Health

When do doctors, chefs and cleaners buy generic?

Aug. 27, 2014 at 8:24 AM ET

In drugstores and supermarkets, we’re faced with the choices constantly: Should we buy name-brand products, or save a bit and go generic?

Some research suggests that pharmacists and chefs are more likely to buy generic. TODAY wanted to know when doctors, professional house cleaners and chefs splurge and when they snap up the cheap stuff, so we turned to the experts for advice.

Video: Dr. Keri Peterson, chef James Briscione and consumer expert Andrea Woroch join TODAY to offer guidance for when it’s better to buy generic products, which often cost half as much as brand names.

Medications

The Food and Drug Administration says nearly 8 in 10 prescriptions filled across the nation are for generic drugs, and that their use is expected to grow. Generic drugs are required to have the same active ingredient, strength and dosage form as name-brand products, the agency says, and the cost is on average, 80 to 85 percent lower.

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When do doctors go generic? Dr. Keri Peterson had some guidelines for TODAY.

Dr. Keri Peterson, an internist and contributor to Women’s Health Magazine, told TODAY that when choosing a generic versus a brand-name over-the-counter product, there are several variables that consumers should consider:

  • Delivery system: While some people may prefer liquigels over tablets, not all generic drugs offer the same array of options that name brands do. That could be a stumbling block for people who, for example, can’t swallow large capsules.
  • Taste/texture/flavor: Many people are picky about what their cough syrup or antacid tastes like, and some products are chalkier, while others taste better. Often, brands like Alka Seltzer and Tums are preferred.
  • Scent/consistency: Certain lotions have a nicer texture, smell and absorb better.
  • Quality: Q-tips have a very nice soft tip, giving them an edge over some generics. Fabric bandages can be softer and more pliable in brand name form.
  • The condition you are treating: For minor aches and pains, some people do not care if they choose Advil versus generic ibuprofen because they can always take a second one and are not usually suffering too much. However, when it comes to migraines, people want fast, effective relief because the pain can be debilitating. Migraine sufferers who rely on a specific brand that they know works will be very reluctant to try another and risk that it won't work. People often feel the same way about sleeping pills. Another product that people are selective about is contact lens solution. The eyes can be very sensitive, and most contact lens wearers know which solution works best for them.
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Professional cleaners can turn to some low-budget alternatives.

Cleaning Products

Consumer expert Andrea Woroch says that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average family spends over $600 a year on cleaning products. But, she notes that the majority of cleaning products aren’t that different from each other. Unless you really love the way a top-name cleaner smells or somehow makes your life easier, she recommends sticking with generics: They can save you 30 to 60 percent.

Her generic best buys and tips:

  • Bleach: When it comes to chlorine bleach, she notes that its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, is a basic chemical compound that can’t be made incorrectly or less effective based on who makes it. Generics have the same cleaning power as name-brands, she says, and saves an average of $1 a bottle.
  • Multi-purpose cleaner: If you have a favorite name-brand cleaner, look for a generic with similar ingredients to get similar results. Experts often find that generic and store-brand versions work just as well, and sometimes even better, than name-brand cleaners, while saving up to 60 percent.
  • Tile and Grout Cleaner: A generic or homemade product will work just as well as a brand-name option. The only difference is that you may need to let the cheaper product set on the tile a few minutes before scrubbing it off.

Food

James Briscione, director of culinary development at the Institute of Culinary Education, says there are some foods where the brand matters, and others that it’s OK to go generic. In general, if you’re unsure which to get, check the ingredients. If they are similar, generic is OK. But remember, the ingredients are listed in order of the amount they contain, so be sure to check that the ingredients are in the same general order.

His recommendations for buying generic:

  • Canned vegetables and beans: He would rather have tomatoes canned at their peak than unripened fresh tomatoes in the middle of winter.
  • Baking Basics: Items like sugar and baking soda are fine to get generic. For salt, he cares more about the type (sea salt, Kosher salt), than the brand. The same holds true for vinegar.
  • Nuts: When it comes to raw nuts, there’s not much difference; just check the ingredient list to make sure there are no additives.
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