Shortlived fad of the early Eighties, born of the Carter/Reagan recession. The idea was that since a good deal of the price of a can of, say, corn, went into producing several sizes of canned corn at different price points, attractive packaging, advertising for the brand, and so forth, that it would be far more efficient to skip the whole process and simply market the product with a plain white label, in a popular size and standard quality. These products would never be advertised in the grocery store's flyers, and so wouldn't artificially fluctuate in price, either, but be continuously kept in stock in a special aisle and at a significantly lower price than any other brand, even store brands, as a semi-charitable act towards food stamp recipients and other low-income groups. (Once inside the store, lured from their inner-city homes into the suburbs, it was reasoned they might buy non-generics as well.)

So it was that most major grocery chains of the day had a somewhat ghostly-looking section full of cans, boxes, and other faux-USDA surplus minimalistic packaging reading simply CORN, PEAS, CARROTS, and other staple foods and supplies (some stores had generic RUBBER BANDS, PIPE TOBACCO, and RAMEN NOODLES -- in various flavors -- as well), all bearing some version of the disclaimer that whatever was in the can was "of acceptable quality", as if to faintly stigmatize the buyer for having to settle for such bottom-feeding. (After all, they were still in the business of selling nationally advertised brands of corn, as well as their own store brand, of course, and the implication was that anyone who was anyone wouldn't be caught dead buying anything cheaper.)

The whole idea, however noble though it might have been in conception, and crass in its execution, turned out to be nothing more than a total mess. No matter how unattractive generics were made to look on the outside, savvy shoppers weren't fooled: generics for a time had a great deal of inverse chic that went incredibly well with the sparsely decorated high-tech interiors fashionable in the day. (In the spirit of parody, someone wrote generic genre novels as well, marked WESTERN, ROMANCE, SCIENCE FICTION -- that were actually not bad, while generic greeting cards -- marked BIRTHDAY, and generic Halloween costumes -- a T-shirt with the familiar black-on-white lettering marked GHOST, WITCH and so forth, made the rounds of the trendier stationery stores.) Worse, the better-quality generics cut heavily into their "regular" and "store" brand sales and were routinely snapped up by shoppers of all socioeconomic levels, while the truly awful (I can remember some BEEF BOULLION cubes that reeked heavily of cheap garlic powder and had no discernable beef flavor whatsoever. My sources tell me horror stories about generic CIGARETTES and, especially, BEER, apparently such an inferior grade of suds as to be shunned even by teenage alcoholics...) languished for months past their sell-by date, doomed by the fact that no one, not even the most desperate, would buy them, thus cutting into valuable shelf space. While it was never explicitly stated, and a great deal of thought went into pretending otherwise, each chain had its own spin on the white label concept -- it was clear after a few months that what you were (usually) buying was a store brand, by another name. Gradually, generic lines were cut back to a few simple items, and folded back into regular stock, while the beef boullion and its like was whisked away into food pantry hell. At least one chain (Pathmark) that had invested heavily in this strategy went bankrupt.

By decade's end, the only trace of the fad was a running joke in the movie Repo Man.

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