Store Brand Roulette is a game that bargain-hunters are forced to play on a weekly basis at every grocery store in America. To play Store-Brand Roulette, choose any processed food on your grocery list, go to the shelf, and buy the cheap one in the ugly packaging. This is very likely to be the store brand; some stores openly admit which items are branded in such a manner, while others invent fanciful names for imaginary companies and follow them with logos and largely fictional histories for the same in an attempt to appear legitimate. Because the store is selling these items directly, they are less expensive as they are cheaper to produce or obtain.

That's the traditional situation, anyway. There are now international cheap food manufacturers that pretend to be the store brand for many different grocery store chains nationwide; the lower price comes not from eliminating the middleman, but from cheaper merchandise. The difference is relevant. These items are genuinely cheaper, and therefore generally of significantly lower quality. True store brand items are often of the same quality or in fact are superior to their brand name counterparts: they are often fresher, made with local produce, and made to similar or the same recipe. In some extreme cases, the store brand is identical to a name brand, and the label serves only as market segregation; in these situations, the canner quite literally exchanges labels in the machine.

Of course, there is no way to know which situation any given product is in. As our economy falls deeper and deeper into a bailout-fueled cycle of suck, the lower price (and higher energy efficiency, considering distribution expense) of these products becomes more and more of a relevant concern. So a smart shopper is forced to experiment, using himself, herself, hirself, or itself as the guinea pig: gambling with the cost of the food and the time required to cook it to discover what is and is not good.

This game can be lucrative. While some store brand products are truly horrible, more are superior. Others are merely baffling from a naming perspective. Those that are equal to or better than their more expensive counterparts represent a significant opportunity to save money, but at the expense of the time and disgust it took to find out. Over the course of years, however, the financial benefits tend to win out.

For those fearless consumers who are not weak of stomach, try the store brand.

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