A friend and I recently did some comparison grocery shopping around Ithaca. We knew that stores had different reputations regarding cost, and we wanted to check our assumptions.
This started out as a simple curiosity quest, not a scientific study. But it quickly became complicated. What products would we choose? Would we include local, organic, bulk, ethnic, or sale foods? To keep things manageable, we took the simplest approach. We only looked at:
- basic American products
- at conventional large grocery stores
- in regular sizes, not on sale
- during one week in early spring
We started with this grocery list, and we also recorded store brand products when available.
- Peanut Butter Jiff 16oz.
- Bread, white sliced (Stroman/King) 22oz
- Ketchup (Heinz) 38oz
- Tomato sauce, (Ragu jar) 24oz
- Eggs (Egglands Best) 1 dozen large
- Milk half gallon 2% (Byrne, Meadowbrook)
- Ground Beef 80/20 per lb.
- Cheese, white cheddar (Heluva)
- Baked beans, Bush’s 28oz
- Cherrios, plain 12oz
- Butter, 1 lb Land of Lakes
- Bananas, 1 lb
- Coffee, (Folgers) 11.3oz
- Elbow mac. 1lb (Barilla)
Totaling all these products, here are the grand totals:
|Tops||Wegmans||Walmart||Tops Brand||Walmart Brand||Wegmans Brand||Aldi
We realize our approach is limited. Cost-conscious shoppers will pay attention to sales, buy certain items in bulk, or split their shopping between multiple stores to reduce costs.
Despite these limitations, what do you think? Do these observations surprise you?
For me, considering only product prices brings up uncomfortable issues. What practices are used to produce this food at such low prices? What are the labor wages and practices of these companies that allow them to keep prices so low? When we’re pinching pennies, how can we possibly consider labor, food production practices, and health? What’s the root of the inequality that forces some of us to consider every penny spent on groceries, while others can shop for whatever they wish?
Most importantly, this simple question –“Where are the cheapest groceries in Ithaca?”– does not answer the question: “Where should we get our food?”
Image credit: Photo by Stephen Ausmus, USDA ARS Image Gallery, Public Domain