Store Brand Foods Can Actually Taste Better

Store Brand Foods Can Actually Taste Better

During Lifehacker’s Mastercheap experiment, I reached the conclusion that house brand foods were often indistinguishable from their mainstream counterparts, despite only costing half as much. A cross-brand comparison by Choice goes one step further and suggests that in some categories store-brand products actually taste better than their big-brand rivals.

Picture by eltimbalino

The nature of Mastercheap — surviving on a $25 budget with goods bought from a single supermarket — meant that I didn’t get the opportunity to rate how the different house brands (Home Brand or Select for Woolworths, Coles or Smart Buy for Coles, No Frills for IGA, Black & Gold for IGA, and more than I can list for Aldi) compared with each other. Choice’s test, which involved 163 products across 10 categories and 30 taste testers, covered that off pretty neatly (though it didn’t include anything outside Woolworths, Coles and Aldi).

Choice reinforced one obvious-but-worth restating point: you invariably pay much more for branded goods. If I’d purchased the Mastercheap shopping list with branded goods instead, I’d have paid more than $55 instead of less than $25. Choice’s typical basket went up from around $65 to almost $126, SBS reported in its round-up of the survey. (It also found Aldi slightly more expensive than Woolworths, reinforcing that Aldi isn’t always cheaper.)

In general, Choice found that Home Brand goods tasted better than Smart Buy, while Aldi’s products were “hit and miss”. On the taste in specific categories, the results were pretty diverse, but store brand goods were often the champion. For baked beans, Heinz’ product ranked at the bottom of the taste results, despite being the premium brand in the space. Home Brand cheese topped the cheese category, and Home Brand ice cream topped that table. On the other hand, tuna and pasta sauce — two products that were on my Mastercheap list — ranked poorly for store brands.

There is one important catch in those taste conclusions: Foods that taste better aren’t necessarily better for you, since they may well have higher fat and salt content. As such, reading the labels remains an important activity, especially if you’re trying to reduce your intake in those areas (which was also one of the minor goals of the Mastercheap project). Choice broke out those items which have similar nutritional value regardless of how much money you spend:

Tim Tam-style biscuits, white and multigrain bread, butter, cornflakes and Weet-Bix-style cereals, apple juice, milk, frozen mixed vegetables, penne pasta, ham, tinned tuna in brine and spreads are all nutritionally comparable between brands, so for these items you should buy on price or taste.

The ultimate strategy for cheap shopping remains the same: sample cheaper goods, and stick with those if they deliver what you want. They won’t always do so, but presuming they’re automatically inferior will cost you a lot of money. Hit the link for Choice’s full results across all the categories.

Battle of the brands [Choice via SBS]

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • I had a friend that used to work for SPC (or Ardmona). He had the job of picking off gross looking fruit from the conveyor belt on its way to be canned.

    He told me when they were canning for Home Brand or whatever they just stood back and let it all through…

  • We always buy homebrand tuna but were recently given some John West by some one who was moving interstate. I opened the John West yesterday to find it less densely packed than the homebrand.

  • My only objection to house brands is the way retailers use them to pressure their suppliers to lower prices.

    This might seem good for the end consumer, but eventually the smaller suppliers are put of of business. (Or sold to overseas owners.)

    Not all suppliers have the muscle to fight it, but some do.

    For example, I know one Australian wine maker will create an exclusive ‘house brand’ for the retailer, but retain ownership of the branding IP.

    • hear hear,… Damn Strait, I really think it’s wrong to promote these products. It’s all well and good to say that the less well of can get a good deal this way, but when the suppliers can no longer make enough of a profit because the big stores forced them under you won’t get a fair deal anywhere!! We’ll all be forced to eat the crap that the bid stores will end up left with. Do yourself a favour, don’t buy these poor quality (eventually they will be the worst quality) products, they are strangling the economy, and the only people who will profit will be the shareholders!!

  • Salt is a tough category to judge on as well, while there’s a great deal of Public Health information telling us salt is linked to heart disease, when I did a literature search at University, I was unable to find any studies with data which actually supported that. More recently (I searched in 2006), data from long-term studies has emerged indicating patients with known Cardiac events who survive more than 10 years benefit from reduced salt consumption.

    This is a surprisingly specific group, since many people expect the results to be as instant and obvious as the known drop in blood pressure from Sodium’s effects. There is also no evidence of differences in these drops relating to hypertension.

    So while people who’ve had a Cardiac event and wish to live much longer might want to consider utting down their salt intake, the idications are it means little to the rest of us as we can process it effectively. At worst, our bodies should tell us to drink more to compensate.

  • For me its the principle… I don’t want to give money hungry companies (Such as Woolworths and all there non-supermarket ventures [Petrol, Phone Credit, Liquor, etc] any more money.) They are simply parasites sucking money out of companies.

    I’d much rather pay a few extra dollars for a brand, whether it tastes better or not.

    IMO Wollies deserves to go bankrupt and personally I hope they do..

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