Food You Should Never Buy Generic

I get it. You're a savvy shopper who knows when the man at corporate is fooling you with his fancy packaging and jazzed up marketing campaigns. And you won't be a sucker. Right?

Though it may be true that some generic varieties of grocery store items do in fact come from the very same factories, there are some products that just aren't going to give you the same bang for your buck when you decide to cheap out on them. But how can you tell which items to splurge on and which its OK to get from the bargain aisle? Take my advice, and steer clear of the following generic items that just aren't worth the few dollars they'll save you at the store. 

Peanut butter

Jam-packed with protein and healthy fats, peanut butter can be a pretty nutritious snack or meal — provided you're buying the kinds that aren't filled with added sugars and oils. And that's where you need to be careful when you opt for a generic brand. Unless it's an all-natural, no added sugars blend, you're going to need to read that label.

The Krazy Koupon Lady made this discovery recently when she did a side by side comparison of Jif brand peanut butter with Walmart's generic brand, Great Value. The seemingly similar products were actually quite different, with Great Value peanut butter clocking in with an additional ten grams of fat per serving! Tasters also overwhelmingly preferred the flavor of Jif, making it the better overall value at only 60 cents more per jar.

Tomato sauce

When it comes to preparing a pasta dish, it's your sauce, not your pasta, that's going to be delivering you the big flavor payoff. If it's the flavor highlight of your meal, are you really going to chance that on generic?

Sure, we all have subjective taste when it comes to tomato sauce. I prefer a thinner sauce with a fresh, chunky tomato taste. My husband loves a thick, spicy sauce that bathes every piece of pasta on his dish. But the one thing we can both agree on with a jarred sauce, is that it should be good quality. And you can just taste the difference in a sauce that uses high-quality tomatoes, good olive oil, and more expensive ingredients. So opt for a name-brand if you aren't making homemade. Sure, you'll have to spend a few more bucks, but you can still take this frugal tip recommended at Money Saving Mom, and use the generic stuff in recipes that call for smaller amounts of tomato sauce, like stews and soups.


If we'e learned anything from our disdain of generic jarred tomato sauce, it's that people can be pretty particular when it come to tomato flavored foods. So naturally, a generic tomato ketchup is probably not going to cut it when there are so many more appealing options out there.

Most Americans were practically raised on the flavor of the tomato ketchup classic — Heinz, so it's no surprise that the tasters in The Kitchn's ketchup taste test were quick to recognize it's unmistakeable, tangy yet sweet flavor. That doesn't mean they couldn't appreciate some of the other brands that were offered, like always-the-bridesmaid brand, Hunt's, which was praised for its more acidic flavor. Of course, there's no reason to stop with the common brands of ketchup — not when there's a whole world of specialty ketchups out there. Mercury News highlights some of the most intriguing, gourmet ketchups available, like Stonewall Kitchen's Truffle Ketchup, Captain Tom's Slappin' Fat Bacon Flavored Ketchup, and Traina California's Sun Dried Tomato Ketchup.

Coffee and tea

Any serious drinker of coffee or tea, or both (like myself) won't be too surprised to hear that I just can't recommend generic coffee or tea, no matter how much moola it saves you at the store. Have I ever bought it? Yes. When I was broke, in my early 20s, and badly needed that morning caffeine fix while still managing to pay my rent. But I think even then I scrounged up enough sofa change to spring for a can of Chock Full O' Nuts.

We've all had cheap coffee. The cheap stuff you get from the coffee cart on your way to work. And for it to be so cheap, it is likely made from Robusta beans, which have a harsher flavor, and more caffeine, than the pricier Arabica beans you could get if you ponied up a little more cash. You might not care a whiff about fancier, pricier brews. But do yourself a favor, and skip the bottom of the barrel stuff.

As for tea, the cheapest ones actually carry their fair share of risks, containing unsafe levels of lead, aluminum, and fluoride. Check out our guide for the teas you should be, and shouldn't be drinking.


When it comes to such a widely loved, sweet treat like chocolate, the old adage, "you get what you pay for" certainly holds true.  

