Once considered the poor cousins to big national brands, supermarket house brands have become a major weapon in the ongoing tug-of-war for your wallet.
Coles and Woolworths stock multiple tiers of house brands (also known as private labels or own brands) while Aldi has famously built its whole business around them.
"House brand products make up a significant – and increasing – proportion of supermarkets' ranges," says CHOICE managing editor Margaret Rafferty. "They're big cash cows for supermarkets as they get to keep more of the profits and spend less on advertising."
The good news? Not only are house brands usually cheaper, they've also improved in quality
The good news? Not only are house brands usually cheaper, they've also improved in quality – dramatically. Our food taste tests reveal these once bottom-shelf brands often score very well and sometimes even win, outshining more premium products for a fraction of the price.
Which supermarket has the best-tasting house brands?
To find out, we compared more than 100 products from the big three chains – Coles, Woolworths and Aldi – across 16 of our recent food reviews.
Who comes out on top for taste? Aldi, and quite convincingly! The European supermarket chain upstaged its bigger rivals in a number of categories, not only beating its supermarket brand competitors but also outclassing well-known brands costing twice as much or more.
It's worth going out of your way to shop at Aldi for things like milk chocolate, hummus, butter, olive oil and mayonnaise
It's definitely worth going out of your way to shop at Aldi for things like milk chocolate, hummus, butter, olive oil and mayonnaise.
But Coles and Woolworths also had some standout products that are worth adding to your shopping trolley. Coles should be your go-to for instant coffee, cheddar cheese and hot chocolate, while you can't go wrong with premium ice cream, muesli bars and strawberry jam from Woolies.
But if you don't want to change your supermarket, we'll show you which supermarket own-brand products are worth switching to across the big three stores. Check out the results for the different types of food below.
- Equal 1st: Aldi Monarc Indulge Vanilla Opulence (81%; equal highest score overall)
- Equal 1st: Woolworths Vanilla Bean (81%; equal highest score overall)
- 2nd: Coles Vanilla Bean (79%)
In a huge win for house brands, Woolworths and Aldi scored highest overall in a three-way tie with Connoisseur. They all rated 81%, but the house brands cost less than half of the premium brand.
In a blind taste test of 11 brands (it was a hard day in the office!), our five expert dairy and food judges also fancied Coles Vanilla Bean (which scored 79%), voting it equal second with Sara Lee.
It's an impressive result for the budget brands who beat well-known brands like Maggie Beer, Haagen-Dazs and Weis. And at around half the price, it means you can eat more ice cream for less. Winning!
Here are the full results of our premium ice cream taste test.
- 1st: Aldi Moser Roth Finest Milk Chocolate (81%; Recommended; Highest score overall)
- 2nd: Aldi Choceur Milk (74%; Recommended)
- 3rd: Frey (Woolworths) Supreme Extra Fine Milk (69%)
Aldi was the brand to beat in our expert milk chocolate taste test, taking out the overall top spot in a field of 24 milk chocolates, plus another product recommended by our experts.
Its Moser Roth milk chocolate even came well ahead of premium brand Lindt. And despite its low price of just $1 per 100g – the second-cheapest product on test, even taking cooking chocolate into consideration – Aldi's Choceur milk chocolate came third overall. By comparison, Woolworth's Frey chocolate costs $4 per 100g but failed to get close to either of the top Aldi products.
Coles was a long way from the cream of the crop, with its Belgian Milk Chocolate well behind the frontrunners, but still ahead of brands like Cadbury (a national outrage, surely?), Whittaker's and Darrell Lea.
If you want to know where your favourite indulgence ranked, check the scores in our milk chocolate taste test.
- 1st: Aldi Deli Originals Fresh Traditional Style Hommus (78%; Recommended; Highest score overall)
- 2nd: Coles Hummus (60%)
- 3rd: Coles Deli Hommus Dip (51%)
Aldi's Deli Originals Fresh Traditional Style Hummus took the crown in our hummus test, receiving the highest score overall and beating out well-known and premium brands such as Pilpel, Black Swan and Obela.
