Supermarkets: Best and Worst

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Of respondents who said they bought store brands, 98 percent said those brands were the same quality or better than nationally advertised brands.

"We've seen stores put a huge amount of effort into private labels," he says. "It's not just canned beans and peaches anymore. You see private label specialty items -- balsamic vinegar, say, or whole-bean organic coffee. When we test, we often find that the store brand is as good as the leading national brand."

He clarifies that "as good" doesn't mean identical. "It's not necessarily a carbon copy," he says.

When Consumer Reports tested Heinz Catsup against the private label brand sold by Market Pantry, for example, it found differences.

"But both were of the same quality," Marks says. "Both fresh-tasting and well balanced."

He says that in his own shopping, he can cut his total bill by close to 60 percent, just by choosing store brands.

The article includes some surprising tips on how shoppers can avoid "traps and tricks" set for them by wily merchants.

For example, try shopping clockwise. Stores want you to shop counter-clockwise, so all position their main entrance on the right. Enter stage-left, though, says Consumer Reports, and research shows you'll spend on average $2 less every time you shop. One reason why: Enter on the right, and you'll hit the produce department first. There's a reason for that, says Herb Sorensen, a consultant quoted in the article. If you buy your broccoli first, then later on you feel justified picking up a cake or ice cream (or what the heck, why not both!) as a compensatory reward.

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