Supermarket premium brands

How do supermarket brands rate against their big-name competitors?
 
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  • Updated:24 Sep 2007
 

01 .Introduction

Tomato soup

In brief

  • Among the three supermarkets whose 'premium own-brands' were tested, there was no clear winner for taste or performance. But neither did a brand name win out every time.
  • A number of the supermarket brands were rated as good as or better than the market leaders in their categories.
  • If your supermarket sells the products you want at a cheaper price than a major brand name, it's well worth trying them — you could save some money without sacrificing quality.

In a recent CHOICE survey of supermarket prices, we reported how much you can stretch your food and basics budget by buying some or all of your groceries at an Aldi store — as much as 50%. But as you stroll the aisles of Aldi, Woolies or Coles, do you wonder whether the growing number of supermarket-owned premium varieties are worth trying, or if they’re inherently inferior to 'name' brands?

Until not so long ago, the simply packaged 'home' or 'no name' brands from supermarkets were regarded as inferior by many shoppers, who assumed their low price reflected lower-grade ingredients. These days the supermarket brands, are called 'premium own-brands' or 'private label' brands, and they come with the supermarket's assurance of quality that matches the leading brands.

By choosing these brands, you can get at least some of your groceries at a lower price, apparently without forsaking quality ingredients. But the question remains: will your family like — and eat them?

To find out, we put Woolworths Select, You’ll Love Coles and Aldi's premium own-brands to the test, by asking our CHOICE Home Testers to try a range of supermarket 'premium own' items and compare them with a similar item from a leading brand. Our testers tried products that many people would buy regularly — pasta sauce, peanut butter, canned fruit, baked beans, biscuits and aluminum foil.

Please note: this information was current as of September 2007 but is still a useful guide today.


How we tested

We sent 143 Home Testers a range of different products to try. Each type of product was tried by around 70 different people. Where possible we disguised the products so they didn't know which ones were on test.

The trialists were asked to report on a leading brand, plus whichever of the supermarket premium own-brands were available for that product. If a supermarket had two premium brands, we chose the most expensive one.

  • For Woolworths, we used the Woolworths Select brand.
  • For Coles, the You'll Love Coles brand.
  • For Aldi, the comparable Aldi product.

We also report on the quality of some supermarket products which were recently tested by CHOICE, including cheddar cheese and laundry detergents.

 
 

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02.How they stacked up

 

All the prices quoted are those we paid in mid-2007, except for laundry detergents, which are from our price survey in February 2007.

Chocolate chip biscuits (Price per 100g)

  • Aldi Parkwood 85 cents Chocolate chip biscuits
  • Arnott's Premier $1.17
  • Woolworths Select $1.12
  • You'll Love Coles Ultimate $1.00

Woolworths Select were liked just as much as Arnott's Premier biscuits, so they’re definitely worth trying if the price is right. The You'll Love Coles biscuits were next best liked, followed by Aldi. If you find them significant cheaper than your usual brand, don't be afraid to try them — the premium own-brands all scored at least 3 out of 5 for taste.

All the biscuits had 40% chocolate chips except the Aldi Parkwood, with only 27% — which may explain why it was considerably less expensive and the least liked. All the brands were made in Australia and nutritionally they were quite similar. 

Pasta sauce (Price per 100g)

  • Raguletto Napolitana Classic Tomato 40 cents Pasta with sauce in a bowl
  • Woolworths Select Napoletana 43 cents
  • You'll Love Coles Napoletana 56 cents

All three pasta sauces (Aldi doesn’t sell a napoletana sauce) were equally well liked, so if price is important, both supermarket brands are worthy of a trolley trial when there’s a price saving on offer. Although perhaps surprisingly, when we bought the brand-name sauce was the cheapest.

If you prefer an authentic Italian sauce and don’t mind racking up extra food miles, both the You'll Love Coles and Woolworths Select were imported from Italy — the Raguletto, made in Victoria, had a considerably shorter distance to travel.