It was also three times cheaper than the most expensive product on test, showing that you don't need to dip into your savings to buy the best hummus.
Coles' two hummus products unfortunately didn't fare so well, coming in well behind many of the other contenders. However, its regular hommus product tied with Pilpel and outscored other well-known products – but its Coles Deli Hommus Dip (the supermarket's most expensive product in this test) came in at the bottom of the pack.
Woolworths unfortunately didn't have an entrant in this category, so this was just a two-horse race in terms of supermarket brands.
See the full spread of products in our hummus taste test.
- 1st: Coles Australian Vintage Cheddar (70%; Recommended)
- 2nd: Aldi Emporium Selection 36 Month Aged Cheddar (68%)
- 3rd: Coles Australian Extra Tasty Cheddar (67%)
We blind taste-tested and compared 27 supermarket vintage cheddar cheese blocks from brands including Bega, Coles, Aldi and Cracker Barrel to find the best.
Coles' Australian Vintage Cheddar scored a very respectable 70% and comes Recommended by our experts who looked at things such as the appearance/presentation, flavour, aroma, texture and body of the cheese.
King Island Dairy Surprise Bay Cheddar, the top-scoring product in this test, scored only three percentage points higher than the Coles product, despite costing a huge $3.90 more per 100g. So by shopping smart you can save a mozza but still feel like a big cheese.
Not far behind with a score of 68% is the Aldi aged cheddar which costs a little more than Coles' products and comes in at just one percentage point higher than another Coles product – the Coles Australian Extra Tasty Cheddar.
If you're cheese shopping in Coles, don't be swayed by its Vintage Cheddar product. Despite costing twice as much and sporting a fancier label, it scored less than its more plain-looking cousin. It's also made in the UK so it comes with extra food miles.
Want the cheesiest of all the cheeses? Read our cheddar cheese taste test review.
- 1st: Coles Hot Chocolate (78%; Recommended; Highest score overall)
- 2nd: Aldi Dairy Fine Drinking Chocolate (69%)
- 3rd: Woolworths Classic Hot Chocolate (64%)
Coles well and truly won this category, taking out the top spot overall, well ahead of Nestle and Cadbury – and for a much lower price: just 35 cents per serving. Interestingly, its hot chocolate sachets didn't score nearly as well (62%), but they're probably best avoided as they contain artificial sweeteners, lots of fillers and lots of plastic packaging.
Aldi was next in line, scoring just ahead of Milo, and a few points ahead of Woolworths' Classic Hot Chocolate.
All three products from the supermarkets cost around 35 cents per serving – significantly cheaper than big-name brands like Milo, Lindt and Cadbury.
However, there were two supermarket own brand products that are best avoided: Coles' Fairtrade Organic Drinking Chocolate (53%) and Woolworths Instant Drinking Chocolate Powder (45%). While the fairtrade product might make you feel good and delivers a hefty 45% cocoa hit, it'll still leave the bitter taste of disappointment in your mouth.
Check out how your favourite brand scored in our hot chocolate taste test.
- 1st: Coles Fairtrade Organic Freeze Dried Coffee (74%; Highest score overall)
- 2nd: Woolworths Freeze Dried Classic Coffee (69%)
- 3rd: Alcafe Aldi Classic Gold (67%)
In a huge boilover, Coles' $4 coffee not only won best house brand, but tastiest coffee overall.
Our Voice Your Choice members sampled 14 brands and gave Coles Fairtrade coffee a high score of 74%, pouring hot water on big names like Moccona, Nescafe and Lavazza, which cost two to four times the price.
Woolies ranked fourth on 69%, followed by Aldi's Alcafe on 67%. That might sound low, but they still roasted well-established brands Robert Timms, Bushells and International Roast, which all rated even less. Burn!
See the results that caused a stir in our instant coffee taste test.
