Sorry SFW, Giant is Still Cheaper

A few weeks ago Shoppers Food Warehouse challenged customers to find a cheaper grocery store. They said they would reimburse customers double the difference in price if they found comparable lower-priced items at a different store. I've written several times in this blog about the best places to buy groceries and I crowned Giant Food the cheapest store in the region. Many of you disagreed, some stating that Shoppers was really the cheapest, especially since Giant's recent re-branding campaign. Some of you challenged the value of the shopping experience, saying Giant stores were less than pleasant. And many of you expressed love and loyalty for Wegmans and Trader Joe's.

In the interest of finding the lowest prices, I took the Shoppers challenge. I recently compared the prices of 15 items, which included juice, meat, crackers, fruit and vegetables, that I buy on a weekly basis for my family of four. I put Shoppers' prices against Giant's regular prices and against their loyalty card prices.

My conclusion: Shoppers is cheaper than Giant when comparing non-sale prices but not by much. I paid 99 cents more at Giant for my 15 items at regular prices than what I paid for the same exact items at Shoppers. But Giant beat out Shoppers, which touts that it doesn't need to offer a loyalty card, when you use Giant's BonusCard. My 15 items were more than $3 cheaper at Giant than at Shoppers because several of the items were on sale. Giant's card is the only way customers can take advantage of sale prices while Shoppers offers sale prices to everyone.

Loyalty cards aside, the average price difference between Shoppers and Giant was about 50 cents. The California Pizza Kitchen pizza and the Green Giant frozen vegetables that I regularly buy were both 50 cents cheaper at Shoppers. The Mott's juice I buy was 10 cents cheaper and a box of couscous was 36 cents cheaper at Shoppers. But Giant won when it came to Laura's lean meat, which was $5.69 per pound at Shoppers and on sale for $4.29 at Giant. Even Giant's regular price was lower, at $5.29. Shoppers' prices on strawberries, blueberries and melons were lower but usually by only a penny. But as I wrote recently, Shoppers does have the best deals on pet food.

I made two attempts to contact Supervalu, Shoppers' parent company, but they didn't return my phone call or e-mail.

Even though Giant's sale prices change every week and I can't guarantee that using the BonusCard will always get me a better deal, I will continue to shop at Giant. While there's no question that some Giant stores have seen better days, the one that I happen to go to is clean, bright and pleasant.

So, do you shop at either of these stores? How many stores do you travel to just to save a few pennies or bucks? Do we go one place to get pet food and then drive somewhere else to buy toilet paper and then make another stop for meats and vegetables? Gas prices have dropped but it's still expensive to fill up the tank. How are you saving money on groceries these days?

By the way, Veterans Day is coming up, which means lots of sales. Here are a few:

-Crate & Barrel Outlet stores have up to 70% off Thanksgiving goodies like cookware sets for $149, cookbooks for $4.95 and sets of three platters for $13.50.

-Nordstrom is having its half-yearly sale on women and kids items. That means 40% or more off clothes, shoes, handbags and accessories.

-In case you haven't heard, Linens 'n Things is going out of business and is trying to get rid of its inventory. All furniture, dinnerware, serverware, decorative accessories, quilts, coverlets and bedskirts are 30 percent off. All kitchen electrics, personal care electrics, vacuums and irons, glassware, lighting and storage are 20 percent off.

-JCPenney has marked down items in every department by 30 to 60% if you shop online and free shipping for orders more than $69. You can stop by the store on Saturday between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. for more sales and an extra 10% off sale prices.

By Tania Anderson |  November 6, 2008; 12:00 AM ET General Interest , Grocery Deals
Previous: Tuesday Tips: Layaway Plans | Next: A Love Affair With Wegmans Begins

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Over the past year I have been shopping at Walmart for consumables like bath tissue, paper towels, laundry detergent and cleaning supplies. Nearly all of my grocery spend is at Wegman's with 5-10% of fill-in (i.e., IT'S 9PM AND WE DON'T HAVE ANY MILK) at the Safeway up the street. I HATE this store beyond words, especially when you have someone with either 1) a full grocery cart trying to use the self-checkout or 2) a well-meaning parent trying to teach their toddler how to use the self-checkout.

