Diet & Food

15 Foods You Should Never Buy Generic

You’ve probably heard by now that you can save a ton of money at the grocery store by forgoing brand name products in favor of store brand or generic. Once seen as a poor substitute, private label merchandise has come a long way. A recent survey found that 81% of shoppers purchase private label goods every time they visit the supermarket. Some private label store brands (Trader Joe’s is a great example) are just as popular as national brands.

But that doesn’t mean that you should always skip brand name stuff. There are certain occasions when purchasing the pricier, nationally recognized merchandise may not only be tastier — it could be healthier, too. Read on to discover which foods you should never buy generic.

1. Peanut butter

Peanut butter | sergoua/iStock/Getty Images

Cheaper, generic brands of peanut butter are more likely to contain hydrogenated oils, added sugar, and other artificial ingredients. National brands can also have these unhealthy additions, but they’re more likely to follow consumer taste trends toward more natural ingredients. Your best bet to picking the best product? Read the label and get the name brand version when necessary.

Next: Only one brand of this item is acceptable.

2. Boxed macaroni and cheese

Kraft macaroni and cheese | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The quality of ingredients used in generic macaroni and cheese is lacking and it’s a taste you can detect in an instant. There is no comparison to Kraft brand — period. Cough up your dollar for a box and don’t look back.

Next: If you’re planning to indulge, get the best.

3. Ice cream

Ice cream | margouillatphotos/iStock/Getty Images

When it comes to ice cream, you get what you pay for. Cheap store brand ice cream doesn’t taste as good as the pricey name brand stuff thanks to lesser quality ingredients. High-quality ice cream and sorbet brand manufacturers use real cream, sugar, and fruit rather than fake substitutions.

You’ll just have to decide what’s more important — your taste buds or your budget. We recommend you treat yourself (at least occasionally).

Next: The recipe for this name branded item is heavily guarded.

4. Soda

Soda | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Dr. Bob and Dr. Pepper aren’t in the same ballpark. Again, it all comes down to ingredients — rumor has it that the recipe for Coke is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world. Soda should be more of an occasional treat than a daily drink anyway — you might as well splurge when you do indulge.

Next: The ingredients matter.

5. Tomato sauce

Tomato sauce | lewkmiller/iStock/Getty Images

Most tomato sauce, name brand or not, is usually inexpensive. The reason you’re better off splurging on the national brand version is that they are more likely to use high-quality tomatoes and spices. The better ingredients make the sauce taste better, so manufacturers aren’t forced to add sugar to make it taste better.

Next: You’ll be able to taste the difference.

6. Cheese

Cheese | Mizina/iStock/Getty Images

Yes, the quality of milk your cheese came from matters when it comes to taste and texture. Like so many other products, cheaper cheeses rely on fillers, meaning you’re getting a less healthy snack that doesn’t taste as good.

Next: This item is often faked.

7. Olive oil

Olive oil | Dulezidar/iStock/Getty Images

Most olive oils sold in the grocery store are a far cry from what you’d buy on a trip to Italy. There have even been lawsuits regarding what constitutes “real” olive oil — and whether putting “extra virgin” on the label is even factual.

So how do you pick the best one? Stick to dark bottles (these prevent the oil from oxidizing) or better yet, buy your olive oil from a reputable olive oil bar. You can also look for a harvest date on the label (cheaper oils won’t have one).

Next: These are worth the extra cost.

8. Cereal

Cereal |

Blame it on the ingredients — for some reason, off-brand breakfast cereals just don’t taste the same as the generic versions. They may also be packed with more artificial ingredients and sugar to make them taste better.

They may be more expensive, but it’s worth the few extra bucks when you’re choosing between Cheerios and Toasted Rounds.

Next: The difference between these products isn’t what you think.

9. Eggs

Eggs | Rightone/iStock/Getty Images

Brown eggs aren’t healthier than white ones, but the brand does matter. Don’t just buy the cheapest eggs on the grocery store shelf — instead, look for Eggland’s Best, which has more vitamins and nutrients than generic versions.

Next: The sheer number of options for this thing is overwhelming.

10. Yogurt

Yogurt | Fortyforks/iStock/Getty Images

Choosing yogurt can be difficult. Greek or regular? Fruit on the bottom or blended? Generic or name brand?

The price difference between private label and name brand isn’t too extreme. Choose the yogurt that tastes best while keeping a close eye on the sugar content, which is often higher for cheaper yogurt brands.

Next: Your recipes won’t work as well when you don’t use name brand for this.

11. Canned beans

Canned beans | KucherAV/Getty Images

As a professional chef and instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education told Reader’s Digest:  “They [name brand beans] hold up better in recipes. Whenever I can, I go with Goya. Store brands tend to be a little overcooked.”

Next: The name brand version isn’t much more expensive.

12. Condiments

Ketchup and mustard bottles | NeilLockhart/iStock/Getty Images

Buying store brand ingredients for baking a cake usually won’t be noticeable. But when it comes to condiments, you’ll taste the difference — and not always in a good way.

For salad dressing, ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, splurging on a name brand is typically worth it.

Next: The generic version is often packed with sodium.

13. Soup

Broccoli cheese soup | EzumeImage/iStock/Getty Images

Canned soup often has a long list of unpronounceable ingredients. The healthiest thing you can do is make soup from scratch (it’s easier than it sounds). The next best thing? Choose high quality, name brand canned soup that isn’t packed with sodium and artificial ingredients.

Next: This brand name item is worth paying more for.

14. Coffee

Coffee | Christopher Jue/Getty Images

There could be cheap fillers such as soybeans, corn, or twigs in your ground coffee. Avoid these gross extras by reading labels carefully and only purchasing coffee brands you trust. Investing in a grinder and purchasing whole beans is another great way to ensure your coffee’s purity.

Next: It’s easy to detect the difference for this item.

15. Chocolate

Chocolate | Francois Nascimbeni/AFP/Getty Images

One taste of subpar chocolate and you’ll be able to tell the difference. Chocolate quality varies wildly, and if you’re going to indulge, it may as well be on the good stuff. Look for a high cacao percentage and be sure it’s not stuffed with artificial ingredients.

Read more: 10 Reasons Why Your Grocery Bills Are So High

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