Is Name Brand Formula Better than Generic?

Is Name Brand Formula Better than Generic?

Who doesn’t love a good deal?  I am as much of a bargain hunter as the next Mom!  However, there are few times in life when parents are willing to plop down loads of money than in early infancy.  Baby formula companies know this and are happy to cash in!  I often encounter this unspoken assumption that a name-brand formula must be better … and of course you want your baby to have the best.  Well, I’m here to correct that, and to hopefully save you a few dollars!  The ONLY thing that matters about a formula is the list of ingredients.  The rest is literally just colorful packaging.

I do have one major complaint about generic formulas.  That is: often times, they do not list the ingredients on their website!

 

For example, “Parent’s Choice” formula (The Wal-Mart Brand), and “Comforts for Baby” formula (a local generic brand here in Colorado) only provide nutrition facts (number of calories and fat, etc) on their website, no ingredients!  Thus, if you were trying to do research at home, you would be hard-pressed to feel confident choosing one of these formulas.  Generic formulas often just advertise that they should be “compared to” a big name-brand.  However, as we all know, baby formula is a VERY special type of human food.  You cannot simply compare the calories, fat and protein grams between brands because this is all controlled by the FDA.  Plus, it is the different sources of protein and carbohydrate that can really make a difference on your baby’s stomach!  Thus, with formula (unlike adult food) you’ve got compare the ingredients between brands.  You can’t just trust the marketing.

I’d like to walk you through a few examples to make my point.  I’m going to use the generic brand formula offered at my local grocery store: “Comforts for Baby”

Example 1:  “Comforts for Baby” Advantage formula seems to be the generic brand of “Similac” Advance formula.  See what they did with the naming there?  Clever.   They are even placed on the shelf next to each other, and have the same color scheme!  Again … very clever marketing.

Generic formula comforts for baby Advantage

Since we can’t find the ingredients for the generic formula online, I snapped a picture at the store:

List of ingredients of Comforts for baby Advantage

So what do we have?

We’ve got an intact cow’s milk protein base with additional whey (Nonfat milk, and why protein concentrate). The carbohydrate source is lactose. The fat blend is standard (coconut, soy, high oleic safflower oil). This formula also has a prebiotic! (galacto-oligosaccharides), and DHA/ARA (C Cohini oil and M Alpina oil).

How does this compare to the name brand: “Similac” Advance:

Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Whey Protein Concentrate, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Soy Oil, Coconut Oil, Galactooligosaccharides. Less than 2% of the Following: C. Cohnii Oil, M. Alpina Oil, Beta-Carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Soy Lecithin, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, Ferrous Sulfate, Choline Bitartrate, Choline Chloride, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Salt, Taurine, m-Inositol, Zinc Sulfate, Mixed Tocopherols, d-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, L-Carnitine, Vitamin A Palmitate, Cupric Sulfate, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Manganese Sulfate, Phylloquinone, Biotin, Sodium Selenate, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin, Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Phosphate, Potassium Hydroxide, and Nucleotides (Adenosine 5’-Monophosphate, Cytidine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine 5’-Monophosphate)

Here are the differences:

* The fat blend is in a different order, meaning the generic brand has more coconut and less safflower oil than the Similac… not really a big deal.

* The Similac brand contains lutein and lycopene, a micronutrient in vegetables like tomatoes. The generic band doesn’t have this.

* The generic brand contains monoglycerides, which are added to make the texture right. The Similac brand doesn’t.

In summary, there are very few differences. Lycopene may be nice to have in formula (because it is found in breast milk) but it is not a required nutrient for baby. You as a parent would have to decide if some lutein and lycopene is worth the $12.70 price difference. I’d probably decide no, and go with the generic.

 

Example 2: “Comforts for Baby” Tender vs. “Gerber” Good Start Gentle formula.

Store brand formula Comforts for baby Tender

Here’s what you get with the generic brand:

List of ingredients of Comforts for Baby Tender

Here are the ingredients from Gerber:

WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE (FROM COW’S MILK, ENZYMATICALLY HYDROLYZED, REDUCED IN MINERALS), VEGETABLE OILS (PALM OLEIN, SOY, COCONUT, AND HIGH-OLEIC SAFFLOWER OR HIGH-OLEIC SUNFLOWER), CORN MALTODEXTRIN, LACTOSE, GALACTO-OLIGOSACCHARIDES,* AND LESS THAN 2% OF: POTASSIUM CITRATE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, CALCIUM CHLORIDE, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM CITRATE, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, FERROUS SULFATE, ZINC SULFATE, COPPER SULFATE, POTASSIUM IODIDE, MANGANESE SULFATE, SODIUM SELENATE, M. ALPINA,** C. COHNII,*** SODIUM ASCORBATE, INOSITOL, CHOLINE BITARTRATE, ALPHA-TOCOPHERYL ACETATE, NIACINAMIDE, CALCIUM PANTOTHENATE, RIBOFLAVIN, VITAMIN A ACETATE,† PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, FOLIC ACID, PHYLLOQUINONE, BIOTIN, VITAMIN D3, VITAMIN B12, TAURINE, NUCLEOTIDES (CYTIDINE 5′-MONOPHOSPHATE, DISODIUM URIDINE 5′-MONOPHOSPHATE, ADENOSINE 5′-MONOPHOSPHATE, DISODIUM GUANOSINE 5′-MONOPHOSPHATE), ASCORBYL PALMITATE, MIXED TOCOPHEROLS, L-CARNITINE, SOY LECITHIN.

Here are the differences:

* The Gerber brand may have a little more coconut and a little less soy oil in the fat bland … no biggie there.

* The generic brand has more lactose and less corn maltodextrin (sugar) than the Gerber brand … big deal!

In summary, I think the generic is a better choice here because it contains more natural milk carbohydrate (lactose) and less artificial corn sugar (maltodextrin). I’d actually pay extra money for that difference! But the generic is $10 cheaper anyway! Just think – after 2 containers, you’ve saved enough for a new pair for shoes!!

I’ll add a note here. On this site, I recommend Gerber Good Start for Supplementing as a starting formula because it is the only name brand formula on the market that has a hydrolyzed protein and more lactose than corn-based sugar. I have to recommend name-brand formulas because I have readers from all over the country and generic brand availabilities differ by region. So, if you are in a region that offers “Comforts for Baby” formula, their Tender formula meets all these criteria and would save you lots of money! Fabulous! When my own baby needed some supplemental formula, this is the brand I chose for our family.

 

Final Example: “Comforts for Baby” Gentle vs. “Enfamil” Gentlease.

Generic brand Comforts for Baby Gentle

Here’s what you get with the generic brand:

List of ingredients of Comforts for Baby Gentle

Here are the ingredients from Enfamil:

Corn syrup solids, partially hydrolyzed nonfat milk and whey protein concentrate solids (soy), vegetable oil (palm olein, soy, coconut and high oleic sunflower oils) and less than 2%: Mortierella alpinaoil, Crypthecodinium cohnii oil, vitamin A palmitate, vitamin D3, vitamin E acetate, vitamin K1, thiamin hydrochloride, riboflavin, vitamin B6 hydrochloride, vitamin B12, niacinamide, folic acid, calcium pantothenate, biotin, ascorbic acid, choline chloride, inositol, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, magnesium phosphate, ferrous sulfate, zinc sulfate, manganese sulfate, cupric sulfate, sodium selenite, sodium citrate, potassium chloride, potassium iodide, taurine and L-carnitine

Here are the differences:

  • The Enfamil brand contains partially hydrolyzed milk protein and intact whey protein, whereas the generic brand contains intact milk protein and partially hydrolyzed whey protein.  This is a very interesting difference.   While there hasn’t been research comparing this difference, my personal opinion is that whey may be easier to digest and less allergenic.  So, if I were forced to choose between the two, I would prefer to have the whey intact and the nonfat milk hydrolyzed (the way Enfamil does it).
  • The generic brand may have a little more coconut and a little less soy oil in the fat bland … no biggie there.
  • The generic brand has both monoglycerides and soy lecithin – which are added to enhance texture.  The Enfamil does not. This is likely not a big deal.

Note that both have corn syrup as the first ingredient.  Ewww.  For that reason I wouldn’t recommend either.  However, for the sake of comparing just the two, please note that there are pretty big differences!!  This is a prime example of why you can’t just trust they are the same because the manufacturer has put them in the same purple-color box!

In summary

  • Don’t trust that generic brand baby formula is exactly the same as the name-brand formula it is competing with!  The total number of calories and grams of fat, protein, and carbs will be the same.  BUT, there are often small differences in the list of ingredients that can mean big difference to a baby’s tolerance.
  • Don’t assume the name-brand is better!  Sometimes the differences in ingredients stack up in favor of the generic brand!
  • Be a savy shopper.  Go to the store prepared to spend a long time in the formula aisle looking at the back of all the cans before you make your decision.

 

I hope that helps clear up some confusion, and maybe it will make you feel better about considering a generic brand formula.  We’re all just trying to give our babies the best … and you are doing a great job!

 

Dr. Young

 

Do you have a generic brand formula that you love?  Let me know what it is (and where you are from).  I’d love to check it out!