Which Grocery Stores Offer the Best Prices and Quality?
Last updated November 2022
Our ratings of Boston area grocery chains and stores report how each stacks up for price and quality. To compare prices, our researchers used a 154-item list of common items to shop area options. To evaluate stores on quality of products and service, we surveyed area consumers. The figures below summarize our findings; for details, see our Ratings Tables.
Here’s a rundown of the results:
The area’s price winners were Market Basket, Price Rite, and Walmart.
Price Rite, which offers a somewhat odd assortment of its own products and independent brands (similar to ALDI and Trader Joe’s), plus some steeply discounted national-brand products, offered prices about 20 percent lower than the average at all other stores we surveyed.
The other two big savers were Market Basket and Walmart. Market Basket’s prices were about 18 percent lower than the all-store average; Walmart’s were 19 percent lower. For a family that spends $250 per week at the supermarket, an 18 percent price difference could total more than $2,300 a year in savings.
Target and Hannaford also offer low prices.
The next-best price bets in the Boston area: Hannaford (11 percent lower than the all-store average) and Target (eight percent lower).
Market Basket continues to match its low prices with favorable ratings for quality.
Although Market Basket wasn’t the top-scoring chain for quality of produce or meat, it did receive good marks for our survey question on “overall quality”—and, as we mention above, is one of the lowest-priced area chains.
Whole Foods remains an expensive choice.
When Amazon purchased Whole Foods in 2017, many consumers were excited by the prospect of paying Amazon-like prices for Whole Foods-quality products. That hasn’t happened.
Whole Foods built a loyal following by offering high-quality produce, meat, prepared foods, and generic staples, and has always earned high marks in our surveys of consumers, especially for produce and meat quality. But Whole Foods remains among the most expensive grocery choices in the Boston area. The store we surveyed had prices that were about 13 percent higher than the all-store average, or 38 percent higher than Market Basket’s.
Wegmans continues to impress its customers with high-quality products and service, but it now ranks among the most expensive grocery options in the area.
Wegmans has always consistently earned very high ratings from its customers for quality, and it continues to rank as a top choice for quality with our raters (78 percent rated it “superior” overall, 71 percent rated its produce quality “superior,” and 83 percent rated it favorably for meat quality).
When we last compared prices of local grocery stores, in 2018, we found the Rochester-based chain that continues to methodically expand along the East Coast offered prices that were lower than most of its big competitors. But in our most recent survey, Wegmans’ prices indicated it is now among the most expensive grocery options in the Boston area—overall, its prices were 12 percent higher than the all-store average. That places Wegmans in Whole Foods’ price territory.
We were so surprised by this result that we surveyed Wegmans a second time. We got a similar result.
Overall, Stop & Shop’s prices were about five percent lower than Shaw’s.
But among the Stop & Shop locations we surveyed, we found relatively large store-to-store price variation.
We surveyed three Stop & Shop stores. The lowest-priced Stop & Shop had prices that averaged 10 percent lower than its highest-priced location. Perhaps not surprisingly, its low-priced store is in Peabody, which is located within the territory of Market Basket, its low-priced competitor.
On the quality side, Shaw’s, Star Market, and Stop & Shop received very low ratings from their surveyed customers.
All three of these chains rated near the bottom of the list for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” and “overall quality.” Stop & Shop was rated “superior” overall by only 27 percent of its surveyed customers, Shaw’s by only 29 percent, and Star Market by 30 percent.
Walmart surprisingly received fairly high ratings from its surveyed customers this time around. In our previous surveys, it ranked among the lowest area grocery options for quality; this time, half of its surveyed customers rated it “superior” overall.
Whole Foods’ Amazon Prime discounts don’t add up to much.
Like most other grocery stores, Whole Foods uses “loss leaders”—widely advertised discounts on a small number of items—to draw customers into stores (when calculating our price comparison scores, we include sale prices). But with Whole Foods, there’s a twist: At checkout, Amazon Prime members can automatically get an extra 10 percent off items that are on sale, plus special “Prime Member Deals” for a small number of other weekly special items.
If you shop at Whole Foods often, the 10 percent bonus discount for on-sale items is a nice little benefit—although it’s unlikely many shoppers will rack up enough savings to cover the annual fee for Prime ($139/year or $14.99/month).
Sometimes Amazon/Whole Foods’ Prime Member Deals are designed to garner a lot of attention. For example, for Valentine’s Day the company has hyped that Prime members can buy two dozen roses for $19.99, instead of $24.99. But because Whole Foods and Amazon offer so few of these discounts (usually it’s only two or three items per week), they won’t save most shoppers much money overall.
You can save by substituting store brands and generic products for national brands.
At most stores, 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 our list dropped by about seven percent.