How to Shop Like a Chef (Hint: Buy Generic)

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It's not always clear, as you're standing in the supermarket aisle and feeling overwhelmed by a shelf crowded with different versions of the same product, when it's worth reaching for a recognizable name brand and when you can save yourself a few hard-earned bucks and buy generic without sacrificing quality. Next time you're in that situation, you may want to ask yourself, "What would a chef do?"

In a follow-up to a recent study on the over-the-counter-medicine-buying habits of doctors and pharmacists, a group of researchers at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business and at Tilburg University in the Netherlands has revealed which foods chefs and other food-prep pros buy generic more frequently than the general consumer, and for which food products they tend to shell out for a name brand.

Turns out that chefs are considerably more likely than the average Joe to go store brand when it comes to pantry staples like table salt, baking powder and sugar (powdered, brown and granulated). On these items, the authors note, "we find that chefs devote nearly 80 percent of their purchases to store brands, as compared to 60 percent for the average consumer." They'll also reach for generic on a host of other items, including tea, soup, spreads and dips, dried fruit and, perhaps curiously, canned seafood.

But there are a handful of items chefs and other food professionals will not stint on, shopping for them with more brand loyalty than the rest of us do. These include carbonated beverages, frozen baked goods, juice drinks, yogurt, cereal, dried veggies and grains, and ice cream.

Oh, and chefs are also "a statistically significant 11 percentage points more likely to buy store-brand headache remedies than other consumers," the authors report. No word on whether the chefs' supermarket confidence makes them less likely to need those remedies in the first place.

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