Supermarket Showdown III

worlds largest walmart

Three-peat?

AOA's annual comparison of local supermarket chain prices is back. Walmart is the two-time defending champ -- and it hasn't even been close.

Can Hannaford or Price Chopper close the gap this year?

As in past years, we did our best to match prices against the same basket of products. In some cases the matches weren't perfect. Discrepancies are noted with (!).

Results from 2009 | 2008

Lowest prices have a green background.
Asterisks indicate which prices were marked as sale prices -- which, at Price Chopper, is the price you'd pay with an AdvantEdge card.

fine print: Prices were collected on March 28 at the Price Chopper in Albany on Central Ave, Walmart on Washington Ave Ext and Hannaford in Albany on Central Ave. We tried our best to compare similar items. Some items -- such as deli meat -- couldn't necessarily be matched for quality. Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

A list of the brands and sizes we checked (pdf).

An xls file of this data.

Discrepancies

! Walmart didn't have macs, but their loose apples are all priced at $1.27 per lb, so we used that price.

!! Walmart didn't carry the 750 ml Pert Plus so we used the price of two 350 ml bottles.

!!! Walmart and Hannaford only had 54 counts of the Tamax variety pack. Price Chopper still carried the 40 count from last year.

!!!! Prego now comes in 24 oz jars. Last year it came in 25 oz jars.

!!!!! Price Chopper didn't have the 1 lb bag of frozen veggies, so we used half the price of a 32 oz bag.

!!!!!! Walmart didn't carry the 12 oz jar of Smuckers Strawberry Jam so we used price of the 18 oz jar.

# The prices for the laundry detergent are half the listed price to adjust for the switch to 2x concentrate made between 2008 and 2009.

A few notes and observations

+ The overall cost of the "basket" was down at all three stores this year compared to last year. That's quite a contrast from the price increases last year, which ranged from 6-10 percent. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in February that prices for "food at home" were down 1.5 percent from the same period the year before.)

+ Here's a chart of the 10 items with the biggest percentage price change from last year (we used the average of the prices from the three stores):

+ As we've seen in years past, Price Chopper and Hannaford tend to price items ending in 0, 5 or 9. Walmart appears willing to price items more "oddly." Interestingly, Walmart had a few items priced just a penny cheaper than the other stores. We're guessing that's not totally a coincidence.

+ One thing this price comparison doesn't take into account is the Price Chopper gas discount program. Depending on how much gas you buy (and if you buy it at Sunoco) or ride the bus, the discount could the lower cost of shopping at the Chopper.

+ If this basket of items is roughly representative of a typical weekly shopping trip (it may be a little bigger than usual and a little heavy on items such as laundry detergent), then shopping at Walmart would save you $910.52 over shopping at Price Chopper and $643.24 over Hannaford during the course of a year.

Earlier on AOA: Aldi came out on top in a 2008 comparison of non-name brand products

The Bottom Line

Prices were down at all three stores this year -- the most at Walmart. And it wins again.

Comments

I prefer to believe that the AOA editors are just really excited about macintosh apples, pasta sauce, and tampons.

It would be nice to see some variable color-coding so that closely-priced stores would both be shades of green. Several categories were won by Wal-Mart because their price ended in .98 instead of .99 -- hardly a victory. (Though of course the totals tend to sort that out.)

I'd like to see you guys include some qualitative parameters in the analysis. Things like: location of stores to residential neighborhoods and bus lines, and cleanliness of the store. I'd also be interested to know if you're really comparing "apples to apples" (pun intended). Ie, are the SKUs for certain products the same at PC, Hannaford, and Walmart? Many manufacturers will sell Walmart different "versions" of their products to facilitate a lower price.

I was thinking the same thing as B - but, I mean, who doesn't get excited over frozen veggies?

It's also interesting to see how most things have stayed about the same or slightly lowered.

