Which Grocery Stores Offer the Best Prices and Quality?
Last updated in September 2018
Our ratings of local chains and stores report how each stacks up for price and quality. To compare prices, our researchers used a 154-item market basket of common items—and a lot of energy—to shop area options. To evaluate stores on quality of products and service, we surveyed area consumers. The results are reported in our ratings tables and summarized below.
Whole Foods appears to have lowered its produce prices since the Amazon buyout, but it remains the area’s most expensive grocery chain.
When Amazon purchased Whole Foods last year, many consumers were excited by the prospect of paying Amazon-like prices for Whole Foods-quality products. But we’re not there quite yet.
Whole Foods built a loyal following by offering high-quality produce, meat, prepared foods, and generics, evidenced by the very high ratings it gets for the produce and meat quality questions in our surveys of grocery store customers. But our price surveys always found it charges whole-paycheck prices; in 2016, when we last shopped area stores, Whole Foods’ prices were 46 higher than Wegmans, another other area chain that consistently gets very high quality ratings.
Although Amazon successfully spins up media attention each time it announces a (usually minor) price cut at Whole Foods, the chain remains the most expensive option among local chains and stores we shopped. But there has been some price movement: This time we found its overall prices were about 21 percent higher than the all-store average, or 25 percent higher than Wegmans’.
According to our research, it appears that the slight narrowing of the big price gap between Whole Foods’ and it competitors is due to lower prices in its produce department. It still offers higher-than-average produce prices (about 10 percent higher than the average prices at all the area stores we shopped), but so does Wegmans (produce prices two percent higher than average). And we found Whole Foods now offers lower produce prices than Acme and Target, and only slightly higher produce prices than Giant or ShopRite, all of which, unlike Whole Foods, get mediocre-at-best ratings for quality.
On the other hand, Whole Foods’ meat prices remain very expensive (36 percent higher than the all-store average). And we found the prices it charges for its “365” store brand and independent brands (Whole Foods sells few national-brand products) remain 27 percent more expensive than the least expensive options available at the other area stores we surveyed.
On the quality side, Whole Foods’ customers continue to rate it highly on our surveys—about the same as before the buyout.
One reason Amazon bought Whole Foods was to obtain its grocery distribution network, and Amazon continues to expand its grocery delivery business. Click here for our report on grocery delivery services.
Whole Foods’ Amazon Prime discounts don’t yet add up to much.
Like most 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 use these sale prices). But there’s a new twist: Amazon Prime members who provide their phone numbers at checkout automatically receive further discounts (they can also scan coupons available on Amazon’s smartphone app). Prime members get an extra 10 percent off items already on sale at Whole Foods, plus special Prime-only discounts on a handful of other weekly special items.
While these perks sound great, we found that so far they aren’t worth much. Compared to most other grocery stores, Whole Foods runs very few sales (the store we checked the week we wrote this only had 23 items on sale) and offered only five Prime-only specials. Sometimes its Prime-only deals are designed to garner a lot of attention: For Valentine’s Day, it hyped that Prime members could buy two dozen roses for $19.99, instead of $24.99. But because Whole Foods and Amazon offer so few of these discounts, they won’t save most shoppers much money.
Amazon likely isn’t done making changes at Whole Foods. We’ll continue to check in.
Wegmans continues to wow its customers with high-quality products and service—without charging a big price penalty.
Ever since it entered the Delaware Valley area, Wegmans consistently has earned very high ratings from its customers for quality while offering low prices. It continues to rank #1 for quality with our raters (an astonishing 90 percent rated it “superior” overall and 87 percent rated its produce “superior”) and offers prices that are about 13 percent lower than Acme’s, four percent lower than ShopRite’s, three percent lower than Redner’s and Weis’, two percent lower than Giant’s, and only two percent higher than Food Lion’s. The Rochester, N.Y.-based chain has nine Delaware Valley area stores.
The area’s price standouts were Walmart and Grocery Outlet.
Grocery Outlet, which offers a somewhat odd assortment of steeply discounted surplus national-brand products, offered prices that were about 17 percent lower than the average at all other stores we surveyed. Walmart was the other big saver, with prices that were also 17 percent lower than average. For a family that spends $200 per week at the supermarket, a 17 percent price difference could total $1,750 a year.
The next-best bets for low grocery prices were Target (nine percent lower than average) and Food Lion (five percent lower).
Shoppers using Grocery Outlet will have to shop at more than one place.
Although Grocery Outlet wins for price, it offers few options compared to other grocery stores: The location we shopped carried only about 20 percent of the items in our market basket.
Redner’s is no longer a big price winner.
When we last compared prices of local grocery stores, we found Redner’s prices were a lot lower than at many other traditional supermarkets. This time, we found its prices were about the same as the all-store average (although still lower than Acme’s).
Acme is now one of the highest-priced chains in the area.
Among stores we shopped, only Whole Foods offered higher prices than Acme. In our survey, its prices were 35 percent more expensive than Walmart’s, 23 percent more expensive than Target’s, 18 percent more than Food Lion’s, 15 percent more than Wegmans’, 13 percent more than Giant’s, 12 percent more than Redner’s and Weis’, and 11 percent more than ShopRite’s.
Other than Wegmans and Whole Foods, few area stores get high ratings from their customers.
Unlike in the other metro areas where we publish Checkbook, there are few chains in the Delaware Valley area that get high ratings from their surveyed customers for the quality of their produce or meat or for overall quality.
Walmart received the lowest overall ratings in our surveys of consumers.
Only 16 percent of Walmart’s surveyed customers rated it “superior” overall. Acme (42 percent) also received very low overall ratings.
Although Food Lion, Giant, Redner’s, ShopRite, and Weis did not receive stellar ratings for quality, they did receive considerably higher ratings than Acme and Walmart.
Sixty percent of ShopRite’s customers rated it “superior” overall; for Redner’s it was 59 percent, for Weis it was 57 percent, and for Food Lion and Giant it was 55 percent.
Target charges high prices for produce.
Produce prices at the Target store we shopped were 26 percent higher than average, making it one of the area’s most expensive outlets for fruit and veggies. In general we found that 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.)
Within the largest chains, there is relatively little store-to-store price variation.
We found little store-to-store price variation among Acme, Giant, and ShopRite locations (in our previous surveys we sometimes found prices at one Giant were about five percent lower than at another Giant location, with similar but smaller differences among ShopRite stores).
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 five percent.