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Cheapest Supermarket Chains

Which Supermarket Truly Has the Best Deals?

All of us have our go-to grocery stores, but what stores have the best prices? We did a comparison shopping test with Whole Foods, Target, Costco, Trader Joe's, and local supermarket United Way — all of which are located in San Francisco. While we expected some of the results, we were definitely surprised by others.

Ground Rules

  • We went with the cheapest products, which is almost always the store brand.
  • We only compared items that are similar.
  • We picked items that you'd see on a regular grocery list.
  • To keep the prices standard, we took the weight of the item and calculated the unit prices.
  • With Safeway, we factored in the member discount, because we assume that's the price most people will pay for the items since the membership is free.
  • Some stores only had organic versions of the item, and in those cases, we went with the organic versions.
  • We added up the unit prices of the items and used the result as our grocery bill total.

We created this neat chart below for you to easily see the results of our findings. The boxes that are highlighted in green are the cheapest items, and the boxes that are highlighted in red are the most expensive options.

Key Findings

  • Costco beat out every store in terms of the total grocery bill, while Whole Foods was by far the most expensive. The total for Whole Foods was actually 87 percent more expensive than Costco.
  • The next cheapest supermarket was Target followed very closely by Trader Joe's. You can even say that these two stores were neck and neck because the total for Target was $40.71, while the total for Trader Joe's was $41.01 — a price difference of 30 cents.

The Surprises

  • Trader Joe's had the cheapest olive oil — one cent cheaper than Costco, while the olive oil in the rest of the grocery stores cost more than double that.
  • Ground coffee was the most expensive at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and it was the item that really drove up the total costs.
  • Trader Joe's had the highest price on chicken breast — even costlier than Whole Foods.
  • Safeway had the most expensive eggs and olive oil.
  • Whole Foods did not have the most expensive brown eggs and peanut butter. It had the third cheapest price for both items and had lower prices than Trader Joe's in those categories.

What Does This Mean?

It's really up to each individual's shopping needs and preferences. Although Costco was the clear winner, it may not make sense for the solo shopper to buy in bulk — it's going to take up a lot of space at home and some of the food may perish before the individual manages to consume it.

Whole Foods definitely lives up to its nickname of "Whole Paychecks," but the supermarket brands itself differently than the others and touts a bigger emphasis on organic and healthy foods. However, Trader Joe's brands itself in a similar way but with lower prices (here's how it's able to sell affordable goods). Although Target was the second cheapest grocery store, keep in mind that its selection tends to be much smaller than the others and that it may not have the freshest options.

All in all, there are pros and cons to every store, and to really save, perhaps you can shop for certain items at certain stores if it's feasible and convenient for you.
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