Forget Name Brands, Best Generic House Brands: Target vs. CVS vs. Safeway?


After reading this Daily, you should never, ever again look down on buying a generic product. Whether it’s generic peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies, soap, or ibuprofen, name brand products can be as much as double the price of their generic equivalents.

House Brand Products Are Often Identical to Name Brand Goods

Eugene Fram, emeritus professor of marketing at Rochester Institute of Technology’s College of Business, told us that the difference between house brand and name brand goods is that brand names spend more on marketing, not that they’re better quality: “I once visited a cranberry factory in New England, and I saw two lines of the same cranberry juice – one was for a national brand, and the other line was for a house brand.” Is that wrapper on your jar of peanut butter really worth an extra $2? We didn’t think so.

Among the House Brands, Which Are the Cheapest?

As a LearnVest experiment, we decided to go the extra mile and figure out which house brands are actually the cheapest. We compare five national chains, head-to-head.

We checked these prices onsite at stores in San Diego, California, and also rounded out some of the pennies—so the exact details may vary by location.

Check out our findings:

How Many Times Each Brand Was A Winner:

Wal-Mart: 21 (12 house brand)
Target: 16 (8 house brand)
Safeway: 4 (1 house brand)
Walgreens: 2 (1 house brand)
CVS: 0

Wal-Mart and Target Take the Cake

Although we’re not the biggest Wal-Mart fans, the simple truth is that its house brand has some of the best prices. Target comes in at a respectable second, and nearly ties with Wal-Mart on name brand products (the score was 9 to 8, although we want you to have a really good reason before buying name brand!).

There’s a Price to Convenience

We’re not saying that you should never shop at CVS again. After all, if that’s the store you’re closest to, the $2.50 difference on hand lotion might not be worth the price of gas. All the same, keep these lessons in mind for you next big shopping spree. And at least get a CVS rewards card to ease the sting.

  • Liz

    This is an AWESOME daily! I always love the charts. It's crazy to see that something like pepto-bismol is $4 at Target and Walmart, but $7 and $7.50 (almost double, what?!) at the other stores. I honestly never really thought much about the price of brand items fluctuating too much between stores – I usually just go to a CVS and get the cheapest of what's there.

    The gas point is also really important – my mom will sometimes drive 20 minutes to a store that has something like water on super sale instead of our local stores 5 minutes away. She may easily be spending more though when you calculate gas into the whole equation! Great point LV!

    • LibbyKane

      Me too! I'm super sad to see that CVS lost…I don't have a Target, Walgreen's, or Walmart where I live, so CVS is my only choice. I love it and use my rewards card all the time!

  • Jackie

    This chart is slightly confusing…are you comparing prices for Vaseline at the stores? Or are you comparing house brand lotion vs. Vaseline? You do not specify. I am guessing house brand prices considering the article title and content, but it is not clear.

    • Allison Kade

      Hi Jackie,

      Apologies for any confusion! We're actually doing both. We're comparing the price of Vaseline at various stores (Target & Walmart tie for the cheapest name-brand Vaseline), and then we're ALSO comparing the prices of generic hand lotion (Walmart brand hand lotion is cheaper than Walgreens brand hand lotion, or Target brand, or CVS brand, etc.).

      Make sense?


      • Nadine

        what about they're a spot I go to because I don't know how to drive and would rather not lug a bunch of stuff on mass transit…

    • M Lev

      It is comparing the items at the various store. One row is the generic (like Ibuprofen) and the next row a brand name product of that item. The columns compare the prices between the stores.

  • Maria

    Either I am not looking in the right place or there is no explanation of the asterisks in this chart.

  • Johanna

    One comment about Walmart – their items are often older than items at other stores. I purchased brand named dried cat food at Walmart which my cats wouldn't eat. I checked the expiration date and it was good for another 2 months. Then I checked the same item at Safeway and found an expiration date good for over a year! I compared expiration dates on other foods (canned soups, crackers, etc.) and found the same pattern. I now purchase nonperishables at Walmart (cleaning supplies, paper goods, etc.) but no food. BTW, the same holds true of Costco; they dump older food at discounted prices.

  • Dorothy

    I live near Buffalo NY and I shop at Wegman's. The house brans are AS good and sometimes BETTER than regualr named brands and the prices are great. They also have absolutely fantastic produce and bakery items.

  • JackieAU5

    I would rather jump off a bridge than go to Wal-Mart…seriously. I refuse to do it. Which is why I make approximately 12 trips to Target a month! I love that place! I buy a lot of clothes there too.

    • mb

      agreed. target is the best place on earth.

  • Heather

    I am confused…first, the asterisks aren't explained. Second, the “winner” is not always the lowest price (see both the peanut butter and the Skippy comparisons).

  • bittersuiteness

    I never shop at Walmart. I only go to the website for laughs