Supermarket Price Comparisons

Which supermarket is the cheapest? Click through to find out.

Have you ever wondered how drastically prices vary at different types of grocery stores? Me too. I recently visited eight grocery stores to compare prices for a set number of food items.

The results were shocking.

Here’s where I shopped:

  • Walmart
  • Super Target
  • Whole Foods
  • Trader Joe’s
  • ALDI
  • A local co-op
  • Traditional supermarket
  • High-end/gourmet grocery store

 

Grocery Store Price Comparisons: The Method

I made a list of 21 common grocery items. Then I went to the eight different grocery stores, located the items on my sample grocery list, and documented the prices. To maintain consistency, I located the cheapest of each grocery item. For example, most of the stores I visited had several types and/or brands of tomato sauce. But I chose to use the cheapest tomato sauce for purposes of this experiment.

A few things to note:

  • Cost vs. quality: This experiment is comparing cost only. There will obviously be differences in quality and taste among different brands. The fresh, grass-fed ground beef may taste better than frozen, grain-fed beef. The organic frozen sweet corn may taste better than the 88 cent bag. But for the purposes of this experiment, we are comparing cost only.
  • Non-sale items: I sought out the lowest non-sale prices for each item (since sale prices are temporary).
  • Pantry items vs. produce: I purposely avoided including produce in this experiment, since so many different factors affect the price of fruits and vegetables (season, location, weather, etc.)

 

Here are the results, starting with the most expensive grocery store:

#8: Co-Op

Shopping for groceries at a co-op

Pros: The best local and organic shopping choices. Also a good place to shop if you’re looking for allergy-friendly foods and other specialty products.

Cons: The cost. While the food is generally fresh, locally sourced, and healthy – it is expensive when compared to other types of grocery stores. Co-ops are great for those who can afford shopping there. But the cost at most co-ops may be out of reach for many budget shoppers.

  • Tomato sauce: $1.19
  • Spaghetti: $2.29
  • Chickpeas: $.99
  • Tuna: n/a
  • Chicken noodle soup: $3.59
  • Corn flakes: $3.99
  • Raisin bran: $3.99
  • Powdered sugar: $2.29
  • Granulated sugar: $3.99
  • All purpose flour: $5.99
  • Olive oil: $9.99
  • Potato chips: $4.99
  • Saltine crackers: $4.79
  • Orange juice: $3.29
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $3.99
  • Ground beef: $6.49
  • Milk: $4.29
  • Sour cream: $2.69
  • Eggs: $2.89
  • Frozen corn: $3.29
  • Chocolate chips: $4.99

Total cost at local co-op: $82.99


#7: Whole Foods

The bulk section at Whole Foods is a great place to get deals on groceries

Whole Food has the reputation of being very expensive. That said, I was surprised to find some reasonably priced food items while perusing the aisles. Most of these cheaper items were from 365 Everyday Value, the Whole Foods store brand.

Pros: Good selection of organic, allergy-friendly, and specialty diet food items.

Cons: Some food items at Whole Foods come in smaller packages than similar products at other grocery stores. For example, corn flakes at other grocery stores typically come in 18-ounce boxes. At Whole Foods, I could only find corn flakes in a 12-ounce box. This can give shoppers the false impression of low prices – when they are actually getting less product.

  • Tomato sauce: $.89
  • Spaghetti: $1.29
  • Chickpeas: $.89
  • Tuna: $2.59
  • Chicken noodle soup: $2.69
  • Corn flakes: $3.99
  • Raisin bran: $3.99
  • Powdered sugar: $4.99
  • Granulated sugar: $5.99
  • All purpose flour: $2.99
  • Olive oil: $5.99
  • Potato chips: $2.99
  • Saltine crackers: $2.99
  • Orange juice: $2.99
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $5.99
  • Ground beef: $5.49
  • Milk: $3.49
  • Sour cream: $2.69
  • Eggs: $3.19
  • Frozen corn: $1.29
  • Chocolate chips: $3.19

Total cost at Whole Foods: $72.28


#6: High-End/Gourmet Supermarket

There is a gourmet grocery store less than one mile from where I live. I find myself shopping there too often, mostly because it’s so convenient. The food is quality, but the prices are high. One of my favorite tricks to save money at this grocery store is to use the salad bar to buy small amounts of specific ingredients that I need for a recipe. This helps me avoid buying large packages of food when I only need a small amount.

