Last May 24 we did a comparison of food costs in and out of Revelstoke. As of September 9 and 10, Southside Revelstoke is just 3.5 % higher than Askew’s. Not worth the price of gas, unless you have other things to do in Sicamous. Cooper’s Revelstoke is 10.5 % higher than Askew’s and 4 % higher than Safeway in Salmon Arm.
This is considerably less dramatic than the differences we found in May, although we have not included Superstore Vernon in this comparison. We’ve heard a rumour that the Revelstoke Cooper’s store is the most profitable (per sq ft) in their chain — unverifiable, of course, but that’s local opinion.
When I spoke to Overwaitea’s (Cooper’s parent company) Communications Director about the results of our spring food price comparison, we agreed that there are difficulties in comparing food prices. These have to do with 1) quality, which Overwaitea prides itself on; 2) specials that can apply in some stores and not others; and 3) discounted purchasing that lowers prices in the giant box stores and in some grocery stores.
It’s true that comparisons are not always easy. To address the value for value issue (are your apples better than my apples?) we have changed our food basket this time to include a few more items, such as Oreo cookies, that are exactly the same product across every grocer. On the specials issue, we’ve taken the lowest possible price for the item at each store—club prices, member prices, two-for one prices. And on the box store issue, well okay: Superstore buys in bulk so they can afford to discount. But Overwaitea is one of the largest grocery chains in Canada: why can’t they match prices? Service at box stores is supposedly inferior, although with only two cashiers routinely available at the check-out counters at Cooper’s, Overwaitea isn’t exactly stellar in that department: how do you feel about self-service check-out? (Let us know.) And we’ve eliminated items that vary hugely from one store to another — our fish item is fresh wild salmon, available in every outlet now, and regular rather than organic milk. Avocados were scratched from the list because the size, quality and variety differed from one store to another, as did he prices; we also dumped blackberries and blueberries as they were not available in all four stores.
Our basket is short on fruit this month, as some people have access to their own garden produce, and farm markets are overflowing with peaches, plums, nectarines and soon pears and apples from the Okanagan. No baking items are included, but cheese strings and cookies, as well as plenty of carrots and a cucumber are there for school lunch makers. And we’ve removed some items that were expensive, so that the entire cost of the basket comes down.
And guess what? On a standard basket comparison, item-by-item, it’s still cheaper to shop out of town. Not by so much this time, as Southside prices are just slightly higher than Askew’s in Sicamous. Cooper’s in Revelstoke is still the most expensive place to shop in the whole region, even beating out the notoriously expensive Safeway. (Coleen Leblanc, who runs a concierge business in Kamloops, tells us that among about 50 clients, only one allows her to shop at Safeway or Cooper’s as their reputation for high prices is well known.)
An impressive number of back-to-school items at Cooper’s were on special this week—peanut butter, butter, cookies, Breyer’s ice cream, broccoli — and I was surprised that the total basket cost was still higher than elsewhere. Look at staples such as cheese, bread and meat — the “real food” items.
This leads to a couple of considerations. Everyone offers specials. If you shop by flyer and take advantage of specials, you could have done very well this week at Cooper’s on whole frying chickens and frozen wild salmon fillets, getting 1 free for each one you buy thus effectively halving the cost. This is in fact an intelligent way to shop, if you’re flexible enough to go with the flow. Had we changed fresh for frozen wild salmon and strip loin steaks for a roasted chicken dish, Cooper’s prices would have been more in line with others. So one drawback to the “standard basket” approach to price comparisons is that every chain or store offers different specials. If you watch the flyers (all now available on-line) and plan menus accordingly, and if you can stock up by freezing specials, you can probably do as well in Revelstoke as elsewhere. Buying a freezer might pay for itself in a year or so.
Overwaitea argues that their quality is high, and I agree. I rarely return anything to Cooper’s, whereas I recently bought a jar of Dijon mustard, for instance, at Safeway on Robson Street in Vancouver (their own brand, Select) that I’ll be taking back as there was rust all round the inside of the jar.
On the other hand, only Safeway offers exclusively AAA Canadian beef. Askew’s is “AA or above” (on the box) Cooper’s is A or above. All are Western Canadian beef. To learn more about beef quality you can go to http://www.cbef.com/beefquality.htm. Basically, grocers sell one of the 4 top grades A, AA, AAA or Prime, and the only difference between them is the amount of marbling (lines of fat throughout the meat). Canadian beef quality control is quite stringent. Prime goes mainly to restaurants, hence local butchers believe it to be an American designation, but this is not so. Neither Southside nor Cooper’s advertise their beef grade, and finding out required conversation with their butchers. Maybe it doesn’t matter much — the different in marbling may be of no interest to you. Cooper’s offers Western Family meats in vacuum packed plastic, which perhaps ensures freedom from bacteria at the local level—and cuts down on local jobs.
The best grocery prices in town are at Southside, and you won’t save much over their prices by going to Sicamous or Salmon Arm.
