Are you paying for sexy packaging or added nutritional cred? David Gooding investigates the divide between our supermarket favourites and the generic brands.

When the first generic products first hit shelves in 1977, they barely made a dent in sales. Thirty-five years later they’re dominating grocery aisles and don’t look like going away any time soon. In fact, our appetite for savings – hang the stigma – has driven some name brands off supermarket shelves.

Nielsen research has found that generic brands (also referred to as ‘store brand’ or ‘home brand’) now represent around a quarter of supermarket sales. Some of the major supermarkets have not only one in-house label, but two. And Coles has spent a small fortune on turning its no-brand into a brand of its own, transcending the boundary around basics – which used to comprise the bulk of home brand product – to enter more discretionary categories. Salt and pepper calamari, anyone?

It’s estimated that by the year 2025, it will represent as much as 50 per cent of supermarket takings. But despite their alluring price tags, generics often lack the nutrition claims made by bigger brands – although they are subject to the same nutrition information panel mandate as their pricier cousins. So does this shyness mean they’re short-changing you on the good-for-you front? Or are name brands merely putting your extra hard-earned into pretty packaging?

Generic products are, on average, around 15 per cent cheaper than their name brand alternatives and, in many cases, there’s little between them in nutritional content, making them obviously attractive to the consumer. Supermarket-branded products have no such overheads, meaning they cost less to get – and keep – on shelves.

There are, however, exceptions to the rule. Ultimately the only foolproof way to compare items is to read the labels carefully for nutritional content. If they are similar, it’s down to taste. But don’t assume that because one product meets your standards that another will.


So how do generic products really stack up?

Aside from uninspired packaging and namelessness, there’s not much between branded and home brand products, a Senate Economics Committee heard during probes into eponymous supermarket products.

In 2010, a former National Foods representative reportedly told the committee that home brand and branded milk were “broadly” the same. While the packaging of branded milk often boasts discrete benefits such as less fat and more vitamins, any major difference was impossible due to a national health standard by which manufacturers needed to abide, a dairy industry spokesman said. Milk, particularly, was immune to changes to product ‘recipe’. In a 2008 grocery prices report, consumer watchdog the ACCC backed claims that staples such as eggs, milk, cheese and bread were much of a muchness.

The American Dietetic Association agrees that nutrition is rarely compromised by opting for cut-price products. Yet, when it comes to price, the discrepancy is vast, with home brand milk selling for about 60 per cent of the price of branded milk. Cheese comes in at about 70 per cent of the cost of its branded counterparts, and home brand bread can be as cheap as 28 per cent of the price of premium loaves – hardly mitigated by what a Coles representative was quoted as calling “more product differentiation”. Also known as marketing.


Whatever decision you make at the supermarket, keep in mind that shopping can be a wonderful form of incidental exercise! For the latest health research news and findings, remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.