Which Grocery Stores Offer the Best Prices and Quality?
Last updated November 2022
Our ratings of Chicago area grocery chains and stores report how each stacks up for price and quality. To compare prices, our researchers used a 153-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 Walmart and Meijer.
Compared to average prices at all surveyed stores, prices were about 13 percent lower at Walmart and 11 percent lower at Meijer. For a family that spends $250 per week at the supermarket, this 11-to-13-percent price difference could save them $1,400 to nearly $1,700 a year.
Mariano’s and Woodman’s Market continue to wow with high ratings for quality and low prices.
Mariano’s received higher-than-average ratings from its customers for quality of meat, quality of produce, and overall quality—and offered prices about five percent lower than the all-store average. And Mariano’s produce prices were about nine percent lower than the all-store average.
Woodman’s didn’t receive rave reviews for the quality of its produce or meat, but did get very high ratings on our survey question on “overall quality”—82 percent rated it “superior” overall. Like Mariano’s, Woodman’s prices were about five percent lower than the all-store average.
For quality, Meijer scored better than other large chains.
Although not stellar, Meijer’s quality ratings were considerably higher than those for Jewel-Osco, Target, and Walmart.
Pete’s Fresh Market also offers a solid price-quality combo.
Pete’s has 17 Chicago area stores and its surveyed customers raved about its produce and overall quality; its prices were about four percent lower than Jewel.
Food 4 Less and Target remain low-cost options.
Prices at Food 4 Less were about nine percent lower than the all-store average. The two locations we shopped for Target had prices seven and 11 percent lower than average.
Fresh Thyme Market also offers high-quality products without charging a price penalty.
Fresh Thyme, a chain founded in 2012 that describes itself as “offering fresh and healthy food at amazing values,” now operates eight Chicago area stores. Fresh Thyme received the highest scores in our survey of consumers for produce and overall quality, yet its prices were two percent lower than the all-store average.
Whole Foods remains by far the area’s most expensive grocery chain.
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. While Whole Foods’ customers continue to rate it highly on some of our survey questions, its scores on our “overall quality” survey question have dropped significantly: Only 64 percent of its surveyed customers rated it “superior” overall.
One thing that hasn’t changed is that Whole Foods remains the most expensive grocery choice in the Chicago area. The store we surveyed had prices that were about 29 percent higher than the all-store average, or 36 percent higher than Mariano’s and Woodman’s.
Jewel-Osco’s prices were higher than most other traditional supermarkets’.
The chain that operates the most grocery stores in the area charges higher prices than most of its competitors. Jewel’s prices were about 17 percent higher than Walmart, 15 percent higher than Meijer, 12 percent higher than Food 4 Less and Target, seven percent higher than Mariano’s and Woodman’s, and four percent higher than Fresh Thyme and Pete’s.
Target charges high prices for produce.
Both locations we shopped for Target had higher-than-average prices for produce, making it one of the area’s most expensive outlets for fruit and veggies. In general, we found that the Target stores around the U.S. that lack scales at checkout, and therefore price produce per piece or package, offer undersized items relative to their price tags. (At Target and other stores that price produce per piece, we used our own scales to weigh items to convert costs to price per pound.)
A crowded supermarket scene results in low prices for area shoppers.
Unlike in most major U.S. metropolitan areas, a lot of different companies operate grocery stores in the Chicago area. That competition drives down prices: The price differences between the low-cost chains and high-cost chains in this area are a lot smaller here than in the six other regions where we publish Checkbook. In other words, stores here that offer middle-of-the-road pricing would be price winners in other markets.
There are big quality differences.
Butera Market, Fairplay Foods, Food 4 Less, Jewel, Shop & Save, Target, and Walmart received low ratings from their surveyed customers for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” and “overall quality.” Walmart earned the lowest overall ratings: Only 16 percent of its surveyed customers rated it “superior” overall.
On the other hand, Fresh Thyme Market, Sunset Foods, and Woodman’s each received “superior” overall ratings from more than 80 percent of their surveyed customers.
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 five percent.