Many shoppers associate national brands with higher quality and better nutrition than private labels, but in-house brands are often nutritionally equal and in some cases may be better for you, depending on your dietary needs.
A survey published in Consumer Reports found that 17 percent of respondents said that “name-brand foods are more nutritious,” but the same report showed that there’s often little to no difference between store brands and national brands. They did find that Kellogg’s Froot Loops have two more grams of fiber than Stop & Shop’s Fruit Swirls and that Ore-Ida fries have more sodium than Jewel’s. Store-brands often tout the same ingredients list as national products, and indeed, the nutrition labels confirm the similarity.
DietsInReview conducted our own informal study of 30 products at the Stop & Shop in Long Island City, New York. Like Consumer Reports, we found that many products had extremely similar nutritional values, and products such as fat-free milk, cream cheese and canned kale greens had identical nutritional values. We did not see any major trends when comparing sodium, fat or sugar in the national brands vs. the store brand.
Depending on your overall nutritional needs, however, comparing labels can have a pay-off. For example, someone with high blood pressure looking to reduce their sodium intake should buy Nature’s Promise caesar dressing (240 milligrams) over Brianna’s (310 milligrams). The Stop & Shop brand of black beans had less sodium than Goya’s, and Stop & Shop’s Chunky Chicken Noodle also had less sodium than Campbell’s. For anyone looking to cut back on sugar, Betty Crocker mashed potatoes had three grams of sugar, whereas the Stop & Shop brand had none, but the trade-off is higher fat in the store-brand product. Generally, the healthiest whole foods come with the least branding, but when it comes to picking packaged items, it always pays to read the back-of-package label.
Some private labels are improving the nutritional quality of their foods as a strategy to carve out a bigger market share, which particularly appeals to customers under the age of 35 who may be more open to trying store-brand products. According to research conducted by the Barkley advertising agency, Boston Consulting Group, and Service Management Group, more customers between the ages of 18 to 34 felt that store brands are just as good as name brands than older customers. Shoppers under 34 “were more likely to say their physique and appearance was very important, they try to work out on a regular basis, they consider themselves a health fanatic and they are willing to spend more on products that are organic,” says Brad Hanna, Senior Vice President and Group Account Leader at Barkley.
Stores that have created in-house organic brands, such as Safeway’s O Organics and Stop & Shop’s Nature’s Promise, are finding a niche by appealing to health-conscious shoppers who are looking for organic products with fewer additives and shorter ingredients lists. Target has also made efforts to provide healthier options through their Market Pantry products, which are often the only items on the shelf without added sugars or high fructose corn syrup. They’ve also re-formulated all Archer Farms products to have zero grams of added trans fat. In some categories, these in-house brands are the only organic option.
Other stores have made steps in this direction, but these changes may be less visible to consumers. “The reality is, many private brands have made significant improvements in product quality or nutrition but have failed to merchandise these changes to consumers,” says Hanna.