Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Generically Speaking

As the economy worsens and budgets start screaming more and more – or rather you and I are screaming more and more – we will most likely see a huge resurgence of generic products, and coupons in grocery stores.

I will deal with coupons in another blog or two.

Food and grocery products labeled as “generics”, no name labels, black and white labels, or a variety of other indicators will most likely be found springing up on shelves and in ads. Generics are offered at what is perceived to be extremely reduced prices compared to national brands. Once again they will be introduced as a consumer pacifier, being offered as a counter-product to the much higher priced products.

Essentially they are produced to make national brands look good. Some of you may remember the last round of lots and lots of generics. The quality of many products was so poor that shoppers were quickly willing to pay the higher prices for brand products even though they were desperate to save money. Well today many of us are – or will be – finding ourselves in similar desperate or rapidly shrinking budget situations.

You need to remember there is a difference between being a professional scrounge – like me – where you delight in finding marvelous bargains (YES!) or discover that you may have been tempted to waste your hard earned money because you were convinced the pork and beans, or whatever, was a bargain. But it was not. Yes, you will get caught sometimes. A few guidelines may help prevent a landslide of errors as more “red herrings” are put out there. Awareness of what you are really seeing could make a difference in what you do or do not buy.

As you look for ways to make ends meet and stretch your budget until it screams there are a few words that need to jump out and grab you BEFORE you stock up in great amounts of those “money saving options.” Words such as “BEWARE,” “ CAUTION,” “LOOK-OUT.” This is one of those instances where “cheapest” may not be the “bestest,” even for tight, tight budgets.

Do not confuse generic grocery products with house brands. They are not produced with the same standards or guidelines. Shelves of house brands are definitely the place to look on for good prices and better prices.

Today, many stores will guarantee your satisfaction when you purchase generic products. Use of generics will most likely come down to personal preferences. For example, there is no reason why the savings could not be used with vegetables that will be part of a casserole, or no-name fruits as a budget stretcher for fruit drinks or fruit salads.

Though they were introduced many years ago and have faded somewhat in the last few years, generics almost always pop up when the economy is tough. And if the price looks right to you, follow through with the tried and true taste test. Buy one can or box. Try it. If it looks okay, smells okay, tastes okay … then you choose. Will you be using it as an ingredient in a sauce, such as tomatoes? Is it a generic generic such as salt, or cornstarch? However, generic pasta that is made from enriched white flour instead of Durham wheat/semolina flour may quickly turn to mush instead of spaghetti. And yes, it may have been incredibly inexpensive. Instead of spaghetti you may have to convince yourself and your family that you are serving tomato flavored gravy. It can sound funny here, but could be very disheartening at dinner time, especially if the infamous “picky eaters’ belong to your family.

Generic? Black and White label? Green and White label? Plain label? NO expensive advertising? Read and compare labels as well as price! Look at who the manufacturer or distributor is! Asks the store manager if it is a generic. Is it being promoted as a “new price reduction” item? What else is there to convince you that you have found the bargain of the day?

NOTE: Do not put generic medicines and vitamins in this discussion. Generic medicines are good, standards are high equal to the brand names and the prices are better. This is not the same area of discussion at all!

Now a truly important caution! Use all of your shopping skills and detective skills when it comes to considering generic chocolate. Can you imagine the disaster at the breakfast table if you have purchased a generic hot chocolate mix, not tried it, and it turns out to be the reject of the hot chocolate world? Oh my, a 6.5 could prove to be a mild crisis to go through, compared to inferior, awful, nasty hot chocolate. Sorry, for those of you who do not care for chocolate (I’ve found 3.) ignore this paragraph and just follow the shopping help found above . :)

Check out Beating the High Cost of Eating for a lot more help with stretching your grocery budget.