Which supermarket has the best deals?

wal-mart
Wal-Mart was the champ last time. Can it repeat?

Our last supermarket price check was so popular, we decided to give it another go. But to shake things up a bit this time around, we decided to find out which store has the best bargains.

So we picked a "basket" of 20 items that come in both name brand and store brand so we could find out how much we could save by going generic. And to make things a little more interesting, we tossed discount market Aldi into the mix. Here are the results...

Items are listed with a comparable name brand
Prices are listed store brand first (black), then name brand (gray)
Aldi doesn't carry name brands (for the most part) and it often only carries one brand for each item, so it doesn't have any prices in the name brand column
Lowest prices have a green background.
Asterisks indicate which prices were marked as sale prices
Not every item was easy match across stores, exceptions are marked with symbols -- explanations at the bottom

Wal-Mart Price Chopper Hannaford Aldi
corn flakes
18 oz box of Kellogg's
1.43 2.62 1.79 2.99 1.99 3.29 .99 n/a
orange juice
64 fl oz Tropicana
1.98+ 2.98 2.50* 3.39 1.99 2.99 2.49 n/a
cola
2L Coke
.67 1.00 .77* 1.33 .77 1.33 1.00' n/a
peanut butter
28 oz creamy Jif
1.76 3.54 2.49 3.59 1.99 3.29 2.15! n/a
jelly
18 oz grape Welch's
.88 1.64 1.39 1.89 .99 1.79 .99!! n/a
bread
white 20 oz Freihofer's
1.24 2.28 1.49 3.19 1.39 2.00 .75 n/a
cheese
1 lb block mild cheddar
3.68 4.68 3.99* 7.58 5.00 7.98 3.96 n/a
pasta
1 lb spaghetti Barilla
.92 1.23 .79* 1.49 .40 1.50 .85# n/a
pasta sauce
26 oz marinara Ragu or Prego
1.25 2.08 1.59 2.39 1.50 1.79 .99 n/a
ice cream
1/2 gallon non-premium
2.50 2.98 2.39* 3.39 1.99^ 2.50 1.79 n/a
frozen peas
1 lb Bird's Eye or GG
.96 1.18 1.00* 1.59 .89 1.29 .85 n/a
potato chips
12 oz Lays
1.50 2.88 1.99; 3.79 1.89 2.00 1.19; n/a
tomato soup
10.75 oz Campbell's
.50 .68 .89 .99 .79 .99 .47 n/a
coffee
11.5 oz ground MH or Folger's
2.44 3.42 2.79 3.79 2.53 3.15 2.99 n/a
mac 'n cheese
7.25 oz Kraft
.50 .57 .40* 1.19 .55 .67 .35 n/a
yogurt
8 oz light Danon
.38 .62 .44* .79 .40 .60 .43 n/a
cheese singles
16 slices Kraft
2.14 2.50 2.49 2.99 1.98 2.69 1.99 n/a
toliet paper
4 roll Scott 1000
2.42 3.30 2.69 3.39 1.99 2.59 2.29 n/a
sandwich bags
100 Ziplock or Glad
2.16 2.96 2.79 2.50* 2.77 3.29 1.99 n/a
trash bags
45 tall kitchen drawstring Glad
5.78 6.78 5.99* 7.99 5.99 7.99 4.99" n/a
Wal-Mart Price Chopper Hannaford Aldi
totals
35.09 49.92 40.06 60.24 37.79 53.72 33.07 n/a

fine print:
+ The only Wal-Mart store brand OJ available on our price check was from concentrate -- the others checked were not. With only a penny's difference, we gave the edge to Hannaford and its not-from-concentrate juice
' Aldi didn't have two liters, so we took the cost of a 24-pack (the smallest cola option there) and figured out the approximate cost of 2 liters. So, this price is kind of smudgy.
! The Aldi peanut butter was 18 oz, we've prorated the price
!! The Aldi jelly was 32 oz, not 18 oz
# The Aldi pasta came in a two pound box, this is the price per pound
^ The Hannaford store ice cream was only 1.75 quarts
; Both the Price Chopper and Aldi chips were 11 oz
" The Aldi trash bags came in a box of 30, with tie tops, no drawstrings -- the price is prorated

Prices were collected the week of June 16 at the Price Chopper on Central in Albany, Wal-Mart on Washington Ave Ext, the Hannaford on Central in Albany and the Aldi in Rennselaer. We did our best to compare like items. With only one exception (OJ), we took no account of quality. Small differences in size were not accounted for. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

A few thoughts:
+ While there's a fairly large spread among the stores on name brand prices, the totals for the store brand items are more closely clustered together.
+ This basket of items is obviously missing a number of common items, including fruits, vegetables and meats. These items didn't seem like good candidates for the store/name comparison because they often don't come branded (e.g., apples) or are only offered under one main brand (e.g., ground beef).
+ Aldi doesn't offer a lot of choice, many of its items only come in one size, and you've probably never heard of the brands.
+ Price Chopper was the only one of the stores to have explicit sales. That said, there were a number of "new low prices" at Hannaford that looked suspiciously like sale prices.
+ We don't know where Hannaford gets its pasta, but, wow, is it cheap.
+ If you didn't switch stores, but did switch brands -- and bought a basket of items roughly similar to this one each week -- your yearly savings would be about $1,018 at Price Chopper, $828.36 at Hannaford and $771.16 at Wal-Mart.

Want to play with the data? Here are the prices in an xls file.

And here's the breakdown in pdf form for easy printing.

The Bottom Line

Aldi definitely has some deals, but it also has less selection. Wal-Mart is almost as cheap and it offers a few more choices. If you're a Chopper shopper, it looks like you have the most to gain (roughly $1000/year) by going with the store brands. But, really, if the store brand quality works for you, it's kind of crazy to buy name brand at any of these stores.

Comments

Great study! Cati and I don't shop at any of those stores, but that's a really interesting story. I was thinking, as grocery prices rise, due in part, to increasing fuel costs, shouldn't those of us who buy local foods be affected less by this? If California produce travels 3000 miles to get here, the transportation costs must be huge, relative to 100 miles. But I suppose it could be that large producers (like Wal-Mart's suppliers) are better able to absorb higher transportation costs too and still keep prices lower than local small scale growers. Economies of scale are a powerful thing, eh? Just a thought.

I'm so excited you included Aldi in the comparison this time. As a former brand snob, I've recently become a convert and have discovered that despite being generic, some of the items at Aldi are so much better than generics at other stores. Also, certain items can't be found at other stores.

Those interested in checking it out, I suggest the fudge bars or round ice cream sandwiches that come in at 100 calories a pop. Their cereal is also very good.

Save-A-Lot! I'm dying to see where they fall. My guess: #2 cheapest.

Wal-Mart usually wins hands-down for the stuff in the "center of the store" -- boxed, canned or otherwise packaged goods. They are a huge buyer of these commodities and have a super-efficient distribution network. But this stuff is bad for you in general, and the quality of Wal-Mart meat and produce is awful.

Each store in my mind has different strengths. Price Chopper has the best fish and meat in an area supermarket -- you can generally count on a consistently good experience. At the bigger stores, their selection, especially for dairy and specialty products, is the best.

Hannaford probably has the best produce these days, although Price Chopper has gotten better. They also have the most pleasant shopping experience in my opinion as well.

I don't get Aldi -- although the Mama Cozzi Tomato Sauce rocks... Aldi is basically a food jobber, and you really never know what you're going to get.

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