Which Grocery Stores Offer the Best Prices and Quality?
Last updated November 2022
Our ratings of Bay 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 price winners were FoodMaxx, Foods Co., Grocery Outlet, Smart & Final, Sprouts Farmers Market, Walmart, and WinCo Foods—where many families could save $1,800 to more than $3,700 per year.
WinCo and Walmart were the biggest savers, with prices 29 percent and 26 percent lower than average, respectively.
The next-best bets for low grocery prices in the Bay Area were Grocery Outlet (22 percent lower than the all-store average), FoodMaxx (21 percent lower), Foods Co. (20 percent lower), and Smart & Final and Sprouts (14 percent lower).
For a family that spends $250 per week at the supermarket, a 14-to-29 percent price difference could save them $1,800 to more than $3,700 a year.
Target’s prices on the rise?
In our previous price surveys, Target’s prices were among the lowest in the Bay Area. But in our most recent survey, Target’s prices were only three or four percent lower than Lucky and Safeway.
The location we shopped for Target had especially higher-than-average prices for produce. 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.)
Shoppers using Grocery Outlet will have to make another stop.
Grocery Outlet, which offers a somewhat odd assortment of steeply discounted surplus national-brand products, offers very low prices, but the location we shopped carried only about one-third of the items in our market basket.
Whole Foods remains an expensive choice—and its ratings for quality continue to dip.
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 fairly highly, on our “overall quality” survey question its ratings have dropped significantly: Only 61 percent of its surveyed customers rated it “superior” overall.
Our price survey found that Whole Foods remains among the most expensive among the big chains we shopped. Its overall prices were about eight percent higher than the average prices at all stores we shopped, or about nine percent higher than Safeway.
Compared to other large metro areas, the Bay Area has more low-priced grocery options.
Shoppers throughout the Bay Area continue to have access to low-priced grocery options. Although price leader WinCo’s stores are not conveniently located for most Bay Area shoppers (its only local outlets are in Brentwood, Pittsburg, and Vacaville), and although you can’t count on Grocery Outlet to stock everything you want to buy, most area shoppers live or work near at least one of these or another low-cost grocery option.
Prices at Lucky, Nob Hill, Raley’s, and Safeway were about the same.
Lucky and Safeway are now owned by the same company; Raley’s now owns Nob Hill Foods. These big, conventional supermarket chains did little to distinguish themselves on price.
Nob Hill and Raley’s offer higher quality than Lucky and Safeway.
In our surveys of consumers, Nob Hill and Raley’s received significantly higher scores across all our questions than their larger rivals.
The lowest-priced chains received low ratings for quality—but then so did more expensive Lucky and Safeway.
Lucky and Safeway rated toward the bottom of the list for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” and “overall quality,” as did their much-lower-priced competitors.
United Markets was rated high for fresh produce quality and had very low prices for fresh fruit and veggies.
While, overall, United’s prices were about four percent higher than the all-store average, its prices for just fresh produce were among the lowest in the area—about 12 percent lower than average. And its scores for “quality of fresh produce” from our surveys of area customers were among the highest.
Similarly, Berkeley Bowl gets very high ratings across the board from its customers, yet doesn’t impose a big price penalty for its top-rated produce.
Prices at the other area chains that rate highest for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” and “overall quality”—including Draeger’s Market, Lunardi’s, and Piazza’s—were substantially higher than average.
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 six percent.