Grocery costs vary widely from store to store

Eating healthy can be a challenge, as well as expensive when you are trying to shop for organic groceries. Do you know which stores have the best values in regular groceries and organic food products? We didn't, so interns at the Daily Planet went comparison shopping to find out the price for a bag of common grocery items from nine different grocery stores.

The stores included were: ALDI, Cub Foods, Lunds, Rainbow Foods, Seward Co-op, Target, Trader Joe’s, Wal-Mart, and Whole Foods Market. We looked at "regular" and organic foods. Almost all of Whole Foods, Trader Joes and the Seward Co-ops’ products were organic foods, so they were not included in the comparison for the bag of "regular" products.

Our first price comparison was for a bag of non-organic products at each store. We looked for the lowest price available for each product. Products included bread, milk, eggs, carrots, apples, peanut butter, spaghetti, canned green beans, canned tomatoes, chicken noodle soup, ground beef, and chicken.

What we found

Lunds and Target were the most expensive stores for regular products, within a few cents of each other. Cub was the third most expensive store for regular products. Rainbow and Wal-Mart were quite a bit less expensive and ALDI was the least expensive, with the same bag of groceries costing almost $10 dollars less at ALDI than at Lunds and Target.

Buying organic

Our next price comparison was for a bag of organic products at each store. ALDI does not carry any organic products, so they were left out of this comparison. The bag of organic products only included items that were available at all the stores.

The Seward neighborhood co-op was the most expensive place to buy all organic products. Rainbow, Lunds, Wal-Mart and Cub were all within a dollar of each other. Trader Joes and Target were slightly less expensive, but Whole Foods was the least expensive place to buy a bag of these organic items.

Organic products are more expensive than regular products at every store. Cub had the smallest price difference between regular and organic products – only about four dollars. A bag of organic products at Wal-Mart was more than twice as much as a bag of the same non-organic products. Organic products were almost twice as much at Lunds. Organic products were also more expensive at Target and at Rainbow, around five and eight dollars more, respectively.

• Do our findings track with your experience in grocery shopping?

• What are the non-price factors that you consider when shopping for groceries? Do you find quality differences between stores? Do you look for locally grown produce? Do you care about whether store employees belong to a union or get health insurance benefits?

• What strategies do you have for cutting grocery bills? Do you shop sales, use coupons, buy only certain foods?

Send us your thoughts, comments, opinions ... and we'll follow up in a future article.

[Research for this article was done by interns and volunteers including Ellen Frazel, Tim Lehman, Casey Merkwan, Ashely Siebels, and Mysti Strege.]

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I would be curious as well to see how suburban stores stack up in price these days to urban stores. It used to be mush cheaper to drive out to the suburbs to grocery shop than shop in the city stores..I hope that that has been fixed but I have not seen anyone study it.

Wal-Mart not even on the Radar

Thank you for running this article! I've often wondered what the price differences were between organic groceries at various stores in town. It is good to know that Whole Foods and Target have the best prices, as we typically end up at both of these chains periodically. There are, however, many other factors that influence my family's grocery shopping decisions. Of course, because I do care if store employees are allowed to belong to a union and receive health benefits, Wal-Mart is not even on my radar. I always suspected that the prices at local co-ops were higher, but we are still dedicated to shopping at ours (Eastside Co-op) as much as possible. Although we do need to save money - we are constantly in the red - it is very important to me that we eat locally-grown produce and locally-raised meat, as well as support the community-centered aspects of the co-op. In these difficult economic circumstances, I've noticed a rise in the number of urban families who have obtained permits from the city to raise their own chickens for both eggs and meat and, in one neighbor's case, quail - right in their yards! More and more of my friends and neighbors are interested in growing their own vegetables....victory gardens of a sort...both on their own land and at community garden plots. Also, there are a plethora of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) options through local farms, which can also save money if your family is dedicated to eating a lot of veggies (sometimes it works best to split a share between two can be a LOT of veggies). Believe me, I am not a purist when it comes to avoiding corporate retail operations, but I do think it is important to look into alternative options when considering the health and well-being of my family. My family benefits from a healthy community as much as from a healthy diet.