Customer loyalty is a funny thing, though. You get comfortable with the layout and the people at certain stores, and for those who have the income for a little discretionary spending, sticking with your favorite store regardless of prices may justify the extra dollars. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue — is price alone the reason you choose one grocer over another, and what are the other issues that bear on your preferences? Do you comparison shop? Do you cycle, walk or drive ten minutes to save $10?
Look forward to hearing from you, again.
You can contact Leslie Savage directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
The following is the correct and complete food basket list. The list that was published earlier was incomplete due to a computer problem at Leslie’s end. My apologies for any confusion — David F. Rooney
|Food price comparisons||Safeway||Askews||Cooper’s||Southside|
|for Revelstoke shoppers||Salmon Arm||Sicamous||Revelstoke||Revelstoke|
|FAMILY BASKET for four people, 7-10 days|
|TOTAL BASKET PRICE||230.47||216.08||239.13||223.73|
|Peaches, BC 1.5 lb (4)||2.54||2.38||2.10||1.32|
|Bananas, 2 lb (4)||1.36||0.76||1.38||1.17|
|Tomatoes, BC vine, 1.5 lb (4)||2.69||1.50||1.50||2.22|
|Leaf lettuce, BC, 1 head||1.29||1.18||1.49||0.98|
|Carrots, 2 lbs||1.79||1.88||1.66||1.74|
|Potatoes, russets, 10 lb||5.99||4.48||4.49||3.98|
|Celery, I head, 2 lbs||1.69||1.36||2.98||2.99|
|Cabbage, I head, 3 lbs||2.37||1.74||2.17||1.44|
|Broccoli crowns 1 lb||1.79||1.48||0.99||0.98|
|Onions, yellow, 3 lb||3.49||1.98||1.69||1.50|
|Cucumber, English, 1||1.69||0.98||1.79||1.48|
|Milk, 2%, 4. Litres||5.99||4.99||4.69||4.70|
|Milk, chocolate, 2 litres||2.59||2.98||3.69||2.39|
|Cream, whipping, .5 litre||2.59||2.98||2.89||2.89|
|Yogurt, 650 gms Olympic||5.29||4.48|
|Eggs, Ex Large White, 12||2.89||2.98||2.99||2.98|
|Ice Cream, Breyers, Dbl Chn||7.49||9.58||5.99||6.98|
|Butter, salted, 1 lb||5.99||4.98||3.39||3.99|
|Cheese, cheddar, house,.5k||8.95||9.65||10.15||10.45|
|Orange jc, Tropicana, 1.75 l||4.99||4.98||3.50||4.00|
|Apple jc, Tropicana, 1.75 l.||4.99||4.98||3.50||4.00|
|Soda crackers, Christie,5-gra||3.00||3.68||3.00||3.79|
|Oreo cookies, 550 gm||5.39||3.88||2.50||4.98|
|Mustard, Maille Dijon, 200 ml||3.19||3.38||3.99||3.49|
|Ketchup, Heinz, 1 kilo||4.99||4.98||2.99||4.99|
|Olive oil, Ex-Virgin, 428 to 500 ml||8.79||9.48||9.99||8.79|
|Crisco oil, 945 ml||5.29||5.18||3.99||5.49|
|Apple cider vinegar, 1 lit||3.49||2.98||4.49||3.19|
|Peanut butter, nat’l, 500 gm||3.98||3.18||2.99||2.50|
|Salmon, tinned, no salt||5.19||2.48||4.29||4.75|
|Soup, Chunky Campbell’s||1.67||1.98||2.29||2.19|
|Dried soup, Knorr, 1||1.49||1.78||2.29||2.39|
|Coffee, Kicking Horse,1 lb||14.19||14.99||14.99||11.59|
|Tea, Tetley, 36 bags||3.49||2.88||3.59||3.39|
|Rice, Basmati, 1 kilo||4.99||4.98||4.79||4.58|
|Catelli sphagetti, 900 gm||2.67||3.98||3.19||3.79|
|Kraft dinner, 1||1.25||1.29||1.79||2.19|
|Post Spoon size shredded wh||5.50||5.35||5.99||6.49|
|Bread, whole wheat||1.29||1.58||3.39||1.50|
|Bacon, Schneider or Maple Lf||4.99||3.57||6.99||4.98|
|Grnd beef, lean, 1 kilo||8.80||6.00||8.69||7.45|
|Wild fresh salmon, 500 gms||9.95||8.99||11.45||11.40|
|Pork sausage, 1 kilo||7.22||6.07||7.69||6.59|
|Strip loin steaks*, 1 kilo||15.41||15.36||26.43||17.59|
|Chicken thighs skin on 1 k||7.48||5.45||6.37||7.45|
|* Hellman’s mayo: either olive oil or “Real” original|
|** See note in article, re beef quality|
|*** Black Diamond 8-pack at Safeway, Askews and Coopers, and Kraft twists,|
|12-pack at South Side, as other not available. Price of latter adjusted to 8 strings|
Best prices: Askew’s in Sicamous
Best Revelstoke food prices: Southside
% difference from best prices
Southside Revelstoke is 3 ½ % higher than Askew’s.
Cooper’s Revelstoke is 10 ½ % higher than Askew’s and 4 % higher than Safeway in Salmon Arm.