

shannowhamo (#845)

@Lily Rowan I do love the taste of real Advil, that coating is delicious! Am I weird? But yeah, I’m not paying for the taste so no more brand name for me. Recently, I discovered that CVS brand “clinical strength” deodorant is awful, very chalky compared to the name brand and the container is just weird. I’m sad too because I bought them buy one, get one half off so I have 2 to get through!

clo (#4,196)

@shannowhamo My wife makes me buy real advil because of the taste! It’s one of the few brand names we stock in the house.

eeyore (#4,467)

BUT BUT BUT there are some things that I’ve never found a good store-brand for. From my experience:
- ketchup
- graham crackers
- tampons (the Target store brand is alright though)
Anyone else?

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@eeyore Yeah, Tampax tampons forever and always. And Heinz ketchup. Otherwise, store brand all the way!

@eeyore Pre-made pie crust. I am the last home cook who doesn’t make their own pie crust I guess, but Pillsbury is pretty good. Cheese of any kind, except for pre-shredded cheese, which is all garbage.

Sloane (#675)

@eeyore Definitely for the Tampax – store brands are awful, awful, awful.

twofish (#5,481)

@eeyore Yes to ketchup. Heinz always, Heinz only. I also remain loyal to Jif peanut butter and Angel Soft toilet paper. Otherwise I buy only store brands.

I used to buy all brand name stuff because I thought it made me classier. Then I woke up one day and realized I’d been brainwashed by advertising. :-/

pinches (#3,520)

@eeyore swiffer dry things? have i not searched hard enough? (hi~)

Lily Rowan (#70)

@Sloane I recently tried to go BACK to Tampax, and found I now like the store brand better! Especially Walgreens.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@Lily Rowan Yeah, I’m the same way!

ThatJenn (#916)

@eeyore Publix has great ketchup AND great graham crackers (and great generic nearly-everything, honestly), but is regionally limited. Can’t speak for their tampons, if they have them. It seems to me that instead of just having a generic store brand for everything, they only do store brands of things if they know they can do them well, like their Oreo knockoffs that are WAY better than the “real” thing. If they can’t do it well, they don’t bother.

I grew up with a grocery store that had terrible generics (Giant, at least in the 80s/90s) and so didn’t bother to try anything store-brand other than medications until just a few years ago. I’m a total convert now to the Publix way, though.

Oh and I’m addicted to Great Value’s Crystal Lite knockoff drink mix, but don’t tell anyone.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@cryptolect I was shocked! I literally was like, “Oh, I’m going to treat myself to Tampax….”

erinep (#4,236)

@Punk-assBookJockey I don’t do homemade pie crust, but part of that is because our counters are just too small. I go with Trader Joe’s pie crust and then usually give it an egg bath to fancy it up a little.

@fo (#839)


“I go with Trader Joe’s pie crust”

The frozen pie crusts from the Food Hole (at least the version we get in Chicago) are really, really good for being frozen.

TJ’s organic ketchup is good, if you prefer the non-HFCS sort.

@fo (#839)


“I go with Trader Joe’s pie crust”

The frozen pie crusts from the Food Hole (at least the version we get in Chicago) are really, really good for being frozen.

TJ’s organic ketchup is good, if you prefer the non-HFCS sort.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Punk-assBookJockey I don’t make my own pie crust. That’s just too much effort for me for some reason. That’s the one thing where I’m just like “nope, I’m good” and reach for the Pillsbury. I think that if I could make them with lard, I’d be more willing to try, but the husband can’t eat it.

erinep (#4,236)

@@fo ketchup is one of those things that the dude will not compromise on, so Heinz it is. Actually, now that I think about it, we are pretty brand loyal on condiments. We like certain hot sauces for certain foods and Heinz ketchup, and he’s also a stickler about having hellman’s mayo. We will get experimental with mustard though.

What’s Food Hole?

JtotheBtothe (#6,872)

@LookUponMyWorks Yeah, I feel like tampons are one of those things where it just feels all wrong to use a different brand than you’re used to. Surprised at all the tampax fans here! Maybe I should take this to the Hairpin, but you will pry my OB tampons from my cold, dead hands!

CaddyFdot (#2,686)

@Sloane I have hated Tampax since the very beginning of my period-having life! Do you use Tampax because that’s what you’ve always used, or have you tried others (not just store brand) and still like Tampax best? I am firmly in camp Playtex.

@fo (#839)

@erinep “What’s Food Hole?”

Whole Foods, as adapted from a fake internet friend.

