Price check, please?!

These days everyone is shopping around for a bargain - but, is it really worth it? I had this and various other thoughts while planning a special meal for Mr. P - should I sales ad it, what about coupons, am I really going to go anywhere besides my favorite two stores anyways? So, I decided to find out for myself.

The plan:

Visit three stores with the shopping list for making a mostly-from-scratch special dinner, restocking my pantry, and getting ready for the following week. Points would be given for the best value and the best quality (individually) and taken away if a store did not have a product or an outrageous price.

The meal: Steak, bacon wrapped scallops, potato-leek-vegetable soup, wilted spinach bacon salad, Parmesan focaccia croutons with butterscotch pumpkin trifle and rum eggnog for dessert.

The grocery list:
Can of Pumpkin
5 lbs Russet Potatoes
1 lb bacon, packaged
Fresh Baguette
1 gallon of milk
1 dozen large eggs
Packaged cheddar
Sugar, 4 lbs
Oatmeal (Quick, pkgd)
Oatmeal (bulk)
Chicken Breasts
Ground Beef
Skirt Steak
Shrimp, 31-40
Pork Chops
Rotisserie Chicken

The grocery stores:

1. Kroger: Your regular, every day, double-coupon-Tuesday, main stream grocer.

2. Sprouts: Eco-friendly, responsible grocer who supports buying local and carries a great selection of organics, bulk and gluten free products. Phenominal customer service, everytime. Does not honor coupons, because most products are not from food producing mega chains like Green Giant or Prego.

3. Market Street: A higher end main stream grocer which seems close the gap between 1 & 2 by carrying both brand name products and some natural, organic-like options.

The findings:

First, the price difference between the three stores was not all too bad.... Kroger won out for cost only, while Sprouts was the most expense by $8.52 and $13.33. One reason is Kroger did not have bulk oatmeal or leeks (thereby not receiving a $ for these items, points lost too). Also, at Sprouts, a pound of bulk sugar and bacon cost about 3 - 4 times more than the other stores (points lost on both).

Second, when looking at quality, the three stores have marked differences. Market Street only received one point, and in hindsight, that point could have gone to Kroger too. Sprouts won due to their quality of vegetables, fresh bread, finer cuts of meats, cheese... plus they do not freeze their chicken or pork, the vegetables are not pesticide covered, and the cheese are not processed with preservatives and the like. Kroger got the main stream points: bacon, ground beef, milk, eggs... but not enough to win.

Third, I ran two charts to compare shopping strictly for value and then quality. When shopping for value, I would need to visit all three stores and would only save $1 from the original best value price.... which is spent in gas. When shopping for quality, I would visit two stores, and would only spend $3 more than the original best value price. As for the "points" I have been talking about. Over half of the quality points were lost when I tried to save $1 compared to spending the extra $3 and retaining the taste.

The conclusion:

Know your grocery stores. Unless you are cooking for ten or more on a nightly basis, I do not think it necessary to scour all three grocery stores every time you want to shop or cook a big meal. I do think it is a good idea to pick two which consistently offer reasonable prices on items you know you buy often, and compare between these two while keeping watch on the mail ads. And the "in between" store, ended up not providing the best quality or value... just a lot of hype.

Mostly, do not be afraid to buy a quality product. We noticed since we started buying quality bulk (cheddar, colby jack, monterrey, mozzarella) cheeses we use less because there is more flavor than in the pre-shredded generic products AND the cost is actually the same. Best of all when the gas prices went up we hardly noticed it because our grocer was selling more local

All in all, the meal was fabulous. We did some adding up in our head, and after shopping for value and quality, our two person meal, which cost about $30 to make (and could have easily served four for an extra $7.50) would have easily cost us $60 or more had we gone out to eat. Now all I need to do, is figure out what to do with all the remaining leek?! Suggestions anyone?

www.kroger.com (my second favorite, winner for value)
www.sprouts.com (my ALLTIME favorite, winner for quality)
www.marketstreetfrisco.com (blegh, don't believe the hype)

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