With a 4000+ year history dating back to the ancient Mayans, chocolate was once so unaffordable, it was only enjoyed by royalty and aristocrats. That all changed when the cocoa press brought chocolate to the masses, making way for the aisles of candy bars and boxes of chocolate available at practically any supermarket or corner store today. But anyone who has ever bitten into a cheap, ashy, bland, tin-foiled chocolate Easter rabbit knows that cheap chocolate is not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it might not even be real chocolate. Look carefully at labels for generic chocolate. Is it labeled as "chocolatey" or "chocolate-flavored"? Put that fake stuff down, and cough up the dough for the real stuff. You deserve it.

Boxed mac and cheese

Maybe it's been awhile since you took a bite of the boxed macaroni and cheese you make for your kids' dinner a night or two a week. How different could the cheap stuff be, right? It's just some elbow macaroni and powdered cheese... you're adding your own milk and butter, right?

Well, take it from me, there is a difference. A huge difference. Never mind that you have to question the quality of the ingredients they're using if they can afford to sell you a box of the stuff for 69 cents. The truth is, you can taste the difference, and so can your kids. Business Insider clearly also wondered about the difference between name-brand mac and cheese and generic, reporting that none can hold a candle to the gold standard of the boxed mac and cheese industry — Kraft. The Grocery Games' Teri Gault told them "many generic brands just aren't as good," adding that Walmart's Great Value macaroni and cheese is "too orange, and it just doesn't taste cheesy."

Ice cream

Much like with chocolate, you get what you pay for when it comes to ice cream. The biggest difference between cheap ice cream and the pricier, name-brand stuff? The cheap stuff is likely pumped with a lot of air, giving the appearance of more product, so make sure to check the weight to see if you're truly getting a bargain.

If you're craving that creamy feel and burst of targeted flavor, you're going to want a product that uses plenty of real cream, sugar, and a hefty amount of natural flavors, fruits, or add-ins that make your favorite flavor of ice cream your favorite flavor. When ice-cream makers cheap out on the quality or amounts of those integral ingredients, you wind up with an icy concoction that reminds you of the treats you may have bought in your grade-school cafeteria. You're a grown up now. Buy the good stuff.


I am something of a mustard connoisseur, with a refrigerator door shelf dedicated solely to my ever-expanding collection. I use it for salad dressings, marinades, and dips, and also slather it on almost anything you can imagine. I even put it on my scrambled eggs and omelettes (no judgements until you've tried it yourself).

Sure, if generic is all that's available to me in a restaurant or at a friend's house, I'll use it without complaint. But with the hundreds of exciting varieties and gourmet brands out there, why would I buy generic at home? Do yourself a favor, and try Inglehoffer's Creamy Dill Mustard on top of a poached salmon fillet, or dip your chicken fingers into Silver Spring's Chipotle Mustard. When it comes to topping hot dogs or pastrami, you could go classic deli-style with a straight outta' Brooklyn brand like Ba Tampte, or Nathan's "Original Coney Island," or you could really give your taste buds a pop with a super-grainy variety of mustard like Maille's classic old-style mustard. For a real treat, check out the Maille website, with their insane gourmet mustard choices like Dijon with blackcurrant liqueur and white wine, pesto and arugula mustard, or their mustard with acacia honey and orange blossoms. Generic? Not on my watch!


One of my earliest childhood memories is me begging my mother to buy name-brand soda, instead of that cheapie, store-brand cola she would frequently purchase by the case, when we were hosting my class for a late-summer pool party. Was it the taste that concerned me? Of course not. But even at that young age, I knew what most of us do. Our taste in soft drinks is defined by a certain "cool" factor, and the generic stuff just doesn't have it.

Even though my adult taste buds now opt for soda water instead of sugary soft drinks, I still go for the name-brand recognition. Generic, fruit-flavored club soda? Maybe for a mixer on the bar, but for my money, I'm buying the Le Croix.


There is a certain coolness factor prevalent in how we choose our beers. Even in the world of "cheap" beer, we have our acceptable cheap beers, and our brands you would never see in a bar, but find in the back aisle of a super-budget, liquor warehouse. I'm looking at you, Natural Light.

While there isn't a huge market for actual "generic" beer at the moment, Beer Advocate says we should be on the lookout for its return, starting with Walgreen's Big Flats 1901. Until you can get your hand on some to try for yourself, check out Mashed's own round up of the best tasting, cheap beers. Even my favorite cheap beer, Miller Lite, makes the grade.