Sloane (#675)

National brands: Clorox, toilet paper (whichever of the national brands is on sale), and Duke’s mayo. Everything else is store brand and probably comes from Aldi.

iseeshiny (#6,178)

@Sloane I am with you on the mayo – Aldi mayo is like, whipped, or something, and not good at all.

potatopotato (#5,255)

My dad is a pharmacist, and I can confirm I grew up on all generic meds. It kills me that my current Rx drugs don’t have a generic yet.

But you can pry my blue lid Hellmans out of my cold, dead hands.

lemonhead3159 (#6,051)

@potatopotato Ha, my dad is a pharmacist too and we not only had generic meds, but “expired” meds. I use vitamins and allergy pills and pain pills waaay past the expiration date because of this.

I always wondered with expired meds: do you take more, because it has lost efficacy, or less, because it’s poison?

aetataureate (#1,310)

@Ester Bloom The first one. They just get duller, not poisonous, unless it’s something exotic or refrigerated?

chic noir (#713)

@lemonhead3159 oh wow can you give us a general rundown on how long these things last past expiration please.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@potatopotato Hellman’s! I forgot about that one. I’m realizing that I have a lot more brand loyalties than I thought. Whoops.

lemonhead3159 (#6,051)

@chic noir I can’t remember my dad ever telling me a specific time frame for not consuming something, but maybe like a year or two? And it was only for a few common OTC medicines that he actually kept around the house.

readyornot (#816)

On our first joint trip to Ye Olde Target, my now-husband and I were picking up incongruous things like ramekins and sandpaper. Just as we were on our way to the checkout line, I said, “Oh! I forgot the 409.”

A few days later, he pulls out a nearly full bottle of Fantastick from a cabinet I’d never opened. I was like, why’d you let me buy 409 if you had this other perfectly good all-purpose cleaner I just didn’t know about? He said, “I thought you were expressing brand loyalty.”

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

@readyornot Bless him.

milena (#3,288)

Private Label evangelist over here!

I work for a private label and I feel pretty confident that as far as OTC pills go, generic is totally the way to go. Most people don’t think about this, but private label drugs go through the same regulatory process that name brand drugs go. Some retailers’ private label divisions even have their own QA groups that visit production plants and test products picked at their own stores to make sure everything is of the best quality. I get free products to sample all the time, and there are very few private label products I have tried and actively disliked.

I know some people get creeped out by the lower price, like how can something be good and cost half as much as the name brand? Private labels sell for significantly less than name brand because their COGS are lower (economies of scale for the supplier, who often sells the same pill to many retailers), the supplier likely paid for all the R&D so the retailer doesn’t pay for that, and there’s no (or low) marketing costs to the retailer. A huuuuuuge percentage of what you pay for name brand items goes towards advertising.

I generally buy store brands for most things, including groceries and health care, but I make exceptions in places where personal preference (e.g. taste/smell/texture) and proprietary formulas play. If you buy OxiClean and only OxiClean for laundry — totally get it. Nothing works like OxiClean. I am also incredibly loyal to Colgate toothpaste (got used to the taste) and Heinz ketchup (golden standard). But buying name brands when it comes to commodities (rice, for example) or items that you use but don’t really care much about (paper towels for me) is crazy. Switch to the private label and see if you notice or care about the difference.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@milena I WAS a Heinz devotee until I went to Whole Foods hot bar one day and had to use their 365 ketchup. I haven’t used up the bottle of Heinz in our fridge, but I think I’m going to make the switch! It was just… cleaner tasting, and doesn’t have HFCS.

chic noir (#713)

Well I can’t bring myself to use store brand soap powder. The stuff stinks. I’m very partial to Tide but will purchase Arm&Hammer when it’s on sale and I have a coupon making the second bottle free.

I also don’t like store brand dish detergent. It’s too watery. I find myself using twice as much to get a lather going. Whereas I can use a dime size of Dawn and wash five plates easily.

I do use other store brand cleaners, lettuce in the bag, and random pain meds. I do find the store brand PM meds leave me feeling a bit groggy.

For the record, Wegmans has some of the best tasting canned goods. Much better than their name brand counterparts. I hear Wegmans tuna is to die for. Now I just need a simple receipe.

Brand loyalty only for things with a distinct flavor, and even then, check and make sure. I def. like Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies better than any rival, generic or branded, but I also just like chocolate chip cookies, so it’s never all bad when I buy some.

