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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—

The area’s price prizewinners were Walmart and Target.

Walmart’s prices averaged about 14 percent lower than the average we found at the Cub Foods stores we checked. Target’s and SuperTarget’s prices were 11 and nine percent, respectively, lower than Cub’s. For a family that spends $200 per week at the supermarket, a nine to 14 percent price difference could total $940 to $1,460 a year.

Cub, Target, and Walmart received low ratings for quality.

On the quality side, Walmart was rated “superior” for “overall quality” by only 32 percent of its surveyed customers, Cub by only 44 percent, and Target by 45 percent.

Rainbow Foods, which is down to four Twin Cities area stores, had prices that were four percent higher than Cub’s.

Like Cub, Rainbow also received low marks for quality from its surveyed customers: Only 36 percent rated it “superior” overall.

Hy-Vee, which is opening several Twin Cities area stores, offers prices that are slightly lower than Cub's.

At the time of this writing, the Iowa-based chain had opened two stores in the Twin Cities area, with two more stores planned within a year. Because Hy-Vee had not yet opened any area stores when we conducted our price survey, once its area stores opened we sent our shoppers back into the aisles to survey it (and a Cub store for comparison). We found prices at Hy-Vee's newly-opened stores were about four percent lower than Cub's.

Lunds & Byerlys, Kowalski’s, and a few small markets received very high ratings from their customers for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” and “overall quality.”

Lunds & Byerly’s and Kowalski’s Markets were rated “superior” on all three of these key survey questions by more than 80 percent of their surveyed customers.

Unfortunately, for supermarket shoppers in this area, high quality comes with a high price tag.

Lunds & Byerlys’ prices were about 20 percent higher than Cub’s; Kowalski’s prices were about 24 percent higher than Cub’s.

Whole Foods Market had the highest prices.

Whole Foods’ prices were 49 percent higher than Cub’s—for the limited number of comparable items available at each chain. On the other hand, Whole Foods receives very high scores for 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 prices for organic food, Whole Foods’ prices for organic items were lower than Cub’s. See “Buying Organic Food” at for more advice and information.

Trader Joe’s received higher overall ratings than the big chains, yet overall charges prices that are just slightly higher than Cub’s.

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—for example, price per ounce.)

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 Cub.

The figure above shows the results of these comparisons:

  • Trader Joe’s prices for our complete market basket of items were about four percent higher than Cub’s.
  • For produce, Trader Joe’s prices for the items it carried were about two percent higher than Cub’s.
  • For meat, Trader Joe’s prices were about 13 percent higher than Cub’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 36 percent lower than Cub’s for our full market basket including comparable national-brand items. But these savings come with a downside: Aldi was rated relatively low on many aspects of quality—but not as low as Walmart.

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

Trader Joe’s had only 43 percent of the items in our market basket in stock, and Aldi carried only 59 percent.

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 four 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 Cub’s prices by 26 percent. The savings were about 25 percent at Costco. As the figure below indicates, the warehouse clubs offered significant savings compared to even Walmart and Target, 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 itemsize.

In addition to low prices, Costco received high ratings for the quality of its fresh produce, meat, and overall quality. Sam’s Club, on the other hand, rated poorly for produce and for overall quality.

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