I Cooked With Only Store-Brand Foods for a Week — Here’s What I Learned

Most importantly, you don't have to sacrifice flavor to save money.

December 22, 2022

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Photo by: Amanda Neal

Amanda Neal

These days, it’s easy to wince when approaching the supermarket shelves — prices are up everywhere. And because we’ve come to expect our grocery bills to be higher, you might be skeptical of the quality of lower-priced item. Could a store-brand item really be that much cheaper than the brand-name items without a catch? But supermarket brands have a wide variety of products — frozen prepared meals, shelf-stable snacks and even fresh meat and produce; they’re often great options to put in your cart. To test this theory, I purchased a handful of these products from three grocery stores in New York City where I live, cooked through recipes with them and taste-tested along the way. What I found were food products that were not only delicious, easy to prepare and very similar to their branded counterparts, but also worth buying because of their lower price.

Where I Shopped

I purchased food from three grocery stores — Foodtown, ShopRite (which has a store-brand line called Bowl & Basket) and Stop & Shop, all of which are in New York City and the surrounding area. But there are private label brands at almost every supermarket across the country, including national stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes, so you can find some similar picks in your area. I specifically chose to shop at grocery stores known for their lower price point.

What I Bought

I made a conscious decision to purchase groceries that were both shelf-stable/ready-to-eat, as well as refrigerated and frozen products that are quick to reheat. I also made sure to buy food items that you could eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, as a snack, and even a couple beverages. Some of these items include jarred tomato sauce, creamy nut butters, refrigerated chicken noodle soup and more.

Amanda Neal

What I Learned

  • It’s definitely worth trying a store-brand product before you splurge on a name brand; you might find some are not your favorites, but they will rarely be flat-out misses. And you’ll probably find a lot of things you really enjoy.
  • When comparing name-brand to store-brand products, check the ingredient list too. Sometimes less expensive products might have more filler ingredients — for instance, a vegan cheese that contains numerous starches and gums. This may not be important to everyone, but I found that some of these ingredients can make the food taste of lesser quality.
  • That said, I didn’t find I had to change my cooking routine around any of these products. I used them like I would cook any ingredient and generally had good results.
  • Of everything I tried, store-brand frozen veggies left something to be desired. The name-brand products do a better job at staying crisp and fresh-tasting once steamed, while the store-brand ones were more starchy and inconsistently sized.
  • Check the sale prices before you make a decision! Don’t skip glancing at the name-brand products in case they are on sale — which could mean they cost less than the store brand.

The Products I Loved

Breakfast

There were many items worth mentioning that fit into the breakfast category. Admittedly, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day! But I genuinely felt like you couldn’t go wrong with many of the store-brand foods I purchased. The Sliced Everything Bagels from Bowl & Basket were the perfect balance of fluffy and chewy, and generously dusted with everything bagel seasoning. I tried the bagels straight from the bag, as well as toasted with a smear of plain cream cheese, and it was a delightful, filling breakfast.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the Honey and Oat Granola from Stop & Shop. It was crunchy, nicely toasted, and I could really taste the notes of honey and molasses. This granola was lovely sprinkled on a bowl of vanilla greek yogurt, but I also enjoyed grabbing handfuls and snacking on the granola throughout my workday.

Photo by: Amanda Neal

Amanda Neal

Snacks

Sometimes you need a satisfying snack in the middle of the day, so I wanted to test some craveable, snack-worthy items from all three grocery stores. The Parmesan Crisps from Bowl & Basket was one of my favorite products from the bunch. They are crispy, salty and taste just like the melty Parmesan that’s stuck on the outside of a grilled cheese sandwich; yum! Each crisp is about the size of a silver dollar, making these perfectly poppable. I ate them straight from the bag as a snack, but you could also toss some on top of Caesar salad or bowl of tomato soup.

Secondly, the Horseradish Cheese from Bowl & Basket was snackable in the best way — super savory, creamy and just the right amount of sharpness from the horseradish. I sliced up this cheese for an easy afternoon snack with crackers, but you can also add it to a cheese board as a fun appetizer or shred it and let it melt perfectly on a cheeseburger.

Lunch/Dinner

When deciding on store-brand food to buy for this category, I wanted to look for refrigerated and frozen products that could be easily and quickly reheated for lunch and dinner. I also wanted to purchase more healthful items that had a good amount of protein and veggies, and would keep me full. The first product I would recommend is the Frozen Cheese Ravioli from Foodtown. Each 13-ounce bag comes with 12 generously sized ravioli — perfect for a family of 4. They also cook up quickly in a pot of salted boiling water, and can be tossed simply in butter or your favorite jarred sauce. I upped the cheesiness with a little extra Parm on top, but these ravioli were very flavorful and cheesy on their own.

I also really enjoyed the frozen Italian Style All Beef Meatballs from Bowl & Basket. The meatballs are already cooked and just need a quick reheat (instructions are included on the back of the bag). I reheated the meatballs in jarred tomato sauce, so dinner came together in less than 30 minutes! They even have a couple different varieties of frozen prepared meatballs, including a turkey meatball that would be great for non-beef eaters and meal preppers. I can’t wait to try them all!

Drinks

This list of recommendations wouldn’t be complete without a couple store-brand drinks! The Lemon Lime Seltzer from Foodtown was perfectly bubbly and just the right amount of citrus flavor. Enjoy on its own or as a mixer for mocktails and cocktails; the possibilities are really endless!

And lastly, don’t sleep on the Unsweetened Cold Brew from Bowl & Basket! It’s bold in flavor but not at all bitter. I poured some of the cold brew over ice with a splash of whole milk — the convenience of having iced coffee at home, and for much less money than my local coffee shops, has me wanting to buy this cold brew on a regular basis. Just store in your fridge for a quick morning (or afternoon) pick-me-up.

Big Picture

Looking at this project as a whole, I’ve learned that you shouldn't hesitate to buy private labels, even for some of your go-to pantry products like cheese and peanut butter. I found that store brands are not only cheaper, but typically similar in quality to the larger brands that you already know and love. Don’t feel like you have to compromise on flavor just to save money — opt for the store-brand products, save a few cents and have a flavorful, satisfying meal at any point of the day.

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