Nutritionally speaking, both Woolworths and Raguletto were similar, with Coles being much higher in salt and having slightly more fat and kilojoules.

Peanut butter (Price per 100g)

  • Aldi Bramwells Smooth 50 cents Peanut butter on toast
  • Kraft Smooth 89 cents
  • Woolworths Select Smooth 76 cents
  • You'll Love Coles Smooth 72 cents

It seems the nostalgic childhood favourite Kraft is still our preferred peanut butter – none of the supermarket brands scored as well for taste. Although jar for jar, there are quite a few cents to be saved by buying a supermarket’s own-brand, so it may be worth trying if you don’t mind compromising a little on taste.

All the peanut butters tested are Australian except Aldi's, which is imported from China. And none stood out nutritionally, though Aldi was easily the least salty, and Kraft the saltiest by quite some margin.

Interestingly, both the Kraft and Woolworths varieties contain antioxidants to help prevent rancidity, while the Coles and Aldi products have none, and Coles claims its premium own peanut butter is made with 'high-oleic peanuts', which are less prone to going rancid, removing the need to add preservatives.

Canned peaches (Price per 100g)

  • Aldi Sweet Valley Slices in Juice 35 centsPeaches in bowl
  • SPC Sliced in natural juice 41 cents
  • Woolworths Select Slices in Fruit Juice 35 cents
  • You'll Love Coles Slices in Fruit Juice 25 cents

For peaches, Aldi Sweet Valley and Woolworths Select shone, both being preferred to the market leader, SPC. You'll Love Coles didn’t do badly either — it was liked equally with SPC.

Nutritionally, there’s little in it. SPC has slightly less sugar (9% compared with 11 to 12%).

You'll Love Coles and Woolworths Select peaches are imported from South Africa. SPC and Aldi Sweet Valley are Australian-made. 

Baked beans (Price per 100g)

  • Aldi Corale in Tomato Sauce 19 centsBaked beans on toast
  • Heinz in Tomato Sauce 26 cents
  • You'll Love Coles in Tomato Sauce 21 cents

Beans means …? Well, just beans, according to our tasters. None of the brands stood out as significantly better overall. So if the price is right, give any of them a go.

Nutritionally they’re pretty similar, with the Aldi Corale being saltier (400mg/100g, compared with about 300mg/100g for the others). If you prefer more beans and less sauce, Heinz tops the other two brands, with a minimum of 52% beans compared to 42% (Woolworths Select doesn’t have baked beans).

Heinz products, which feel as Aussie as the Hills Hoist, are actually made over the ditch in New Zealand. Aldi Corale is Italian-made, and You'll Love Coles is Australian.

Aluminium foil (Price per metre)

  • Aldi Goliath Extra Strength 12 centsPotatoes wrapped in Aluminium foil
  • Multix Alfoil 18 cents
  • Woolworths Select Heavy Duty 18 cents
  • You'll Love Coles 13 cents

It’s not just about the strength of the foil. The ease with which you can open the pack and how well it tears off the roll are also important. These aspects let the Woolworths Select foil down somewhat, but both Woolworths Select and Aldi Goliath foils were comparable overall with Multix Alfoil. So Aldi Goliath is worth trying — it was also one of the cheapest (though it only came in a 30m pack, while the others could be purchased as a 10m roll). All the foils are made in China.

In other CHOICE tests

Laundry detergent (Price per wash; in order of washing score)

  • Aldi Trimat Advanced Stain Removing Formula 27 cents; 78% Laundry powder with scoop
  • Omo High Performance Now with Staizyme 58 cents; 78%
  • You'll Love Coles Cold Active Triple Enzyme 42 cents; 77%
  • Woolworths Select Advance Performance 37 cents; 68%

In the most recent CHOICE laundry detergents test, Aldi Trimat Advanced Stain Removing Formula and You'll Love Coles Cold Active Triple Enzyme both performed as well as Omo High Performance in a top loader. In fact, these three detergents were among the best tested. Over time, the Aldi Trimat, in particular, would save you a considerable amount of money.

