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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—

Wegmans continues to wow for both quality and price.

Ever since it entered the Delaware Valley area, Wegmans consistently has accomplished a rare supermarket feat by earning very high ratings from its customers for quality while offering low prices. The Rochester, N.Y.-based chain now has nine Delaware Valley area locations, and ranks #1 for quality with our raters (an astounding 92 percent rated it “superior” overall) and offers prices that rank it among the lowest-cost area stores—we found its prices were about nine percent lower than average prices at Acme Markets.

The area’s other price standouts were Walmart, Target, and Redner’s.

Walmart’s prices were about 16 percent lower than the average prices at Acme; Target’s about 11 percent lower than Acme’s; and Redner’s about eight percent lower. For a family that spends $200 per week at the supermarket, a 16 percent price difference could total $1,660 a year and an eight percent price difference more than $830 a year.

Giant, Food Lion, and ShopRite also offer lower prices than Acme.

Prices at Giant, Food Lion, and ShopRite were six to seven percent lower than Acme’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 Giant and ShopRite locations (in our previous surveys we found prices at one Giant were about five percent lower than at another Giant location, with similar but smaller differences among ShopRite stores). We also found little store-to-store price variation within the Acme and Pathmark chains.

Among the area’s largest chains, Pathmark’s prices were highest.

Pathmark’s prices were about 10 percent higher than Acme’s. This is a departure from our previous price surveys, which found that Acme offered higher prices than all of the other big chains.

Whole Foods Market had the highest prices.

Whole Foods’ prices were about 33 percent higher than Acme’s—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 for organic items were among the lowest in the area. See “Buying Organic Food” at for more advice and information.

Other than Wegmans and Whole Foods, few area stores get high ratings from their customers.

Unlike in the other metro areas where we publish CHECKBOOK, there are few chains in the Delaware Valley area that get high ratings from their surveyed customers for the quality of their produce or meat or for overall quality.

Walmart received the lowest overall ratings in our surveys of consumers.

Only 16 percent of Walmart’s surveyed customers rated it “superior” overall. Pathmark (31 percent), Super Fresh (34 percent), and Acme (45 percent) also received very low overall ratings. (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.)

Although Food Lion, Giant, Redner’s, ShopRite, and Weis Markets did not receive stellar ratings for quality, they did receive considerably higher ratings than Acme, Pathmark, and Walmart.

Seventy percent of Food Lion’s customers rated it “superior” overall; for ShopRite, it was 59 percent; for Giant, 58 percent; for Weis, 56 percent; and for Redner’s, 54 percent.

Trader Joe’s received higher overall ratings than most area stores, yet generally charges about the same prices as Acme.

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.)

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 Acme.

The figure above shows the results of these comparisons:

  • Trader Joe’s prices were about two percent lower than Acme’s and about five percent higher than Giant’s.
  • For produce, Trader Joe’s prices for the items it carried were about 25 percent lower than Acme’s.
  • For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were about five percent higher than Acme’s.

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 42 percent lower than Acme’s for our full market basket including comparable national-brand items. And these savings don’t appear to come with a huge downside: Although Aldi didn’t receive high ratings from its customers for quality, it was rated higher overall than most of its much-higher-priced competition.

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

Trader Joe’s had only 40 percent of the items in our market basket in stock, and Aldi carried only 60 percent.

Shoppers using regular Targets might also have to shop somewhere else.

The Target location we shopped carried only 70 percent of the items in our market basket.

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 of the full market basket dropped by about five 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 Acme by a whopping 34 percent. And compared to Acme, the savings were about 32 percent at Costco and 25 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 Giant, you could save about nine percent compared with shopping at Giant alone.

In addition to having low prices, Costco received fairly high ratings for quality.

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