"Generic" packaging ca. 1980 - your memories and thoughts about it

The “WTF movie” thread made me think of this. I was in high school when these non-branded items, usually with B&W labels, hit the market. The emphasis was on canned foods, but there were other items, like beer (which I heard was actually pretty good, as cheap beer goes) and cigarettes.

The plain labels pretty much died out by the late 1980s, when store brands took over.

I was born in 1984 and I distinctly remember seeing this sort of packaging in stores. I also remember my mom paying for groceries via check as well as via manual imprint credit card (ka-chunk) machines, so in retrospect a surprising number of my earliest memories seem to be grocery store related.

I wasn’t much of a consumer at the time but I did note that the stark white (or yellow, I seem to remember yellow and black a’la No Name brand products standing out against the more colorful packaging of brand names. My family was pretty spendthrift so we did take some of those products home, they were inferior to name brand products in exactly the same way store brands are now, with the same occasional exceptions.

I, too, remember black-on-yellow labels. We saw them at Pick-n-Pay, a budget-groceries subsidiary of Finast (and does Finast even exist any more? I think they might have been bought out by Giant Eagle). I don’t remember actually buying them very often, though, which probably means that Mom had even cheaper sources of those foods, like her own garden.

C’mon, we’ve got to have a pic, in all its generic goodness…

Here’s an article from “History’s Dumpster”. Scroll down to see various products (my favorite: Luncheon Loaf In A Can). And Public Image Ltd’s album “Album”.


A good friend tutored kids at Cabrini Green (“The Projects” in Chicago), and one grade school kid got pushed, and to retaliate turned and insulted the bully with "You’re just… just… generic!"

His mom clearly shopped that aisle.

Yeah, I remember that stuff. Most of it was manufactured by name brand companies, so it was the same product as their name brand. Most of it wasn’t half bad. As an impoverished student, it was a source of adequate nourishment.

It reminds me of the movie “Repo Man”. That stuff was everywhere. They even took it to an extreme with some items simply labeled “food” and “drink”.

I was a poor college student at the time and bought a lot of generic macaroni and spaghetti to get by. I also consumed mass quantities of government surplus cheese by volunteering to work at a food warehouse once a month.

A typical meal was marked-down turkey thighs, generic mac & cheese made with evaporated milk, and store-brand peas straight out of the can. It was also around this time that I discovered ramen noodles, which made a nice change of pace.

That movie was what led to the discussion of generic brands in the WTF Movie thread.

Relevant story from Public Radio’s Marketplace. TLDR – Those generic products were originally a response to the high inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s. Then they evolved into the store brands, or “private labels” as the industry prefers to call them, we know today.

There were just as many store brands before the no-name stuff as there were after, at least in central Indiana. The plain-label stuff was a bit cheaper, though.

I remember a black and white package with 6 black squares circa 1978. They were fine, as I recall, but my palate, as a 7 year old was not too refined. This was Massachusetts. Don’t remember the name of the store. Shaw’s? Stop n Shop?

We didn’t have generic beer in Ontario back in those days, but a friend brought some back from a visit to the US. We tried it, and it wasn’t really any different from Budweiser or Miller or Molson Canadian or Labatt Blue. Thirst-quenching, sure, but just plain lager beer.

I smoked in those days, and tried the generic cigarettes. Again, like generic beer, they were no better nor no worse than what otherwise was available. The only thing they were, was cheaper; but not enough to make a difference–if a pack of name-brand smokes was 85c, the generics were maybe 79c.

I remember the price table in the 70’s being generic, then store brand, then off brand, and then name brand.

As a teen in the 70’s I worked at a dairy factory and at Libby. And I can tell you the stuff that got packaged in store brand and generic labels was not the same as product that was packaged in the name brand labels. Fruits and vegetables that were acceptable got ratings and the lower rated produce got put in the “seconds” line. If there were no low rated products then, yes, the higher rated product got the generic label. This is why the consistency of some generics was so out of whack.

BTW, I read that generic beer back then was actually Lucky Lager, a half way decent brew at the time.

I remember “generic” being a pretty common insult (whether applied to people or things).

Whatever else I have to say, I already said in this previous thread:

It was a reference to “Repo Man” in that “WTF movie” thread that prompted this one. The one scene from “Repo Man” that I definitely remember was Otto, played by Emilio Estevez, eating out of a B&W can that appeared to be about the size of a can of Planter’s Nuts and was labeled “FOOD”.

Wouldn’t being spendthrift imply not buying the generics?

That time I was stuck on an island, all we had was
Dharma Initiative food

What I found interesting about generic products was the way the packaging was a real slap in the face. I couldn’t help but feel that it hindered sales. It was pretty obvious that you were buying the cheap stuff. And it turned out that, in fact, that was deliberate. Stores wanted to provide generics for those that wanted them but wanted most people to be shamed into buying brand names which had far bigger markups.


All we had was this: