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Drop a Brand Challenge

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X-Ray production team X-Ray production team | 19:33 UK time, Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Lucy Owen challenges a family from our consumer panel, the X-Ray 100, to swap big brands for supermarket own goods for a week.

Julie and Andrew Wren live in Cwmbran with sons Harry, nine, and James, five. The boys love the big food brands but with an above average spend on their food bills - £70 a week or £3,600 a year - mum and dad were keen to save money.

At the supermarket, Julie picked branded products while Lucy bought supermarket alternatives.

Lucy could have saved more by buying the supermarket's basics range, but chose ingredients, sizes and packaging that closely matched the brands Julie usually buys.

Julie said: "I always buy branded products so I'm not sure how the kids would notice actually... I think they might pick up on that."

She added: "I do like to think I'm buying a good product for the children, and as you're paying a bit more you get what you pay for at the end of the day."

To Julie's surprise, the branded good came to £54.41 while the unbranded cost £35.30.

Having saved a third off Julie's bill, the next test was to see if the family would eat the cheaper food. But Lucy had some tricks up her sleeve and, with Julie's help, swapped the packaging.

Over the week, fish fingers and breaded chicken, normally Birds Eye, and baked beans, which would usually be Heinz, were eaten up without complaint.

Own brand cereal, instead of Cheerios and Shreddies, also went undetected. From their lunch boxes, the boys refused to eat unbranded crisps but James did eat his fromage frais yoghurt.

Julie wasn't quite so convinced by the own brand cola with her Tia Maria but Andrew noticed no difference in his coffee.

Psychologist Paul Buckley believes shoppers opt for familiar labels because it makes shopping quicker and simpler.

He said: "There are a vast range of products, so the easiest way to cut through the rubbish, if you like, is to stick with simple rules of thumb, either I'll buy the cheapest or I'll go for the brand which are typical rules of thumb that the average consumer tends to apply."

According to Paul, shoppers might also choose brands because they have an image around them and people have associations with it. For example, it might be a brand they've grown up with.

He said: "And also some brands project an image about you. You're not a cheapskate, you're the person that buys the good quality stuff. A lot of consumers like to bask in that glory."

Lucy asked Paul if mums and dads are the worse culprits for buying brands when deciding what to put in their child's lunch box.

He said: "Well it can be, I mean you wouldn't want your child to be discriminated as soon as he opens his lunchbox.

"If he's got the cheap economy products where it might say economy crisps or it will have some cheap-looking label on it and his friend next to him has got the branded products, and then the child feels uncomfortable and then the mum feels uncomfortable, it could be a case of my friend has this brand of crisps, so there is a social pressure are sort of pester power that comes with it."

But with something like a ham sandwich, no one would know what's in it, so people could cut back on brands easily without others knowing or having guilt about it.

Back at the Wrens' house, it was verdict time.

Julie said: "Everything we swapped over the kids didn't notice anything at all apart from, I would say, the crisps were the only item that they refused to eat but they could actually see the packaging on that."

Harry and James were shocked to discover they had been tricked. They said they had not tasted the difference but admitted they wouldn't have eaten the food had it been in its own packaging.

There was another surprise for mum and dad - dropping a brand could save them £500 a year.

So did they want their branded goods back? No, Lucy was welcome to take back the majority of products and they were quite happy to switch.

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