Best places to buy basic groceries

November 21, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Consumer spending has dropped in most areas, but not for groceries. We all have to eat, and that may be why more stores are selling food these days.

There was a time you had to go to a grocery store to buy groceries, but not anymore. Now drug stores and discount retailers are competing for your food dollars. So where are the best bargains?

Groceries are the name of the game at stores like Safeway and Whole Foods. But guess what? You can get them at Wal-Mart and Longs Drugs, too. So who is giving you the best prices?

"I'm a peanut butter freak so I always use that as my judge. If the peanut butter prices are lower then I figure it's a good store," said consumer Donna Falvey.

"When I'm going to go shopping, I go shopping. I buy less with things more expensive," said consumer Dorothy Silas of Fremont.

We compared prices at five popular retailers -- Trader Joe's, Safeway, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and Longs Drugs. We bought the same six basic items at each store. In each case we purchased the least expensive brand available for each item.

Our list consisted of a half-gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, a loaf of whole wheat bread, a pound of butter, a box of laundry soap and a four-pack of toilet paper.

We asked consumers which store they think had the lowest overall price. Most of them guessed Wal-Mart, and they were right. The big box department store was by far the cheapest for groceries -- more than eight dollars less than the other four.

The Wal-Mart tab was $13.31. The next lowest was Safeway at $21.67, with a Safeway Club Card. Without the card, the total was $29.94. Trader Joe's came in at $22.06. Whole Foods was just pennies more at $22.35. The highest was Longs Drugs at $24.74.

"I'm not surprised that would be right," said Silas.

Whole Foods says its prices are the same or lower than competitors for similar organic products.

Safeway says nearly all of its customers use the free club card to dramatically lower their food bill.

Longs it offers affordable groceries at convenient locations.

We did not hear back from Trader Joe's.

However, consumers told us each store has its benefits.

We found each store had good deals on individual items, like eggs for $1.79 at Long's. See below for a complete breakdown of what we found.

Wal-Mart:

  • 1 lb butter $2.68
  • 1 dozen eggs $1:67
  • Half gallon two percent milk $2.42
  • 1 loaf whole wheat bread $1.97
  • 4 pk toilet paper $1.26
  • 8 lb box laundry detergent $2.94

Total with tax $13.31

Safeway
(Prices reflect non-club card prices. With club card, total is 32 percent LESS)

  • 1 lb butter $3.99
  • 1 dozen eggs $3.99
  • Half gallon two percent milk $2.99
  • 1 loaf whole wheat bread $3.99
  • 4 pk toilet paper $1.99
  • 8 lb box laundry detergent $10.99

Total with tax with club card $21.57

Total with tax without club card $29.94

Longs Drugs

  • 1 lb butter $3.89
  • 1 dozen eggs $1.79
  • Half gallon two percent milk $2.59
  • 1 loaf whole wheat bread $2.50
  • 4 pk toilet paper $3.89
  • 8 lb box laundry detergent $8.99

Total with tax $22.95

Trader Joe's

  • 1 lb butter $2.79
  • 1 dozen eggs $1.79
  • Half gallon two percent milk $2.49
  • 1 loaf whole wheat bread $1.99
  • 10-pk toilet paper (smallest available) $3.99
  • 8 lb box laundry detergent $7.99

Total with tax $22.06

Whole Foods

  • 1 lb butter $2.79
  • 1 dozen eggs $2.79
  • Half gallon two percent milk $2.49
  • 1 loaf whole wheat bread $3.99
  • 4 pk toilet paper $2.99
  • 6 lb box laundry detergent $6.49

Total with tax: $22.35

WHOLE FOODS COMPANY STATEMENT

Whole Foods Market selects products based on the highest standards in the business, and we work hard to ensure our prices are competitive. When comparing 'organic apples to organic apples' - our prices on like items are very competitive or, in many cases, better priced than our competitors. A key differentiator for Whole Foods Market ? in relation to the items surveyed - is that we source our private label dairy products from farmers who pledge not to use the synthetic growth hormone recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) and, since 2004, we have only sold fresh cage-free eggs." ? Danny Olivas, Whole Foods Market Executive Marketing Coordinator

Please also note a few things, which I'm passing along as an FYI. I know your segment is on price comparison -- but thought you might find our value shopping tips to be useful -- if appropriate:

Whole Foods Market Top 5 Value Shopping Tips:

1. SHOP THE SPECIALS ? Each store has weekly and bi-weekly specials, which can be found online and in the stores' flyers.

2. SAVE WITH THE SEASONS ? It is cheaper to shop seasonally. It also pays to know when the "peak" of the season for fruit and vegetables are in your region.

3. CHECK OUT STORE BRANDS - All of the Company's private label products must adhere to high quality standards while offering great value 365 days a year.

4. WASTE NOT, WANT NOT - Buy bargains in quantity and freeze extra product. When shopping, think about creative ways to use leftovers, giving them new life in soups, salads and sandwiches.

5. BULK UP - Shop the bulk grocery bins, which can frequently be more economical. But, don't forget to compare prices in bulk to 365 Everyday Value? as store brands can be less expensive at times.

Whole Foods Market Value Tours:

Whole Foods Markets across the Bay Area provide weekly in-store Value Tours on how to shop Whole Foods on a budget. They will offer Value Shopping Tips for enjoying the best savings and bargains without giving up organic and natural foods. Tours vary with each store location and customers should call their local store for a Value Tour schedule. Tours now also feature Holiday meal planning and entertaining on a budget.

SAFEWAY COMPANY STATEMENT

We are pleased Safeway ranked so well in the price survey. Nearly all of our customers use our Safeway Club Card to dramatically lower their overall food bill ? and the club membership is free and available to everyone. During any one week, Safeway offers more than 5,000 Safeway Club Card items across the store at significantly reduced special savings. We also provide our customers with the single best fuel reward in the market through our PowerPump gas reward program, which saves customers 10 cents per gallon for each $100 spent in our stores. We recently doubled that fuel reward to 20 cents for every $100 spent on our selection of more than 300 gift cards ? whereby customers can accumulate rewards even to the point of receiving a free tank of gas.

It is worth noting these kinds of limited item price comparisons (KGO's was only 6 items) rarely provide consumers with a complete or accurate picture of real prices in a typical full-sized supermarket, which carries, on average, more than 50,000 items.

LONGS DRUGS (CVS) COMPANY STATEMENT

Longs Drug Stores provides affordable access to grocery products at locations that are more convenient than large supermarkets and big-box retailers. Longs' convenience food area includes a selection of dry cereal, snacks, meal solutions, dairy and frozen foods in most locations and is designed for quick fill-in trips between grocery store visits. Simply comparing prices across different types of retailers does not take into account that convenient, accessible locations are an important factor when assessing true consumer value.

Longs Drugs offers its customers a full selection of affordable products and services in pharmacy, wellness, beauty and convenience foods. We look forward to enhancing the value and service we provide to customers when Longs Drug Stores are converted into CVS/pharmacy in 2009.


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