As part of one of my recent shopping trips, I continued what has become a semi-annual look at what I call the “market basket” – comparison shopping between the four major grocery stores here in the Salisbury area to determine pricing trends. The four contenders are Wal-Mart, Giant (a division of Ahold, based in the Netherlands), Super Fresh (part of the A&P grocery empire) and Food Lion. With the exception of Wal-Mart, these are all large regional chains.
If you look at the results from my recent trip, you’ll see that Wal-Mart continues to hold a healthy lead over its competition but the margin is slowly abating. Of the twenty grocery items I use to compare the stores, Wal-Mart tied for the worst with 11 price increases. It doesn’t seem as if they can drive down their suppliers anymore but at least many of the increases were fairly small. They do add up, however.
I’ve also added one item for comparison’s sake and will continue to check it as time progresses to see what effect is shown on food prices, that being the price of a gallon of gasoline at the station I generally use. On Sunday it was $3.419 but it’s jumped again this week. It does seem that the biggest culprit of price spikes in my October 2007 report – dairy products – have turned around a little bit but the pinch is being felt on a number of other grocery items because transportation costs affect almost every conceivable product.
Of course, mine is an inexact science because I use a fairly small sampling of items and stores as a study group. Originally it was based on a lot of items I purchased and since I don’t eat certain items as a rule, whole sections of the store aren’t accounted. Also there are times a store runs a large sale that just happens to include a number of my sample items and the discounts skew my results. (This is why I note which items were on sale on the week I did my shopping.)
Another trend I have noticed but I don’t account for is shrinking packaging – for example yogurt cups that used to be 8 ounces are now 6 ounces while the price remains constant. The other key change this time is in the detergent aisle, where many brands have gone to a concentrated 50 ounce size that has pretty much replaced the old 100 ounce bottle – again, the price stays fairly stable but the amount of product is reduced. This probably adds a point or two to the inflation rate but I can’t easily reflect this in my study.
Because I do a lot of my shopping at Wal-Mart, the increase in grocery prices has actually hit me harder than most. Those who frequent the other stores are still losing out in comparison but have managed to enjoy a more stable bill because of the other chains’ aggressive pricing.
On the whole, it’s no shock to see prices up across the board but having dairy products deflate slightly makes some difference. If you’d like to check out my older studies, here are April 2007, October 2006, and April 2006. Then you can see which groups of items have jumped the most in a two-year period.