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Supermarkets - Key Findings from Our Surveys (Fall 2013/Winter 2014)
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Our price comparisons and ratings of stores for quality show the results of our market-basket price survey and our most recent surveys of consumers on supermarket quality and service. Here are some key findings—

The area’s price standouts were DeMoulas Market Basket, Walmart Supercenter, and Target.

DeMoulas Market Basket’s prices averaged about 22 percent lower than the average prices at the Shaw’s stores we checked and 10 to 21 percent lower than the prices at the Stop & Shop stores we checked, depending on the store. Walmart’s prices were more than 18 percent lower than Shaw’s. Target’s prices were more than 11 percent lower than Shaw’s. For a family that spends $150 per week at the supermarket, a 10 to 22 percent price difference could total $780 to $1,716 a year.

Most Boston area shoppers have at least one nearby low-cost supermarket option.

Price leaders DeMoulas Market Basket and Walmart stores aren’t conveniently located for most Boston area shoppers. But because most Targets now offer a basic selection of groceries, most Boston area shoppers have at least one low-priced grocery store near their home or workplace.

Depending on the specific surveyed store, Stop & Shop’s prices were about the same as the average prices at Shaw’s or as much as 15 percent lower than Shaw’s prices.

We found relatively large store-to-store price differences within both the Shaw’s and Stop & Shop chains.

Prices at the lower priced Stop & Shop we checked were 13 percent lower than those at the higher priced store we checked; prices at the lower priced Shaw’s store we checked were about five percent lower than those at its higher priced store we checked.

Interestingly, the lower priced Shaw’s and Stop & Shops were both in North Shore communities—which means they are located near most DeMoulas Market Baskets. It seems that competition, where it exists in the Boston area, may lower prices.

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

Shaw’s and Stop & Shop rated near the bottom of the list for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” “staff helpfulness/pleasantness,” “speed of checkout,” and “overall quality.” For overall quality, Shaw’s was rated “superior” overall by only 32 percent of its surveyed customers and Stop & Shop by only 40 percent. In contrast, Roche Bros., Russo’s, Sudbury Farms, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods Market were all rated “superior” overall by more than 70 percent of their surveyed customers.

Price leader DeMoulas Market Basket received about average scores on our customer survey—not nearly as low as its much more expensive Shaw’s and Stop & Shop competitors.

DeMoulas Market Basket was rated “superior” overall by 63 percent of its surveyed customers.

Hannaford Supermarkets proves it is possible to offer both reasonable prices and high-quality service.

Prices at Hannaford Supermarkets were about nine percent lower than the average at the Shaw’s stores we checked, and Hannaford also received higher-than-average customer ratings for overall quality.

Trader Joe’s overall quality ratings were among the highest; yet its prices aren’t necessarily higher than the big chains’.

Since the market basket used for our price survey largely consists of national brands, and since Trader Joe’s offers mainly its own brands, it is not included in our price comparisons. Instead, we shopped Trader Joe’s using a special survey that included the same fresh produce, meats, and dairy items included in our full standard survey. For the national-brand items on our list, we first compared the prices of Trader Joe’s house brands to the prices charged by the conventional supermarkets for comparable national-brand items. Then, for a second comparison, we compared Trader Joe’s prices for its house-branded products to prices charged by other supermarkets for the least expensive comparable item of any brand (including generic brands) they carried. (When comparing prices, we used per-unit pricing—for example, price per ounce.)

The table below shows the results of these comparisons.

How Do Trader Joe's Prices Compare?*
Price comparison score using our standard market basket of items, including national brands, comparing similar items at Trader Joe's Price comparison score using our standard market basket of items, comparing similar items at all stores, regardless of brand Price comparison score for meat only Price comparison score for produce only Variety--percent of items available, counting similar items at all stores
DeMoulas Market Basket$81 $76 $77 $76 87%
Hannaford $94 $89 $89 $102 91%
Price Chopper$95 $90 $97 $94 89%
Shaw's (Salem)$101 $96 $105 $97 93%
Shaw's (Weymouth)$106 $102 $113 $112 85%
Stop & Shop (Peabody)$90 $85 $89 $87 94%
Stop & Shop (East Weymouth)$103 $98 $98 $107 93%
Target$89 $85 $103 $98 69%
Trader Joe's$93 $93 $102 $87 42%
Walmart Supercenter$82 $78 $86 $73 81%
* Price comparison scores compare stores’ prices to the average prices found at surveyed Shaw's and Stop & Shop stores.
  • Trader Joe’s prices for our market basket of produce, meat, dairy, and branded products were about ten percent lower than the average of the prices we found at Shaw’s assuming the comparison of Trader Joe’s branded products was to comparable national-brand items at Shaw’s.
  • When we compared Trader Joe’s prices to Shaw’s and assumed the shopper would buy at Shaw’s the cheapest brand (or generic brand) comparable to each branded item in our market basket, Trader Joe’s price advantage was much smaller: Its prices were about six percent lower than the average we found at the Shaw’s stores we shopped. (But keep in mind that this second comparison doesn’t take into account product quality, and Trader Joe’s received higher overall ratings than either of the big chains.)
  • For produce, Trader Joe’s prices for the items it carried were about 13 percent lower than the big-chain average.
  • For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were about two percent higher than the big-chain average.
  • Shopping at Trader Joe’s won’t save you money compared to shopping at a low-price chain. For example, Trader Joe’s prices were about 13 percent higher than prices at DeMoulas Market Basket for our full standard market basket assuming that national-brand items would be purchased at DeMoulas.

Unfortunately, many Trader Joe’s and Target shoppers will also have to visit conventional supermarkets.

Trader Joe’s had only 42 percent of the items in our market basket in stock, and Target carried only 69 percent of the items.

Whole Foods Market had the highest prices.

Whole Foods’ prices averaged at least 39 percent higher than the 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.

In our last price survey, when we examined the prices of organic food, Whole Foods’ prices were only slightly higher than average. See our article Buying Organic Food for more advice and information.

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, the total cost dropped by about five percent, on average, at the two big chains.

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

Costco, for example, beat Shaw’s by a whopping 36 percent. Compared to Shaw’s, the savings were about 35 percent at Sam’s Club and about 29 percent at BJ’s.

Since you can’t typically get everything you need at a warehouse store, we looked at 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 Shaw’s, you could save about 16 percent compared with shopping at Shaw’s alone.

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