Sure Savings at the Supermarket

By Mary Webber on 17 September 2008 (Updated 11 June 2012) 31 comments
Photo: kozumel

There's not much price difference on national brands among stores, but there is one way you can definitely save big.

I've priced a market basket of 9 staple items at two nearby supermarkets — our two large regionals are Hannaford and Shaw's — and share the results here with you. I also invite you to price these items in your area and post the results here on Wise Bread.

The great majority of Americans live within a few miles of competing grocery stores, so you expect their prices to be competititve, and they usually are. But, the savings really add up when you compare the prices of their store brands both to the national brands, and to each other. I've included store brand items in my market basket pricing so you can clearly see the savings. (See also: 5 Things Other Grocery Stores Should Steal From Trader Joe's)

Before we check out the market basket, a word first about store brands, which are also called private labels. They are not offered on all products, but are certainly available on most of the staple items you buy week after week. We know you can save money buying store brands, so the question really is one of quality: Is it comparable to what you get with a brand label?

I have always bought store brands, and with very few exceptions, have found them to be good quality, and a good value. Private labels traditionally have been produced by the name-label companies, usually to the same standards, although occasionally a private label may have its own product specifications. The one store brand item I have found repeatedly disappointing is dish detergent.

Below is the list of market basket items, the name brand, that price at each of the two area chain supermarkets and the price for the store brand at each store. Pricing was done on Saturday, September 13, no sale prices were included.

 food cost chart

While the difference between stores on national brands, and even on store brands, isn't terribly significant, the difference at  either store between name brands and private labels IS substantial. These are the total market basket costs for the nine items:

Hannaford National Brands

 Hannaford Store Brands

 Shaw's National Brands

 Shaw's Store Brands

 $22.45  $17.84  $24.07  $18.16

 

The bottom line is clear. You can save approximately 20-25% by buying store brands when they're available. Now, that's a good saving strategy!

 

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Myscha Theriault's picture

And an excellent breakdown. You always do such a thorough job.

Guest's picture
Mary

Thanks, Myscha and everyone else who's joined this discussion. I'd like to get as many price comparisons from various areas of the country as we can...

Interesting that so many of you commented on the price of milk. Ours here in Maine, maybe in the entire NE area, is regulated... I'll have to check this out.

Thanks Again!

Guest's picture
Guest

Technically, you could save the most by buying the store brands from both stores. Buy the coffee, bread, milk, and green beans at Hannford and the rest at Shaws.

Just a thought.

Guest's picture
Guest

I am not quite sure what city you're in, but holy cow! Those prices are crazy!! Even the store brand ones.

I was oddly enough checking out the price of a #3 can of "Crisco" at Aldi and it was $3.29. Plus they were charging $1.99 for ALL gallons of milk. And they were NOT close to expiring, most were 2 weeks from the date.

I do realize that Aldi is not in every city/state.

Guest's picture
Guest

It's also good to know that I am saving more by shopping at Hannaford. I live in Gardiner and there's a Hannaford in-town - to go to Shaw's I have to travel to Augusta, and that Shaw's is pretty much unmentionable. The one in Waterville, near where I work, is OK, but still more out of the way then our neighborhood Hannaford. There is an IGA across the bridge but I almost never go there; it's just so much smaller than Hannaford, with a lot less selection. There are also lots of local options in the area, and I buy what I can from them, in season.

I do pretty well with coupons, too, and often save 20-25% using them. I am just a little jealous of the crazy deals I read about on blogs, where some people are able to actually get money back and end up with hundreds of dollars worth of groceries. On the other hand, I wouldn't eat all the processed foods they end up with. The savings game is such a balance between getting what you need and "saving" based on buying something you don't. But it is possible to play along here in Maine - just watch the sales and clip the coupons for things you'd buy anyway.

Guest's picture
Guest

To note on the comment above mine (I'm the Gardiner Hannaford supporter...), Maine has a distinct lack of grocery store selection, and as a result prices are crazy.

I also shop at BJ's Wholesale Club when I can - there are definitely good deals there.

I lived in NH for a time and really miss Market Basket - now that was a great place for deals.

Guest's picture

that most of those prices seem very expensive, even on the store brands. (I live in Missouri). Like Guest, I do most of my shopping at Aldi. Nearly everything they sell is a "store brand", and almost all of it is very good quality. The exception for me is their coffee; I try but I just can't like it. In any case, if there is an Aldi nearby, it's worth checking out.

Guest's picture
isb08

A second on buying what my family can at Aldis, and their coffee being absolutely nasty. I am a regular, drink coffee every day at home kind of guy (not a Starbucks type of coffee drinker at all) from my Navy days, and I couldn't handle the Aldis coffee..it tasted pretty bad!

