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 areas price standouts were WinCo and Walmart Supercenter.
Compared to average prices at Albertsons, QFC, and Safeway, the prices
we found were substantially lower at the stores we surveyed for WinCo (23
percent lower than the Albertsons/QFC/Safeway average) and Walmart Supercenter
(22 percent lower than the Albertsons/QFC/Safeway average). For a family
that spends $150 per week at the supermarket, this 22-to-23-percent price
difference might be expected to total over $1,700 during the course of
Among the areas four largest chainsAlbertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, and SafewayFred
Meyer was the clear price winner.
Fred Meyers prices for our full market basket at the stores we surveyed
were 12 to 15 percent lower than the prices we found at the QFC stores
we surveyed, six to eight percent lower than the prices at the Albertsons
stores we surveyed, and five to eight percent lower than the prices we
found at the Safeway stores we surveyed. A 12-percent difference might
be expected to result in a savings of more than $900 per year by shopping
at Fred Meyer for a family that would otherwise spend $150 per week at
Prices at surveyed stores for QFC were the highest among the areas four
QFCs prices were about eight percent higher than the average prices found
at Albertsons and Safeway. Within-chain store-to-store price differences
were for the most part small for each of the big chains.
On the quality side, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Safeway, and WinCo rated at
the bottom of the list for quality of fresh produce, quality of meats,
and overall quality.
In a limited survey of CHECKBOOKs online subscribers, QFC received the
highest overall ratings among the big four chains; Albertsons received
the lowest. On our overall quality question, 52 percent of QFCs customers
rated it superior, compared to 46 percent for Fred Meyer, 39 percent
for Safeway, and 25 percent for Albertsons.
For overall quality, small operators scored highest on our survey of consumers.
Thriftway was rated superior overall by 93 percent of its surveyed customers,
Central Market by 90 percent, and Metropolitan Market by 83 percent.
Unfortunately, the three stores that scored highest for overall quality
all had prices that were among the highest in our survey.
Central Markets prices were 13 percent higher than the average of the
four big chains, Thriftways prices were 16 percent higher, and Metropolitan
Markets were 21 percent higher.
The highest prices among stores we surveyed were found at Whole Foods Market.
Whole Foods prices were 55 percent higher than the average of prices at
the areas four largest chainsfor the limited number of comparable items
we could find at each chain. On the other hand, Whole Foods consistently
gets very high scores from its customers on our surveys on quality of fresh
produce and meat, and many of the items we could compare between Whole
Foods and the other chains were fresh produce and meat items. (See our
article on Buying Organic Food for more discussion of costs of organic
Trader Joes overall ratings from our customer survey were considerably
higher than the ratings of any of the big chains, yet we found its prices
arent necessarily higher.
Since the market basket we used for our price survey is largely made up
of national-brand products, and because Trader Joes offers only its own
brands, we couldnt include it in our standard price comparisons that are
based on our standard market basket of items. Instead, we had to shop Trader
Joes using a special survey. In this survey, we included the same fresh
produce, meats, and dairy items as we use in our standard survey. For the
national-brand items on our list, we first compared the prices of Trader
Joes store brands to the prices charged by the conventional supermarkets
for the comparable national-brand items in our market basket. Then, for
a second comparison, we compared Trader Joes prices to those charged by
the supermarkets for the least expensive comparable item of any brand (including
generic brands) they carried. (When comparing prices, we used per-unit
pricingfor example, price per ounce.)
The table below shows the results of these comparisons.
|Albertsons (Kent)||$99 ||$100 ||$101 ||$103 ||$79 ||$102 ||95%|
|Fred Meyer (Auburn)||$93 ||$89 ||$94 ||$89 ||$81 ||$95 ||88%|
|QFC (Seattle)||$110 ||$113 ||$106 ||$111 ||$129 ||$114 ||84%|
|Safeway (Kirkland)||$101 ||$99 ||$98 ||$96 ||$118 ||$102 ||84%|
|Trader Joe's (Seattle)||$93 ||$103 ||$88 ||$114 ||$79 ||$108 ||32%|
|WinCo (Puyallup)||$77 ||$78 ||$79 ||$80 ||$62 ||$81 ||82%|
* Price index scores compare stores' prices to the average prices found at surveyed Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, and Safeway stores.
In our comparison of Trader Joes prices versus the prices of comparable,
national-brand items, we found that Trader Joes prices were about seven
percent lower than the average prices found at the big chainsor, roughly
equal to those we found at Fred Meyer.
When we compared Trader Joes 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 Joes
price advantage disappeared when compared against all of the big chains
except QFC. (Keep in mind that this second comparison doesnt take into
account product quality, and Trader Joes received higher overall ratings
from its customers than any of the large chains.)
For produce, Trader Joes prices for the items it carried were lower than
the prices of any of the big chains.
For meat, however, Trader Joes prices were higher than the prices of any
of the big chains except QFC.
Shopping at Trader Joes wont save you money compared to the savings youd
get by shopping at the areas lowest priced stores. For example, we found
that, when comparing Trader Joes prices to those at WinCo for comparable,
national-brand items, Trader Joes prices were about 21 percent higher.
Many Trader Joes shoppers will have to supplement their trips to its stores
with visits to conventional supermarkets.
The Trader Joes store we surveyed had only 32 percent of the items in
our market basket in stock when we shopped it.
When shopping stores that offer store brand or generic products, you save
by substituting these products for national brands.
When we allowed the substitution of cheaper generic and store brands for
about one-sixth of the items in our price-shopping market basket, the total
cost for our market basket 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), the warehouse stores we surveyed offered dramatic savings.
The surveyed Sams Club store, for example, beat the QFC store we compared
it to by a whopping 38 percent. And compared to that QFC store, the savings
were about 36 percent at the Costco store we surveyed.
Since you cant typically get everything you need at a warehouse store,
we looked at the savings you might gain by shopping at both a warehouse
store and at 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 a QFC store, you might save
about 18 percent compared with shopping at the QFC store alone.
For more information on how warehouse stores compared on price, go to our
section Buying in Bulk: Shopping at Warehouse Stores.