Morton salt, Domino sugar or Arm & Hammer baking soda—regardless of what label appears on these products, the chemical formula is the same: NaCl for salt; C12H22O11 for sugar; NaHCO3 for baking soda. Chefs know the brand name doesn’t affect the taste, and a new study by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business shows that knowledgeable shoppers, such as professional chefs, stock up on generic ingredients and save money.
The research, conducted by Chicago Booth’s Jean-Pierre Dubé, Sigmund E Edelstone Professor of Marketing; Matthew Gentzkow, Richard O Ryan Professor of Economics and Neubauer Family Faculty Fellow; and Economics Professor Jesse M Shapiro, demonstrates that professional chefs are more likely to reach for the cheaper, no-name versions of such pantry staples at the grocery store. The study hypothesised that sophisticated shoppers may find it easier to cut through the informational clutter created by branding. They found that when chefs buy pantry staples, they devote more than 80% of their purchases to private labels, compared to 61% for the average consumer.
Overall, chefs are 13 percentage points more likely than the typical shopper to buy the generic version. If everyone in the US shopped like a chef, the researchers estimate, spending on name-brand pantry staples would fall 24%, saving consumers $20 million per year on pantry staples and $340 million on other food and drink categories in the study.