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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 price standouts were Bottom Dollar Food, Walmart Supercenter, and Wegmans.

Bottom Dollar’s prices were about 25 percent lower than the average prices at Acme Markets; Walmart’s about 22 percent lower than Acme’s; and Wegmans’ about 17 percent lower. For a family that spends $150 per week at the supermarket, a 25 percent price difference could total $2,000 a year and a 17 percent price difference more than $1,300.

Wegmans offers reasonable prices along with very high ratings for quality.

Along with its low prices, Wegmans offers superior products and service. In our survey of area consumers, 92 percent of its surveyed customers rated Wegmans “superior” overall. By comparison, only 44 percent of Acme’s customers rated it “superior” overall, and only 30 percent of Pathmark’s customers gave it a “superior” overall rating. At the time of this writing, Wegmans had seven area locations in Cherry Hill, Collegeville, Downington, King of Prussia, Malvern, Mount Laurel, and Warrington.

Target, Food Lion, and Redner’s Warehouse Markets also offer low prices.

Prices at Target, Food Lion, and Redner’s were about 13 percent lower than Acme’s.

Compared to the area’s other big chains, you will also find low prices at Giant—but only some Giants.

As in past surveys, we found fairly large store-to-store price variation among Giant locations. Prices at one Giant were on average 15 percent lower than Acme’s, while prices at another Giant were 11 percent lower than Acme’s.

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

ShopRite’s prices were about 11 percent lower than Acme’s; and Pathmark’s were a modest one percent lower than Acme’s.

We found relatively little store-to-store price variation within the Acme and Pathmark chains.

The area’s largest chains don’t rate high for quality.

None of the area’s four largest chains was rated “superior” for “overall quality” by more than 60 percent of its surveyed customers. Although neither Giant nor ShopRite received stellar customer survey ratings, they did receive higher ratings than the other big chains—in addition to offering lower prices. Sixty percent of Giant’s customers rated it “superior” overall, and 57 percent of ShopRite’s customers gave it a “superior” overall rating, compared to 44 percent for Acme and 30 percent for Pathmark.

Trader Joe’s overall quality ratings were among the highest; yet its prices aren’t necessarily higher than those of 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 and Aldi's Prices Compare?*
Price comparison score using our standard market basket of items, including national brands, comparing similar items at Trader Joe's and Aldi 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
Acme (Maple Shade)$104 $99 $102 $104 83%
Aldi$57 $57 $65 $66 36%
Bottom Dollar $78 $71 $73 $76 54%
Pathmark (Cherry Hill)$103 $96 $108 $112 80%
ShopRite (West Chester)$91 $84 $86 $80 82%
Target$91 $87 $117 $101 55%
Trader Joe's$95 $95 $113 $89 32%
Walmart Supercenter$82 $78 $89 $76 75%
Wegmans$87 $82 $94 $91 77%
* Price comparison scores compare stores’ prices to the average prices found at surveyed Acme, Pathmark, and ShopRite stores.

  • Trader Joe’s prices were about five percent lower than the average prices for comparable produce, meat, dairy, and branded products at the big chains (Acme, Pathmark, and ShopRite), assuming national-brand products were purchased at those big chains.
  • When we compared Trader Joe’s prices to the big-chain average assuming a shopper would buy at a conventional supermarket the cheapest brand (or generic brand) comparable to each item in our market basket, Trader Joe’s price advantage disappeared: Its prices were about the same as the big-chain average. (But keep in mind that this second comparison doesn’t take into account product quality, and Trader Joe’s received higher overall ratings than any of those big chains.)
  • For produce, Trader Joe’s prices for the items it carried were about 11 percent lower than the big-chain average.
  • For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were about 13 percent higher than the big-chain average.
  • Shopping at Trader Joe’s won’t save you money, compared to the savings you’d get by shopping at a low-price chain. For example, we found that Trader Joe’s prices were about eight percent higher than Wegmans’ for our standard market basket assuming national-brand items would be purchased at Wegmans.

Aldi offers incredibly steep savings.

We also shopped Aldi, which is owned by the same company that operates Trader Joe’s, using the same method we used to compare Trader Joe’s prices. As shown on the table above, Aldi’s prices were an astounding 43 percent lower than the big-chain average for comparable national-brand items, and 39 percent lower than the big-chain average when we substituted the cheapest brand available at the big chains. And Aldi’s overall ratings on quality by customers were higher than those of the big chains.

Many Trader Joe’s and Aldi shoppers will also have to visit conventional supermarkets.

Trader Joe’s had only 32 percent of the items in our market basket in stock, and Aldi carried only 36 percent of the items.

Target shoppers also might have to make an extra stop for groceries.

The store we surveyed had only 62 percent of the items in our market basket in stock.

Whole Foods Market had the highest prices.

Whole Foods’ prices were about 34 percent higher than the big-chain average—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 for organic items were among the lowest in the area. 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 six percent, on average, at the big chains.

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

Sam’s Club, for example, beat Acme by a whopping 33 percent. Compared to Acme, the savings were about 29 percent at both BJ’s and Costco.

Since you can’t typically find everything you need at a warehouse store, we looked at the savings you could gain by shopping at both a warehouse store and at a supermarket—assuming you would purchase the lowest cost size available at either place. By including Costco on your shopping schedule along with an Acme, you could save about 12 percent compared with shopping at Acme alone.

In addition to having low prices, Costco received fairly high ratings for the quality of its meats.

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