Here's a smart way to sidestep inflation at the grocery store

With grocery prices rising rapidly, it might be time to ditch your favorite name brands

Carrie Pallardy

By 

Carrie Pallardy

Carrie Pallardy

Contributing Reporter

Carrie Pallardy is a contributing reporter at Policygenius, where she covers insurance and personal finance news. Her work has also appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Saving For College.

Published April 12, 2022 | 3 min read

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A lot of shoppers are experiencing sticker shock when they fill up the grocery cart.

Food-at-home prices have increased 10% over the past 12 months. [1] Many consumers are concerned about inflation and looking for ways to save. That’s led many shoppers to turn to store brands. We explain why ditching name brands can save on groceries, and which categories offer the most savings.

Why do store brands cost less?

Store brands are the private label versions of brand name products. In most grocery stores, you can find the store brand version of just about any product. Store brands are less expensive because they are plainly packaged, and companies do not pour dollars into marketing and advertising these products with billboards, commercials, or colorful, eye-catching packaging. The cost of this marketing gets passed on to customers in the form of higher prices, says Jonathan Deutsch, professor and director of the Food Lab at Drexel University.

You might be concerned that the lower cost of a store brand product translates to lower quality, but that’s not always the case. “There's a good, high-quality version of many store brands; there is a low-quality version of many store brands. The same is true for name brands,” says Deutsch. Stores want consumers to associate their brands with quality.

How can you use store brands to save?

If you want to maximize potential savings from store brands, know where to look. You can shop at places that make finding store brands easy. Trader Joe’s, for example, is known for its store brands, and people shop there specifically to get them, Deutsch says.

You can also find private label brands at your store of choice. Just remember that manufacturers often pay retailers for premium shelf space. Those more expensive name brand products are likely to be at eye level, while you might have to check look harder for the less expensive store brands.

It is also important to make apples-to-apples comparisons. When you are looking at name-brand versus store-brand prices, consider the package size. “It can be deceiving if package sizes are different,” says Deutsch. “Something may look much more affordable, but then it turns out, it's in the smaller package size.” Compare the cost per gram, per ounce, or per milliliter. Many grocery stores have made this comparison easier by including unit pricing on the shelf.

Coupons and other incentives might make name-brand products the less expensive option. Keep an open mind when you walk the aisles and cross items off your shopping list.

→ Read our list of 50 ways to save at the grocery store

In what categories of food do store brands make the biggest difference?

Meat and fresh produce are two of the most expensive food categories. Prices have been impacted by inflation, as well as supply chain issues related to COVID-19, Deutsch says. Shopping store brands in these categories can help to reduce your overall cart cost.

Your shopping preferences can still play a role in your grocery cart. For example, some people like to stick with brand names for certain products, like snack food. “You want those flavors that are very familiar and comfortable and reliable. You may not be as open to a store brand, whereas for something like canned vegetables or frozen vegetables, you may be more accepting of the differences,” says Deutsch.

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