Which Grocery Store Really Has the Best Prices?

A investigative post on the price of common grocery items at 3 local stores: Market Basket, Hannaford, and Stop & Shop.

“I just can’t wait to go grocery shopping!” said no one ever.

Yet, most of us make this trip every week. Or twice a week. Or even three times times if you’re me, because somehow planning and shopping for a week’s worth of meals is just…too… overwhelming.

Where do YOU shop? Why do you shop there? Everybody’s got their reasons for their choice of grocer. Location, quality, and selection all play a part.  What about the prices? For me, this is a huge factor, and I would bet it is for many of you as well.

There is a commonly held belief that Market Basket prices are well below those of the competition. Surely you’ve heard this. I've been a regular Market Basket shopper for a few years now, as well as an occasional in-a-pinch Stop & Shop customer. I was curious. IS this belief actually true, and, if so, just HOW MUCH cheaper is it at Market Basket?

I decided to put the claim to the test. 

Now, before you start crafting a long and impassioned response about how “value” cannot be measured only in the price of items, just hold your horses. I agree. Comparing prices is just a starting point. While it would be interesting and certainly thought-provoking to compare these same stores on characteristics such as cleanliness, helpfulness of staff, quality of goods, freshness of perishable items, and ease of shopping experience, the enormity of a project like that is simply too great, not to mention completely subjective. 

Let's start with some hard numbers, and see where it takes us. I suppose you'd like to know how I went about investigating?  That's easy. I made a list of 20 items I commonly buy, then did price check at Market Basket in Reading, Stop & Shop in North Reading, and the Hannaford in West Peabody. And then back to MB to double-check an item, then back to S&S for a new item price, and then three phone calls to the various stores to confirm everyday prices on a couple of items. OK, maybe not easy, but the nerdy dietitian in me really enjoyed this :) 

A few things to know:

*In almost every case I compared identical name-brand products. In the cases of milk and bacon, however, I compared the prices of each store's own brand. In the case of organic greens, there was only one option of organic spring mix at each store, representing two different brands and package sizes. I compared the equivalent per ounce price. 

* I compared everyday prices, not sale prices.

* I visited Market Basket and Stop & Shop on the same day, while the Hannaford trip was two weeks later (possibly a factor on items like produce where prices may change week to week)

* I totaled up each identical "shopping trip", and compared each store against the other two. Check out the full list of products and prices at the bottom of this post or on my blog here (link will take you off of North Reading Patch).

The results? Market Basket comes out as the clear winner when it comes to the pricing of these 20 items. They came in 15.3% lower than Stop & Shop (which equated to $10.41), but just a mere 3.8% lower ($2.30) than Hannaford.

There are many other factors affecting the total grocery bill, including weekly sales, coupons, rebates, gas discounts, and the often lower cost of store-brand items. Again, this exercise was comparing everyday prices only.

So, what do you think? Are these numbers mind-blowing, or pretty much what you expected? Does this change how and where you might shop?

I'll tell you what it means for me. First, I've only confirmed here what it seems everybody already knew: Market Basket's prices can't be beat. Second of all, my brief experience at Hannaford, a place I think we've shopped at once in 5 years, was so pleasant and the prices so surprisingly competitive, that is almost enough for me to turn my minivan in that direction next time. Third, I can't wait to get back to blogging about food and recipes. This required far too much thinking with no gastronomical reward :)

Check out my latest savory suppers and decadent desserts at Juggling With Julia!


    PRODUCT MARKET BASKET   Reading, MA HANNAFORD          West Peabody, MA STOP & SHOP          North Reading, MA Chobani NF Greek yogurt – 32 oz. $4.99 $5.17 $4.99 1% LF Milk, store brand — 1 gallon $2.49 $2.61 $2.99 Lg brown eggs, store brand –1 doz $1.59 $1.49 $1.59 Bacon, store brand –  1   lb $3.79 $3.89 $3.99 College Inn chicken broth – 32 oz $2.69 $1.89 $2.59 Shady Brook Farm 93% ground turkey –           20 oz $3.69 $4.29 $4.99 Blue Diamond almonds -  1   lb $5.99 $5.99 $6.99 King Arthur whole wheat flour – 5 lbs $3.99 $3.79 $4.39 Skippy Peanut Butter – 16.3 oz $2.69 $2.99 $2.69 Teddy Peanut Butter – 16 oz $3.00 $3.99 $3.79 Bananas, conventional – 1 lb $0.49 $0.49 $0.59 Organic greens, spring mix, per oz $0.60 $0.60 $0.71 Orange bell peppers, conventional, 1 lb $1.99 $2.49 $3.99 Haas avocado — each $0.99 $0.99 $2.00 Quaker Oat Squares cereal — 14.5 oz $3.49 $3.49 $3.99 Wheat Chex — 14 oz $3.39 $2.99 $3.49 Honey Nut Cheerios – 1 lb 5.6 oz $3.00 $3.39 $4.39 Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes – 14.5 oz $0.88 $0.80 $1.29 Fillipo Berio EV Olive Oil — 500ml $4.99 $5.99 $5.49 Nestle Tollhouse morsels – 12 oz $2.79 $2.49 $2.99 Product Total $57.52 $59.82 $67.93 MB vs. Stop & Shop -15.30% MB vs. Hannaford -3.80% Hannaford vs. Stop & Shop -11.90%