For front loaders and in the ‘sensitive’ laundry detergent bracket, the top-of-the-range premium own brands were comparable to the market leader, and usually at a considerable saving. 

Cheddar cheese (Price per 100g)

  • Aldi Westacre Vintage 94 cents Wedge of cheese with crackers
  • Mainland Vintage $1.72
  • Woolworths Select Vintage $1.20
  • You'll Love Coles Vintage $2.50

CHOICE put these vintage cheddars in front of five expert Australian cheese tasters. All three supermarket premium brands scored well, comparably to the market leader, though not all were cheaper.

All the supermarket-brand vintage cheeses listed above are made in Australia. Mainland is from New Zealand.

Only the Woolworths Select cheese is made using non-animal rennet, and so is suitable for vegetarians. Overall, if the price is right, they’re all worth giving a go.

03.Who is benefiting?

 

Why are these premium brands appearing? Here's a brief summary of what we all get out it.

What's in it for the supermarkets?

  • Private-label own-brands increase profits. This means supermarkets can make more on these products than they do selling other companies’ brands.
  • They provide retailer identity. Anyone who’s been in Woolworths and seen the sea of silver labels will agree — it’s difficult to forget which supermarket you’re in.
  • For Aldi, private labels form the basis of the strategy for its existence and profitability. It buys all its products in bulk from manufacturers and packages the vast majority with its own brand names. 

What's in it for you?

  • Savings without compromising on quality. That’s what the supermarkets claim, and our results suggest that it’s true often enough to make it worthwhile buying premium own-brands — as long as they’ve got everything else you’re looking for.
  • According to the supermarkets, other shopper benefits include the fact that the products are easy to identify (you can find the quality and value level you want with ease) and that, like the big brands, premium own-brand items are quality assured (the supermarkets are staking their reputation on them).

And what are the pitfalls?

Consumers have told CHOICE they’re concerned about the impact own-brands could have on the supermarket landscape.

Their first concern is that limited shelf space could mean fewer choices. CHOICE has monitored the number of brands in several grocery categories over recent times, and we haven’t seen a significant reduction in brands. Common sense, however, suggests something’s got to give (the aisles can only grow so much to accommodate the premium own labels) — what gives might be the variety on offer within brands. Shoppers may be seeing more own-brand items on supermarket shelves, but fewer combinations of flavours, sizes and packs for some brands.

Another concern is that we could end up with fewer Australian-owned and made products. Supermarkets say that, where possible, they source from local producers — as long as these producers meet their specifications for quality (and quantity) at a given price. The real impact on local producers is difficult to judge, but as more low-priced imports compete for limited shelf space, it’s possible that some Australian-made brands will be priced out of the supermarket.

Full results for each brand in table below

    Supermarkets brands
Product Brand name tasted Aldi
compared to brand name
Woolworths Select
compared to brand name
You'll Love Coles
compared to market leader
Aluminium foil Multix Alfoil equal equal not as good
Baked beans in tomato sauce Heinz equal na equal
Canned peach slices in juice SPC better better equal
Chocolate chip cookies Arnott's Premier not as good equal not as good
Pasta sauce (Napolitana) Raguletto na equal equal
Peanut butter (smooth) Kraft not as good not as good equal
 

Table notes

better - Denotes a score significantly higher than that of the market leader.
equal - Denotes a score that was not significantly different to that of the market leader.
not as good - Denotes a score significantly lower than that of the market leader.
na - Not applicable: the supermarket does not have this variety of product in its premium own brand range.

CHOICE verdict

When doing your weekly shopping, check the price of supermarket premium own-brands such as Woolworths Select and You'll Love Coles. If they offer the products you’re looking for, give them a go — you might be pleasantly surprised.

Aldi is only an option if you live in the eastern states, but you could save as much as 50% on your groceries there. Chances are you’ll generally be happy with the taste or performance.