Grocery store comparisons

I've been writing about grocery stores for a while. Grocery shopping strictly by price can give some misleading results. Neither quality nor selection appear to have been considered. Aldi's is very inexpensive, but when I recently stopped at an Aldi's for mayonnaise (not a bizarre grocery item) I found only a suspicious concoction packaged like mayonnaise called "salad spread." Whatever the exact contents of this item were, the euphemism told me it wasn't what I was looking for and was almost certainly inferior. Much of their shelf stable selection is like this. I know that if I'm looking for produce, co-ops or Whole Foods will likely have it, usually of high quality, often at reasonable prices, but any shelf stable items will come at a premium. Target will be nearly the opposite -- the store is well suited to inexpensive, national brand shelf stable items, but the produce selection and quality is limited. Driving all over town looking for everything I need is not a reasonable option. I choose where I'll shop by the majority of items on my grocery list, and swallow hard and endure less than ideal circumstances for the rest.

Target is cheaper on 2 products I buy...

An 18 oz. box of Cheerios at Target is less than $3. I haven't found it cheaper anywhere else. Breyer's ice cream is more than a dollar cheaper at Target than anywhere else, and they often have it on sale for $3.00 or less. ANSWERS TO YOUR QUESTIONS: I don't know about other people, but I often figure out where something is priced the lowest and buy it there on a regular basis, and I stock up when something is on sale--for a good price (sometimes a sale price at a grocery store doesn't beat the regular price at another store). SUGGESTIONS: It would have been nice if your article had included the actual prices of the different foods instead of just the average, and mentioned whether they were brand name foods or not. There can be a lot of difference between the brand name and generic. I have also noticed price differences in between stores in cities and stores in suburbs, so it would have been nice if you had qualified your data with that information for the chain stores.

Another thing about differences between stores

(Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but...) Cub Foods stores are independently owned, so the prices and sales at one Cub Foods are not always the same as another Cub Foods. So it would have been useful to know which Cub Foods stores you went to for this article.

What's in a chain?

Cub's website says: "Cub Foods currently operates 73 stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois & Iowa, with 58 of those stores located in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area." But Cub is actually part of Supervalu, which includes ACME®, ALBERTSONS®, bigg's®, BRISTOL FARMS®, CUB®, FARM FRESH®, HORNBACHER'S®, JEWEL-OSCO®, SHAW'S/STAR MARKET®, SHOP ‘N SAVE® and SHOPPERS®.

Cub stores are partly corporate owned, and partly franchised

Some Cub locations are corporate-owned--meaning by the owner of the Cub name, SuperValu. But other locations are franchised, including all three Minneapolis stores, which are owned by Jerry's Foods. I believe the former Holiday Plus stores which are now Cubs may also be owned by Holiday and not SuperValu. At any rate, it does seem as if most prices are about the same at most locations regardless of the owner, although there are a few location-specific specials I have seen at the Lake Street and West Broadway/Lyndale stores that are not at other stores.

Aldi does have lower prices, but also lower selection, which is how they keep the prices low. Wal-Mart, on the other hand, relies on bullying workers and suppliers...

Cub Foods

Cub may be higher in your study, but I'm convinced that if you shop the sales and use their coupons, Cub has the bargains. This takes a little planning, and in a small household you need to use your freezer. Another advantage is that Cub can be a "one stop shop," Another advantage is that Cub seens to have more helpful employees. My local Rainbow's employees are often surly and unhelpful. From what I know, Cub has good employment practices and benefits. Aldi just doesn't have everything a household needs, and they are often out of advertised specials. They have brands that may or may not be as good as what's available in a regular grocery. PS I'm only a shopper, not a Cub employee or otherwise associated with the stores.

This article does not take

This article does not take into account issues of sustainability, support for local producers, fair trade & fair labor, etc. Not all organics are the same. The considerations presented here are shallow, unfair, and inaccurately represent price competitiveness between these stores. In essence the article might compare apples to apples, but does not compare locally grown fresh delicious apples whose purchase supports the local economy to apples from across the U.S. grown by a corperation with unfair labor practices that have been in storeage for months and have no flavor left. Nor does it compare the costs to the land of producing these items.