Which Grocery Stores Offer the Best Prices and Quality?
Last updated November 2022
Our ratings of Washington 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:
Wegmans remains a favorite.
The Rochester-based chain continues its methodical expansion on the East Coast and now operates 12 stores in the Washington area. Ever since opening its first D.C.-area store, in 2004, Wegmans has consistently earned astonishingly high ratings from its customers for quality. It continues to do so: Ninety percent of its surveyed customers judged it “superior” overall, and 88 percent rated its produce “superior.”
Wegmans’ prices also remain competitive. In our latest shopping survey, we found Wegmans’ prices were about the same as those at Giant and Harris Teeter, about seven percent lower than Safeway, and 16 percent lower than Whole Foods.
The area’s price standouts were Food Lion and Walmart, where many families could save $1,500 to $2,000 per year.
Compared to average prices at all the stores Checkbook surveyed, Walmart’s prices were the best (16 percent lower than the all-store average). Food Lion (12 percent) was the runner-up for price. For a family that spends $250 per week at the supermarket, a 16 percent price difference totals savings of $2,080 per year; a 12 percent price difference totals $1,560 a year.
Target also offered low prices…but only if you shop at the right locations.
Prices at the Target we shopped in the District were about the same as the all-store average, but those at the Manassas store we surveyed were about 10 percent lower than average, which ranked it among the low-cost grocery options in the area.
Giant, Harris Teeter, and Wegmans offered similar prices; Safeway’s prices remain the highest of the area’s conventional supermarket chains’.
Safeway’s prices averaged about 32 percent higher than Walmart, 26 percent higher than Food Lion, 17 percent higher than Target, and seven percent higher than Giant, Harris Teeter, and Wegmans.
Except for Target, we found the major chains have consistent pricing from location to location.
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 for years 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 scores have dropped significantly: Only 66 percent of its surveyed customers rated it “superior” overall.
Our price survey found that Whole Foods remains the most expensive choice among local chains and stores we shopped. Its overall prices were about 23 percent higher than the average prices at all stores we shopped, or about 19 percent higher than top-rated Wegmans’.
Giant, Safeway, Target, Walmart, and Weis Markets receive low marks from their customers.
Target was rated “superior” overall by only 29 percent of its surveyed customers, Safeway and Walmart each by only 31 percent, Weis by 34 percent, and Giant by 42 percent.
Harris Teeter, on the other hand, continues to receive above-average ratings for quality.
While Harris Teeter’s prices were about the same as those at Giant, it continues to fare much better than Giant and Safeway on our customer surveys on quality. Harris Teeter received “superior” ratings for “overall quality” from 63 percent of its surveyed customers—similar to scores attained by Whole Foods. It also received considerably higher scores than Giant and Safeway for “quality of fresh produce,” “quality of meats,” “staff helpfulness/pleasantness,” and all other survey questions.
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 save by substituting store brands and generics 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.