Own Brand products are the cheapest way to shop – but are they any good?

It’ll come as no surprise that I am a fan of own brand food and drink when I do my weekly supermarket shop. For a few years now from both necessity and my hatred of paying over the odds for anything, I have always tried and tested own brand cereals, drinks and ketchup (I know, Heinz takes some beating but own brands do get pretty close for a much lower price I promise!).

According to the latest report from Mintel (who analyse shopping habits in the UK) it seems I’m not alone in my quest to get value for money without serving up second-rate meals to my family (who swore they could spot an own brand cereal over a Kellogg’s classic – but more of that later). Mintel research suggests that as many as 85% of us are now buying own brand food and drink (non-alcoholic) regularly – pushing sales of own brand produce from £40.6 billion in 2009 to just under £50 billion this year.

So, is this because people are being savvier with their money or is it because the supermarkets are now producing really good quality own brand ranges? Well, it seems the quality has more to do with it than I thought, and if you can get good quality for less cash then you’d be mad to do anything else. If you can get good quality own brands at the discount supermarkets then surely you’re on to a winner.

As with everything money saving though the quality of what you’re getting has to stand up to the quality of what you’re leaving behind, or you may end up with a few extra pounds in your pocket but you’ll also have a miserable family at meal time. It’s interesting then that the number of people last year that bought own brand over big brand because they preferred the own brand rose to nearly 15% (that’s double what it was the previous year), so supermarkets are definitely addressing the idea that own brand means low quality. Take Lidl for example. Last year their own label products won Own Label Range Of The Year at the Oracle Retail Week Awards, and I’m a big fan of Lidl and totally understand what the judges saw in their own brand range.

I was reading about this same subject recently in the Daily Mail. They had taken 10 of the best well known big brand products to put to the test against own brand versions from different supermarkets. They started with the obvious one to beat – Heinz Tomato Ketchup. As I said earlier, for me this is a taste we all grew up with and chips are just never the same without Heinz – or so I thought until I tried Aldi’s Bramwell Tomato Ketchup (and the Daily Mail agree!). It’s not perfect but at nearly quarter of the price of Heinz it’s well worth a try. The Daily Mail also think M&S do a good ketchup so I’m going to give that a try too.

They had similar findings with Mayonnaise (I’m less attached to any particular brand myself) and again found Aldi and M&S offering the best rivals to Hellmann’s at a much cheaper price.

The products they were testing that really stood out for me (on top of the Ketchup) were the two that cause the most debate in our house – cereal and loo roll!

Let’s start with loo roll – this is pretty expensive for something you are literally flushing down the toilet, but we all remember that stuff at school that was more like tracing paper than loo roll, so it’s nice to have a bit of luxury if you can afford it! For me Andrex has always led the way but at £1.95 for 4 rolls it’s not cheap. Over the years I think we have tried every other brand going – and the Daily Mail article agreed with us – Tesco Luxury Soft Toilet Tissue at £1.75 for 4 rolls is a good saving and an excellent own brand to go for. (The Daily Mail also recommended Waitrose Essential brand too).

So, on to the big one for me and my family – breakfast cereal. Like most of Great Britain I was brought up on Kellogg’s. Corn Flakes, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, Rice Krispies, you name it, Kellogg’s have lead the way since cereal began and my family told me that they could spot an intruder a mile away. With prices for Kellogg’s typically being around the £2.50 for 500g mark there are loads of alternatives on offer that can come in at less than half price, so this was a challenge I was happy to take on.

I looked at Cornflakes and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes (two of the favourites in the Moneysaver house) to see if I could fool the family into picking a new favourite…and I have to say I just about did it. I started with Sainsbury’s Basic corn flakes and only 1 out of my 4 guinea pigs (that’s 3 kids, 1 husband, not actual guinea pigs) spotted that it wasn’t the usual Kellogg’s I was serving up – until they saw the packet and suddenly the kids could really taste the difference. For my second challenge though I made sure the packets were well hidden and I served up some Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cornflakes and some of Aldi’s Crownfield Corn Flakes Honey & peanuts (as recommended in that Daily Mail article I read). The result? Aldi won! No joke – 100% of my fussy family went for the £1.15 for 500g option over the biggest cereal brand in the world.

So there you have it – own brands are on the rise and you’d do well to check them out, not just for your bank balance but also because your taste buds might just get a nice surprise.

How much can you save by brand swapping each month? And are there any other product swaps I should look out for? Find out here…

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