Some things you just need to stick with a 'name brand' I guess (sliced cheese is another).

Myscha Theriault's picture

I spent the past year in Maine (although we are now house shopping in the greater Tampa area, so would LOVE any suggestions for saving in that area) and have to say that yes, folks do pay more there, particularly those of us up north, which is where my husband and I were. The nearest Shaws was four hours south, so Hannaford was the only option other than the super small Sure Fine within a half hour. If we were willing to drive an hour, there was also a super Walmart and an IGA. But really, Hannaford was where it was at up north. It just costs more to ship things up there. That's the price we pay for a more relaxed remote lifestyle. And further south in the state there are a few more things, but not the immense competition there is in larger cities. Mary is a bit further south in the state, but still confined to fewer options than others around the country, so bear that in mind. I too have heard wonderful things about Market Basket, but alas there were none in Maine (no Save A Lot either), and I have yet to see a Market Basket here in the Tampa area either.

I do have to say though, that I was pleasantly surprised that Shaws (outrageous on many items in my opinion) actually had some decent store brand prices on a few things.

All that being said, Mary's premise is still sound. Shopping for generics is a simple way to save for those who simply don't have or are not willing to take the time to price compare or coupon clip. As for the prices I'm seeing down here, I've barely had time to compare. But I do have to say I'm finding Publix to be rather expensive compared with the other stores. Still getting the nitty gritty on specifics, but would love to hear what others have noticed. Aldi? Haven't seen it here, but am willing to put it on my radar if others have seen it in the Tampa area.

Guest's picture
FrugalZen

I live on the outskirts of Orlando about 60-70 miles from Tampa.

While our mass transit is poor...not from lack of trying..LYNX does a FANTASTIC job with the road system they have to deal with...before I went house hunting I'd get a HART (Hillsbourough Area Rapid Transit) bus map and only look for houses in areas near the routes..otherwise you're going to be trapped in AutoWorld for transport.

As for grocery stores...Publix is the largest in Florida and also has the distinction of being the states biggest employer beating out even Disney. Corporate offices and main distribution center are in Lakeland about 35 miles from Tampa.

The cheapest place to shop is a chain called Save-A-Lot...stores tend to be rather small about the size of a Drug Store and the selection is limited to One House Brand and One Can Size but very cheap.

My family was in the Grocery Business at one time and heres the drill (for grean beans but its the same for everything)....

1/Farmer picks all his Green Beans and sends/sells them to the Packing Plant.

2/Conveyor takes them past sorters who sort out the beans that don't meet Size/Color Tolerances for (Del Monte/Libby/ pick your Name Brand) which are VERY tight.

3/ Beans that meet specs go down one canning line and come out in "name brand" labeled can.

4/ Beans that did not meet specs go down another canning line (you didn't think they threw them away did you???) where they come out usually bearing a Store or Generic Brand label.

The point being that Green Beans came from THE SAME FARM AND FIELDS.

Its just the imperfect ones end up as Store Brands or Generic Brands.

They taste as good as and are just as nutritious as the name brands...they just don't LOOK as good when you pour them out of the can.

Differences in taste usually are caused by differing amounts of salts and spices used in the processing..everyone processes or has a different idea of what the item should taste like.

~ Roland

Guest's picture
Jonathan

My parents faced open revolt whenever they brought home store brands. I remember they were awful 25-30 years ago. Mayo that would emulsify before your very eyes, heavily flavored and colored ice cream that contained ingredients guys in space suits would need to clean up, etc. I recently started relying on store brands and honestly, it's the same stuff. The same factory makes mayo for Hellmans and for America's Choice (a Pathmark and A&P brand) only the store brand is about 50 cents less. If a store brand does the job, there is no reason to get branded.

Guest's picture
gt0163c

I've had great luck with store brands for just about everything. In some cases, I actually prefer the store brands to the "equivalent" name brands (Kroger's Private Selection ice cream is great. Not Ben&Jerry's but as good as *gasp* Blue Bell for many flavors. At least in my opinion.)

That said, it still pays to pay attention to the prices. (Pun very much intended.) Sometimes sales will make the name brand less expensive than a store brand. And, by combining sales and coupons (my area will double and triple coupons to certain amounts) I can often blow store brand prices out of the water.

Guest's picture
Reese

Funny, I was thinking those prices were low (I'm in NM), except for the milk. You can get a gallon here for $2.50.