ThatJenn (#916)

I have a bizarre allergy to a common additive in medications (titanium dioxide, yay), so I’m often stuck with either the brand-name or ONE specific generic. Name-brand Allegra D is the only full-strength (as in, not a children’s liquid formula) regular allergy medicine I can take that I’ve found; and for acute allergies I can either take the name-brand dye-free Benadryl gel capsules at $10 for just a few gel capsules or the Great Value (Walmart) knock-off tablets at $4 for 100 tablets. It’s so weird and hit-or-miss, and when they switch manufacturers or discover that TiO2 has become a cheaper filler for them now, it’s an adventure trying to find something new I can maybe take.

tl;dr I spend a lot of time thinking about brands vs generics and am disappointed I don’t always get to make the choice based on rational economic reasons

RiffRandell (#4,774)

I guess Aldi has done me a favor by making the generic/national choice for me.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@RiffRandell Trader Joe’s here! Their soy chorizo isn’t made by anyone else that I can tell, and it was upsetting when it was gone for awhile.

hopeyglass (#3,298)

@RiffRandell Just sayin’ my Aldi is currently stocking their Aldi brand wine in a Rose variety (dry! pretty good!) and man, I wanna basically buy the lot of it.

@RiffRandell Aldi takes the “generic” model to the extreme (the quarter in the shopping carts, the bare bones display, bag your own groceries, etc.) and I LOVE them for it.

jennonthego (#5,366)

I get what they are saying, but I can only speak from my own experience. When Excedrin Migraine was off the shelves for a year and I had to rely on generics and other name brands, it just wasn’t the same AT ALL. I had to take more pills or pills more often and wait long for the pills to take effect, which when you have a migraine just sucks out loud.

I’m brand loyal to my pads (Always Infinity) and tampons (Tampax) because they are what I started with and they work. I have no desire to test out the generic brand unless it’s an emergency. I’ve got a few other brands that I’m loyal to, through trial and error (not all sour cream tastes the same to me, etc), but I also rarely buy these items at full price. Between sales and coupons, I probably spend the same or less than just straight up buying the generic brand and I get what I need.

erinep (#4,236)

@jennonthego You are right about the Excedrin migraine. I was definitely taking more of the generic pills.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@jennonthego Ooooh yes, Exceredin Migraine! I forgot about that!

aetataureate (#1,310)

@jennonthego Excedrin Extra Strength, Migraine, and Menstrual are all identical in active ingredients (including quantities) and all identical to the generics in active ingredients.

Chel (#2,960)

I am brand loyal on some things – toilet paper (Quilted Northern in the purple wrapper), Mrs. Meyers dish soap, tampons. I use mostly Dove shower gel and deodorant since that’s what they had at Costco and end up splitting a lot of Costco brand household purchase like garbage bags with my sister.

Allergy pills I will try whatever is on sale that has the active ingredient I need. Cold or flu stuff I always buy the same thing since I don’t want to have to go to the store twice if the new pills don’t work. BC pills I ask for the brand name since I was taking that for a couple of years before the generic was available for Yaz and when they gave me the generic I had more cramps and PMS-type symptoms than before.

My dog’s allergy pills are the CVS generic. The vet prescribed them and charged me $70 in office for 15 pills. When I looked them up online to refill I found out that they are a regular human allergy pill available OTC. It’s about $5 for a bottle of 30 at the drugstore.

jillcool (#2,123)

I definitely buy more brand names than I would like to. About the only one I am super picky about is Q-tips. My hubby, on the other hand, insists on buying Bounty paper towels, Charmin TP, Heinz ketchup, name brand cereal, and so much more. He even pays more for name brand milk where I’m fine with the Costco brand or the store brand.

I also only buy generic OTC and rX meds. The Kirkland (Costco) equivalent to Claritin is only around $12 for an entire year’s worth of pills. I can’t even get a month’s worth for that if I bought real Claritin.

clo (#4,196)

I’m with @milena on this one. I try to buy as much generic stuff as I can except in cases of a strong personal preference for a name brand or an actual big difference in the label vs generic (like OxyClean). The one thing I have to disagree with @Meaghano about is that the lower priced pregnancy tests actually are less accurate! Target pregnancy tests were only like 84% accurate vs 99% for the pricer ones. Worth it to me!


Pregnancy tests come in a range of sensitivities to hcg- if you’re planning on testing very early, before your missed period, a very sensitive test is better, but the most expensive test available isn’t always the most sensitive.

The accuracy levels you cite are almost certainly referring to how likely the test is to detect pregnancy at the earliest possible testing stage, when hcg has just surpassed normal background levels, not accuracy overall- ie, the particular Target test you looked at might be only 84% accurate at detecting pregnancy 3 days before your first missed cycle because it’s slightly less sensitive to hcg, while that particular name brand test is 99% accurate at that stage. But that difference disappears the later you test, so for women who are testing later, there is no difference in quality or accuracy between most tests.

Also, you can find pregnancy tests in a range of sensitivities at all price points- there’s a Walmart Equate brand test that’s almost as sensitive as e.p.t. (25 mlU vs 20 mlU) and there are name-brand tests that cost a lot with digital displays that aren’t especially sensitive at all (Clear Blue Digital springs to mind). Once you account for sensitivity, the price difference are entirely based on packaging, marketing, and things like the type of results display (two lines vs a digital smiley face, for instance).

