Fri 20 Mar 2009 12:03 am
It seems like just a few weeks ago I was commenting on how well Haggen-owned Top Foods handles the supermarket juggling act between price and quality. Now, its successes — and failures — have been quantified, along with those of other area markets, in a new study by the Puget Sound Consumers’ Checkbook.
Staffers at the non-profit magazine compared prices on 152 items at local supermarkets and warehouse clubs, and also surveyed 4,200 consumers on quality and service. The findings include:
– Among the area’s four largest supermarket chains, prices were cheapest at Fred Meyer. Prices were highest at QFC — and, yes, the spread exists even though both chains are owned by Kroger. The average price for a full market basket at Freddie’s was 6 percent lower than the average at Albertson’s, 10 percent lower than Safeway, and 17 percent lower than QFC. A family spending $150 per week at QFC, the study noted, could save $1,300 per year by switching to Fred Meyer.
– QFC may have been the priciest large chain, but it also received the highest customer satisfaction ratings among the four large chains. Sixty-one percent of QFC customers in the survey rated it as “superior” overall, compared to 52 percent for Safeway, 50 percent for Fred Meyer, and 36 percent for Albertsons.
– The Checkbook credits Haggen for proving “that it is possible to get high ratings for quality and still have reasonable prices.” The Haggen store in Lake Stevens was one of the few stores in the report to win kudos for both, with its score for “overall” quality beating out everyone except the pricier Metropolitan Market and the Town & Country Markets (Ballard Market, Central Market, and Greeenwood Market). Top Foods itself, though, didn’t fare as well, garnering only 69 percent of “superior” ratings in overall quality. That’s better than any of the four large chains, but doesn’t come close to sister store Haggen’s rating of 90 percent, or Metropolitan and Town & Country’s 90+.
– Looking at all the stores in the survey, both large markets and small, PCC and Whole Foods had the highest prices. No real surprise. What was a surprise was that they did not score as high in the fresh produce category (where you’d think they’d share the gold medal) or in the overall results as Haggen, Metropolitan, and Town & Country.
– Trader Joe’s also fared less well than I would have expected, given how thrilled I usually am by my money-to-happiness-to-quality ratios in the checkout line. TJ’s won points (90% “superior” ratings) for its friendly staff, but tanked when it came to fresh produce (25%), parking (35%), keeping things in stock (37%), and convenience of store layout (48%). Come to think of it, those are all areas where I have beefs with the store — and yet my overall sense of the place is still very positive.
Candace Heckman, my former P-I colleague, reported on a 2006 Checkbook survey, and looked into the Fred Meyer/QFC conundrum.
“We’re very separate stores with very separate clientele,” Melinda Merrill, a spokeswoman for Fred Meyer in Portland, said of the different pricing between Fred Meyer and QFC. “Just because we’re both owned by Kroger doesn’t mean anything.”
A store such as Fred Meyer can sell more items at lower margins because it offers a larger variety of products. It is a department store, jeweler and grocery store combined.
I stopped by Top Foods in Shoreline today anyway, and picked up a pound of wild (previously frozen) halibut for $8.99, a 12-ounce pack of sliced Tillamook Swiss on sale for $3.99, and some crisp, kid-size apples for a quarter apiece. I was more than 69% satisfied.