You know you’re a hard-core couponer when you buy a store-brand product and it feels like a splurge. While the average grocery shopper might think they’re saving money by choosing private label products over the national brands, couponers have learned that you can routinely combine coupons and sales to get name brands for much less than their more “inexpensive” equivalents.
So when you do have to buy a store brand, instead of feeling thrifty like the average shopper, you might feel like – well, a bit of a failure. You couldn’t get a good deal on the name brand product, so the only way to save any money at all was to slum it and settle for the store brand.
That may or may not describe you, depending on how you feel about your store’s brands. But if it does, don’t be so hard on yourself. A new survey finds that, even among the most ardent couponers who swear by national brands, virtually all of us still buy private label products at least some of the time – and sometimes, with good reason.
The survey, conducted by the retail research firm Market Force Information, found that fully 96% of us buy private label grocery products – 83% “sometimes”, and 13% “always”. Only 2% said they never purchase private label products, because they believe national brands are simply better, or a better value. And the remaining 2%, you could say, are in the “clueless” category (“I’m not familiar with private label brands and don’t know if my grocer carries them.”) Don’t get out much, perhaps?
“Sometimes” is a pretty broad category, though, if the only other choices are the black-and-white “never” and “always”. Someone who fills half their shopping cart with store brands is essentially in the same category as someone who might buy one private label product in a pinch, every few years or so. So the survey is less a ringing endorsement of private label products, than it is a reflection of reality.
And much of that reality comes down to milk. Take one look at the rows upon rows of cartons and jugs in your grocery store’s milk aisle, and you’ll see plenty of products with your supermarket’s name on them, and just a few assorted (and more expensive) name brands. If you’ve ever grabbed a container of store-brand milk, or even a carton of eggs – bingo, you’re in the “sometimes” category. 95% of those surveyed said they buy private label dairy products some, most or all of the time. Most cited price and value for their decision, while the few die-hard name-brand fans cited taste and quality.
“Snacks” ranked second among categories of most frequently purchased private label products, with 80% saying they’ve been known to buy store-brand snacks. And cereal and cleaning supplies tied for third, with 71% buying the store brands.
Cereal? Really? Not a week goes by that some national brand of cereal isn’t on sale somewhere. And coupons for cereal are everywhere. Boxes may retail for $4 or $5, but most couponers advise you’re paying too much if you spend over a buck a box. Even the cheapest private label cereal is more expensive than that, so why are people buying it? Most say it’s because they believe the store brands are a better value. But among those who never buy store brand cereal, 61% say the national brands offer better quality, and 17% say it’s because they have coupons for the national brands. Those numbers are higher when it comes to cleaning supplies – 62% cite the quality of national brands, and 26% say they buy the name brands because of coupons.
In the end, there’s no shame in buying private label products. In many cases (just look at Trader Joe’s), people even prefer them. Other times, you just have to bite the bullet – maybe it’s a need-it-now item and there’s no deal to be had on the name brand product. Maybe you like the store brand better. And maybe, occasionally, even with sales and coupons factored in, the private label product might still be cheaper (as one recent study suggested).
“In every category we studied, consumers cited price as the primary reason for purchasing private label brands,” said Market Force chief marketing officer Janet Eden-Harris, in a news release announcing the survey results. “On the flip side, taste and quality were the top reasons given by consumers for never purchasing private label. If grocery brands can deliver on both price and taste, they have a good chance at grabbing more private label market share.”
And if they can offer sales and discounts to match the national brands, they may even manage to convert the couponers.
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