I was actually really surprised to find that the cheapest source of flour in our area is the bulk section of Whole Foods. Crazy! I can buy whole wheat flour there for 47-cents a pound ($2.35 per 5lb bag.) I haven't even seen a bag a AP flour for less then $3.00 here, so I call that a deal (wheat flour runs $4.00 per bag.)

Store brands are a great way to save. Thank goodness the quality has gone up in the last 25 years. I agree with Jonathan, they used to be inedible.

Guest's picture
Carrie

Tuna fish. I guess it's just because my mother told me this when I was a child: "Don't try to save money on tuna -- the other brands just don't taste good. Only buy Starkist."

Isn't it funny how little moments like that can shape your entire buying life? Honestly I hardly buy tuna now because of the mercury, but when I occasionally do, it's got to be Charlie the Tuna.

Guest's picture
Heidi

I wish our prices here in MT were that low. We pay at least $4.00 for a gallon of store brand milk... and this is at Wal-mart. I spend a lot of my time clipping coupons and planning around sales.

Guest's picture
Guest

I also live in the greater Tampa area and shop at Publix. The best way to get good prices at Publix (yes, they are expensive) is to stock up on the Buy-One-Get-One-Free deals while using 2 coupons. They will accept a coupon on the free item, so if you have 2 coupons for the same item (I buy 2 different Sunday papers) you can get good prices on the national brands.

Guest's picture
David

When we go food shopping, its definitely store brand for most of our stuff.

Aside from choosing store brand over name brand, if you live within a more populated area - chances are theres a few different stores in nearby towns. Compare the prices in each of these stores.

You will notice that each store, although the same store in name (in my case, Stop & Shop) varies greatly in price depending on where it is located. The more urbanly located stores are much cheaper than the more ritzy suburbs.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Thanks for stopping by to give input. This really is a great conversation Mary started.

Guest's picture
Leah

Myscha, I've found success at Sweetbay, which is Hannaford's remodeled Kash-n-Karry. I really like being able to pick up as much loose produce as I need (1 leek vs the 3 bundled at Publix- yes they will break packages but that means hunting down an employee). Both store brands of Sweetbay and Publix are good. Other supermarket names in Tampa: Fresh Market and Whole Foods/Wild Oats (higher end), a few Winn-Dixies, and maybe some Albertsons stores left, but I think many are being sold to Publix. Of course, SuperWalmart too. We are also getting a few Aldi stores soon. Hillsborough County is a major agricultural producer, so if you are interested in shopping locally you can try local farmers' markets (good ones I hear in St Pete, but I've never been) or farms. There is a publication called the Hillsborough Grown Consumer Directory that lists local farms and nurseries. You can see it at: http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/econdev/resources/onlineservices/hgcdi.... And, be sure to stop by the Florida State Fair in February and The Strawberry Festival in Plant City in March! Best wishes house hunting!

Julie Rains's picture

I have never gotten the hang of coupons esp. since I too love store brands. I buy coffee, oatmeal, cashews (these are way better than the branded brand), grape juice, mandarin oranges, frozen veggies, dairy products (milk, sour cream, cheese), taco dinners at Lowe's Foods; house wine at Whole Foods. I tried store brand peanut butter in college--once--but most things are fine.

Guest's picture

In addition to pointing out the value of the store brands I think your post also highlights the importance of having a price book so that you really know how much things cost at each store. I have mine stored in my phone and check it while I am shopping. More than once it has stopped me from buying something that seemed like a good deal.

Guest's picture
Kitty

Mary, thanks for the tip about storing prices in the cell phone! That never occurred to me. I've always had prices memorized for several different stores, so I notice when the price fluctuates at all. I try to buy mostly fresh or frozen, not canned or boxed, and as a result, have far fewer coupons, so I pay close attention to what goes on special each week. Unfortunately, here in the land of hurricanes, prices have gotten quite volatile.

I would kill for the milk prices y'all pay....a gallon of store brand milk at the cheapest non-Walmart (further away, so not good for quick trips) store is $4.99 a gallon. Store brand! Back to powdered milk for me. All dairy is expensive here, and more so in the past few years. Now produce, which had been at least acceptable, is through the roof. Last month, I paid $3.99 for a three-pound bag of apples, and thought it was expensive. I saw the same three pound bag yesterday...it was $7.99!!! And this is at the moderate-to-cheaply priced grocery store. Most of us lost most if not all the food in our refrigerators in one or both of the last two storms, so replacing it has been extra painful. Some, but by no means all, of our residents (not us, either) have received disaster food stamps to replace things they lost, but amounts were based on last month's prices. I'm afraid there are going to be some hungry people here soon.