If Wegman's is more expensive than other stores I doubt that it is by more than 5% and the quality of the shopping experience, coupled with the superior produce, meat, deli, prepared foods and seafood departments, far outweigh any cost differential. After shopping their nearly two years several of the managers know me by name (hard to do at the Safeway since managers change with the seasons - the store is that badly run).

Posted by: skipper7 | November 6, 2008 8:34 AM

I live in the Fair Lakes area of Fairfax County -- near the intersection of 50 and 7100 -- and we've got shopping options up the wazoo around here, all within just a few miles of my house.

So. I do a LOT of shopping at Giant because their prices really are good on many things. However, if I'm cooking something that requires special vegetables or fruits, I'll often go to Whole Foods or Wegman's. (Though I hate the design of Wegman's produce department. Unless you go there at 10 am on a weekday, it's inevitably clogged up with people's carts and it's hard to get to where you want to be.)

I sometimes shop at Bloom -- their prices are surprisingly good, often comparable to Giant's -- and they've got self-checkout, which I love.

For pet food, I hit Weber's Pet Food Supermarket in Chantilly -- but that's only because they sell the kind of cat food I prefer. It's expensive, but... hey, they're my little furry buddies. They deserve the best.

As for Safeway --- Blech!!! I truly cannot stand that store. Not only are their prices absurdly high (usually a full dollar higher for stuff like Morningstar Farms products), but they don't have self-checkout at my local store. What's up with that?? Like it's better to have to wait in line just so you can chat with the cashier? I don't think so. That store just makes me angry.

Target often has REALLY good prices on grocery items. Their breakfast cereal is a real deal. But, I don't usually buy groceries there unless I'm in the store for some other reason. Plus, a lot of their store brand foods are made in China and, quite honestly, that freaks me out a bit. Not that the Chinese aren't capable of making very good foods, but... well, you know. It's complicated.

At any rate, Giant is the place I do most of my shopping. They've got consistently good prices and they've got self-checkout. I like.


Posted by: RebeccaHartong | November 6, 2008 9:06 AM

I am similarly disappointed in the Safeway stores in this area. I am originally from the West coast and the Safeway stores there are beautiful with great prices. Here, not so much. I live in the District and bounce between stores. Giant's prices are great, but their produce in the District is shameful. Whole Foods has good produce, but prices make it painful to shop there regularly. And I can't find anyone who can sell me a tomato that has any flavor. I can't wait until May when my local farmer's market starts up again.

Posted by: endoftheorangeline | November 6, 2008 9:23 AM

I live in Reston, and I can say that for produce, the new Fresh World shop has the best prices. Not only do they have items you can't get at a regular grocery story (some of which I sadly can't even identify), the prices are regularly half what they charge at Giant. Seafood is similairly very much cheaper, and fresher to boot.

They do seem to make up for it by charging more for prepackaged items, dairy stuff, etc. So I split my shopping between fresh world and trader joes, which I find has the best prices on things like milk, bread, and cereal.

Posted by: floof | November 6, 2008 9:30 AM

I would also pick Giant over Safeway most days. Giant usually has better prices, and I like the layout of the store better (live in Crofton, MD). However, Safeway does have a better bakery for bread, so I'll go there for my sourdough addiction. The design of our local Shopper's Warehouse and Superfresh drive me crazy since it doesn't make much logical sense, and they both use open freezer cases, which are a ridiculous waste of energy. I'd shop at Bloom if it was closer than Giant. Not only does Bloom have decent prices and a good store layout, it just sells groceries, instead of lawn furniture, toys, etc. If I want that type of stuff, I'll go to Target, but in the grocery store it's just unnecesary clutter since they can't offer any selection. Having said all that, I'm counting the days until the planned Wegman's for the Crofton area is built. Having a Trader Joe's closer than Annapolis would be nice too, but I don't need a Whole Foods with the high prices and lack of mainstream packaged items. For the best prices on meat, I go to Costco once a month and load up the freezer.

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | November 6, 2008 9:44 AM

I alternate between Shoppers and Walmart. I can't stand Giant, and can't afford Safeway. I don't know how valuable an item to item comparison would be, as I generally buy based on what is on sale.

