When it comes to supermarkets, biggest isn’t always best.
Consumer Reports’ recent survey of 27,208 readers reveals that Walmart, America’s largest grocer, is at the bottom of the food chain.
Consumer Reports offers this advice on the best ways to save:
• Compare unit prices. They’re on shelf tags beneath the products, and they’re the only way to know for sure which package size is the best deal per quart, ounce or sheet.
Bigger is usually cheaper, but not always. At a local A&P, Consumer Reports spotted side-by-side packages of Hampton Farms peanuts, one 8 ounces and the other 24 ounces. The unit price tags revealed that the smaller bag cost $2 per pound; the larger, $2.66.
• Try store brands. They account for about a quarter of all supermarket products and sell for 22 percent less, on average, than national brands. Seventy-eight percent of respondents who bought store brands said they were just as good, and Consumer Reports’ own tests have shown that’s often true.
• Consider warehouse clubs. They have everyday low prices, so you don’t have to wait for a sale.
But consider whether it makes sense for you to pay the membership and to buy in bulk – 20 pounds of flour or 500 feet of aluminum foil, for example. Other drawbacks to club shopping: minimal service, a limited selection and long checkout lines, according to the survey.
• Don’t pay for convenience. Prepped and precut commodities from watermelon to garlic can cost extra.
At a Price Chopper, portobello mushrooms were $12.79 per pound sliced and $4.99 per pound whole.
But sometimes it works the other way; packaged products are cheaper. Consumer Reports saw russet baking potatoes for $1.29 per pound sold individually but $2.99 for a 5-pound sack.
• Capitalize on coupons. In 2013, consumers saved $3.5 billion by using coupons for packaged goods. Manufacturers distributed more than 300 billion coupons that year but redeemed “only” 2.8 billion, according to Charles K. Brown, vice president of marketing for NCH Marketing Services, a coupon processing firm.
Don’t leave money on the table: Savings per purchase averaged $1.62, Brown says. For all the chatter about paperless coupons that are downloaded to smartphones, 91 percent of all coupons reached shoppers through newspaper inserts.
• Shop early in the sales cycle. Eleven percent of readers complained about stores being out of advertised specials. The problem was worst at Pick ‘n Save, Pathmark, Meijer and Tops. Consumer Reports has had the best luck finding the type of bargains prominent in circulars at the beginning of the cycle (usually Friday or Saturday).
• Be loyal. Many chains reserve their best deals for customers who enroll in loyalty- or bonus-card programs. And some have a fuel reward component; the typical discount is 10 cents a gallon at participating gas stations for each $50 spent at the store.
Other possible perks: rebates based on purchases (usually $5 for every $500), coupon doubling and buy-one-get-one-free specials, coupons toward future purchases and the ability for those 60 and older to get extra savings on certain days.
More than half of Consumer Reports’ survey respondents belonged to bonus-card programs.