You can save big bucks on some medicines – if your pharmacy tells you about them. Many common medicines have cheaper equivalents that do the same job – they’re called generics. But in our mystery shop of 20 pharmacies only 4 told our shoppers about the generics without being prompted.


When a pharmaceutical company develops a medicine it takes out a patent to exclusively make and market it. Patents for new medicines usually last for 20 years and during that time a company promotes its brand heavily.

Buying the generic product saved our shoppers big dollars.
Buying the generic product saved our shoppers big dollars.

When the patent expires other companies can make and sell their own “generic” version of the medicine. Most don’t bother with advertising – they concentrate on making and selling their version as cheaply as possible.

Although generic medicines cost less, they work as well as the original brand. Generics have to be “bioequivalent” – this means having the same active ingredient (at the same strength) and the same effect on the body. However, they don’t have to be made using the same process and may have different inactive ingredients.

Tip: All generic medicines have to be approved by Medsafe (the Ministry of Health’s medicines-safety agency). And they all go through the same quality and safety checks as branded medicines before they can be sold.

Our survey

We sent mystery shoppers to 20 pharmacies (10 in Christchurch and 10 in Auckland) to buy a brand-name hayfever medicine.

Become a paying Consumer member to read more about our mystery shop.