Posted by: jjtwo | November 6, 2008 9:45 AM

gypsyrom1,

If you want Asian groceries, try the new international food market on Route 2 north of Route 100 (turn right onto Americana Drive). It seems to be a mix of a Korean/Latino supermarket. Good seafood and lots of good fresh produce (sadly I can't identify about 1/2).

I may use this for more basic groceries as well. They just seem to have fresher produce and a larger selection of meat

Posted by: slackermom | November 6, 2008 10:21 AM

Thanks, Slackermom. I appreciate the tip, but Rt 100 is just too far to drive for groceries, Asian stuff or not. If I can't find an item I need for an interesting recipe I either substitute something or I just don't make it.

Posted by: gypsyrom1 | November 6, 2008 10:35 AM

I second the recommendation for visiting Asian grocery stores for fresh, inexpensive produce. I just wish there were one closer to me.
Some items I've found it is worth stocking up at Trader Joe's, when I'm going in that direction anyway. My almond milk is $1.69 at TJ, compared to $3.99 at Harris Teeter's.
When I've run in for a quick something at Bloom, it is surprisingly expensive ($5 for milk!?!). The folks at our local Giant are just too surly for me, so I go a couple miles down the road to the Harris Teeter. If I stick to their sale items, I often save $10-20 off my weekly grocery bill.

Posted by: library2 | November 6, 2008 1:49 PM

I am still surprised by the Giant comparison.

I compare front pages of circulars from SuperFresh and Giant every week, and SuperFresh consistantly offers lower prices on sale items.

This week they are offering triple coupons through store closing this evening. I got several items for free and Campbells Select Harvest soups for 50 cents each.

For me, using coupons frequently and shopping the specials and store brands is definitely the way to go.

Posted by: ziggyzippy | November 6, 2008 3:19 PM

I don't know if you guys have Kroger up there, but when they are overstocked with something, those managers go whole-hog and cut prices by 50 percent and more. Boursin, my favorite cheese, for $1. Tropicana Raspberry Lemonade half gallon, 50 cents. 8 oz. bag of coffee beans, $1. Granted, then I go around and get the things I really need: the veggies and bread, and they're a bit higher than Walmart, but Walmart never has sales on good stuff, just pastries. And I hate Walmart pastries, too much corn syrup.

By the way, I've been drinking Oak Leaf Chardonnay and Bay Bridge Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. All good, all sell for $3 or less per bottle. Why? They're all made by Gallo. But who cares? They're totally drinkable and I doubt if your guests would notice. Just don't show them the rubber corks.

Posted by: UsedToBeGOP | November 6, 2008 10:55 PM

GAS IS AT $1.99 PER GALLON IN HARRISONBURG, VIRGINIA TODAY. Wish I hadn't filled up my 1000 gallon heating oil tank during the summer when it was $3.70 a gallon.

Posted by: UsedToBeGOP | November 6, 2008 11:02 PM

It is surprising that the Giant is cheaper. It seems like we have to go to multiple stores to find all the brands we like for the prices we want. I hate that. I guess that is why Walmart is doing well with the one stop shopping idea. Even a shopping trip to Costco costs me more in the end (too many temptations). I missed getting in on the furniture blog and want to put a shout out for Consignment Furniture Gallery in Beltsville Maryland. www.antiques2new.com. Great stuff and great deals.

Posted by: ybuynew | November 7, 2008 12:54 PM

If you want a better deal at SFW, go to a different SFW. I went to one in Herndon to pick up a couple of items. EVERYTHING as more expensive than their Centreville location. Soda that was $1.25 a bottle was now $1.75. Roast beef which was $7.99/lb in Centreville was now $12.99/lb (same stuff) and the inconsistencies in pricing made me wonder. I found it cheaper to buy 10 small packages than one large one. Got more for my money.

I've give up on SFW. For me it's Bloom and an occasional trip to Wegman's, but only if they really do lower their prices. They've, for years, banked on the ambience to keep people coming, but now people are paying attention to the pricing (seriously, roast beef should never be more than $7.99/lb, yet Wegmans has been over $9.99/lb since 2001 when I was first introduced to them in NY).

Posted by: dj1123 | November 11, 2008 3:23 PM

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