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6 Winners in the Generic vs. Name-Brand Competition

What do you associate with the word “generic?” Do the words “inferior” or “tastes like cardboard” come to mind? Or do you, like many people, associate name-brands with people who are well-to-do, while people in poverty opt for generics?

cereal aisle supermarket

All of that is complete nonsense, but it is a commonly held attitude. The truth is that generics are often a great buy because the quality of the product is precisely equal or sometimes even better than the name brand counterpart. Here are six winners:


If you are buying name brands like Advil, Tylenol, Bayer Aspirin, Prilosec, Zyrtec, Claritin, and Sudafed, you are wasting your money. You are paying up to three times as much as that medication’s generic version.

By law


All medications sold in the U.S—both over-the-counter and prescription—must be precisely the same quality, strength, purity, and stability as their brand-name counterpart. Generic drugs are safe, efficacious, and FDA-approved. Gary Buehler, M.D., director of the FDA’s Office of Generic Drugs, states, “People can use them with total confidence.” I am shocked to learn Americans waste about $32 billion a year buying name-brand pills over the counter where generic alternatives are readily available.

Pantry staples

Government regulations require the same manufacturing and storage procedures for all staples, such as flour, sugar, eggs, milk, salt, and so forth, regardless of brand. Buying the generic brand is just as safe and tastes the same because it is the same as the brand name.

Buying generic is almost always cheaper except for those rare occasions when the brand name is on sale (get ready for deep discounts on brand name baking supplies starting very soon!) for less than its generic counterpart.

Infant formula

The FDA strictly regulates and requires the same nutrients in all infant formula. This means your baby will get the same benefits from the name brand as the much less expensive generic option. Generic formulas have to follow the same manufacturing and safety guidelines, too, so there’s no added risk. You really can be confident in generic infant formula.


Breakfast cereal

You really can stop paying $4 a box for cereal because excellent generic options are typically 30 percent cheaper.

In several blind test studies, kids who were given brand names and generic cereals could not tell a difference. If your kids are picky about their favorite cereal, try combining the name and generic brands in a plastic container so they don’t see the packaging. Gradually move the mix to more and more generic, until they’ve made the switch.


Cleaning products

I cannot say that all generics can compete with their name-brand counterparts. But many generic cleaning products perform equally or even better. I have to agree with those who find that name-brand paper towels and window cleaner are usually worth the money.

Generic paper towels tend to be too thin and generic window cleaner often leaves streaks. However, off-brand scouring powders, disinfecting wipes, and bathroom cleaner are nearly always equal to or even better than the name-brand options.


The generic options for things like pasta, canned fruits and vegetables, crackers, soda, and bottled water are equal in quality. Do not hesitate to try them; if you find something unacceptable, return that item(s) for a refund. That’s a satisfaction guarantee all supermarkets and grocery stores offer.

Here’s a good rule of thumb as you make the decision: The fewer ingredients you see in the list of ingredients, the more likely it is that the generic brand tastes just as good as the name brand.

National brand manufacturers spend a lot of money on advertising and attractive packaging to sell you a product that may not be better than the generic one. And in some cases, the generic and name-brand companies are the same.

Question: Which generic brands do you find are equal to or perhaps even better than their branded counterpart? Share your findings in the comments are below.

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  1. Imogene says:

    I do buy brand name and generic with certain exceptions. My son requires Allegra and not the generic because he does get sick, probably due to its binding agent, I am very careful with Aldi canned foods as some are not the quality I want.
    My mother worked green bean season at the local factory. When Green Giant or other name brand came in to the factory, they were of a better quality bean from off the field and the whole machine system had to be changed and more workers were added to the line, to include those cleaning out debris as the beans came in.
    Also my favorite cereal, Cheerios has a better texture (not into crisp and crunchy Os) than the generic carried in the big bags. I do try other brands to get the best quality for the best price.

    • Imogene says:

      I’m adding onto my reply by mentioning “America’s Test Kitchen” a PBS show that comes on Saturday mornings. A portion of the show evaluates kitchen tools and the quality/taste of different brands. Want to learn something? Watch the show!

    • Anonymously says:

      Imogene, I agree 100%!!!! There is NO substitute for Cheerios. I’ve tried them all and there’s absolutely no comparison. None! That is one thing we won’t switch to generic on. Costco has sold them as double pack at reasonable price for as long as we’ve been members. We mix Cheerios at our house with all sugared (mostly generic) cereals. Loved your comments.
      Take care everyone! Continue to shop smartly. Thanks for all the great articles through the years, Mary at EC. 🙂

  2. Teresa says:

    I use MANY generic brands, but must admit I am a pasta snob. I have found that most of generic brands are just too starchy. Must be my Italian heritage!

  3. Robert Wismer says:

    This is not quite on point, but has to do with “expiration dates” of pharmaceuticals. As a retired chemistry professor, I have a number of former students who work in the pharmaceutical industry. More than one of them has told me that the “expiration date” of a generic pharmaceutical is based on it being stored in a poor place: a bathroom medicine chest which has high heat and humidity. If you store in a low humidity location (such as a kitchen cabinet), it won’t expire as quickly. (You can tell if aspirin has degraded if you smell vinegar when you open the bottle.)

  4. lwt says:

    if i’m in shop rite and want chocolate chips i make sure to get shop rite chocolate chips, not nestles. shop rite is made with real vanilla. nestles uses vanillin, an artificial flavoring. the only thing i won’t get generic is batteries. i have found them to be very short-lived.

  5. Kay says:

    Th is a great article and I totally agree. May I suggest an alternative to window cleaner? I have found a recipe for a homemade window cleaner that actually outdoes the famous blue cleaner. Sometimes homemade is better than what you can buy and much c

  6. Taryn says:

    I have found that Targets Up and Up vitamins are not necessarily the same. I was taking D3 and my bloodwork showed no change in D3. I switched to a name brand and there was a noticeable change. I contacted Target and they basically said “to bad”. However on the positive side the Publix brand of spaghetti sauce is far better than Ragu or Classico.

  7. Jan says:

    I always buy the store brand (I shop at Jewel Osco and Berkots in IL) on staples like salt, pepper, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, brown and confectioners sugar, canned tomatoes, white vinegar, etc. A recent find was Osco’s Signature Care Migraine Relief OTC. Works just as well as Excedrin Migraine for half the cost. When I save money on basics, I can indulge in other items where I prefer the brand name like Better Than Bouillion (but always with a coupon, of course!) It does pay to compare. Some things work, some don’t.

  8. Katy says:

    I agree that store brands can be equal to or in some cases, even better than name-brand items – but some are more equal than others. I’m on the east coast. In my trying all the supermarket brands in my area, I found that Wegman’s has overall the best store brands of any supermarket items I’ve tried (their paper products are even better than Scott.) The worst I found was A&P (which was good for coffee, and not much else.)

  9. Kay Jones says:

    Just a word of caution with generic drugs. The ingredients may be identical but we found out that the binding agents and makeup of coatings may not be. My daughter had been taking a medication for some time when her insurance change to a generic. She noticed it was causing some shortness of breath and stomach issues that she had never had before. Fortunately a family member is a pharmacist and said the reaction was probably due to the binder/coating. Her doctor wrote the insurance and asked for a blind study and was told that they would change back to brand name because of reports of sensitivity to those agents. Very few people had problems, but for those that did it was awful.

  10. Pat C says:

    The law in Canada regarding generic medications, both over-the-counter and prescription is the same as the US. They must be absolutely identical to the brand name item. Someone once said that to them, the telling thing was that doctors and pharmacists buy the generic version, not the brand name, for their personal use.

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