Walk down any grocery store aisle and you're sure to be met with multiple options for any given product. While having plenty of choices is handy for accommodating budget or dietary needs, it brings up important questions that many of us face when shopping—when should I buy a name-brand product over a generic one? Is there a noticeable difference between the two?
To help you answer these questions, I reached out to my EatingWell co-workers, from registered dietitians to food editors, to find out what's in their shopping carts. For them, buying a name-brand product over its generic counterpart boils down to two main reasons: quality and flavor, both of which are worth the higher price tag. Here are the eight foods they say they always buy name-brands of. (And if you think they only buy name-brand, not true—here are the six foods our editors always buy generically.)
When it comes to salad dressing, Victoria Seaver, M.S., RD, EatingWell's associate editorial director, has strong thoughts, especially around ranch dressing. "Generic ranch dressings just don't do it for me," says Seaver. Instead, she keeps a bottle of Ken's Ranch Dressing or Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing in the fridge and says, "Whenever I have a bottle on hand, I end up eating so many more veggies, be it salads or carrot sticks for dipping." Eating enough veggies has a slew of benefits, from upping your fiber intake to fighting inflammation, so if buying a name-brand product helps you do that, it's a win in our book.
There's nothing better than a warm chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven, and for EatingWell's senior food features editor Carolyn Malcoun, those fresh cookies feature Ghirardelli chocolate chips. Malcoun says, "They are so delicious! I feel like other brands have an almost waxy texture, but these do not. They melt up nice and gooey in cookies and other baked goods." She also enjoys munching on them alongside roasted hazelnuts as a quick snack.
Another brand our editors buy is Enjoy Life chocolate chips. For Penelope Wall, EatingWell's senior editorial director, the choice to buy name-brand over generic comes down to allergies in her family. Enjoy Life's chocolate chips are free from 14 major allergens, including eggs and tree nuts, so Wall knows the ingredient is safe for her family to enjoy. She uses them in recipes like Coconut-Chocolate Chip Granola Bars and Pumpkin-Oat Mini Muffins.
The next time you're in the baking aisle, our editors recommend choosing King Arthur flour over a generic brand. Several of our editors, including Malcoun, Wall and Jessica Ball, M.S., RD, EatingWell's nutrition editor, are fans of the employee-owned, Vermont-based company. King Arthur's flour is never bleached, meaning it contains zero bleach, bromate or artificial preservatives, something that can't be said for other flours. This decision leads to a high-quality product that you'll always find in our editors' pantries.
A scoop of ice cream is a sweet treat any time of year, and for Danielle DeAngelis, EatingWell's fellow, buying name-brand ice cream over generic is a given. "I feel like it's hard to get store-brand ice cream that has high-quality ingredients," explains DeAngelis. Having great ingredients can play a role in the product's taste, so spending a little more money on brands like Breyers and Turkey Hill is well worth it for DeAngelis.
Our editors have many thoughts when it comes to condiments, but whether it's mustard, mayo or ketchup, we're all in agreement that name-brand is a tastier choice than store-brand. For Sean Kenniff, EatingWell's senior food editor, it comes down to flavor, which is why he chooses Hellmann's mayo. Kenniff also notes that his preference for the brand may be geographical, as he grew up eating it. For other condiments, Ball chooses Grey Poupon mustard and I prefer Heinz ketchup.
While there are dozens of options in the potato chip aisle, I always buy Lay's. When it comes to sour-cream-and-onion chips, my favorite flavor, I find that Lay's has a stronger onion taste than generic brands. Plus, the chips don't feel like they're laden with grease. Although the generic options are often cheaper, I'm willing to pay more for a better-tasting product, especially when it comes to my favorite snack.
Whether it's being used to sauté or as a finishing oil, Ball prefers a name-brand olive oil for the flavor and quality. She usually opts for the California Olive Ranch version, which is often on sale. "I like this brand specifically because it's inexpensive enough to cook with but flavorful enough to use as a finishing oil or in salad dressings," explains Ball. As Ball goes through a 750-milliliter bottle every few weeks, choosing a name-brand product is worth it for something she uses on a frequent basis.
Whether it's Cheddar or mozzarella, our editors choose name-brand cheese whenever possible. For editors like Ball and Malcoun, Cabot cheese is their go-to choice in the grocery store. Between the rich flavor and creamy texture, they prefer the quality of name-brand cheese. Not only is Cabot a Vermont-based company (we love shopping local!), but Cabot farmers are part of a co-op, so you're supporting them, too, no matter where you buy the cheese.