Pros: Good mix of classic brands and specialty food items. Convenience and quality; a positive shopping experience.

Cons: Prices at these grocery stores tend to be consistently higher than prices at other grocery stores that sell the same brands and products. The convenience factor can really add to your grocery bill.

  • Tomato sauce: $.75
  • Spaghetti: $1.79
  • Chickpeas: $1.29
  • Tuna: $1.09
  • Chicken noodle soup: $1.99
  • Corn flakes: $3.49
  • Raisin bran: $3.99
  • Powdered sugar: $2.29
  • Granulated sugar: $2.99
  • All purpose flour: $2.89
  • Olive oil: $6.39
  • Potato chips: $3.79
  • Saltine crackers: $2.99
  • Orange juice: $3.99
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $3.49
  • Ground beef: $4.99
  • Milk: $3.29
  • Sour cream: $2.55
  • Eggs: $2.19
  • Frozen corn: $2.49
  • Chocolate chips: $3.09

Total cost at high-end grocery store: $64.20


#5: Trader Joe’s

Buying cheese at Trader Joe's

I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s because the prices are reasonable and I like the food. However, a few of their food items are unusually high when compared to other grocery stores. In particular, sugar. A two-pound bag of cane sugar at Trader Joe’s cost $3.49. All of the other grocery stores sold sugar in four-pound bags, so to maintain consistency for this experiment, I had to “purchase” two bags of Trader Joe’s sugar, equaling $6.98. So while TJ’s generally has good prices, be sure to watch out for surprises like this.

Pros: Interesting food products, good organic selection.

Cons: Good – but not great – selection. I usually find about 90% of my grocery list at Trader Joe’s, which means that I usually have to go someplace else to finish my shopping.

  • Tomato sauce: $1.49
  • Spaghetti: $.99
  • Chickpeas: $.89
  • Tuna: $1.49
  • Chicken noodle soup: $1.49
  • Corn flakes: $2.49
  • Raisin bran: $2.99
  • Powdered sugar: $5.89
  • Granulated sugar: $6.98
  • All purpose flour: $2.99
  • Olive oil: $3.99
  • Potato chips: $1.99
  • Saltine crackers: $2.29
  • Orange juice: $1.99
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $2.99
  • Ground beef: $3.99
  • Milk: $3.29
  • Sour cream: $1.79
  • Eggs: $1.79
  • Frozen corn: $1.29
  • Chocolate chips: $1.99

Total cost at Trader Joe’s: $56.86


#4: Traditional Supermarket

Buying cheap groceries at a traditional supermarket

I couldn’t come up with a better name for traditional supermarket, but I think you know what I’m talking about: A large grocery store that stocks all types of food products as well as cleaning products, soap, paper towels, etc.

Pros: Best sales. For this experiment, I didn’t purchase sale items, rather opting for the food item with the lowest sticker price. If I had purchased sale items from this supermarket, my total bill would have come out to be even less than what is listed below.

Cons: Jack of all trades, master of none. While I can usually find everything on my shopping list, I’m never blown away by the quality or selection of products at traditional grocery stores. And I personally don’t think these stores are fun to shop at. Shopping here feels more like a chore than at other grocery stores.

  • Tomato sauce: $.57
  • Spaghetti: $1.29
  • Chickpeas: $1.09
  • Tuna: $.99
  • Chicken noodle soup: $.89
  • Corn flakes: $2.79
  • Raisin bran: $2.79
  • Powdered sugar: $1.89
  • Granulated sugar: $2.89
  • All purpose flour: $2.39
  • Olive oil: $5.79
  • Potato chips: $2.99
  • Saltine crackers: $2.69
  • Orange juice: $2.99
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $2.49
  • Ground beef: $4.19
  • Milk: $3.29
  • Sour cream: $1.79
  • Eggs: $1.99
  • Frozen corn: $1.59
  • Chocolate chips: $2.69

Total cost at traditional supermarket: $53.36


#3: Target

The masses have spoken, and they love Target. As for their grocery selection, they have most of their bases covered. The Market Pantry brand products are very reasonably priced. Most of the prices listed below are Market Pantry products.

Pros: Get all your shopping done in one trip. Good balance between price and quality.

Cons: Am I the only person who dislikes shopping at Target? This is another place where shopping feels like a chore to me. Maybe it’s the fluorescent lighting and the crowds. That place is always packed.

