Editor’s Note: These prices are before tax and current as of Sept. 11.
As a health-conscious town full of people on a college budget, grocery shopping can be difficult to say the least.
What stores sell organic products? Who has the cheapest organic products? Where can you get the cheapest groceries? What’s the best one-stop-shop? And it worth it to spend extra gas and time to go to more than one place? That’s what I set out to find in this experiment.
The experiment was simple. I created a grocery list and shopped for the same items at four stores: Walmart, King Soopers, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s. I found the cheapest, mostly organic version of the list. Then I found the cheapest, processed version of the list. I did this at each store, and recorded the data.
Prices vary day-to-day, so your ticket may be slightly different than mine was on the day I went shopping, but here is what I learned:
What I shopped for:
- 5 fruits: apples, grapes, bananas, oranges and strawberries
- 5 vegetables: potatoes, tomatos, onions, carrots and spinach
- Bread (Standard non-bakery loaf)
- Eggs (Dozen large)
- Milk (1 gallon)
- Cheese (8oz)
- Cookies (11-16oz)
- Cereal (10.5-16.5oz)
- Tortillas (at least 12 large or 20 small)
- Macaroni and cheese (6.5-8oz)
- C0ffee (9-13 oz)
- Pasta (1 lb)
- Pasta sauce (20-260z)
- One pound of beef (90% lean or better)
- One pound of chicken
- One pound of fish
That’s 24 items I shopped for in organic and processed form, making 48 items total.
Walmart had the cheapest processed food. My bill was $42.39. Oranges were almost 20 cents less a pound at Walmart than the other stores. They also had the lowest priced, non-organic beef, fish and spinach.
The organic is difficult at Walmart. They only had 10 of the grocery items available in organic, as opposed to at least 20 in each of the other three stores. The cheapest “organic” diet at Walmart is still pretty processed and costs about $56.19.
If you include sales, King Soopers came in the cheapest at $40.53 for the processed diet. Not including sales, King Soopers finished second for a processed diet at $48.86. This included the cheapest price for the non-organic version of grapes.
Unlike Walmart, King Soopers can say they provide an organic diet. They’re missing only two of the items in organic form, but they had the cheapest organic grapes, bread, cookies and cereal. One of the missing items, fish, wasn’t available as fresh or organic. So an organic diet with regular substitutions of spinach and fish equaled out to $80.18, which falls almost exactly in the middle of what Sprouts and Trader Joe’s offers.
Sprouts comes out looking the worst in this study considering the final prices, but this store represent the best example of why people might shop around. They came in the highest for total pricing on both the most natural and least natural diets at $92.06 and $54.32 but accounted for nine of the cheapest items.
However, Sprouts would have 13 of the cheapest items if we included sales, which is important because King Soopers and Sprouts have sales every week. Trader Joe’s always has “the same prices,” according to customer service representative Lora Reilman, and Walmart had no sale prices lowered than their usual cheapest price.
Trader Joe’s comes out of this looking like the place to shop if you want to have the least processed diet and only shop at one store. While they had less organic items (20) than King Soopers (22) and Sprouts (22), it came in far less expensive than both at $70.67. While it’s missing a couple items, it’s a decent price for a fully organic diet. Trader Joe’s had 13 of the 24 cheapest organic items and seven of the 24 cheapest non-organic items.
Trader Joe’s was comparable to King Sooper’s cheapest processed items at $50.53 and well below Sprout’s $58.41. For what it’s worth, Trader Joe’s mostly carries its own products and guarantees that any Trader Joe’s product has no GMO’s, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, MSG or trans fat, but it’s clear that no one is approaching Walmart’s $40.53 for a non-organic diet.
If you’re shopping for one and don’t care about what’s in your food, then you might as well go to Walmart for these items. Even if we included sales prices, visting all four stores would only save you roughly $7 in groceries, but it would cost you in gas and time.
Remember to check sales. If King Soopers has produce on sale then it should be marginally cheaper to go there.
Where you shop for organics makes more of a difference, but the results say Trader Joes is where you should start. The lowest priced organic diet you could put together from all four stores would be $70.46. To add in the organics from other stores, you’d need to make your least processed Trader Joes’s list fully organic, and it would only cost $73.79. That’s about $20 less than Sprouts and $8 less than King Soopers.
Collegian reporter Mack Beaulieu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @Macknz_James.