Cheapest Grocery Store Comparison

by Mike Holman

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I’ve heard from many people that certain grocery stores are much cheaper than other ones. Loblaws in particular is usually named as one of the more expensive ones whereas No Frills is considered one of the cheapest. I’ve always been doubtful that there is a huge difference between stores but since I’ve never compared prices before I didn’t really know. Our average grocery bill for this year is $591 per month so it’s worth seeing if we can save a bit. We shop exclusively at Loblaws because it’s the most convenient store from my house although there is a Price Choppers which is almost as convenient. Food Basics and No Frills are not too far but much less convenient.

Which grocery store is the cheapest?

After reading about various other bloggers reducing their food bill,I decided to carry out some research of my own. I planned to do a price comparison of the four nearby grocery stores using a basket of goods made of up items which our family buys regularly. What I want to see is if there really is a big difference between Loblaws and the other stores and also to see where the best prices are for various items since the cheapest goods probably won’t all be at the same store.

Cheapest grocery store experiment

To perform the experiment I found an old notebook which I could use to write down the data and then set off to the various grocery stores with wife & son in tow. First stop was Price Choppers – since I didn’t have a list of items yet I wandered around and just wrote down items and prices of goods that I know we buy frequently since I figured they should make up a significant part of the food bill. I only wanted to make a sample list, it would be too much work to compare every item we buy over the course of several months. I ended up with a list of 24 items including all the normal staples. Next stop was Loblaws, followed by Food Basics and then No Frills.

You’ll notice in the spreadsheet below that I’ve used a multiplier on all the items to try to estimate how many of that particular item we use in a month. This was done to try to create a proportional basket of goods, based on market capitalization if you will.

Cheapest groceries result

The results were quite interesting. Loblaws was indeed the most expensive but not by a whole lot. Food Basics was 5% cheaper than Loblaws and Price Choppers was 10% cheaper than Loblaws, No Frills was the cheapest at 16% less. Some of the items had huge discrepancies in price while other items were priced similarly at all the stores.

The other basket of goods I created was to add up all the cheapest prices for each item. This basket which would require a lot more effort since it would involve shopping at all four stores, priced in at 20% cheaper than Loblaws which is a significant savings.

Now that we’ve seen the results from this experiment we will definitely make the effort to buy items where they are the cheapest. It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to save the full 20% saving that we could achieve by only buying the cheapest item at all four stores, but I’m hoping that we can save somewhere between 5-10% off our bill without having to go through a lot of extra effort. The spreadsheet with all the data is linked below.

Other ways to save money on groceries are:

  1. Cut down on wastage. This is hard to do but by keeping the fridge clean and looking around in it once in a while you should be able to keep wastage to a minimum.
  2. Buy cheese blocks instead of slices. I love cheese slices but I compared the prices of some recent purchases and it was $1.29 per 100g of block cheese vs $2.09/100g of sliced – 62% more! I think if we can buy a block then slice it up and store in tupperware in the fridge it will still be pretty convenient to use.
  3. Watch the packaging – those squeeze bottles of ketchup, mustard and mayo are apparently more expensive than the regular containers.

If you have any other suggestions for me then I’d love to hear them!

Shopping Experiment Spreadsheet

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 moneygardener

I’ve always found Price Chopper to be significantly less than Zehrs/A&P/Sobeys.

My tip though it to buy some items at Costco, where you will find prices on many items that can not be touched by any traditional grocery store. Some items you must buy in bulk, however other items like Milk, cream, and bread are just plain less expensive.

Costco is awesome for so many reasons, but what first attracts one to the store is the food prices.

2 FourPillars

Thanks MG. I’ve thought about looking into Costco at some point but shopping there would involve a big lifestyle change since there isn’t a Costco anywhere near where we live and there is a Loblaws less than 5 minutes walk away.

Mike

3 moneygardener

A little off topic – but the most obvious money saving tip I have come across lately is regarding Listerine. If you like to use Listerine, which is suppose to be very good for your gums and oral health, buy the store brand instead. If you look at the active ingredients they are identical, whereas Listerine is about $5.50 and the store brand will be about $2.25.

4 Canadian Capitalist

Good post. You’ve done painstaking research :) I shop for produce at a local store and find the prices to be cheaper than your list. But then, I have to drop into another store to pick up other groceries.

I’ll second MG’s opinion on Costco. On some items, the prices just cannot be beat, esp. with the weekly coupons.

I disagree with MG’s opinion on mouthwash. I’ve tried store brands twice on mouthwash and both times I used it once and threw the bottle away. I prefer Scope purchased at Costco!

5 FourPillars

It was actually a fun experience although by the fourth store, the novelty had worn off.

I’ll have to try to sneak into Costco and maybe continue the experiment there.

Mike

6 Mr. Cheap

Great post, thanks for the link! I think that a combination of adjusting where you buy and what you eat (prepared foods can be quite pricey, store brands can be a real savings, etc) you really can significantly cut down on the price of food.

