Report: Store Brands Taste Just as Good

YONKERS, N.Y. In blind tests conducted by Consumer Reports' trained tasters, three private-label foods were deemed tastier than their national brand counterparts, 19 tasted just as good and six tasted inferior to the national brands. Target's Archer Farms Chewy Soft Baked Cookies, Costco's Kirkland Signature Organic Medium Salsa, Wal-Mart's Great Value Whipped Topping and Great Value Au Gratin Potatoes

YONKERS, N.Y. — In blind tests conducted by Consumer Reports' trained tasters, three private-label foods were deemed tastier than their national brand counterparts, 19 tasted just as good and six tasted inferior to the national brands.

Target's Archer Farms Chewy Soft Baked Cookies, Costco's Kirkland Signature Organic Medium Salsa, Wal-Mart's Great Value Whipped Topping and Great Value Au Gratin Potatoes beat out similar offerings from Pepperidge Farm, Old El Paso, Betty Crocker and Kraft, according to Consumer Reports, which is published here by non-profit Consumer Union.

Meanwhile, Ocean Spray Craisins, KC Masterpiece Original barbecue sauce, Oscar Mayer precooked bacon, Quaker Natural Granola Oats, Honey & Raisins cereal, and Kellogg's Pop Tarts bested store-brand challengers from Publix, Target, Whole Foods and Kroger, respectively.

“Most of the [private labels] were as good or better than the national brands, which just means they're worth a try,” Mandy Walker, special projects editor for Consumer Reports, told SN.

She said that corporate brands from Safeway, Kroger, A&P, Publix, Wal-Mart, Target, Costco and Whole Foods were chosen since the chains are leading retailers representing major U.S. regions. Store brands representing four categories were pulled from each retailer and pitted against leading national brands. There was no category duplication amongst retailers.

The private-label items chosen for the test cost an average 27% less than their national-brand counterparts. But in some cases, private-label products were chosen because their price was significantly less than the national brand's, Walker said.

The biggest price difference took place with vanilla extract: 35 cents per ounce for Costco's vs. $3.34 for McCormick's.

Among the corporate brands tasting just as good as their national-brand rivals were A&P's America's Choice Plus multigrain spaghetti with omega-3 ($1.59) compared to Barilla Plus ($2.25). Similar results were reached during tests of Target's Market Pantry Fudge Brownies and Duncan Hines Family Style Chewy Fudge and Publix's GreenWise Market Organic Mustard vs. Grey Poupon.

Store-brand and national-brand taste tests are being staged elsewhere, Jim Hertel, managing director at Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill., told SN.

“We're hearing from a lot of people, including branded suppliers, that they're doing their own private-brand vs. national-brand blind testing and reaching similar conclusions,” he said. “The performance gap between private and national brands has disappeared and in some cases the national brand is at a deficit.”

Cognizant of the narrowing disparity are large brand manufacturers, who've shifted product development dollars as a result, noted Hertel.

Rather than improve on existing products, as it did with Tide Total Care and Tide Release extensions, Procter & Gamble recently introduced Tide Basic — a lower-cost, powdered version of its Tide detergents.

“It was saying, ‘We're not sure we can come out with meaningful improvements or ones that consumers are going to pay top dollar for, so we're going to optimize the value delivery,’” said Hertel.

Retailers are likewise devising plans to win over national-brand loyalists, and sway on-the-fence shoppers.

Last year Wegmans, Rochester, N.Y., began conducting blind taste tests of private and national brands with shoppers. Winning Wegmans-brand items are identified on-shelf with “Great Taste Wins” signs. They include W Os cookies, Aqua V Lemonade Vitamin Water and Food You Feel Good About chunk light tuna in water.