It was over 30 years ago, and I still remember mom taking me to BI-LO for weekly grocery shopping adventures. Okay, they were not really adventures, more like forced you’re-coming-with-me-no-matter-what car rides. Up and down the aisles we went, never really getting the cartoony sweet cereals (who could forget Quisp) or chocolate striped cookies that I wanted. You know, the good stuff.
But there was one thing we always got – a plain white can labeled NACHO CHEESE in big, black lettering that is still to this day the best store-bought nacho cheese I’ve ever had. The funny thing is that 99.9% of the time, mom didn’t believe in buying generics no matter how low their price. Yet this is the same woman who would bring cheese slices with us to put on our McDonald’s hamburgers to save money. Her perception of generics’ lower quality was so great that even price didn’t seem to matter.
Those white labels used to be consistent across various stores – everyone carried pretty much the same generic “white” brand for products such as potato chips, cereals, soft drinks and, yes, even nacho cheese. Nowadays, however, this has given way to individual store brands that are paying as much attention to package design as national brands. Kroger’s Private Selection spaghetti sauce, for example, conjures up images of handpicked ingredients being combined together in some Tuscany kitchen. Target’s Up and Up brand uses simple and inviting creative to incorporate everything from toothpicks to nicotine gum.
However, aren’t these really the same “generic” products that mom so adamantly shunned decades ago? Isn’t it really the brands themselves that have convinced consumers that it’s ok – heck, maybe even trendy – not to buy a name brand? It seems that the perception has definitely switched from “cheap” to “good value” for these non-name brand products. I’d even bet that if mom was here today, she wouldn’t even realize she was buying the Private Selection Roasted Garlic and Mushroom spaghetti sauce.