Buying in Bulk: Wegmans vs. BJ's

I love a good challenge. Like trying to feed my family for a week with $100 or restricting myself from spending any money for seven long days or recently vowing to use at least one coupon every time I go shopping. So when Wegmans, the darling of grocery stores, challenged customers to shop there for bulk items rather than a club like BJ's or Costco, I had to bite.

The store listed on its Web site various bulk items that it could offer customers at better savings than a bulk food grocery store that requires an annual membership fee. I was dubious. So I headed to BJ's Alexandria store. And yes, Wegmans of Fairfax had better deals on the small sampling of bulk items that I checked against the prices at BJ's. In some cases, the savings were beyond a few pennies. But I also learned that Wegmans defines bulk a little differently than BJ's. Here's what I found:

The most dramatic price difference was a 40-pack of Capri Sun juice pouches that sells for $6.99 at Wegmans, while BJ's has the same box for a whole $2 more.

Wegmans wins in the diaper aisle even though its boxes had fewer diapers than what BJ's sells. So I compared the price per diaper, even pitting the two stores' generic brands of diapers against each other. Typically the more you buy, the more you save. But that wasn't the case with Wegmans' diapers. The store's smaller boxes of diapers were a better deal when you figured out how much you were spending per diaper versus BJ's prices. The biggest difference was Wegmans' generic box of 124 diapers that sold for $28.99 or about 23 cents per diaper and BJ's 128-box of generic diapers that sold for $39.49 or 31 cents per diaper. Wegmans also beat BJ's price on a box of 124 Pampers brand diapers by 50 cents. Not huge, but something.

Wegmans had a slightly better deal on Quaker Life cereal: A 62-ounce box sold for $5.99 versus BJ's price of $6.29. Even Wegmans' price on Kellogg's Frosted Mini Wheats cereal was slightly lower when I compared the price per ounce. Both stores had the same $5.89 price tag on a 82.5-ounce canister of Country Time Lemonade.

Aside from prices, shoppers should consider how much bulk they want. BJ's portions were significantly larger than what you'd find at Wegmans. Are you better off having 36 packs of Pop Tarts, which you'll find at Wegmans, or 48 of them, which is how they come at BJ's? Both stores, by the way, had similar prices on Pop Tarts. Do you prefer BJ's 48 packs of Ramen noodles versus Wegmans' pack of 24?

Do you get your bulk items at a grocery store or a shopping club? Who has the best deals on bulk foods? Do you go for the better price or the bigger box?

My next mission is Shoppers Food Warehouse's Double the Difference challenge. The store says its prices can beat out its competitors like Giant, which I crowned the cheapest grocery store a few months ago. They have challenged shoppers to buy at least $75 worth of food at a competing store, then go to Shoppers to buy those "identical" items. If you compare the receipts and find that the competitor has better prices, Shoppers will give you double the difference in price. So if you want to do this game with me, visit Shoppers' Web site to make sure you follow the rules. There are lots of them. Let me know how it goes by sending me an e-mail at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  October 23, 2008; 12:00 AM ET General Interest , Grocery Deals
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Comments

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I've found that I can save the most money if I can buy almost everything I need, in one store, at competitive prices, and not be tempted by things I don't need. I gave up on BJs when I realized that I was always spending way more than I did at the grocery store. I gave up on Wegmans when I realized that overall they were much more expensive than my regular store. So now I alternate between Shoppers and Walmart.

Posted by: jen | October 23, 2008 8:08 AM

Ramen noodles are really, really bad. So are Pop Tarts and.....

Posted by: Don't feed your family junk | October 23, 2008 9:55 AM

I adore Wegman's, their brand products are probably better that the name brands. They just have so much to offer and their prices are usually really good, though I typically only buy items on sale. I wish they had more stores in the area.

Posted by: CP in Wash DC | October 23, 2008 10:31 AM

I've never shopped at Wegman's, but do they take coupons? If so, that would defintely give them the one up on Costco.

Posted by: Emily | October 23, 2008 10:40 AM

But, how many people shopping at Wegman's leave with just the bulk items? (And I agree that a lot of what you've listed like pop tarts, juice drinks and ramen noodles are horrible things to feed anybody.) Many stores offer low prices on standard and/or bulk items only to make money on the higher mark-up of other, tempting items offered in the store - items that many can't seem to pass up. Most of Wegman's food and other items are expensive, and they easily make up the few cents or couple of dollars on the bulk items.

The 2 best ways to save money shopping are: 1) eat before you go shopping, and 2) make a list of your needed items and stick to it!

Posted by: TwoEvils | October 24, 2008 7:29 AM

Wegman's vs. BJ's? How inane. They're not the same. Wegmans is a complete grocery carrying all items, BJs cherrypicks a limited selection of items it offers. So, as several readers already pointed out, Wegman's may win on a few items, but this means little on your overall bill.

Location is also a big factor. The nearest Wegman's is so far we never think to go there.

By the way, we comparison priced BJs vs. Costco on items that we buy regularly in these warehouse stores. On many items the cost was exactly the same (which I find suspicious) but on those items where there was a difference, Costco was lower in every case.

Posted by: threeoaksgone | October 24, 2008 8:30 AM

I can't believe that Giant was chosen as the grocery store with the cheapest prices - the past six months their prices have gone up through the roof across the board. They might have been remodeling the stores to make them prettier but after 20 years I don't shop their anymore because of their prices. The groceries at Target are cheaper than Giant! I'm very disappointed with their increase in prices.

I find that the Wegmans brand is really good quality and an excellent deal. I love Trader Joes for healthy food and really low prices - and between them, Whole Foods and farmer's markets I keep up with fresh produce. The Whole Foods 365 brand is also very good quality at a low price. That store doesn't have to be "Whole Paycheck" if you shop wisely.

