Monday, June 18, 2007

Grocery Musings

Recently we moved to Charlottetown and with that comes a myriad of new expenses. Food is obviously one of the more important ones and as anyone that has moved before knows, that first few weeks of groceries can get pretty expensive.

With that in mind, I made up a shopping list of items we would need for our first foray back into the supermarket scene. Once I had the list, I decided to go through it at each of the two main supermarkets, The Atlantic Superstore and Sobeys to see which place had the cheaper product. This was done prior to actually going out to purchase items so there is an extra travel cost associated with doing this. As well, it takes a long time if you have a big list. I spend about an hour at each place finding items as well as calculating their unit cost.

I found that around 75% of the items on my list were cheaper at Superstore, while the remainder was less pricey at Sobeys. There seemed to be a general trend that the items that we needed which required freezing or refrigeration such as frozen veggies, extra lean ground beef, and margarine, were cheaper at Sobeys. Staple items such as canned goods, fresh produce, and toiletries could be found at lower cost at Superstore.

Naysayers to this method may state that their time is too valuable to be doing this every time you go shopping. Well to save a trip the following week, we went to Superstore first, priced our new list there and the following day went to Sobeys, priced items and purchased them at the same time if they were cheaper. However, this run we noticed that no items on our list were cheaper at Sobeys, so back to Superstore for us.

As well, despite taking time and effort to determine the location of cheaper goods, that time is only overhead for the first few months at most. Once you've done that and collected a good database of information about the prices of items you regularly buy, then a simple comparison of grocery list vs. spreadsheet can tell you where to go. So over the long run, you will save money and time.

Some additional points should be mentioned. In addition to the basic cost of goods, both stores have flyers every week that should be looked at and factored in to where you will shop. Both stores also have reward plans for shopping: Superstore has PC points and Sobeys has Air Miles. Both points can be redeemed for merchandise other than groceries, though with Air Miles the selection is much broader. If these plans would influence where you shop, make sure you pick the one that makes the most sense for you.

In closing, I'm still on the fence about doing price checks again as it does take a fair bit of time and I haven't convinced myself that the potential savings are worth it. As well I can say one thing for sure: If you are shopping at Superstore, you are probably already saving money. I say probably because the amount of items that are more expensive is so low, that the savings you generate from other items outweigh their extra cost or at least break even.


schaef said...

I hate to divert from the serious tone of the post, but does anyone remember the supposed savings Sam made through buying 4 litre jugs of milk over 3 litre jugs of milk? Wasn't it something stupid like one penny for every 42 jugs, or something like that?

As for the post subject, this is one of the main reasons I buy as much stuff from CostCo as possible when it comes to groceries. Keep in mind that CostCo isn't a replacement for the grocery store, so I still need to get most specialty items (e.g. different flavors of mustard) elsewhere.

It's too bad grocery chains don't provide prices for everything online, so that you could figure out things from home and save the environment from the extra carbon emissions.

/and that's if I order them today... which I won't

Cheeseburger said...

I agree with Sam in the milk department. Despite the small difference in price, you are saving money. Plus since he does drink it all and none goes to waste, he's helping the environment because there is less packaging with 3 4L containers than 4 3L ones.

That being said, right now 3 1L bags are cheaper than the 4L jug so that's what Sam is getting. This is obviously worse for the environment though as I do not believe the bags can be recycled.

I would like it if they had a bulk store like Costco around these parts as it would make some things much more cost effective. I think the bridge crossing plus gas would make traveling to the mainland for savings would be a moot point.

Props to the grocery store chains though for providing the unit price of items right on the sticker next to the main one. It's in small print but you can usually find it. This makes decisions very quick as to what is the cheapest purchase. And it's not always in the biggest container (ie. Parmesan Cheese)

Scholarly Warrior said...

Rewards like Air Miles are such a joke.

/he asked me if I wanted honey mustard and I almost took a swing at him

Doug said...

Can we go back to that moot point?

Sam Arsenault said...

For the record here is my milk buying logic:

Milk is usually pennies cheaper in bags than jugs or cartons. This is presumably because the bags would cost less to produce?

The bags actually are recyclable through waste watch BUT they expect you to rinse them out first with water, and who wants to do that. I will admit I more often than not just dump 'em in the waste. In charlottetown they get burned to heat UPEI, the hospital, and other buildings (and air condition some of these buildings in the summer time) so there is still some environmental benefit to throwing them out, i.e. avoided burning of other oil sources.

In the field of financial planning I'll throw John a bone to chew on - "Dental Insurance.... savings or losings?"

(As a grad student at Waterloo I'm forced to buy into a group dental plan unless I'm covered by another plan which this year I am, but imagine I was running my own company (small business) and had to decide wether or not to buy dental insurance.)

schaef said...

It's true that a major weak point to recycling, and environmentally sound life choices in general, is that it requires will power and more physical effort then simply throwing something in the trash. And seeing as a large portion of the public consists of lazy assholes, things are unlikely to change without some system of fines or threat of physical harm. I believe I only needed to be told once to rinse out my milk containers, but I could be wrong...

/well it isn't just saying "no, it isn't"