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June 1, 2014

Consumer Reports: Getting more from your store

When it comes to supermarkets, biggest isn’t always best. Consumer Reports’ recent survey of 27,208 readers reveals that Wal-Mart, America’s largest grocer, is at the bottom of the food chain. The mega-store finished last among 55 supermarkets, earning subpar scores for checkout speed, employee courtesy and meat and produce quality.

Store choice matters because Americans are heavily invested in their supermarkets, averaging 88 trips per year and spending approximately $6,000, according to the Food Marketing Institute, a trade group. 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.

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