7 moneygardener

Not to be a stickler, but Listerine is actually different from ‘Scope’ type mouth wash. Listerine is an antimicrobial mouthwash, as opposed to Scope which is more of a breath freshner and does not have the dental endorsements regarding preventing gingivitis etc. (I’m not a dentist)

8 Riscario Insider

Do consider Costco, Mike. They offer excellent quality at fair prices. Their own Kirkland brand is terrific (not sure if they make mouthwash). Items like cheese are well-priced as is maple syrup ($10 for 1L). Also, they have free samples if you go at the right times (fund for kids). There are organic products too.

That’s just the food. They do sell other products too ;)

You may find Costco plus another store will satisfy most of your grocery needs. For fresh produce, ethnic markets are an excellent choice. My wife came home with 4 bags of loot plus a bag of potatoes. The price? $15.

9 FourPillars

Hi Riscario – I will check out Costco – maybe I’ll head over there around dinner time :)

Mike

10 Faisal Moledina

I think that there are some other variables that need to be considered. Certain items on your list, including peppers and tomatoes, come from a variety of sources. At the risk of sounding snobbish, I don’t like buying things like fruit and vegetables at Food Basics or No Frills. I’ve found fresher fruits at the Loblaws-style stores (including Superstore). Even a farmer’s market is a great choice in summer.

Now, a study that priced in the relative quality of such groceries purchased from different locations would be very interesting indeed!

11 FourPillars

Thanks for the comment Faisal. The quality of produce can certainly vary from store to store and the different seasons make a difference too.

The farmer’s market that I go to has very high quality food.

I think the great grocery store experiment is over as far as I’m concerned but if you want to do a quality test and let me know the results, I’d be happy to publish them!!

Mike

12 LizardLarry

If you also want more opportunities to save more on a daily basis include looking at saving money on items you use on a daily basis like shampoo, soap, cleaners etc. Try switching to generic brands/no name brands and buy in bulk or stock up when the items are on sale. The last thing you want to do is get caught buying things on impulse at the grocery store…like I need that Pantene shampoo. You can blow your savings out the door. I would also consider planning your trips carefully there is no point wasting gas to chase something down at another store just to save 50cents when it would probably cost you more in gas.

13 FourPillars

Good point Larry, planning is definitely an essential ingredient in order to save money on the grocery bill.

Mike

14 Gean Oliveira

I always shop at No Frills. Regarding the fresh vegetables/fruits really depends the day you go to buy them. I always go during the week and I always find them fresh. Regarding Costco, as I’m buying at No Frills I don’t find a lot of prices atractives at all.

Another thing that you need to consider at Costco is the membership fee. I’ve got mine last year with a promotion and paid only $25/year.

15 Four Pillars

Thanks for the comment Gean.

Mike

16 GrocerySavings

Great experiment and kudos to you for making an effort to save on groceries. Many people have mentioned Costco, I think Costco is a good place to shop only if you’re feeding a big family.
Buying in bulk will allow you pay less per unit but is it actually cheaper if you can’t use it all up? There have been times where I’ve had to waste food and in these cases I would have been better off buying a smaller portion at a higher
unit price.

With recent grocery price spikes, I think everybody is quite concerned about how much they spend on groceries. Even though most of us are concerned, I believe that we don’t make a solid effort in trying to save on money on groceries because it can take too much time and effort to find the best prices. How many people actually write down the prices of their groceries so that they can compare prices in the future?

The essential ingredients to saving money on groceries are knowledge and planning. Needless to say, a sufficient amount of effort is required for this. I’ve created a website, Grocerysavings.ca, in an effort to reduce the amount of manual labour and time associated to finding the cheapest grocery prices. The site will assist you in gathering knowledge and planning – you can find printable coupons, compare grocery flyer prices, quickly make a shopping list to take to the store, and use the price book to compare current prices to past prices.

Your experiment was essentially creating a price book, why not expand it to a much broader scale by using the power of the Internet to unite our knowledge of grocery prices. If we all combined our personal price books, we can create a global price book where each individual can contribute a little but reap the great benefits of viewing everybody’s prices. I’ve started an online grocery price book project, if you’re interested you can join me here http://grocerysavings.ca/onlinepricebook.asp

Someone mentioned that the cost of gas to go to multiple grocery stores may offset the savings
you save at the stores. This is a good point and you should also consider how much time this would take. Frugal grocery shopping is a personal preference, some may think it’s worthwhile to go to multiples stores in order
to maximize the savings while other’s may not. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to shop, but shoppers should have the proper knowledge in order to make an informed decision that fits each individual’s need. If you plan ahead, you will know how much you can save and can also calculate how much gas it will cost you for a round trip to all the different stores. I’ve created a Google map listing the grocery stores in Ontario so you can map out
your grocery route and see how much gas it will cost you.

17 Pat

I appreciate the research, that will really help me figure out where to go as our grocery bills are out of control. I was wondering though, if you had ever looked into the Walmart Supercentre stores. I have heard they are really cheap for groceries but I don’t know if it would compare to NoFrills. Have you ever checked out the prices there?

