Phil and Laura Morgan, a retired couple from McConnells, walked no more than a foot to find a better deal on their raisin bran cereal at Bi-Lo on Rock Hill's Heckle Boulevard on Thursday morning.
In the center of aisle 10, the Morgans spotted the store brand Southern Home, priced more than $1.50 cheaper than the national label already in their shopping cart. Both cereals were suited in purplish pink boxes, side-by-side -- flakes and raisins that Laura said are hard to distinguish.
"Just look at the price difference," she announced after Phil switched out the Kellogg's cereal with two boxes of the store brand. The store-label raisin bran was on sale for $1.99. Competitor Kellogg's was priced at $3.63.
The Morgans are among a growing number of consumers who are catching on to the savings packaged in store brands, said Jason Carpenter, assistant professor of retail management at the University of South Carolina.
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Carpenter said retailers have been producing for many years, and there is often little difference in the quality of store brands compared to national brands.
"Retailers are also feeling the crunch in the current economy," Carpenter said, "and will increasingly turn to store brands to increase their profit margins as much as possible."
Sales of Bi-Lo's Southern Home products are up 5 percent this year compared to 2007, according to store officials, and the label can be found on about 2,000 items in stock. Other area store brands, such as Harris Teeter's HT Trader, are also popular buys for consumers, a company spokesperson said.
Food Lion stores spokesperson Kim Blackburn said the chain has seen a "significant increase" in the sales of its private brands. Its On the Go Bistro brand, for example, which offers frozen restaurant-style dinners, has taken off because people are opting to eat at home more, she said.
The Morgans and many others shopping at Bi-Lo on a recent afternoon said they look on just about every aisle for store brands. Canned and frozen vegetables, bread, dairy products and cleaning supplies are a few examples.
Food prices rose at the fastest clip in nearly two decades last year, and they're on track to do the same this year, reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A basic grocery list of 10 items will add at least $5.84 to the average shoppers' bill from a year ago -- a more than 25 percent increase.
And turning to cheaper brands isn't the only way shoppers are saving. Many are changing their buying habits to cut costs in other ways, too.
Rock Hill resident Alan Kyber, a high school athletic coach and biology teacher, said that in addition to buying store brands, he shops in bulk.
Kyber said he buys 48 rolls of toilet tissue for his two-person household, and he goes by a simple philosophy when choosing which brand to purchase. "Two-ply is two-ply," he says. "A double roll is a double roll."
Another shopper, elementary school teacher Angie Hallman of Rock Hill, said she buys store brands wheneven she can, especially when they're on sale. She also uses her customer bonus card, which has saved her nearly $400 so far this year in discounts.
Carpenter suggests that shoppers also pay attention to sales fliers and coupons, be smart about the size of the carton or package in relation to the price and consider shopping around at several grocery stores to find the best deals.
He said consumers might also try growing some produce in their own backyards or on their porches. "Not only will that save you money," Carpenter said, "but you will reap the health benefits of eating the freshest products."
High prices in grocery aisles might be with consumers for a while, Carpenter predicts. He says global population and climate change are factors, along with the rising cost of fuel and grain.
"National labels were already feeling competitive pressure from store brands," he said, "but the recent economic shifts have put many consumers on the lookout for all possible ways to save at the grocery store."