Saturday, August 11, 2007

House brands vs. national brands

Time was when house brands of items were often second-rate in comparison to national or regional brands. You typically chose house brands because you were on a tight budget, not because you thought they were better than the national brands. But the times, they are a-changin'.

Some of the best little surprises come from Target stores, a Dayton-Hudson company that long ago decided to be an excellent mid-market retailer: better quality than K-mart, Venture, Caldor, or the other craptastic retailers that have begun to vanish, and if offers nicer, cleaner, more well-organized stores than the behemoth Wal-Mart. I'll gladly pay the small amount extra to shop at Target rather than Wal-Mart.

But back to the brands controversy. Target has two house brands that it sells, Archer Farms, and Market Pantry. Not every one is a winner, but there are many. For instance, chips: I love Archer Farms Chile-Lime tortilla chips better than any other national brand's chile-lime chip. Archer Farms also makes wonderful Salsa Cashews for snacking, as well as trail mix. These are just a few of their product I have tried. They certainly beat Planters and Fisher. Market Pantry whipping cream (not already whipped) is delicious and rich, and is significantly cheaper than brands you would buy at the store. They also have a line of water mix-ins that compete with Crystal Light's "On the Go" products. They are better-tasting to me, and they cost less.

Walgreens also distributes a nice line of nuts and an especially fine cashew, whether plain salted, or Chipotle. Again, they are better-tasting than Planters or Fisher and a lot less greasy. I can't even eat a Planters cashew anymore. Walgreens and CVS house-brand dry roasted peanuts also have a better flavor, to me, than Planters. But if you're looking for smoked almonds, stick with Diamond, the national brand. On those, CVS and Walgreens fall flat.

But if you're really looking for food surprises, you might be surprised by Costco's "Kirkland Signature" brand. For me, they hold the prize for cashews with their delicious Fancy Indian Cashews in an almost 2-lb. tub. But that's the problem...buying at Costco means large quantities; you won't be eating 2 lbs. of cashews yourself in a period short enough to preserve their freshness, so you'll have to keep them in the fridge or freezer, but they are worth it.

Then there's the Kirkland Signature canned salmon. I know, you're appalled at the idea of canned salmon. I used to be, too. Most canned salmon has the bones still in it, and some of the nasty, slimy skin in there, too - revolting. But after reading a review of the salmon in Costco's bi-monthly magazine, I decided to give it a try. It is the most wonderful canned salmon you will ever eat - it is spectacularly good. And if you have a cat or dog, you can pour off the broth and use it over your pet's dry food - they will go nuts.

Kirkland Albacore Tuna is also much better than its Chicken of the Sea-brand counterpart. Much better. And Kirkland canned chicken beats Swanson or Valley Fresh any day.

Don't get me wrong; I don't buy all Kirkland Signature brand items. Most of the food items are great, but I am not as crazy about their frozen foods. And other household items, like dishwashing and washing machine detergents, aren't that great. Kirkland shampoos? No. Kirkland crackers? Yes. And they occasionally have some little goodies that are just fascinating. Like a 2-lb box of chocolate truffles (sold only during fall and winter) that is just $5. A superb, purely chocolate, non-alcoholic truffle that melts in your mouth and is simply addictive. They aren't branded as Kirkland, as I recall, they are called "Truffettes de France". Try. You won't be disappointed.

Now I am not suggesting that all store brands are approaching the quality of national brands. They aren't. There are still plenty of junk house brands out there. But as national brands begin to conglomerate under single parent companies, and the new company tries to economize or fit the brand more to their lines, the quality is seeming to go downhill. And stores like Target, Walgreens, Costco, and CVS are changing the landscape of food shopping, largely for the better.


At 1:17 PM, August 16, 2007, Blogger Dantallion said...

Up here we have a supermarket chain called Loblaw's, and they've developped their own premium store brand called President's Choice - everything from cereals to deserts, frozen meals and meats, cookies, teas, seafood, and sauces, etc etc. And the thing is (and this is the only time I've ever said this about a brand name), they are usually far and away better than the famous national brands they compete against. Some of their stuff is really extraordinary. Especially things like desserts and "Memories of" sauces...

At 1:17 PM, August 16, 2007, Blogger Dantallion said...

ps: You can check out thier stuff at

At 2:28 PM, August 16, 2007, Blogger Shenida Weave said...

I am in love with Safeway's "Eating Right" prepared lunch meals... they are so much better and have much more interesting choices than the name brands like Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine...

At 8:35 PM, January 02, 2008, Blogger Ryan said...

I think Kirkland (Costco) shampoo is fantastic. On the other hand, I really didn't care for the Eating Right (Safeway) frozen entrees at all. They were really bland and tasteless. To each his own... :)


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