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

M March 01, 2013 at 03:50 PM
ITA agree with Wilmington Market Basket. Each aisle is at at least a foot wider, it feels. The parking lot is much saner, too (though worst MB parking lot around is Woburn -- why do they insist on making the only exit path for cars directly pass the front entrance of store) Don't know how they do it in Reading, but whenever that I shop there (and I've tried during workday, weekday evening, and weekend day & night) at least 70% of the aisles (i.e., any aisles with human food) are being blocked somewhere with at least one large pallet doing stocking. I NEVER ever see anyone stocking at S&S. That tells me either MB is selling more & needing to restock even during day and/or that MB is too cheap to pay workers to stock after hours. That must be when S&S does it?
Ron Powell March 01, 2013 at 03:58 PM
I am a fan of both Market Basket and Stop & Shop. But Stop & Shop Shopping Buddy is just so much more convenient, and avoids having to scan through flyers to find out what the specials are. After we apply the $20-$30 in gas savings every month that we receive from shopping at S&S, the net price differential is negligible. It really comes down to what we want and what's on sale for a given week.
John T March 01, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Thanks for doing this. We really really like Hannaford's, having experience with them from Vermont and Maine. Their prices are pretty comparable (as you've shown), and the experience is great. We also have a different angle on this whole thing: we switched to Hannaford's because of S&S's lock out of other supermarkets from NR. While they think it's a great business move, they've left (yet another) empty store front in our town. We were very unhappy as it made S&S less convenient and reduced choice. Now we only go to S&S if we urgently need something. (I even called the Hannaford's corporate office back when S&S did this to urge them to try to find a way into NR, but they didn't have any plans to expand at the time. They are aware of how much traffic S&S and MB get in Reading, so they know it is a "hot" area...)
Ron Powell March 01, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Of course, if you're going to make the trek to Burlington, you might want to check Trader Joe's, too.
Julia Whitney Robarts March 01, 2013 at 09:14 PM
I agree there is a lot of activiity going on at MB no matter what time you go. But I am not sure it wouldn't be such a problem if not for the scads of people that are always there shopping. I suppose that is just a sign of their popularity, but maybe MB could adjust their stocking times hmmmm?
Julia Whitney Robarts March 01, 2013 at 09:17 PM
I was very pleasantly surprised that Hannaford's prices were so close to MB's. I've always enjoyed shopping them in Maine as well. I just never think to head in the direction of W. Peabody when I'm at home. I definitely appreciate your point of view on boycotting S&S because of their alienating business practices. They seem unconcerned with NR residents' opinions and pleas for resolution of the empty store front. Not a great business move.
Teresa Penney March 02, 2013 at 10:59 AM
Julia, thank you for doing this study and sharing your results! I always knew MB was less than S&S but didn't realize how Hannaford's prices were more in line with MB. I shop at the MB in Middleton and have found the best time to avoid crowds is when they open....7 a.m.!
Julia Whitney Robarts March 02, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Teresa - I have not been at the Middleton MB since their Reading store opened. I always found the Middleton store to be a bit run down, and they had a serious fly problem back by the deli area in the summer months (I've heard it is because of their close proximity to Richardson's cows but dont' know if that's the case). Do you find it to be that way still? Or perhaps they've cleaned up a bit.
Sharron Senter March 02, 2013 at 08:07 PM
Great post. Thank you so much for doing this! I've never been to Hannafords. I'll definitely try it based on your pleasant experience. I regularly shop at the Middleton Market Basket. Their bathrooms could do with a clean up! I only shop at the North Reading Stop & Shop when I'm in a rush. I never do a full shop there. It's just so much more expensive. And the parking lot is a nightmare. (Although the Middleton Market Basket's really isn't that much better.)
Teresa Penney March 02, 2013 at 10:49 PM
Julia, I know what you mean about the flies....however, they have installed fans at their entrances/exits which blast you with air (even in the winter)! I'm assuming this was done to keep the flies from Richardson's from entering the store? I don't think other MBs have this air/fan thing. As far as it being clean, I have not found that it is dirty. They have updated the produce section to make it more uniform with their other stores.
Julia Whitney Robarts March 03, 2013 at 05:12 PM
I'm headed to Hannaford's today to try it out for a 1/2 shop - my biggest concern is figuring out where everything is kept, so it doesn't take my twice as long as normal.
