Market Basket Prices Rise, Still Much Lower than Competitors

A Boston-based consumer survey group released its comprehensive annual supermarket price survey this week and found that prices are going up overall – most notably at the Market Basket chain where prices have risen by 9 percent since last year’s internal company upheaval and subsequent (and expensive) resolution.

The survey by ConsumerWorld.org – a company based in Boston since 1995 and headed up by a former Consumer Division employee at the Attorney General’s Office – showed that prices are going up across the board at most every supermarket. The survey was conducted on Aug. 5 at local supermarkets like the Chelsea Market Basket, the Revere Price Rite, the Somerville Star Market, the Medford Aldi Supermarket and the Chelsea Save-A-Lot. The prices for items purchased were compared to similar purchases made last year on Aug. 6, 2014.

Overall changes by chain broke down as follows:

  • Market Basket – up 9 percent
  • Star Market – up 8 percent
  • Stop & Shop – up 7 percent
  • Price Rite – up 7 percent
  • Aldi – up 6 percent
  • S ave-A-Lot – up 3 percent

The survey noted that while Market Basket’s prices rose the sharpest over the year, most of that was due to the 4 percent price cut promotion that ran all of 2014 and expired in 2015. Subtracting the promotional discount, the chain’s prices rose 5 percent. Most price increases at Market Basket and other chains resulted from higher nationwide prices for staples like eggs and beef, according to the survey.

“The largest increase was at Market Basket which suffered through an employee and customer boycott last summer,” read the survey findings. “In substantial part, the reason for Market Basket’s price hikes was the elimination of its extra four percent across-the-board discount that was applied to all orders throughout 2014. Higher beef and egg prices accounted for most of the rest of the increase there and at all chains.”

Market Basket officials were not immediately available for comment on the survey. Many had supposed that prices could actually raise much higher at the chain, and savvy consumers have been watching carefully for price increases that could be a result of major debt service inherited from the buyout of the Arthur S. Demoulas faction of the company by superstar CEO Arthur T. Demoulas at the end of last summer’s tumult.

The survey revealed that shoppers willing to “ride the circuit” and go to several stores could reap good savings by buying some items at lower-priced discount stores like Aldi or Save-A-Lot – stores that carry a limited assortment of items and many store brands, but are not full service markets with expanded meat departments or deli departments.

“While Market Basket is perceived by many to be the lowest-priced supermarket, smaller limited assortment stores have even lower prices, but they have yet to be discovered by most shoppers,” commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky.

The chain with the lowest prices in the survey was Aldi, where a basket of common store brand items was 19 percent less than Market Basket, 30 percent lower than Stop & Shop, and 37 percent lower than Star Market. Price Rite and Save-A-Lot, two other limited assortment stores, were 12-14 percent cheaper than Market Basket. Overall, Aldi had the lowest prices on all but two of the items checked.

On the high side, Star Market had the highest prices despite more than half of the items being on sale. Their prices were 29 percent higher than Market Basket, while Stop & Shop’s prices were 15 percent more.

“What cost a total of only $25.78 at Aldi was over $41 at Star Market – 59% more,” reported the survey.

The survey revealed that some individual items varied greatly in price from store to store, sometimes selling for a dollar or two more, or even double or triple the lowest price.

  • A 40-ounce jar of store brand peanut butter was a low $2.99 at Aldi, $3.49 at Save-A-Lot, $3.99 at Market Basket, $4.49 at Stop & Shop, and a whopping $4.99 at Star Market.
  • A one-pound box of saltine crackers was a low 85 cents at Aldi, but double the price at Stop & Shop ($1.89) and triple the price at Star Market ($2.50) despite being on sale there.
  • A 48-oz bottle of vegetable oil ranged from a low of $1.99 at Aldi to a high of $4.99 at Star Market.

Many Charlestown resident can be found doing their shopping at the Chelsea Market Basket, the Somerville Stop & Shop or the Somerville Star Market. However, a good majority of residents have also flocked to the new Whole Foods Market in the mall at Thompson Square.

The ConsumerWorld.org survey did not include organic food markets like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, as they are not considered discount markets. However, a similar study last year by the national non-profit Checkbook.org, showed that Whole Foods prices were about 39 percent higher than Stop & Shop or Shaw’s. That said, the same survey indicated that Whole Foods consistently received very high scores for the quality and freshness of its meat and produce.

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