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Brand-less bargains

We recently headed off to our local supermarket armed with a calculator and notepad (standard issue for oily rag shoppers) to see how much shoppers can save buying generic unbranded products instead of the named brands. The results were staggering, but first let’s explain a little about unbranded products.

It’s not quite true to say generic products are unbranded because they are usually sold under a supermarket brand name. The Progressive owned supermarkets (Foodtown, Countdown and Woolworths) use Home Brand and Signature while Foodstuff outlets (Pak N Save, New World and Four Square) use Pams and Budget.

We selected a shopping basket of 20 everyday items – the things nearly everyone put into their trolley. Our shopping list included: spaghetti, diced tinned tomatoes, toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, baked beans, biscuits (ginger nuts), sugar, flour, dog food, cat food, milk, rice bubbles, rice, tinned peaches, vinegar, cooking oil, ice cream cones, cheese, tea bags, and eggs. We placed the best-known brand in one basket and in the other we placed the house brand equivalent, and then headed to the checkout to see the difference. And there really was quite a difference.

In every case the house brand was cheaper. Five were more than half the cost. Vinegar was 56% cheaper, spaghetti 55%, baked beans 55% dishwashing liquid 52%, and cat food 50%. The average saving across all twenty items was 36%! In other words, the basket of unbranded products was more than a third cheaper.

For the average family, that adds up to a significant saving. Those spending about $250 a week on groceries could easily save $50 a week by switching to house brands, which adds up to $2,600 a year. For many people that’s like an $80 a week pay rise! If you use that money to repay your mortgage the savings would grow to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the loan.

The crazy thing is, in many cases the only difference between the branded and unbranded product was the packaging and label! It was the very same product in both, that came off the same production line.

We were not surprised to discover the big difference between branded and un-branded products. Branded products are heavily promoted. Promotion is expensive, and each can of beans, box of tissues or whatever carries part of that cost.

The message is clear. Buy house brands.

The other thing to be a little wary of is thinking buying bigger is cheaper, as a member of the oily rag club discovered when buying flour. They compared the cost of 5kg and 1.5kg bags of house brand flour and found it was 10 cents cheaper per kg to buy the smaller bag. Just goes to show sometimes buying in bulk is not cheaper!

Do you buy house brands? Have you noticed any difference in the quality of the product?


By Frank and Dr Muriel Newman.

Read more Oily Rag articles here.

You can contact the Oily Rag community via the website at or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.