Myscha Theriault's picture

Not to highjack the conversation, but I am digging all the input regarding Tampa area savings, particularly the agricultural production / farmers' market tip.

And I am also a Save-A-Lot fan and have been introduced to Sweet Bay. (Loving the fact they carry Hannaford store brand, as that is familiar to me.)

Kitty- I've been noticing outrageous produce prices as well. And we didn't even get slammed by those storms. You guys must really be getting hit in the wallet.

Guest's picture

In the UK Tesco and ASDA (WalMart) are the biggest supermarkets. I use Tesco as they are closest. Since July I have never bought any items outside of the Tesco store brand range - and they are all excellent.

I've bought cheese, pasta, pasta sauce, noodle, veg, coke, beer etc.

No issues, and very, very cheap.

Guest's picture

Mary,

As a mom of four (now adults) I'm a long-time comparison shopper, first with a quick glance through the competing sales ads that land in my mailbox, then a quick look at the coupons.

Quality is definitely a concern with store brands, and I've discovered which name brand items are superior. I'm not willing to sacrifice taste or clean clothes.

Here in So. California I'm fortunate to have access to a Costco, two WalMarts, 3 Trader Joe's, several major chains, several small grocery chains and wonderful farmers' markets. There are certain things I buy from each, and sometimes even on certain days.

One small grocery chain, Henri's, for example, has a Wednesday sale on produce, but their weekday sale overlaps and is still going on Wed. Their prices on produce almost always beat the big supermarket and they're fresher.

I've never been a great coupon user since the coupons are not usually for something I don't typically use, but many times require buying two or a larger quantity.

One important part of saving money on groceries that's seldom mentioned is how much time it costs to save that money. As an author,speaker, consultant and coach my time is very valuable, so I've on occasion paid more for an item that's in a store I'm passing rather than drive farther away or out of my way to save a dollar.

As Kitty points out, powdered versions of products are cost savers. One stringbean recipe I use calls for chicken broth. At one time I bought these in cans from Costco. On the surface it was a good buy, but the recipe only calls for 1 cup of the broth. Even the small cans of broth are more than a cup. I would refrigerate the rest to use later, but not having an immediate need again would forget it and end up throwing it away. Now I use the powdered chicken broth and I'm very happy that I use just what I need.

Spices have always been ridiculously high. Even though they are coming down somewhat, I found that mixing my own combinations was cheaper and tastier. Instead of buying the store's garlic pepper salt, I saved an empty spice jar and mixed my own.

Speaking of empty jars. I have to laugh at myself the day I considered buying storage jars for leftovers and realized that the empty spaghetti sauce jars are perfect for this. The word recylcing wasn't around when my mother was raising us, but she doing exactly that long ago.

Guest's picture
Guest

Maine's minimum milk prices are set by a board, and kept somewhat artificially low as a result. The dairies pay a fee to have this done.

Guest's picture
Tes

Here in PA, I like a lot of the Safeway "Organic" and "Eating Right" brands - they are very good quality - no HFCS or trans fats etc but I must say - I will pay *whatever* King Arthur charges for flour. I'm a baker and flour MATTERS, I wouldn't even buy Gold Medal let alone a store brand. Besides which I buy mostly whole wheat (or other specialty grains like whole cornmeal) which never come in store brands. I think what I'm saving in terms of cost and nutrition by baking my own bread, biscuits, cornbread, cakes, cookies etc more than makes up for the premium price.

Safeway's O (organic) brand of all natural peanut butter can't be beat along with their soymilk, frozen fruit & veggies and canned tomatoes.

BTW BJ's store brand of extra virgin olive oil is quite acceptable and every Traders Joe's store brand I ever tried was top notch.

Guest's picture
Ben

As an Australian, I have a different perspective on home/private label brands in the supermarket. My country has two dominant players in the supermarket industry. One company in particular uses all imported fruit from South Africa and Namibia in their private brand tinned fruit while local farmers are ripping up their orchards. Also this company pays the farmers supplying fresh fruit and vegetables a pittance while price gouging their customers at the same time.

One needs to consider more than just price when supermarket shopping.

Guest's picture
Mary

Aside from Hannaford and Shaw's, and yes, we do have a fairly new Whole Foods here in Maine, but I'd LOVE to have a Trader Joe's. HINT, HINT, corporate headquarters!

Guest's picture
Guest

Are you going to be adding more info on WiseBread?

Guest's picture

I'm with you. Store brands are the way to go with only a very few exceptions. I see a lot of people fill their carts with all national brands and don't really understand it. I guess they have more money to blow than I do.