18 Four Pillars

Hi Patti – I haven’t checked out Walmart – there isn’t one close to where I live.

19 Jim

I have a few selected items that I purchase in larger quantities, when i can. I do not drive to stores, but i do a l0t of walking, biking when the snow is gone. I have done extensive price checks on most of the grocery stores in Thunder Bay. Very important to check the flyers, as one can save 50 % sometimes, then again, one store will always have at least one item much cheaper than the rest. What I need to do is build a comparitive website, showing where the consumer can find the best price on each given day. Not on EVERYTHING, but on your food essentials. It pays to travel (cycle) a mile out of your way to save $5.00 on an item. I’m not just a cheapo, I am frugal and very money conscious. Someday, a site will exist where you type in your grocery article, and the best price in town will show its ‘special’. This will of course be dependant on the consumer watchdogs, and perhaps even the store personnel to improve their sales. I love to save money, rather than buying at a convenient location.

20 Steve Zussino

I have a website, http://www.groceryalerts.ca (shows new specials at grocery stores across Canada). It summarizes the latest flyers each week and post top deals from the major grocery stores . The entire website is free and we even have printable coupons organized by categories (Baby, Beauty, Health, Grocery) so they are easy to find.

We are solely a Canadian website and we only feature Canadian content – this is important to us.

21 CF

No Frills recently opened up a store 10 blocks and a bit from my house and it has done wonders for my grocery budget. Saving more on staples means I have more money to buy “treats” like organic apples instead of regular or nice bread from the farmers market. :)

It saves me one car trip per month because now I can walk there. And, conveniently, it is also only one block away from the ethnic market where I get fruits and veggies. Win-win all around.

22 Mike

Dollararama has an increasing number of grocery and sundry items at up to 2$. that can beat grocery prices.
I have no car so I can’t handle costco. Sometimes these places have huge
bulk prices. If it takes you 2 months to use the monster product how much
did you really save loading your costs up front?
Rather then buy cans of pop from machines or stores I buy the house brands in cases and make my first cup in tea in a thermos at home to go,
I’ve often found myself at the local fortinos ( Loblaws) as they are my only area grocery store conveniently open til 10 pm everyday. But only buy their loss leaders and my necessities.
But I realize I paid for that convenience.
I buy produce at a local farmers market- cheaper fresher and even in its
winter season usually beats all but loss leaders for cheese. apples etc.

Its startling just what can be saved by organizing things better without any
sacrifice at all.

23 Gao

Regarding what someone said bout buying the store brnd of Listrine, you should actually buy the store brand of over the counter medicine too! A lot of OTC meds patients are free domain, meaning their patients have expired. So that is why there are so many different packagings but the medicine ingrediants is essentually the same exact thing! You are just paying for the brand name and the colorful packaging. Just buy inhouse brands like walmart or cvs or riteaid etc

24 My University Money

Another vote over here for Costco. As a big guys I love the portion sizes and the variety in their stores. I wouldn’t have guessed there was that much price difference at Loblaws.

25 Mike Holman

@My Uni $ – Well, I wouldn’t call this experiment 100% scientific. You can’t draw too much from the results. :)

26 JAN

Both No Frills and Walmart are a good deal, but when I shop at Walmart what ever I save on grocery I’ll spend more on other things like closths and toyes for the children. so I prefer No Frills

27 Sa'

If people start to read more, they’ll see that most of the costly items have the same exact ingredients as the cheaper products.
In my case I live in a major city in NJ. Some of those stores that are mentioned above i have never heard of besides Costco & Walmart.
When its time to do grocery shopping, I normally try to wait for the weekly circulars that are delivered to us here. The circulars have all the local stores such as, PathMark, Shoprite, Rite Aid, Walgreens and more.
So i look at all the circulars compare prices and try to go to the closest 2 or 3 stores that have the best sale items for the week. Or you even look up stores on the internet at there circulars and stuff. Sometimes i get everything from walmart. Then go to Shoprite and get Meats and stuff.

28 mr.ed

Nobody’s cheaper than Aldi if you’re into private brands. Nobody. Weekly produce specials untouchable by anybody.

29 Sanssail

In a smaller city where distance between stores and traffic is reasonable and you have the time.
1) Shop the fliers, usually means going to most chains
2)Don’t pay for more quality than you need or want
3)Stock up on specials (develop a feel for frequency of specific specials)
4)Know your prices
5)Adjust your menus to seasons and prices (while maintaining good nutrition)

Retired busybody husband

30 Jvv

I noticed one minor error. For cheapest price on your milk purchase you had $49.90 for the 10 4L skim (Yuck:)). No Frills was the lowest according to your chart at $46.90. This would bump your overall saving to 21 percent.
Great post! More of us should post this stuff. Not sure where you live or when you posted this. Can you give me an idea. Here in Halifax, NS milk price is regulated by our lovely government. The good news is that when Costco finally came to town we saw 4L of milk drop from 7:49ish to 5.29. However, for quite some time the milk price at the local grocery stores gradually increased the further your traveled from Costco.

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