TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - To save money, more and more grocery shoppers are choosing store brands over name brands, and stores are upping their game to gain customers. We headed to Winn Dixie's headquarters in Jacksonville, where they are putting taste to the test to compete with national brands.
"We're trying to match the national brand and make it better," explained Marc Koutoufaris, the vice president of own brands at Southeastern Grocers.
Koutoufaris took us inside the test kitchen of the store brand. "Our supplier partners that we work with in designing products, they have gotten better in their equipment and processes in working to match the national brands so that we could provide that value back to the partner."
Market trends over the last 30 years, he says, show customers are more interested in store brands to save money, prompting companies to diversify their offerings and create packaging that doesn't look "generic."
"We have an opening price point, a national brand equivalency, and then we have Indulgent and Naturally Better, which is our organics brand."
They're able to keep prices lower because they don't have to pump in as much advertising money as national brands.
"The customer has committed to coming into our store already, so once they've done that, they're now seeing our products against the national brands."
But seeing isn't believing when it comes to food. Tasting is.
Corporate concept chefs develop and perfect Winn Dixie's "own brand" products and recipes.
"What I do is I design recipes for the back of packaging," explained Steve Stallone, one of those chefs.
He gestured to a salted caramel apple pie in progress. "These are little test recipes. I like to spoil the quality control team with food."
RECIPE: Try the pie yourself
More than food gets tested there. Over in the corner was a woman monitoring what looks like a straight up science lab. They say whenever they have a new product, they do an initial testing and then make sure to do an annual testing to make sure the product is consistent.
They run these tests on everything from the acidity of juice to the strength of plastic. They showed us a device that tests the resistance of a trash bag by trying to punch through it with a metal weight.
Consistency is key.
But the real moment of truth was in the blind taste tests, which we tried. We started with potato chips, moved on to cereal, and then juice.
The results? I preferred the national brand chip slightly. But the rest? The cereal was more or less identical. The juice had a slightly more strawberry taste in the store brand than national, but nothing that made me prefer one to the other.
That opened the door for price -- not flavor -- to become the deciding factor
"If you can't tell the difference why would you pay the difference?" Koutoufaris noted.
And that's what makes the difference in whether a store brand succeeds.