When to Make Private-Label Purchases
Every summer, Washington is flooded with interns trying to live on a budget in one of the country's most expensive cities. Cheap beer and ramen noodles seem to be staples of the intern diet.
One of our interns, Emma Carew, shared her strategies for saving money when she goes grocery shopping. She purchases store brands for many items, but there are some splurges she thinks are worth keeping.
Many supermarkets are trying to improve their so-called "private label" offerings. Giant Food created a brand called Nature's Promise, while Safeway developed O Organics. According to market research firm Mintel, about 1,800 new private label foods have hit store shelves so far this year.
That accounted for 27 percent of all food products introduced this year. In 2005, private label foods made up only 13% of new food product launches.
Here is Emma's take on the issue:
One habit I’ve adopted as a college student is something my mother always did: buy store brands. If that sounds like familiar advice, maybe that’s because it works.
Some items are a no-brainer. Boxed pasta, for instance – I always get the store brand (unless something else is on sale). It’s usually between 50 cents to a dollar cheaper. The drawbacks? Not as many fun shapes and fewer whole wheat or multigrain varieties.
Flour, sugar and coffee? Since you rarely (we hope) consume these in the form you purchase them, you’ll never miss the name on the label.
And spices like “dried parsley flakes”? That’s not worth buying at all -- store brand or otherwise. Take your two bucks and buy a live plant -- either from your local farmers’ market or even your local grocery produce section. Pop it in some dirt, water, and give it some sun. I started a 4-herb window garden for less than $10 and had fresh herbs all year.
But even my shopping cart, filled mostly with store brand or no-name brand staples like cream cheese and eggs, bread, coffee, will be dotted with a few items I’m willing to splurge on.
String cheese - for some reason, the store brand can never get it quite as stringy! I’ve found the store brands usually are just cheese shaped logs that don’t pull apart too well.
Paper towels – it does you no good to pay less if you have to use half a roll every time something spills. Spring for the good stuff here too.
Real butter -- margarine and yogurt spreads will probably be cheaper, but nothing bakes the same as real sweet cream butter.
Salad dressing -- any cost savings here won’t make up for poor consistency and artificial flavorings that go along with some store brands. Get something in a nice glass jar from the fridge in the produce section. Make up for the added cost by recycling the jar when you’re done!
In short, stop wasting money on everything brand name. But, as we’re looking to live frugally, not desperately, what are your must-have brands or grocery items you won’t give up? Let me know at carewe[at]washpost.com or share your thoughts in our comments.
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