retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Consumer Reports has released its survey of the best national and regional grocery chains, and concluded that the best supermarket chain in the country is Wegmans, followed by Trader Joe’s, Publix, Raley's, Harris Teeter, Fareway, Costco, Whole Foods Market, Market Basket, WinCo Foods, and Stater Bros.

According to a statement released by Consumer Reports, “Overall, grocers earned higher marks than in CR's last supermarket survey (2005) for service, checkout speed, quality of store brands, baked goods, and produce. But finding the perfect store was difficult. The few chains that were spotless, offered standout meat and produce, and had helpful and friendly staff and quick checkout earned only average scores for price, at best.

“The survey found it's hard to find the perfect store. Respondents found Trader Joe's, Costco, Market Basket, WinCo, Aldi, and Sav-a-Lot, to be better than others at offering low prices. Wegmans and Whole Foods offered praiseworthy meat and produce and Wegmans, Trader Joes and Raley's earned high marks for service. On the other hand, the least expensive markets generally offered so-so perishables and service.”

Walmart ranked near the bottom of the Consumer Reports list, with low scores for fresh foods and service.

Consumer Reports also suggested how shoppers can save money at the supermarket…and in doing so, revealed some criticisms of how supermarkets do business:

• “Supermarkets are in the real-estate business, and prime selling space includes the middle or eye-level shelving. Vendors sometimes pay retailers hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in slotting fees to take on new products or display products prominently. Check whether similar products on top or bottom shelves are less expensive.”

• “Many sales tempt you to buy more than one bag or box -- by touting, for example, four boxes of cake mix for $5. But rarely are you required to buy all four to get the discount. Retailers are just planting a number in your head, hoping you'll buy a lot.”

• “Some produce is much cheaper by the bag than by the pound. One ShopRite location recently offered a 5-pound sack of potatoes for $2.99, compared with 99 cents per pound for loose ones in a bin. If the product has a long shelf life, bagged produce is a better buy, unless, of course, the only alternative is the 20-pound behemoth.”

• “Organic means expensive, so buy organic versions of produce that's most likely to harbor pesticides when grown conventionally, such as peaches, strawberries, and bell peppers. Organic meats and dairy foods might be worthwhile but not ‘organic’ seafood because standards aren't in place.

• “More and more supermarkets sell store-made baked goods, often for less than the commercial alternatives. At ShopRite, six hot-from-the-oven rolls cost $1.99; a packaged half-dozen from Freihofer's cost $3.19.”

KC's View:
It is interesting to see the range of supermarkets represented in the top ten…especially when Wegmans and Winco can be on the same list. Couldn’t be two more different chains, but they both speak to the 2009 shopper in unique ways that tap into their psyches.