It would be neat if you looked at something other than price- like if supporting the regional chains provides a more positive economic impact on the community than supporting Wal-Mart. If Price Chopper's profits stay in New York, it might be worth spending an extra dime on bananas.

As far as Price Chopper goes, I'd be interested to know if these were the prices with or without the Price Chopper card. Using the card, I usually save at least $5 a week... which still would not beat out Walmart, but would make PC cheaper than Hannaford.

Editors: The PC prices are the AdvantEdge card prices. We've changed the notes to make that more clear. Thanks.

Aldis beats all these prices!

You guys really put a lot of time and effort into this. Thank you! We shop mostly at Price Chopper because it's right at the end of our street. Every now and then, we will go to Walmart because they tend to be cheaper. The one thing I can say about Walmart is that I will NEVER buy meat there. It always looks old and like it's been laying around for a while. I just can't do it.

I save at least $20 a week shopping at Aldi. I get my fish, imported cheeses, Greek yogurt, bread, and cat food at Price Chopper, but most everything else at Aldi. Aldi owns Trader Joe's which is famous for their selection of frozen foods, so Aldi often has some interesting items.

Some recent highlights from Aldi: Amy's Organic Spinach Pizza - $4.99 (unfortunately, only a temporarily stocked item), frozen veggie teriyaki stir fry - only $2.99 for two pounds of veggies and sauce packet. I add chicken for a very cheap, but tasty dinner for the family. Even their fruits and vegetables rarely disappoint.

The gas discount is nice at Price Chopper and I love the bakery items at Hannaford. However, with the economy the way it is, it only makes sense to shop at Aldi for all the basics.

What your analysis shows here is how desperate our region needs a Wegmans. While prices may be cheaper overall, Walmart remains a dirty store with poor customer service.

If we get a Wegmans here, the 3 stores you surveyed would not be able to compete!

I'd be curious how this would replicate in the 'burbs. I know prices can vary widely (50cents plus per item) between the Washington Ave Ext Walmart and mine out here.

Also of note - if I subtract the gas savings I earn at PC (thirty cents per gallon for the $150 purchase) and max it out at the 20 gallons, I'd save an additional six dollars, making it roughly equivalent to Hannaford.

As we've seen in years past, Price Chopper and Hannaford tend to price items ending in 0, 5 or 9. Walmart appears willing to price items more "oddly."

Can't say for sure but strange last digits are usually a stock tracking mechanism. Price everything in a certain promotion ending with, say, a 7, and you can easily filter those proucts out when you want to see your results.

Sometimes the last digit can tell you more. An unnamed retail chain I worked for long ago would set a first clearance price ending in 4. each week, to get rid of stock they'd keep lowering the price, and also lower that final digit. By the time it got to 1 it was the lowest price it would be and any leftover units beyond that would be returned or destroyed. So, you could tell by the last digit if the price was likely to drop more and how much time you have left to grab it.

LC, your comment is pretty much why Price Chopper is so popular and is just a byproduct of marketing. As these yearly tests have shown, overall, on staple items at regular prices, Price Chopper is more expensive than the competition -- sometimes significantly more. When they offer you the card savings, you then think you're getting a deal, even if the price is still higher than somewhere else -- as in the butter example here. All it takes are one or two attractive deals to get you in the store -- loss leaders -- and then when you finish off your grocery list you're actually overpaying.

If you only grab buy one get one (or two!) items, you can make out like a bandit. But since you'll probably stop at the deli, buy pasta, get frozen veggies, and need something to wipe your butt with, the reality is more like making out with a bandit. And not the swashbucking, Antonio Banderas as Zorro type, more like the Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs type.

Tampons!!!

Sorry, that made me giggle. Anywho, this post reinforces why I do the majority of my grocery shopping at Walmart. Yes, parking's obnoxious and there's nothing speedy about their speedy checkout lanes. But I doubt PC's gas discounts negate the expense of shopping there, and the AdvantEdge card is just silly. Why do I have to sign up for a card to get a few cents off?

