Friday, June 26, 2009

Top of the day to you! Today I want to share with you a great post by Mike Davidson who blogs at the I have attached his address. You will like this it’s about the Seattle Supermarket Showdown. As most of you know I live in Tacoma and share all of these local Supermarket spots here is his post.
Mike Davidson
The Great Seattle Supermarket Showdown
It's a decades-long debate: what's the best supermarket in Seattle? Is it a low-end one like Safeway or Albertson's, a high-end one like Metropolitan Market or Thriftway, or a speciality/organic one like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.
We all have our own ideas as to what makes our preferred supermarkets great, but one thing we rarely have is a clear understanding of how cheap or expensive they really are. Ask 100 people on the street which is more expensive, QFC or Whole Foods, and almost everyone will say Whole Foods (or "Whole Paycheck" if they feel strongly about it). There is also great ambiguity as to exactly what a "Club Card" does. Does it lower already low prices, or without one are you paying out the nose?
Over the last two weeks, I've set out to answer these questions and more in a secret shopper special investigation. The rules were as follows:
1. Decide on a representative basket of brand-name goods.
2. Visit one branch of each major supermarket in Seattle, record the prices of said goods, and tally the totals.
3. For each item which has a cheaper/generic substitute in the store, find the lowest price substitute, and tally new totals. This would essentially be your bill if you were as price-conscious as possible when shopping. Substitutes were chosen for things like flour and olive oil, but not for things like wine because generic wine isn't a close enough substitute to the original item.
4. Perform steps 2 and 3 both with and without Club Cards if the supermarket had a Club Card program.
5. For the two stores which contained almost none of the name brands (Trader Joes and Whole Foods), simply create the closest basket possible with substitute brands, and tally the totals.
Below is the basket of goods:
2 Liter Bottle of Coke
Dozen AA Large White Eggs
6 pack of Heineken Bottles
1lb fresh lean ground beef, 15-20% fat
1lb single New York Steak
1lb bananas
1lb broccoli
14oz box of plain Cheerios
Loaf of Orowheat 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Jar of 26oz Prego Pasta Sauce
3/4 oz. McCormick's Oregano
Bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay
Half Gallon of Dreyers Vanilla Ice Cream
Large Cheese DiGiorno Pizza
Bottle of 50 Advil Tablets
One Kleenex Viva Towel Roll
5lb Bag of GoldMedal Unbleached Flour
17oz bottle of Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Can of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup
One 16oz of Adams Crunchy Peanut Butter
And here are the results, in spreadsheet form.
UPDATE: Since some people seem to be reading right past the link above, I'll call it out again here. If you want to see the complete results of the test, in spreadsheet form, please click the link in the previous paragraph.
General Conclusions:
1. You should never, ever shop at a store which has a Club Card without a Club Card. It is highway robbery. The lowest variation was QFC on the name-brand basket at 12% and the highest variation was Safeway on the substitute basket at a whopping 21%. While the low-end stores indeed came in cheap with the use of a card, without the card, they were among the most expensive of the bunch. Safeway, Albertson's, and QFC -- without cards -- were more expensive than Whole Foods!
2. If you really want to save money, choosing generics and cheaper substitute items when possible will save you a lot more money than going to a particular supermarket. If you're willing to go generic on your flour, your olive oil, and some other items that may not be taste-critical to you, you can chop up to 23% off your bill. By contrast, switching from Metropolitan Market to Safeway saves only 4-8%
3. The perception that high-end or specialty supermarkets are so much more expensive than low-end ones is fed largely by the fact that people simply choose to buy more expensive things in the former group. In other words, when you're in a Whole Foods or a Metropolitan Market, you often end up buying expensive things that weren't even on your shopping list because the choices are so plentiful and inviting. In an Albertson's, however, your may want to escape the store as soon as possible.
1. Safeway. Say what you want about this low-end chain but they did come in with the lowest overall basket at $67.84. That is, of course, with generics and a Club Card, but it is still the overall lowest price. That said, however, they were only $3.66 cheaper than the much higher end Metropolitan Market on the name-brand basket, and a whopping $11.74 higher than Trader Joe's on the same group of items. Bottom line: Safeway is cheap, but not as cheap as you might think, in comparison to some others.
2. Metropolitan Market. Often referred to as "Metropolitan Markup", Metro showed it can clearly hold its own against discount stores. It placed very close to Safeway, Albertson's, and Trader Joe's on price and beat the rest of the field handily. If you're looking for a grocer with plenty of gourmet appeal and reasonable prices, Metro fits the bill nicely. But remember, when shopping at any high end supermarket, you are you own worst enemy.
3. Trader Joe's, and to a (much) lesser extent Whole Foods. These two stores are special cases in that they sell completely different brands (usually all-organic), but if you buy into the concept that what you're buying is probably better than what you'd get at any of the other stores, $76.45 (Trader Joe's) and $103.57 (Whole Foods) aren't such bad prices. If you compare it against the name-brand basket of goods, Trader Joe's beats the second closest competitor (Safeway) by $11.74 and Whole Foods comes in near the high-end but not above it. Comparing Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to the generic baskets may not be fair because the qualitative difference between a jar of Western Family Pasta Sauce and a jar of Organic Pasta Sauce from Whole Foods is substantial (if you believe that sort of thing, at least).
1. QFC. According to this data, there is really no reason to ever go to a QFC. It's by far the most expensive of the discount stores no matter what permutation you pick (card, no card, name-brands, subs). It's so expensive that even Safeway *without* a card comes close to beating QFC with a card. Combine that with the fact that it's not really a whole lot nicer (if at all) than any of the markets on the list and there just doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to shop there. They do have Coinstar machines though, I guess.
2. Thriftway. Thriftways are usually nice, small neighborhood markets, but unfortunately, one of the things smallness has done to them is limit the amount of substitutes available. Many people (including me) actually like this, but the end result is that if you're trying to shave down your bill a little on off-brand stuff, it's a bit tough to do at Thriftway. While Thriftway's name-brand basket came in at a reasonable middle-of-the-pack $101.52, their substitute basket was second-to-worst, in front of only no-card-QFC.
3. People who will inevitably write in to tell me my test wasn't scientific and that I should donate more time in the name of science to figuring this out as precisely as possible. Sorry, not going to happen. Shopping is fun, but carrying spreadsheets around and documenting prices is not. If you would like to perform your own tests, please do and I'll gladly link to them.
All in all, this has been a productive experiment which -- although unable to crown an undisputed victor -- helped put into perspective what each supermarket's true value proposition is. It debunked the theory that higher end supermarkets are always more expensive than lower end ones, and highlighted the importance of self-control and smart substitutions.
In the end, what supermarket you visit will always be a personal choice, but armed with the right information, you can make a more educated decision. Happy shopping, and let the supermarket battles continue.
Posted by Mike Davidson at June 24, 2009 9:09 p.m.bor Statistics, the grocery store industry is made

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