6 Alternatives to the Nation’s Most Popular Brands

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Want to save money on beer, chocolate, cleaning products, or makeup? It's easy: Just skip the brand names.

Marketing and consulting group Harris Interactive recently released results from their annual EquiTrend study. The study asks 37,000 U.S. consumers to choose their favorite brands in more than 50 categories – everything from motor oil to casual dining restaurants. This year’s winners – no surprise – include well-known brands like Coca-Cola, Subway, and Gatorade.

The study suggests that brand recognition is a big factor in many consumers’ buying decisions. As a recovering brand-name junkie myself, I used to be guilty of falling for the hype, buying whatever cleaning product, snack food, or soft drink commercials recommended.

While a lot of brands are household names because they’re good, that doesn’t mean they’re always best. I’ve found alternatives to the nation’s most popular brands that are not just cheaper – in my opinion, they’re better.

Here are some of my favorite alternatives to this year’s EquiTrend winners:

1. Beer

In this category, 65 percent of participants chose Blue Moon as their favorite. Blue Moon is a Belgian-style wheat brew with a hint of orange and spices. I’ve been a fan for years, but a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles costs $9.49 in my area. I can buy better for less.

Like Abita Satsuma Wit. This beer is also a craft brew and has a hint of Satsuma, which is similar to an orange. In my area, a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles retails for $8, saving $1.49. Buy online and you might save even more – check out our story 5 Tips to Save on Beer for details.

2. Soft drinks

Not so surprisingly, Coca-Cola won in this category, with 72 percent of consumers picking regular Coke as their go-to brand. Growing up, I always drank Coke, but when I moved out on my own I stopped buying soft drinks. At $4.99 for a 12-pack, sugary drinks just weren’t in my budget.

After a few years of abstaining, I broke down and started trying different store brands and generic-brand sodas. My favorite is Winn Dixie’s brand, Chek. Of all the store brands I’ve tried, they’re the closest to the “real thing” and much cheaper. Regularly priced, a 12-pack of Chek costs $3. But if you don’t have a Winn Dixie in your area, Walmart’s brand of sodas is a good runner-up.

3. Chocolate

Ghirardelli chocolate was the winner in the premium chocolate category, with 74 percent of consumers choosing it as their favorite brand. You can buy their chocolate bars on the Ghirardelli website for $3.95 each, and they have some great flavors. However, I’ve found better deals.

My personal favorite is the Endangered Species Chocolate bars. Retailing online for $2.99 a bar, they’re cheaper, made with organic chocolate, and 10 percent of the company’s net profits are donated to charity.

4. Coffee

Green Mountain Coffee – the makers of the K-Cup – won the vote for best coffee this year with 65 percent of consumers choosing their brand. The K-Cups give you some variety, but they’re not a good deal. For example, 24-count boxes range from $16.49 to $20.49.

As an alternative, try Community Coffee. They have a variety of flavors similar to the ones offered by Green Mountain Coffee. A 12-ounce bag costs $9.69, and I can make about 30 cups with one.

5. Cosmetics

Origins Cosmetics received 63 percent of the votes in the category of prestige cosmetics. Their products are made from certified organic materials and are chemical-free.

I use Physicians Formula’s Organic Wear line, which uses the same all-natural ingredients but costs less. For example, Origins’ Full Story mascara retails for $15, but I recently bought a tube of Organic Wear Jumbo Lash for $9.99. Of course, buying a cheaper brand isn’t the only way to save on cosmetics. Check out 6 Tips to Save on Beauty Products for more ideas.

6. Household cleaners

Lysol All-Purpose Cleaner (with a 71 percent approval rating) won in this category. Considering you can pick up a bottle for $5.59 at Drugstore.com, Lysol isn’t exactly expensive, but I still save a ton of money by making my cleaner.

I mix 1 ounce of white vinegar and 3 to 4 cups of water in a spray bottle and use it on everything from my windows to my kitchen countertops. Since I can buy a 12-ounce bottle of white vinegar for $0.99 at my grocery store, I spend $0.08 filling up my cleaning product bottle. That is a savings of $5.51 over the brand-name product. For other homemade cleaning product ideas, check out 19 Uses for Baking Soda, Dryer Sheets, and Beer.

These alternatives are great ways to start saving, but there are plenty of others out there. Have you tried any generic or alternative brands that you loved? Sound off on our Facebook page and tell us about them.

Stacy Johnson

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