Ask LH: Which House Brand Goods Should I Avoid?

Dear Lifehacker, After a recent argument with the rest of my family over the purchase of various no-name groceries from supermarkets, I wondered: What are the off-limit items where house brand goods just doesn’t cut it? Any advice? Thanks, Smarting Shopper

Picture: MOles

Dear SS,

Lifehacker has always taken a simple and consistent approach to house brand products: the only way to know if they meet your needs is to give them a try. Whether it’s Home Brand at Woolworths, Smart Buy at Coles, No Frills at IGA or various in-store brandings at ALDI, flat-out refusing to even sample a house brand doesn’t make sense.

Buying house brand goods can make a huge difference to your shopping budget. Back in 2010, I conducted the Mastercheap experiment, where I had to live for a week on a $25 food budget. House brand goods were a vital part of that experiment; if I had purchased equivalent big-brand items, my cost would have jumped to $55. In other words, I’d have paid twice as much for an essentially identical diet.

It certainly isn’t the case that higher-priced goods will always taste better or produce better results. Blind taste testing by CHOICE a few years ago found that in some categories (baked beans and cheese amongst them), house brand goods rated higher with consumers.

With that said, there’s an equally important point to make: your reactions may not be the same as someone else, so you need to judge for yourself rather than relying on advice from others. As a result of Mastercheap, I concluded that Home Brand meat pies are intolerably awful, for instance, and I wouldn’t purchase them — in that case I think spending the extra money is worthwhile. However, Woolworths still sells them, so clearly there is enough demand to continue producing them. I have made my choice; others have made theirs

Note that the issue of whether the products are any good is also separate from where those items originate. If part of your shopping philosophy is to buy Australian-made whenever possible, then there will be some house brand goods you will almost always avoid, since imports are very common in some categories. That’s your choice, but it isn’t really a reflection of how good the overseas items might be.

Current sales figures suggest that around a quarter of supermarket sales are for house brand goods (though obviously that figure is much higher at ALDI). If you don’t want to buy those products, you still have name-brand choices. But we’d always advise making those choices after sampling what’s on offer at your most convenient local supermarket. If you approach the issue with an unbiased mind, you’ll find options that work for you, and identify the ones that don’t.

If readers have particular house brand goods they favour or shun, we’d love to hear about it in the comments. But remember — individual experience varies. What you like doesn’t represent a universal truth.


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