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Jill Cataldo

I always am thrilled to share great shopping and couponing tips from my readers, and today’s column is devoted to seeking out and finding the best house-branded items at our stores. Major brands work hard to create unique products they hope we develop strong loyalties to, but here’s a secret you might not know: Many of those big brands also create private-label versions of their own products to sell to stores under the store’s name or label.

These brands know many people will pay more for the brand name (and they’re banking on that), but they still profit when you purchase a store-branded item they created for that retailer.

I spent my college years working at a chain hardware store, and one of the first things I learned during my training was our store’s line of batteries was made by one of the biggest brand names out there. I immediately started buying those identical-quality batteries with the store’s logo on them for a few dollars less.

Some of my readers have spotted unique ways to figure out when a major brand might have created a store-brand item, and others have their own tips for spotting quality house-branded products:

Dear Jill: Here is a tip for store-brand items that taste just like the name brand. Most grocery stores have a guarantee if you buy a store brand and do not like it, you can return the item for a 100 percent refund.

I never am afraid to take a chance. I found out caramel coconut chocolate shortbread cookies at my store are identical to the name brand kind, as they taste identical but are almost $1 cheaper. In many cases, I believe these products are made by the name brand anyway, as the package sizes are identical, too, and even the plastic tray inside the package is identical. — Julie F.

Dear Jill: I found my store’s brand of peanut butter is made by one of the name brands of peanut butter. I picked up both jars, and the design imprinted in the plastic jar is the same for both. They also have identical plastic lids, but the lids are different colors.

Look at the ingredients list, too, when you compare the store’s brand to the name brand. If they are identical, the name brand probably made the store-brand item. — Bryan H.

This is a great tip. If a brand is creating the same item for itself and a retailer, it’s very unlikely they will stop the production line to add one different ingredient to differentiate it from the name brand.

Dear Jill: I have to tell you about the facial tissues at my supermarket. Every time this store has a sale, I stock up. They are so nice and soft and not what you would expect from a store brand. For a while, I actually suspected they must be made by the most popular brand you can think of for these things.

Well, I noticed the last time I bought these there is a small warning of sorts on the boxes of tissues. It says, “This product is not manufactured or distributed by [Parent Brand] owner of the registered trademark [Brand Name.]”

So, I now know the popular brand did not make these, but I actually consider this “warning” a notice the product inside is of such good quality you might mistake it for the real deal.

I since have looked for this “warning” on other house-brand items and have not yet been disappointed in the quality. — Michaela E.

This disclaimer indicates the product is so comparable to the brand name the brand does not want shoppers to mistake the store’s product for their own. Perhaps the private-label item’s packaging is very similar to the name brand’s design. At any rate, it’s another tool we as shoppers can use to evaluate the potential quality of a store-brand item.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about Super-Couponing at her website, jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.