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Supermarkets - Key Findings from Our Surveys (Fall 2015/Winter 2016)
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Our price comparisons and ratings of stores for quality show the results of our price shopping and our most recent surveys of consumers on supermarket quality and service. Here are the key findings—

The area’s price winners were Walmart, DeMoulas Market Basket, and Hannaford Supermarkets.

Walmart’s prices averaged about seven percent lower than the average prices at the Stop & Shop stores we checked and about 14 percent lower than the prices at the Shaw’s stores we checked. Market Basket’s prices were about five percent lower than Stop & Shop’s and 13 percent lower than Shaw’s. Hannaford’s prices were about 12 percent lower than Shaw’s. For a family that spends $200 per week at the supermarket, a five to 14 percent price difference could total $520 to $1,450 a year.

Wegmans wows.

In our Philadelphia and Washington, DC, area editions of CHECKBOOK, we’ve for years found that Wegmans accomplishes a rare supermarket feat by offering astonishingly high-quality products and service at low prices. In 2014, the Rochester, N.Y.-based chain opened its first store in the Boston area—in Newton—and two more (in Burlington and Westwood) opened this year. It’s already the #1 ranked store for quality in the area among consumers we surveyed (an astounding 93 percent rated it “superior” overall) and offers prices that are about seven percent lower than Shaw’s.

Stop & Shop’s prices were about eight percent lower than Shaw’s.

In our previous surveys, Target was one of the big winners for price, but in this year’s survey its prices were roughly the same as Stop & Shop’s and only seven percent lower than Shaw’s.

Within the largest chains, there is relatively little store-to-store price variation.

Unlike our past surveys, we found little store-to-store price variation among surveyed Stop & Shop and Shaw’s locations (previous surveys found prices at one Stop & Shop store were 13 percent lower than at another of the chain’s stores, and prices at one Shaw’s store we checked were about five percent lower than another).

Surveyed stores for Star Market, Roche Bros., Donelan’s Supermarkets, and Sudbury Farms had higher prices than Stop & Shop and Shaw’s.

Star’s prices were about five percent higher than average prices at Stop & Shop and Shaw’s; Roche Bros. about 12 percent higher; Donelan’s about 14 percent higher; and Sudbury Farms about 19 percent higher.

On the quality side, Shaw’s, Star Market, Stop & Shop, and Walmart received relatively poor ratings.

All four of these chains rated near the bottom of the list for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” and “overall quality.” For overall quality, Walmart was rated “superior” by only 16 percent of its surveyed customers, Shaw’s by only 35 percent, Stop & Shop by 37 percent, and Star Market by 44 percent. (While we received too few ratings for Target to report scores, it also receives low scores in the other metro areas where CHECKBOOK is published.)

In contrast, raters’ favorite Wegmans and Roche Bros., Sudbury Farms, Whole Foods, and a few others received very high ratings.

All were rated “superior” overall by at least 80 percent of their surveyed customers.

Price leaders Hannaford and Market Basket received higher-than-average scores on our customer survey.

DeMoulas Market Basket was rated “superior” overall by a respectable 73 percent of its surveyed customers and Hannaford by 72 percent—proving it is possible for stores not named “Wegmans” to offer both reasonable prices and high-quality service.

Whole Foods Market had the highest prices.

Whole Foods’ prices were 48 percent higher than the average prices we found at the Shaw’s and Stop & Shop stores we checked—for the limited number of comparable items available at each chain. On the other hand, Whole Foods consistently receives very high scores on quality of fresh produce and meat, which account for many of the items we could compare between Whole Foods and the other chains.

When we last examined the prices of organic food, Whole Foods’ prices were only slightly higher than average. See “Buying Organic Food” at for more advice and information.

Trader Joe’s ratings for “overall quality” were higher than average, but its prices were higher than those of most other area chains.

Since the market basket we used for our price survey is largely made up of national-brand products, and since Trader Joe’s offers mainly its own brands, we couldn’t include it in our full standard price survey. Instead, we shopped Trader Joe’s using a special survey that included the same fresh produce, meats, and dairy items included in our standard survey, comparing the national-brand items on our list with the prices of Trader Joe’s store brands. (When comparing prices, we used per-unit pricing—for example, price per ounce.)

How Do Trader Joe’s and Aldi’s Prices Compare?

The graphs below show how much more expensive or less expensive Trader Joe’s and Aldi’s prices were compared to average prices of comparable items at Stop & Shop and Shaw’s.

  • Trader Joe’s prices were about 10 percent higher than Stop & Shop’s and about three percent higher than Shaw’s.
  • For produce, Trader Joe’s prices for the items it carried were about 11 percent lower than the Stop & Shop/Shaw’s average.
  • For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were about 21 percent higher than the Stop & Shop/Shaw’s average.

Aldi’s prices are incredibly low.

We also shopped Aldi using the same method we used to compare Trader Joe’s prices. As shown on the figure above, Aldi’s prices were an astounding 38 percent lower than the Stop & Shop/Shaw’s average for our full market basket including comparable national-brand items.

Unfortunately, many Trader Joe’s and Aldi shoppers will also have to shop at conventional supermarkets.

Trader Joe’s had only 42 percent of the items in our market basket in stock, and Aldi carried only 63 percent.

You can save by substituting store brands and generic products for national brands.

When we substituted cheaper generic and store brands for about one-sixth of the items in our price-shopping market basket at Stop & Shop and Shaw’s, the total cost of the full market basket dropped by about four percent.

For the items that could be compared based on unit prices (price per pound, for example), membership warehouse stores offered king-sized savings.

Sam’s Club, for example, beat Shaw’s by about 31 percent. And compared to Shaw’s, the savings were about 29 percent at Costco and 28 percent at BJ’s. As the figure below indicates, the warehouse clubs offered significant savings compared to even the lowest-priced stores, but these savings perhaps aren’t enough to justify paying the clubs’ annual membership fees if you don’t use them often.

How Much You Can Save at Warehouse Stores

The graphs below show how much less expensive prices at the warehouse stores were compared to the listed supermarkets. For these comparisons, we shopped all stores to calculate the least expensive way to buy each item in our market basket, per unit, regardless of item size.

Since you can’t typically get everything you need at a warehouse store, we looked at the potential savings of shopping at both a warehouse store and a supermarket, assuming you would purchase the lowest-cost size available at either place. We found, for example, that by including Costco on your shopping schedule along with Stop & Shop, you could save about 13 percent compared with shopping at Stop & Shop alone.

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