  • Tomato sauce: $.39
  • Spaghetti: $1.04
  • Chickpeas: $.74
  • Tuna: $.82
  • Chicken noodle soup: $.77
  • Corn flakes: $2.99
  • Raisin bran: $2.39
  • Powdered sugar: $1.99
  • Granulated sugar: $2.49
  • All purpose flour: $1.72
  • Olive oil: $4.49
  • Potato chips: $2.99
  • Saltine crackers: $2.54
  • Orange juice: $2.94
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $2.59
  • Ground beef: $3.49
  • Milk: $2.99
  • Sour cream: $1.59
  • Eggs: $2.19
  • Frozen corn: $1.14
  • Chocolate chips: $1.92

Total cost at Target: $46.25


#2: Walmart

Buying cheap groceries at Walmart

Say what you will about Walmart, but there are definitely deals to be had at this store.

Pros: Familiar brands. Convenience (you can stock up on other household items while you’re there).

Cons: Limited organic selection with an abundance of highly processed food items.

  • Tomato sauce: $.33
  • Spaghetti: $1
  • Chickpeas: $.68
  • Tuna: $.74
  • Chicken noodle soup: $.62
  • Corn flakes: $1.98
  • Raisin bran: $2.24
  • Powdered sugar: $1.54
  • Granulated sugar: $1.88
  • All purpose flour: $1.96
  • Olive oil: $3.98
  • Potato chips: $1.98
  • Saltine crackers: $1.78
  • Orange juice: $1.28
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $2.48
  • Ground beef: $3.58
  • Milk: $2.74
  • Sour cream: $1.48
  • Eggs: $1.98
  • Frozen corn: $.98
  • Chocolate chips: $2.50

Total cost at Walmart: $39.71


#1: ALDI

Getting cheap groceries at ALDI

ALDI was the overall winner for the lowest-cost groceries. There is a major price difference between ALDI and the co-op. ALDI groceries cost $33.60 while co-op groceries cost $82.99. If you are on a strict food budget, ALDI is a great place to shop. And in talking to friends who shop here regularly, all were impressed with the quality of food.

Pros: The cheapest prices overall. A small but growing selection of organic products.

Cons: Good – but not great – selection. You may not find everything on your shopping list at ALDI.

  • Tomato sauce: $.25
  • Spaghetti: $.89
  • Chickpeas: $.89
  • Tuna: $.69
  • Chicken noodle soup: $.79
  • Corn flakes: $1.49
  • Raisin bran: $1.99
  • Powdered sugar: $1.19
  • Granulated sugar: $1.36
  • All purpose flour: $1.55
  • Olive oil: $2.59
  • Potato chips: $1.49
  • Saltine crackers: $.99
  • Orange juice: $2.39
  • Shredded cheddar cheese: $2.99
  • Ground beef: $2.39
  • Milk: $2.80
  • Sour cream: $1.29
  • Eggs: $1.75
  • Frozen corn: $.95
  • Chocolate chips: $1.59

Total cost at ALDI: $33.60

The "Use What You Have" challenge from Cheap Recipe Blog


Final Thoughts and Further Information

Here are the prices again:

  • Co-op: $82.99
  • Whole Foods: $72.28
  • High-end grocery store: $64.20
  • Trader Joe’s: $56.86
  • Traditional supermarket: $53.36
  • Target: $46.25
  • Walmart: $39.71
  • ALDI: $33.60

 

Now I want to hear from you! Where do you shop? Do you prefer one type of grocery store over another? What is the most important factor in determining where you shop?

For notifications of future posts like this one, be sure to like my Facebook page. Let me know if there are any other grocery store posts that you would like to see in the future!

24 Responses to “Supermarket Price Comparisons”

  1. 1

    violet — March 26, 2014 @ 5:53 am

    Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time to do this survey.

  2. 2

    Heidi — March 26, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

    Wow! Thanks for doing this research. I will take another look at Aldi.
    And never fear, you’re not the only one who doesn’t like shopping at Target. I’m not crazy about Wal-Mart either. My favorite store is Dillons – they are friendly, the store is smaller (you can get through it faster), and they aren’t crowded.

    • Haley replied: — March 27th, 2014 @ 2:07 am

      Good to know, Heidi! Let me know if check out ALDI, and what you end up buying.

