Revisiting grocery story comparisons

Last May, when the economy’s downward spiral became a widespread concern, The Telegraph went grocery shopping. The idea was to compare prices at five local grocery stores to figure out which were the most and least expensive.

The results weren’t too surprising. Market Basket and Wal-Mart Supercenter were the cheapest in an 11-item comparison that included staple items such as milk, bread, ground beef, peanut butter and cereal.

The chart and story were published as part of a weeklong series of tips and hints on how to save money and stay afloat in a difficult economy.

Store 2008 2009
Shaw’s $39.14 $41.18
Hannaford $40.37 $36.58
Market Basket $35.78 $36.63
Stop & Shop $42.13 $39.38
Wal-Mart $35.74 $36.69

But that was before the stock market tanked, the financial crisis escalated and experts officially declared a recession. So, we decided to do it again.

Keep in mind that a comparison of 11 items in a 24-hour period is hardly scientific. Grocery prices are constantly changing, and a great sale in a different week

could have swung the results in favor of different stores. Who knows what could have happened if different items had been selected?

But the results are worth sharing, particularly to illustrate how prices can vary from one store to another.

This year’s results suggest food prices have remained fairly stable since last year, although the price of milk has declined noticeably. Hood brand 1 percent gallons were 30 to 80 cents cheaper across the board.

Prices at all five stores were recorded in a 24-hour period Wednesday and Thursday. Sale prices were included in the calculations.

The lowest total food bill this year was at Hannaford. The store edged out Market Basket and Wal-Mart by 5 and 11 cents respectively. Shaw’s was the most expensive – about $3.50 more than Hannaford – followed by Super Stop & Shop.

We tried to analyze the same 11 items as last year, but an exact apples-to-apples comparison was impossible for several reasons.

Some of the stores were no longer carrying pricey Starbucks ice cream, so we swapped it for Edy’s brand. None of the stores carried last year’s 39-ounce canisters of Folgers coffee. The closest size was 33.9 ounces. Interestingly, the price wasn’t lower at every store.

Wal-Mart wasn’t carrying 85 percent lean ground beef, so we had to compare 80 percent this year. The same goes for Cheerios – Wal-Mart no longer had the mid-size 14-ounce box, so we replaced it with the next largest size, 18 ounces.

(Notably, Wal-Mart’s 18-ounce box costs only 20 cents more than the 8.9-ounce box, reinforcing that it’s a good idea to check out unit prices when you shop).

Generally, bananas, Land O’Lakes butter and Eggland’s Best eggs remained stable in price, fluctuating up or down only slightly. Excluding sale prices, the same was true for Wonder Bread. The Minute Maid orange juice was the exact same price as last year at each store.

Only Jif peanut butter saw a significant increase, going up 40 to 60 cents per 28-ounce jar at every store.

Comparisons of Folgers coffee, ice cream, Cheerios and ground beef prices were moot, because of the previously noted product changes.

The biggest price difference for a single item was $1.35 for eggs. Wal-Mart’s price was lowest at $2.64; Shaw’s charged $3.99.

Cheerios also fluctuated greatly, with a difference of $1.31 between lowest-priced Wal-Mart and highest-priced Shaw’s.

Based on the results of the comparison, Shaw’s released a statement saying it provides customers with “great overall value with a combination of convenience, selection, service, freshness, in-store experience and price.”

The company said it constantly re-evaluates prices to make sure its stores are well-positioned to compete in their respective markets.

Of course, price alone doesn’t always dictate which grocery store we choose. Location, layout, selection, cleanliness and food quality all play important roles.

But, during a recession, it doesn’t hurt to know where to go to save a few bucks.

Here are the results for both years of our price comparisons. Sale prices are in boldface type. Any changes in product from 2008 to 2009 are also noted.

Product Year Shaw’s Hannaford Market Basket Stop & Shop Wal-Mart
1 gal. Hood 2008 $3.99 $3.69 $3.69 $4.09 $3.69
1% low-fat milk 2009 $3.69 $2.89 $2.99 $3.29 $3.08
64 oz. Minute 2008 $3.00 $2.79 $2.69 $2.50 $2.50
Maid O.J. 2009 $3.00 $2.79 $2.69 $2.50 $2.50
39 oz. 2008 $6.99 $8.49 $5.99 $9.49 $7.98
Folgers coffee 2009 $8.99 $7.29 $7.99 $8.39 $7.98
3 lbs. 2008 $1.62 $1.77 $1.17 $1.62 $1.62
bananas 2009 $1.77 $1.47 $1.62 $1.77 $1.62
1 lb. Land 2008 $3.49 $2.99 $2.99 $3.49 $3.24
O’Lakes butter 2009 $3.49 $2.89 $2.99 $3.29 $3.46
20 oz. loaf 2008 $2.99 $2.99 $2.99 $2.99 $2.17
Wonder bread 2009 $3.19 $2.50 $2.00 $2.99 $2.37
12 Grade A 2008 $3.99 $3.29 $2.89 $2.99 $2.25
Eggland’s Best eggs 2009 $3.99 $2.99 $2.89 $2.99 $2.64
Cheerios (14 oz. in ‘08, 2008 $2.00 $3.79 $3.00 $2.99 $2.78
18 oz. in ‘09) 2009 $4.29 $4.39 $3.99 $3.99 $2.98
1 lb. store ground beef 2008 $2.49 $2.49 $2.59 $4.49 $2.25
(85% in ‘08, 80% in ‘09) 2009 $1.99 $2.59 $2.29 $2.49 $2.68
28 oz. jar Jif 2008 $3.29 $3.29 $3.39 $3.19 $2.98
peanut butter 2009 $3.79 $3.79 $3.99 $3.69 $3.42
1 quart Starbucks 2008 $5.29 $4.79 $4.39 $4.29 $4.28
ice cream
1.5 quart Edy’s 2009 $2.99 $2.99 $3.19 $3.99 $3.96
ice cream