The holiday shopping season has arrived, which means thousands of Chicagoans will converge on area grocery stores to buy the ingredients needed for their holiday feasts. Some stores, however, have proven to be a better deal to consumers than others based on the price and quality of their goods.
Consumers' Checkbook conducted a survey about all major Chicago-area grocery stores and determined that area stores are in a tight competitive race for consumers, which has measurable upsides for holiday shoppers. The results of the survey also showed which stores have the lowest prices and which have the highest quality of goods.
Mariano's scored the highest for a combined price and quality rating, but other stores beat Mariano's with lower prices or higher quality ratings. The chain, which now operates 33 stores in the Chicago area, received high ratings for the quality of its meat and produce as well as the overall quality of its products. Mariano's also offers prices that are about 5 percent lower than the all-store average. Produce alone is about 11 percent cheaper than the average.
The "price winners" may not surprise many customers, with Walmart, Meijer and Woodman's Food taking the top spots. Some of these stores, however, are losers in the quality rating. Walmart's prices, for example, are about 12 percent lower than the all-store average, but the store also received low ratings for "quality of fresh produce," "quality of meats" and "overall quality." Of all the grocery stores included in the survey, Walmart earned the lowest overall quality ratings.
Not all stores with low prices received bad quality ratings, however. According to Consumers' Checkbook, Meijer received quality ratings that were "considerably higher" than the ratings for Jewel-Osco, Target and Walmart.
Jewel-Osco, which has dozens of stores in the Chicago area, received low marks for "quality of fresh produce," "quality of meats" and "overall quality." Its prices are also 3 to 6 percent higher than the average.
"Jewel-Osco carries thousands of products in each store," reads a statement from the grocery store chain in response to the survey results. "A comparison of a small number of items does not provide consumers with a true picture of prices across the entire store, nor does it appropriately reflect the full savings that our customers enjoy."
On the opposite end of the quality spectrum is Whole Foods, which has the highest prices but also has consistently high ratings on quality of fresh produce and meat. Whole Foods' prices, however, are 69 percent higher than the all-store average.
Whole Foods representatives also responded to the survey results, saying their products are "unlike" many of the products sold in conventional grocery stores, which accounts for the higher prices.
"We're unfamiliar with the methodology that this group used, but because the products that we carry at Whole Foods Market are unlike any others because of our Quality Standards, we understand why they had a hard time finding comparable items in our stores," the statement reads. "We only offer products that are free from artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives, and other grocers can't say that. We are 100 percent confident that when you're shopping for organic and natural foods at Whole Foods Market, we will always be comparable and often lower than conventional grocers on like items."
Other stores that received high quality ratings, but also have higher than average prices, are Fresh Thyme Farmers Markets and Sunset Foods.
Consumers' Checkbook is offering a special release of the complete survey results for NBC 5 viewers. To view the results, visit their website.