- 1st: Aldi The Olive Tree Australian Extra Virgin Olive Oil Classic Flavour (77%; Recommended)
- 2nd: Woolworths Macro Organic Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil (76%; Recommended)
- 3rd: Aldi Just Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (73%)
Our olive oil taste test showed once again that supermarket own-brand products can compete with bigger brands, at a fraction of the price.
It was neck and neck between Aldi and Woolworths, with Aldi just managing to squeeze ahead by one percentage point on taste. Both of these supermarket-brand olive oils held their own against big-name brands like Cobram Estate and Bertolli which are more than twice as expensive.
Aldi's Just Organic product just missed out on being recommended by our experts. This organic oil is produced in Spain, but interestingly Aldi's top-performing olive oil is from Australia. All of Woolworths' and Coles' olive oils in this test are sourced from Spain.
Unfortunately Coles' two extra virgin olive oils didn't make the podium, trailing behind at 68% and 67%, along with Aldi's Remano brand at 67%.
Despite its strong start, Woolworths ended up at the bottom of the heap with its second olive oil product, a Spanish extra virgin style. At just 70 cents per 100mL it's one of the cheapest of the bunch, but we wouldn't recommend skimping on olive oil when there are plenty of other options available at good prices.
Get the good oil on which product is best in our olive oil taste test.
- 1st: Aldi Beautifully Butterfully unsalted butter (83%; Recommended)
- 2nd: Coles Australian butter (76%)
- 3rd: Woolworths Macro Certified Organic Salted Butter (72%)
Our tests found Aldi does butter better – and cheaper. After sampling 33 different products, our food industry judges scored its unsalted Beautifully Butterfully 83%, putting it in equal-third place and bested only by Lurpak and Western Star.
By comparison, Coles' best contender was awarded 76% and sixth spot, whipping Woolworths' Macro Certified Organic's butt(er) on 72%. Just avoid Woolies' Essentials butter, which scraped together a lowly score of just 58%.
- 1st: Aldi Colway Creamy Squeezy Mayonnaise (74%; Recommended)
- 2nd: Coles Mayonnaise Traditional (67%)
- 3rd: Woolworths Whole Egg Mayonnaise (66%)
Unsurprisingly, the two top spots in our mayonnaise test were taken out by two of the biggest brands: Heinz and Hellman's. But coming in at third place overall – and at around a third of the price – was Aldi's Colway brand mayonnaise.
It was the only supermarket-brand product to be recommended by our experts, and it came in quite a way ahead of the other supermarket products in this test.
While some of Coles' and Woolworths' products performed okay, the three very lowest-scoring spots in the test were filled by products from these two supermarkets: Coles Coleslaw Mayonnaise (49%), Woolworths Essentials Mayonnaise (45%) and Coles Mayonnaise 97% Fat Free (39%).
Regardless of score, all of the supermarkets' mayonnaise products were made in Australia (albeit with varying percentages of Australian ingredients), while many of their competitors were manufactured overseas and imported – so you can reduce your grocery bill and your carbon footprint by opting for supermarket-brand mayonnaise.
Get the squeeze on the best product for your pantry with our mayonnaise taste test review.
- 1st: Aldi Colway tomato sauce (70%; Recommended)
- 2nd: Woolworths tomato sauce (67%)
- 3rd: Coles tomato sauce (64%)
In the clash of the condiments, Aldi Colway (70%) proved the cheapest of the 22 sauces we sampled and one of the superior sauces overall. Our three food industry judges awarded it fourth place and a coveted 'recommended' to boot.
Woolworths (67%) and Coles (64%) also got a fair shake of the sauce bottle in fifth and eighth positions respectively, putting the squeeze on big names like Heinz, Masterfoods and Fountain, which rated lower. Interestingly, it was another budget buy, IGA's Community Co's Squeeze Of Tomato Sauce, that topped the test.
Get the squeeze on the best sauce from our tomato sauce taste test.
And the rest
Here are the results of our remaining food taste tests, so you can see how the supermarket brands compared to the big-name brands.
Stock images: Getty unless otherwise stated.