In Spain, store brands/generics, are known as marcas blancas, or “white brands.” The packaging isn’t the stark black and white that this would suggest, and in general, what’s inside is just as good as the expensive stuff.

But not always, as I was reminded last week when I bought a box of white brand cereal. Cereal is one place I usually splash out for the name brand (the name being that of a certain Midwest Cereal Tycoon whose brother believed that eating corn flakes would keep people from being prone to sexual desires). But the store where I shop had inexplicably stopped carrying it, and I didn’t want to make a separate stop just for a box of cereal. Oh, I should have. The generic stuff inside was grim, grim, grim. Think Soviet version of American cereal. But since I, like my pal CF, am a Person Who Does Not Waste, I ate the whole box anyway. When I finally got into a box of the real deal, I nearly wept for joy.

The experience, combined with this morning’s pressing need to make a shopping list, got me wondering about just what percentage of my grocery spend is on store brands. As I looked in the fridge and cupboards to see what I needed, I noticed just how much of what I buy falls into the cheap-o category. Here’s a brief sampling (brief, because I’m guessing you may not be as interested in this as I am — if you are, feel free to ask me for the full breakdown): mineral water, table wine, milk, juice, yogurt, flan, cold cuts, spread-y cheese (like Boursin, only softer), toasted rolls, digestive biscuits, olives, pasta, lentils, popcorn, tuna, canned tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar…

As for name brands, they are few and far between, and they are there because nothing else tastes as good: mayo, pesto, marmalade, cereal (natch), mustard, rice (yes, it makes a difference), Wasa crisp…

I also found this interesting on a larger scale, because the trend among consumers in Spain is to buy more and more store brands. This is, of course, because of the ongoing crisis — sometimes the difference in price is huge (an example: store-brand plain Greek yogurt, 150 g: 90 cents; Danone plain Greek yogurt, 150 g: 1.70 euros) — and people need to stretch their budgets in ever more creative ways. As a result, some of the big brands, like the ones under Proctor and Gamble’s umbrella, are running ad campaigns aimed at convincing consumers to come back to the fold. I’d like to see the results and to know just how effective these are proving to be. My guess is that they’re not making much of a dent. People are just too worried about the economy right now to splash out an extra euro or two on a long list of staples.

The trend is note-worthy, too, because Spanish consumers have long tended to prefer name brands. When you consider that there have been a number of food scandals here — the rape-seed oil tragedy being the most serious, although later investigation has shown that it probably wasn’t due to contaminated oil at all — buying name brands wasn’t just a guarantee of food tasting good, it was a guarantee of not poisoning yourself and your family.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Mostly name brands? Mostly store brands? Or somewhere in between? I hope you’ll join the discussion in the comments. I’m off to do the shopping.

 

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