Price check: Where to find the best grocery deals

And the winner is … Fred Meyer.

That’s the chain grocery market in Snohomish County that had the lowest prices during Herald shopping trips in May.

We took a grocery list of mostly staples, our clipboards and pens and hit the aisles to provide a snapshot of prices at eight local supermarket chains.

To do so, the survey was conducted by visiting different stores in the chains twice over a two-week period. The stores were in Everett, Marysville and Mill Creek.

For some chains, we visited two locations, though that was not the case for chains with limited local outlets, such as Cost Cutter and Wal-Mart. The average prices are shown in the chart above.

When there was a sales price offered to customers with a loyalty card, we recorded that price. When prices differed between the repeated visits, we calculated the average price for an item.

Our shopping list was compiled with the help of Washington State University’s Cooperative Extension Service to reflect a variety of commonly bought items.

As much as possible, our survey stuck to a rigid shopping list to compare apples with apples – the price of a pound of Millstone coffee or a 18-ounce jar of Jif peanut butter at each store.

Not all stores carry the same brands of milk, however, so for our survey we used each store’s own brand for comparison, such as Lucerne milk at Safeway.

Since The Herald undertook a similar price survey in November 2002, there are two new players in the market.

One is Wal-Mart, which has a grocery store at its Tulalip Reservation location and is planning more in the county.

Wal-Mart, known for its low prices, was No. 2 in The Herald’s price check.

WinCo Foods, a low-cost grocer from Idaho, opened its first store in Snohomish County last week and was not part of the survey.

Since 2002, some items have risen noticeably in price. For example, the price of Orowheat whole grain bread topped out at $3.15 four years ago. This time around, bread prices ranged up to $3.79.

By and large, however, the prices seemed to be in line with the average annual inflation rate for groceries of about 2 to 2.5 percent.

Some items showed decreases in price or little change at all, including milk and peanut butter.

There also have been some subtle price increases accomplished by slightly smaller packaging. In 2002, for about $1.60, you could buy a one-pound tub of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter margarine. Most places, the product is about $1.60 to $2.19 a tub. But the tub’s shrunk by one ounce, to 15 ounces.

Similarly, the 10-ounce bag of Fresh Express spinach has shrunk today to 9 ounces.

The only product on our limited shopping list that got bigger was Lay’s potato chips. As the company promotes new trans-fat-free chips, it’s expanded its bags by an ounce or more.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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