Posted by: tlee1 | October 24, 2008 9:05 AM

I used to belong to BJ's but the $45 membership fee didn't bring enough savings.

BJ's sent me a promo offer for 2 free months so I went back in this week. Not much in the way of deals compared to sales at my local ShopRite. A couple of examples:

Boneless pork chops - $2.69 lb at BJ's vs $1.99 at ShopRite

Boneless chicken breast - $3.49 at BJ's vs. $1.99 at ShopRite

Scott Bath Tissue - 30 rolls $18.99 at BJ's vs 20 rolls $9.99 at ShopRite

You need to find a lot of savings to make up for the membership fee.

Posted by: FauxReal | October 24, 2008 11:34 AM

I find that you have to do a little homework to save money at any store.

For overall savings, I find SuperFresh hard to beat, especially when they triple coupons up to 99 cents.

Everyday they double coupons to 99 cents and their Hartford Reserve and America's Choice private brands are the best quality at the best price.

And their Premium Gold Angus beef is the best supermarket beef line anywhere. You really have to shop the store that has the best weekly specials, redtag extended price reductions, double and triple coupons, figure in your gasoline cost, and convenience. For me, that's SuperFresh

Posted by: ziggyzippy | October 24, 2008 12:11 PM

I agree with Jen. Shop at one store, stick to your list.

You can easily burn through a few dollars difference between two stores with the extra gas and impulse purchases that creep in when you start going half a dozen different places.

For my particularly lifestyle -smaller quantities, a desire for some prepared foods - I find that Giant, particularly one of the larger ones, is a pretty good stop.

Posted by: RedBird27 | October 24, 2008 12:31 PM

We think Giant is the most expensive grocery store and has a terrible selection of items to choose from. We love BJ's because you can get so much and it will last so long for just two people. This keep us from going so often. I've never been to Wegmans and I believe there is one coming to Crofton soon so we will make a point to visit. We buy almost all our meat from BJ's and break it down in smaller portions to freeze. We buy produce and other items like cookies from Whole Foods or Safeway in regular size amounts. I think it's all about what works best per family and what's convenient. Driving across town to save a dollar or two at Superfresh or wherever isn't worth it for us when gas is so expensive.

Posted by: kimm2 | October 24, 2008 1:12 PM

I am not sure what generic diapers you were looking at but I have been buying generic diapers from BJs for the last 21 months (the only ones my son doesn't break out from) and they are 22.98 (close) and they are by Berkley & Jensen. Now Huggies & Pampers run $39.99 and up. I find that Costco had the higher prices than BJs but with all the stores (Costco, BJs, Sams) it all depends on what you are looking for cause some carry one thing and the other doesn't. My advice to shopping is to look at all adversements and than go out shopping. If I need bulk, I do the bulk stores, if not I do either Giant or Shoppers and only the SALE items. Nothing else.

Posted by: dawnhughes02 | October 24, 2008 1:56 PM

I love love love Wegmans. Not only do they have great prices, their deli is open late, great selection and guess what?? They have more than two check out lanes open at prime rush hour shopping times!!!

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this, but Safeway (which is the closest grocery store to me in all directions) has about 1 checker per ALL shoppers at any one given time. It's ridiculous. I go 20 minutes out of my way to Wegmans just to get better deals and a quicker and more enjoyable shopping experience.

Just my thoughts...

Posted by: charlotte7 | October 24, 2008 2:28 PM

Giant is cheapest? Yow. Don't think so. I find Shopper's to be much cheaper. When I shop at Shopper's (it's not near my house and not on my beaten path), and I check out, I compare what a similar basket of goods would cost me at Giant (where I often shop, for convenience) and Giant is always way more. Magruder's has good prices, too, but I can't buy a week's worth of produce there...I find that some things go bad after a day or two.

We shop at BJ's (mostly because it's convenient having Target and Walmart close by, and because I perceive it to be less crowded than Costco); their gas and milk prices are much lower than anyone else's (for members) but lately I haven't been impressed w/ their prices on some things (e.g. paper towels). We might drop that membership when it expires next year.

Wegman's is a nice store and has great meat & fish (not necessarily cheap, but nice). Awesome WNY hot dogs, too. But it's too far out of the way for us to shop at regularly; I don't think we'd save money there.

And if I ever do by Pop Tarts, it's one box, once a year or so as a treat -- if we bought stuff like that in bulk, we'd be total porkers!

Posted by: popcornvie | October 24, 2008 5:30 PM

Giant is the cheapest? Not from what I've seen. Did you notice that their "Low Price Every Day" campaign also means that it doesn't go on sale anymore? A lot of Giant's stuff - like cereal and crackers - is cheaper @Whole Foods, esp. things in WF's bulk bins.

To answer another commenter's question, yes Wegman's takes coupons, and last time I checked they'll double them up to 50 cents.

Posted by: mvm_ffx | October 24, 2008 9:22 PM

I am lucky enough that Wegman's in Fairfax and the Union Mill Giant about equal distance from my house. Wegman's prices on basic groceries are lower than the Giant and comparable to Shopper's. Wegman's price for a gallon of 2% is usually about 30 cents cheaper than the Giant. their produce is cheaper, better quality and last longer. Their bakery has it all over the Giant and Shoppers. Their store brand
is better than Giant or Shoppers. Wegman's poultry and especially their beed is cheaper and better quality than Shopper's or the Giant.

And where else can you get fresh never frozen shrimp from the US?

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | October 27, 2008 7:56 AM

Thanks everyone for such a lively debate on bulk food shopping. It sounds like I need to do another grocery store comparison. Just a few months ago Giant had the better prices but Shoppers Food Warehouse may be the lower one now.

-Tania Anderson
Shop To It

Posted by: ShopToIt | October 29, 2008 10:12 AM

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