  3. 3

    Keturah — March 26, 2014 @ 7:47 pm

    I’m guessing…Mississippi Market, Kowalskis or Byerleys, and Rainbow (the Roundy’s label was a good hint in the picture….) I miss shopping back home as we are currently living overseas! 🙂 Good comparisons, we do our main shopping at Mississippi Market with coupons (10% off up to $100 every two months and the instore coupons/sales and Chinook Book), Rainbow for sales, they have some nice store organics and you can do double coupons there, at least you could when we left 8 months ago, and Aldi for staples (but only 1 or 2x per month because the lines get crazy!)

    • Haley replied: — March 27th, 2014 @ 2:06 am

      You are so right! (And Kowalskis, not Byerleys) – Truth be told, I shop at a variety of each of these stores, with the exception of Trader Joe’s where I shop all the time.

  4. 4

    Lynne — March 27, 2014 @ 2:34 am

    Hi Haley-
    Just like you can buy small quantities of specialty foods at the salad bar at a gourmet grocery store, you can buy any quantity of many foods at a local co-op and/or Whole Foods in bulk — often for MUCH cheaper than the packaged products on the shelves (and often just as inexpensively as some store brands at conventional grocery stores). Pastas, dried peas/beans, cereals, sugars/flours, peanut butter, nuts, chocolate chips and more are super easy and economical to buy in bulk.

    • Haley replied: — March 27th, 2014 @ 3:09 am

      Good to know! Thanks for the tip, Lynne. Do you have to ask for these products?

  5. 5

    sw — March 27, 2014 @ 3:09 am

    good idea! but I’m concerned that this only factors in short-term costs, not the systemic issues that cheap food + grocery chains perpetuate:
    – social justice inequities [zoning + accessibility]
    – subsidies for commodities [variable value for crops]
    – industrial chemical-dependent agriculture
    – persistent organic pollutants
    – low quality of food provided in discount groceries + food shelves

    an example of the system vs the cost is Trader Joe’s long hold out of a living wage for tomato pickers http://sumofus.org/campaigns/tjs-tomatoes/

    or the stat that if you buy direct from the farmer, they receive up to 90% of the profit, whereas if you buy from a corporate grocery, they may only receive 20-40% fo the profit from what is sold. Comparing apples to apples, that’s a pretty significant difference!

    Some folks tithe a certain percentage of their income to faith-based causes or communities. I prefer to invest mine in sustainable ag and the local folks that produce it. Often when I work with folks on household budgets, we often start with a values-setting exercise to measure the dollar amounts against their interests in what/where/how they spend whatever money they have.

    • Haley replied: — March 27th, 2014 @ 3:13 am

      Sarah – I’m so glad you commented! I am vaguely aware of issues such as these but didn’t have any specific information to pass on. Thanks for doing that. I’m going to check out the sumofus.org article now.

  6. 6

    Lynne — March 27, 2014 @ 3:37 am

    No need to ask for bulk products, they’re all out there together in one section. In fact, you’ve got a photo of the bulk section at Whole Foods above!

  7. 7

    taylor @ greens & chocolate — March 27, 2014 @ 11:04 am

    Thanks for this post! I always know I’m paying more when I go to the higher-end grocery stores or Whole Foods, but now that you lay it out for me, I realize just how much money I could be saving! I’m definitely going to check out Aldi soon 🙂

  8. 8

    Kristin — March 27, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

    Super interesting! I will say that I do all of our shopping at target and it really works out. But it does feel like a chore – and I guess it is for some of us, as having two small kids doesn’t really result in me taking a lot of time to enjoy “errands.” I am able to save a lot of money at Target though, between store coupons, manufacturers’ coupons and Target Cartwheel. I’ve been using the Cartwheel for just under a year and I’ve already saved $260.

  9. 9

    Cathy — March 27, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

    Nearly a $50.00 difference from highest to lowest–amazing! Thank you for doing this, it was very interesting.

  10. 10

    Kate — March 27, 2014 @ 2:58 pm

    Working in a high end grocery store, we see this issue all the time. I wish I could say why it’s different across the board, but I don’t have an answer. Did you shop name brands across the board? Buying store brands takes the cost down a notch, and I would be curious to see price comparisons with the same name brands in all these markets. Was it a standard Target or a Super Target? Was the Wal-Mart a basic store, or a SuperCenter? I shop a WalMart SuperCenter near our lake home and am just flat-out amazed at what prices I find there for basic, everyday items. I realize that place has everyone in a tizzy over it, but honestly, for pricing of your basic needs, there’s a lot to be said for shopping there to save money.