TL;DR version: If you’re looking for the earliest possible result, google the tests available and buy the one with the highest sensitivity to to hcg, which may or may not be the most expensive one available. But if you’re planning on testing after a missed cycle, spending more does not get you better results- just better packaging/fancier displays.

clo (#4,196)

@emmycantbemeeko I would totally agree in general, and I have done my research, but in this case Target tests ARE less accurate even when not testing early.
“The Target brand, which promises “unsurpassed accuracy” for $3.89, is among the least accurate”


That entire article is about testing early- it even specifies that by one week post-missed-period, “any home pregnancy test will do”.

Hcg levels double roughly every two days in early pregnancy, and even the least sensitive tests will measure positive at 100 mlU, while the most sensitive tests measure in the 20 range. So we’re talking a matter of a few days of difference in effectiveness between available products- relevant for a few users, and if you’re one of those users, definitely worth the extra money. But at a markup of 300-400% over less expensive tests, not worth it for every customer. And price is also not a clear indicator for sensitivity- some of the most sensitive tests are generic, and some of the most expensive tests aren’t very sensitive.

I just get exasperated at the number of people who come to the ER because they “can’t afford” a pregnancy test, and when it’s mentioned that you can buy a pregnancy test at Dollar General, tell us that “they don’t trust a Dollar General pregnancy test”. And then it turns out they’re already three months along and a Dollar General test definitely would have worked *just* fine vs a $500 ER visit that they can’t afford (and for which we used a pregnancy test no better in quality than commercial ones).

It’s frustrating that pregnancy test manufacturers play on peoples’ anxiety to buy the best in that situation to jack up their prices way beyond actual costs, often without delivering any additional value to the consumer.

clo (#4,196)

@emmycantbemeeko It doesn’t seem about early testing according to this line: “For the study, Cole and his colleagues measured the amount of hCG in the urine of 25 pregnant women on the first days of their first missed periods and tested 18 brands of home pregnancy tests to determine how well they detect those levels of hCG.” According to all of the research I’ve done, the first day of your missed period is no longer early. Maybe you have some info that I don’t though! I’m aware of the doubling thing as well, and for this reason I actually don’t test before the first day my period is due since it can be so inaccurate.

However I have lots of medical professional friends so I understand your annoyance! For me I am 1) a lesbian and 2) actively trying to get pregnant so I’m definitely not in a ‘didn’t know for 12 weeks’ situation. I have literally 3 friends right now who are accidently pregnant, so as someone who spends thousands of dollars trying to get pregnant, this can be really frustrating. (Not that I’m not happy for them if they’re happy). I totally agree that it’s lame how First Response and others makes it seem like their tests are the only ones that work. I swear though the Target test really did say less than 87% even on the first day of the missed period, so in that case, when I got a negative I was like well, there’s still a small chance I might be….because I was hoping for it so much.

ceereelyo (#3,552)

I buy a lot of store brands at Target for non-food items, especially OTC meds and health things. I have certain items I have to buy national brand – maxi pads, dishwasher tablets (the Target ones are crap), dish soap (Target or TJ’s sucks), ketchup, and toliet paper and toliet wipes. I think that’s it. The Target Cartwheel coupon app usually has additional discounts for their store brands too. When I was on BC I changed over to the generic because it was free through my insurance.

I don’t have a baby/not pregnant yet but I know people have diaper preferences – those with babies or are pregnant – do you have a preference? My coworker has a preference and she hasn’t had the baby yet, and I don’t know if it’s just based on word of mouth or whatever. I know diapers vary but wouldn’t you want to try a bunch of brands before figuring out what worked with your lil boo’s bum? She had a diaper raffle and I ended up getting her the diapers she had on her registry but she was talking about how she needed to return the ones that she got that weren’t her preference (which were most of them) and I mentioned that maybe just keeping a couple for emergencies? My other coworker swears up and down that the Costco ones were perfectly fine, cheaper and she also had twins so 2x’s the diapers.

EmilyStarr (#4,035)

@ceereelyo Yes, your friend will probably need to test some out. I mean, that’s lovely that she’s narrowed it down, but babies vary. Some have super-chubby legs. Some have spider legs. Some start out one way, then end up another way (mine started out spider-legged – one stayed that way, one did not). And, well, kids’ output varies, too, and diapers vary some in their containment ability.
Bottle preference can also vary. One of my kids didn’t really care. The second – I swear we bought one of each kind the store had trying to find one she’d keep in her mouth for longer than 10 seconds.

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