Julia Whitney Robarts March 03, 2013 at 05:13 PM
Thank you, Theresa, for the update on the Middleton Market Basket! Good to know.
melee March 04, 2013 at 03:58 PM
So I attempted to try Hannaford's this weekend. But in my mind Hannaford's was called Roche Brothers. Started shoping and realized I must be in the wrong store. Pulled up my phone to read this article and discovered that Hannaford's was definately not Roche. I will try again this weekend.
Julia Whitney Robarts March 04, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Melee, I'm sorry to laugh at your mistake, but that is funny. I don't even know where there is a Roche brothers near N.R. Good luck with your next trip!
John Castelluccio (Editor) March 04, 2013 at 06:59 PM
There is a Roche Brothers in Burlington, actually. Over off Route 3 not far from 95.
melee March 04, 2013 at 07:08 PM
That's the one, John.
Fred Chalmers March 04, 2013 at 08:28 PM
On a slight tangent, I just came across a story in the Fiscal Times from April 2012 which highlights a Consumer Reports' ranking of the 12 worst supermarkets in America in which Stop & Shop came in 12th with Shaw's at #3 (and in a case of be careful what you wish for, WalMart supercenter came in at #2). You can read the full article here. http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Media/Slideshow/2012/04/13/12-Worst-Supermarkets-in-America.aspx ...
melee March 04, 2013 at 10:20 PM
Glad to see Walmart was almost ranked as the worst.
Julia Whitney Robarts March 07, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Thank you, Fred - perfect tangent! Would love to see the survey questions that Consumer Reports used.
Fred Chalmers March 07, 2013 at 04:33 PM
I went to the CR website but could not find the survey itself, Apparently it was part of a larger annual survey of their subscribers. All I could find was this article http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/supermarkets/buying-guide.htm which talks in general terms about their findings. If I find their actual survey and/or results, I'll post it here. In the meantime, I'mk off to MB. My biggest issue: Reading vs Wilmington vs Middleton :^)
Ron Powell March 07, 2013 at 04:40 PM
You need a Consumer Reports account to see the actual survey questions, but the CR article describes surveying about 24,000 subscribers asking them to rate supermarkets according to four categories. One caveat: it's a self-selecting sample, so not entirely scientific. And, of course, it does not weight categories -- some shoppers prefer quality and selection, say, over price. I'm off to fill my gas tank with the S&S gas points.
Fred Chalmers March 07, 2013 at 05:21 PM
I couldn't find the survey but did find some more detail. I can't link to them here and can't get to the fine detail, but can share the following summary info. The survey contained feedback about 52 supermarket chains, Four of the criteria were: service, perishables, price & cleanliness. Scores range from 5 (excellent) to 1 (Worst). Stores from our area scored as follows, with their overall ranking in parentheses Wegman's (1): 5/5/4/5 Trader Joe's (2): 5/4/5/5 Costco (5): 3/5/5/5 MarketBasket (7): 4/4/5/4 Whole Foods (12): 4/5/1/5 Hannaford (19): 4/4/4/5 Target (22): 3/3/4/5 Sam's Club (33): 2/4/5/4 BJ's (34): 2/3/5/3 Stop & Shop (41): 3/3/3/4 Shaw's (50): 3/3/2/4 WalMart (51): 1/2/5/3 Hope you find this interesting.
Fred Chalmers March 07, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Ron, I used my wife's CR account, but still couldn't find the survey details. If you know how to dig it up, let me know because I'd really like to see it. In the meantime, I realize there's some sort of weighting that impacts the overall score, but I thought folks would be interested in the first-level ratings.
Ron Powell March 07, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Indeed. Thank you, Fred. Nice to see Trader Joe's high on the list. It's an affordable alternative to Whole Foods. I do like Market Basket, too. The biggest issue that I have with it is the crowding.
Julia Whitney Robarts March 07, 2013 at 06:44 PM
This is excellent -so interesting! Appreciate the effort,. I agree it's nice to see TJ's up there as well as Whole Foods; Ironic that MB, Hannafords, and S&S landed in the same order I would have put them in :)
Pea Body March 07, 2013 at 11:33 PM
Trader Joes is the Market Basket of Whole Foods
Fred Chalmers March 08, 2013 at 04:48 PM
Julia Whitney Robarts March 09, 2013 at 01:35 AM
Fred Chalmers September 17, 2013 at 01:04 PM
I find it interesting that the recent TV and print ads for WalMart compare their grocery prices with local Stop & Shops but never against Market Basket :^)
Julia Whitney Robarts September 17, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Fred, I was thinking the same thing! I laugh at those commercials, and then shudder, knowing that for many people, it is probably convincing them to shop there (not a Walmart fan for many reasons). However, even I am tempted to head to the dreaded Walmart superstore when I hear they are selling orange and yellow bell peppers for $1.50 a pound!


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