    I don’t mind shopping at Super Target but I hate their produce, their meat selection is far too minimal, and often can’t find very standard items that I want. Plus, they have no bulk section and that’s a deal breaker for me. They do, however, carry certain items, like Siggis yogurt super cheap that I can’t get at other stores.

    There is a LOT to be said about grocery shopping, and personal habits surrounding it, and I could go on and on about this issue, but I won’t, as I have some very strong opinions about it. While pricing is important, so many other factors go in to how and where we shop.

  11. 11

    Andrea — March 27, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

    This doesn’t surprise me in the least – I love Aldi! You can save a lot of money with coupons other places, but I don’t think it usually makes up for the convenience of getting just about everything at one place.

  12. 12

    Barbara — March 27, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

    Thanks for the comparison! I know I spend too much at the gourmet grocery stores, but I prefer the size and service. There isn’t an Aldi near me, but thanks for the reminder that it is worth the trip to save on groceries.

  13. 13

    Margaret — March 28, 2014 @ 1:08 am

    I have shopped in all these places and if you had asked me to come up with a list, it would have been just about identical to this, pricewise. Some things are worth spending more for, in my mind: like cage free eggs and organic anything. Spending more for the important things can be compensated for by eating less high-cost choices like steak (versus hummus or black beans, duh!) . . . eating those things less OFTEN, that is, even if they seem important not to give up altogether. On the other hand, it’s a no-brainer for me to get things like baking soda, chocolate chips, cooking oil or bananas at Aldi. As a matter of principle, I don’t like giving lots of business to Target or Walmart for food mainly because I highly value neighborhood grocery stores. Workers at Trade Joe’s seem very happy with their work, and that’s a good thing. In general, I think those of us who have a large choice of grocery sources are very lucky, indeed. We have the luxury of setting our priorities according to quality, price, quality of shopping experience, and so on. Many people don’t have that luxury, such as people in small towns or those in very low-income neighborhoods where there are only convenience stores. Anyway thanks for doing this research! A lot of food for thought here.

  14. 14

    Beth Anne — April 4, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that dislikes Target. I don’t know what it is but I rarely ever go there. I think I also tend to buy more stuff when I go there so I try and stay away.

    I really miss Aldi. We have Save-A-Lot which is similar but not the same. I found this experiment really interesting thanks for sharing!

    • Haley replied: — April 5th, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

      So true! I always end up buying much more than what is on my list.

  15. 15

    Nate — January 6, 2015 @ 3:33 pm

    Target can be crowded, but here’s the key. Go late at night on a weekday. You’ll have the whole store to yourself. I love it, especially with most stores open til 11pm now.

    • Haley replied: — January 7th, 2015 @ 2:02 am

      Brilliant 🙂

  16. 16

    Ivy — January 7, 2015 @ 6:12 am

    My family and I shop mainly at the commissary (Military market), but we also go to Costco, and Trader Joes. Sometimes Wegmans. We love Wegmans, but they are a bit of a drive from where we live (Army post near Mount Vernon). What threw me off was how you say target can be crowded. I have never seen a target crowded,, crowds at Walmart – Yes, but never the targets where I have lived (Southern Ca) and current area (Woodbridge & Springfield, VA).
    What I have done, when shopping is keep a small booklet where I keep record of what we normally buy. And while we may go to a few stores that are close – we still save money. I also take advantage of local deals for locally grown veggies and fruit at a place calls Nalls who often have awesome groupon deals. my husband and I make a list every two weeks with the addition of meal planning. Since we don’t use a lot of coupons; A lot of coupons out there are for processed food, we make sure we stick to our grocery list and make everything from scratch. No Processed, prepackaged meals.

    • Haley replied: — January 10th, 2015 @ 11:15 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts! I haven’t heard of Wegmans or Nalls, but hopefully these names will be familiar with some other readers. That’s funny about Target – the one close to me is always packed!
      And I agree with you about coupons, that they are usually for processed food. That’s why I don’t use them very often. I’d rather make homemade stuff myself, like you!

  17. 17

    Deepak Rao — April 23, 2015 @ 10:41 am

    nice information for people and easy to understand the market rate.

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