As for the Wegmans comment, I wonder how well it actually would do if competing with PC and Hannaford. I do miss Weggies, but shopping there was an occasional treat for me because it's EXPENSIVE, which is why, as a poor college student in western NY, I was a Tops shopper for the most part.

I shop at PC out of convenience and there are some items I only buy when on sale, and some regular items that I buy two or three of when they're on sale (other than fresh fruits, vegetables and anything else that can go bad). I don't keep records of how much I spend, but I bet I make out okay with this strategy.

It is unfortunate that PC doesn't do better overall, because I think a lot of people would like to support the local business (well, locally based business I should say). Walmart and Hannaford are multi-nationals based in Arkansas and Belgium respectively. I'd rather see my money stay in the capital district.

This is a really helpful exercise, AOA - thanks! The problem here - it does not represent the cost of shopping for anything besides a typical American diet and household. WalMart certianly saves on the cost of meat, dairy, soda, and chips, but if you want dairy alternatives, vegetarian protein, or a veriety of produce not wrapped in plastic, you're going to pay as much as or more than anywhere else. And if you want natural health and beauty products or cleaning supplies you're just out of luck completely.

I still shop everywhere.

Most of my groceries come from Walmart. Nobody has mentioned this, but Walmart was recently deemed to have some better quality produce than Whole Foods (of all places) by Mr. Slow Food himself Corby Kummer. The meat however was deemed awful, as expected.
http://fussylittleblog.com/2010/03/01/walmart-vindicated/

Price Chopper has its strengths. Especially if you are a savvy shopper and exclusively buy their house brands and items on sale.

Hannaford's has some higher quality products that aren't available at the other markets, like butter produced with cream from cows not treated with rBGH.
http://fussylittleblog.com/2009/12/10/stabbing-cows/

But I too would like a Wegmans. Which is why I'm voting for it in the Times Union Best of 2010 poll. If enough of us vote to get it in the top three, perhaps it will send a message to their HQ so that the Capital Region can actually get a better grocery store.
http://fussylittleblog.com/2010/04/06/fussylittleballot/

Shopping at Wal-Mart always costs more - there are so many hidden costs in shopping there you couldn't PAY me to shop there. Where they get their products, how they treat their employees, and the burden Wal-Mart puts on states - NO THANKS. Don't understand what I'm talking about? Go here:

http://walmartwatch.com/pages/healthcare

Wal-Mart underpays it's employees and in many states that creates a huge burden on the state because most of Wal-Mart's employees need some sort of assistance, whether it be Medicaid or food stamps or another form of assistance. Shopping at Wal-Mart HURTS EVERYONE.

Their slogan of Save Money Live Better makes me sick every time I hear it, because the only people living better by shopping at Wal-Mart are the Wal-Mart executives and shareholders. And their track record of not paying employees overtime due to them (until they were sued), not promoting women in management positions (until they were sued), suing their own employees (one woman became permanently disabled and won a law-suit that would have set up a trust for her required care for the rest of her life, instead a clause in Wal-Mart's health care program made it so that she had to pay them back all the money spent on her health care through their health care benefits and she was left with only a few hundred thousand), and taking out life insurance policies on their own employees, without their knowledge (which apparently an employer can do - because an employee is considered an asset - but to profit from your employee's death? when they probably died because they couldn't afford to eat properly or get proper health care because they work for Wal-Mart????) SICKENING. the case i heard of was through Capitalism: A Love Story = Wal-Mart made $81,000 off an employee that died.

Any shopping done at Wal-Mart hurts us all here in America, trying to make an American living on a livable wage, able to afford health care and food and housing for our families. I don't care how poor you are - there are better options when you look at the big picture. But people don't - they look at the small picture and their own lives and that's all they care about - and in the end that will bring us all to our knees. It is why we are in this recession. It is why unemployment is 10%. It is why the value of our homes are decreasing. Until we change how we do things and realize that we are all in this together and that corporations like Wal-Mart are doing nothing but ruining the communities they are in - then it's only going to get worse.

