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 Walmart Supercenter and WinCo.
Compared to the Albertsons, QFC, Safeway, and Fred Meyer
average (which we refer to here as the big-chain average), prices were
substantially lower at Walmart Supercenter (22 percent lower than the big-chain
average), WinCo (21 percent), and Walmart Neighborhood Market (17 percent). For
a family that spends $150 per week at the supermarket, a 17 to 22 percent price
difference could total from $1,326 to $1,716 a year.
Among the area’s four largest chains—Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, and Safeway—Fred Meyer was the clear price winner.
Fred Meyer’s prices for our full market basket were 12 to 16
percent lower than QFC’s prices, nine to 12 percent lower than the prices at
Albertsons, and 10 to 11 percent lower than Safeway’s. A 15 percent difference
could save a family that would otherwise spend $150 per week at QFC about
$1,170 per year by shopping at Fred Meyer.
QFC’s prices were the highest among the area’s four largest chains.
QFC’s prices were about two percent to six percent higher
than the average prices at Albertsons and Safeway. Within-chain store-to-store
price differences were for the most part small for each of the big chains.
Prices at Target, which offers a basic selection of groceries, were about
nine percent lower than the big-chain average.
On the quality side, Albertsons, Safeway, and Walmart rated near the bottom
for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” and “overall quality.”
Among the big four chains, QFC and Fred Meyer received the
highest overall ratings, Albertsons the lowest. On our “overall quality”
question, 60 percent of QFC’s customers rated it “superior,” compared to 57
percent for Fred Meyer, 47 percent for Safeway, and 42 percent for Albertsons.
Small operators scored highest for overall quality.
Ballard Market was rated “superior” overall by 96 percent of
its surveyed customers, Central Market by 94 percent, Haggen by 93 percent,
Metropolitan Market by 92 percent, and PCC by 90 percent.
Unfortunately, prices were among the highest at stores that scored highest for overall quality.
Ballard Market’s prices were 17 percent higher than the
big-chain average, Central Market’s 18 percent, Metropolitan Market’s 26
percent, and PCC’s 58 percent.
PCC Natural Markets and Whole Foods Market had the highest prices.
Whole Foods’ prices were 54 percent higher than the
big-chain average, and PCC’s were 58 percent higher—for the limited number of
comparable items available at each chain. On the other hand, both PCC and Whole
Foods consistently receive very high scores on quality of fresh produce and
meat, which account for many of the items we could compare between other
supermarkets and PCC and Whole Foods.
In our last price survey, when we examined the prices of
organic food, we found that PCC’s and Whole Foods’ prices for organic food were
about the same as the average prices at other stores in the area. See our
article Buying Organic Food for more advice and information.
Trader Joe’s overall ratings were considerably higher than the ratings of
any of the big chains, yet its prices aren’t necessarily higher.
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.
|Albertsons (Federal Way)
|Fred Meyer (Auburn)
|Fred Meyer (Burien)
|Walmart Neighborhood Market
*Price comparison scores compare stores’ prices to the average prices found at surveyed Albertsons, Fred Meyer, QFC, and Safeway stores.
- Trader Joe’s prices for our market basket of produce, meat,
dairy, and branded products were about three percent lower than the big-chain
average if we assumed that the comparison of Trader Joe’s branded products was
to comparable national-brand items at the other chains. The Trader Joe’s
prices were roughly six percent higher than Fred Meyer’s prices and eight
percent lower than QFC’s prices on such a comparison.
- 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 branded item in our market basket, Trader
Joe’s price advantage disappeared against Albertson’s and Safeway and almost
disappeared against QFC. (Keep in mind that this second comparison doesn’t take
into account product quality, and Trader Joe’s received higher overall ratings
from its customers than Albertson’s, QFC, or Safeway.)
- For produce, Trader Joe’s prices for the items it carried were
about seven percent higher than the big-chain average.
- For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were nine percent higher than the
Many Trader Joe’s and Target shoppers will also have to visit conventional
The Trader Joe’s store we surveyed had only 26 percent of
the items in our market basket in stock; Target had only 61 percent of the
items in stock.
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 seven percent, on average, at the big chains.
For the items that could be compared based on unit prices, warehouse stores offered dramatic savings.
Sam’s Club, for example, beat QFC by a whopping 34 percent;
and compared to QFC, the savings were about 30 percent at 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. We found, for example, that by including
Costco on your shopping schedule along with a QFC, you could save about 15
percent compared with shopping at QFC alone.