Store-brand foods can save you a bundle at the supermarket—but are you trading quality for price if you substitute them for those name-brand favorites?
Not according to Consumer Reports.
In a blind taste test by expert tasters, the magazine compared 57 store-brand foods from five major retailers— Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, Kmart, Target, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods—to iconic brands such as Heinz ketchup, Birds Eye mixed vegetables and Breyers ice cream.
The result: 33 of the 57 store-brand food items tasted as good as or better than the national brand, the tasters found. Not only that, when the magazine had staffers who regularly purchased Heinz ketchup and Hellman's mayonnaise do a blind taste comparison with store-brand alternatives, more than 40 percent preferred the store brands.
(Read more: Shoppers less loyal to big brands, survey shows)
Not all the store–brand items were exact replicas of their name-brand counterparts. "When we say a store brand is as good as a national brand, that doesn't mean it is necessarily a carbon-copy of the national brand," explained Tod Marks, a senior editor at Consumer Reports. "They may be equal in quality, but have a different flavor profile based on ingredients or recipe."
Still, in a few notable cases, the private-label brands were virtually carbon-copies of the well-known national brands. Target's Market Pantry ketchup was a "virtual dead-ringer" for Heinz ketchup, the tasters said. They noted that Heinz ketchup has a "full flavor that balances sweetness, saltiness and sourness. There's also a hint of onion powder." They found Target's Market Pantry ketchup to be "remarkably similar."
(Read more: Warren Buffett on Heinz)
The mayo from Costco (Kirkland Signature,) Target (Market Pantry) and Walmart (Great Value) were "near-twins" for Hellman's mayonnaise (called Best Foods mayonnaise on the West Coast), which the tasters found to be "well-blended, creamy, slightly sweet and salty, and eggy, with a hint of vinegar."
The results were "a real eye-opener," Marks said, "especially since all are more than one-third cheaper than the name brand."