I don't have anything constructive to add (as per the usual). I just want to note that at first glance I saw "tampons!!!" and I laughed.

I've noticed that some of the the AdvantEdge prices are about the same as Hannaford's regular prices. The fuel discount program is nice for families shopping the chopper regularly, but I'm single and it doesn't swing me much.

@Erik: While we didn't check SKUs, many of the products are the exact same brand and size. Of course, it's still possible that Walmart is getting inferior (and cheaper) beans (or whatever).

As far as qualitative measures, that's an interesting idea. We'd probably have to develop some sort of scoring formula (like the Walk Score), of which price could be one component.

@Sarah: It would be interesting to see what percentage of a dollar spent at PC stays in the Capital Region vs. Hannaford or Walmart. It's beyond our capabilities, though (and PC is privately held, which would make it tough).

@Michael and others: You're right about the meat. In my somewhat limited experience buying it at Walmart, it's been... uh... not good.

@Sara and Laura: Aldi does have some really cheap prices, as we found out when we priced "bargain" items two years ago. It seems a bit like Trader Joe's, though, in that you can never really be sure what you're going to find (which can good or bad).

@MissaB: 50 cents! That's a lot.

@B: Interesting about the prices -- and clever. I suspect (guess) that Walmart can track all that without using techniques like that. When you get down to it, Walmart is an info tech business above all else. They have unbelievable database muscle.

You're right to point out how sales are used to get people in the door. Ameerah Cetawayo wrote an interesting piece about supermarket pricing for the Gazette last month. Both Walmart and Hannaford don't technically have sales -- but, well, the prices do drop for periods of time.

@Madeline: You're right, the basket we picked is middle of the road. Re: Walmart -- in my own experience I've found its prices on some organic stuff are pretty good.

@xina: Total cost is hard to figure -- and, you're right, it's worth paying more attention to.

Price Chopper has high regular prices but does has some pretty terrific sale items. Looking at their ad always makes me feel like I am being screamed at by a midway's worth of carnies, but you can get some good deals. That gas thing is pure BS in my opinion.

My household shops at all 3 of those stores, plus others, depending on what's on sale and where we know the lowest price on certain items to consistently be. We don't make the rounds weekly, but in the course of a month I can expect to be in each of those establishments at least once. I bet there are a lot of families like us.

This also proves, yet again, that Price Chopper is way more expensive than Hannaford. As for the gas program, still, does that make up for the much higher grocery prices you have to pay for a gas discount?

I usually buy store brands of groceries rather than national ones. Why overpay for a name when the difference in quality in small? What matters to me is taste, ingredient list and pricing (in that order). But sometimes store brands are simply better than national! Why on the Earth they put so much flavor additives in Doritos when a simple corn+oil+salt recipe in a store brand tastes great too? Of course, there are exceptions such as orange juice and yogurt. But I stick to a time-tested combination of different store brands + some national ones which works for my family.

Hannaford's milk tastes so much better than other store's brands. Their Yukon Gold potatoes are awesome and sandwich bread is pretty decent too.
Meats are consistently better at Price Chopper.
Surprisingly, Target has about the same prices for non-perishable goods as Walmart so I shop there when I'm around.

I wonder how many people make their grocery shopping choices based on price. I don't think I ever do. I have shopped at WalMart for groceries only once and came home with some products that had clearly been on the shelf too long (specifically the individual servings of Edwards Key Lime pie which I used to find at PC but s no longer there).

I have moved around a lot over the past 40 or so years and wherever I go I end up with a favored store and usually two or three fall backs. I pay no attention to comparative pricing because I just want to go and get my shopping done and it is always easier in a store you are familiar with.

For me, I generally prefer Hannaford (Latham store). Why? Nicely maintained. Wide aisles (the PC across the road is terrible in that regard). Nice selection of things I use. But I have one of the really old PC's a few blocks from my apartment that becomes the place I go to grab the basic necessities.

I only figured out the gas program at PC a few weeks ago. By then I had racked up a 50 cent discount per gallon...than was the cheapest tank of gas I had in a long time. But that is not reason enough for me to shop at PC, because I like my Hannaford.

You guys should also do an "availability" survey. It's frustrating to have to schlep around to three different supermarkets looking for a certain product. Last week I was shopping for baby arugula -- somewhat exotic but certainly not an entirely rare specimen of produce -- and only found it at Hannaford after first checking out both PC and Wal-Mart. My anecdotal experience is that, yes, Wal-Mart generally has the lowest prices, but what's it good for in terms of what I sacrifice in aggravation? Not to mention the long lines -- but that's an entirely different story.

I'm truly amazed. A feature on local grocery shopping and not one comment whining for a Trader Joe's. Is Bruce Roter on vacation?

There are certain things on the list I wouldn't purchase at the grocery store (tampons, shampoo, laundry detergent, etc.) since they are generally more expensive. I shop at Target for those items and have generally found prices to be no different than at Walmart (include them next year?) and as added bonus, I enjoy my shopping experience, friendly and helpful employees, and am not stuck in line for ages.

I get groceries at the grocery store depending on what is on sale that week and who has what on sale when I need it. I tend to prefer Price Chopper for meats and produce and Hannaford for dry goods.

Did you factor in the $750 in damage to your car from the Wal Mart parking lot?

I've never been able to warm up to Aldi. I really need to try again.

For the Wal-Mart naysayers, of which I am one, I share this food for thought (pun intended): http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/03/the-great-grocery-smackdown/7904/

As a transplant to Albany, what has always puzzled me is how the Golub Corporation is heralded as a local philanthropic force while they continue to neglect stores located in lower-income neighborhoods.

I'm buying nearly everything at Dnipro Market in Cohoes any more. They have awesome Ukrainian tampons.

LQ

We go to the Chopper for their sale items. After we play with the cards and coupons we head to Hannaford for everything else. The Chopper gas promotion is SO much ado about nothing. My car has a ten gallon tank so I'm only saving a buck per fill-up. Plus, Sunoco gas is among the highest gas prices in the area. They've even gone back to charging for charging (or is it "discount for cash"), so there's really no savings at all at the pump.

This is extremely useful. Thanks AOA, and thanks for doing it annually.

And I'd like to add another voice to complaints about Price Chopper's neglect of its downtown location (Delaware Ave). I like to walk to the grocery store -- I can rarely bring myself to drive on Central to get our food for the week -- but the fact that PC treats the neighborhood like captive consumers isn't helping cultivate any brand loyalty.

Yeah, the Hannaford and Wal Mart urban locations are much nicer...wait...what Hannaford and Wal Mart urban locations? Look around. Only PC has kept those stores on Delaware Ave, on Broadway in Menands, etc. No one else.

Next time you complain, think about the alternative, which are few.

PC should be applauded -- not criticized -- for keeping those smaller urban stores open.

And, PC is a New York company, owned by New Yorkers. I daresay that the Golub family pays more NY taxes than all of the Wal Mart and Hannaford executives combined.

I'm sure te survey was fair; owever, PC often seems to do the best sales. I'm a single guy, have few taste buds and am willing to buy any bargin of the week. PC is really good with putting 'Fresh Baked' stuff down to 99 cents at the Westgate and Johnson raod locations, too. Hannaford does have some steady 'everyday' prices that are great for large families but I've never liked their stores. I'm excited for ShopRite to enter the area. They keep prices low wich must be pretty hard for a union chain. In the Hudson Valley, they tend to beat both PC and Hannaford while paying workers well.

By far, WalMart is the best price cutter but, sadly, this goes for worker's pay, too. I never feel right about shopping there because, in the process, I'm helping the chain oppress workers. Would love to see unions take over Walmart. the chain would still keep prices low but the family/shareholders would just make less profit.

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