Capitol Hill Grocery Comparison

Out of curiosity, my partner and I recently did a quick 22-product grocery price comparison on the hill. Here’s how it worked. We chose 22 products that we purchase all the time. Your mileage may vary if these aren’t your preferred products.  We shopped the three closest grocery stores: QFC on Broadway, Madison Market, and Whole Foods on Denny. We compared exact products. We did not take into account member discounts, specials or sales; the prices shown are the base price to the best of our knowledge. All pricing was done between February 7th and February 17th of 2009.

Results: Whole Foods wins, at $5 cheaper than Madison Market. QFC is the clear loser, nearly $15 more expensive than Whole Foods for the exact same 22 item shopping list.


You can also play with our data,


[x-posted to Livejournal , and my blog]

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16 thoughts on “Capitol Hill Grocery Comparison

  1. Interesting idea (and interesting shopping list–who knew there was such a thing as “ultra soy” soy milk?).

    But if you leave the discounts out, I just don’t see this study can be anywhere close to accurate: qfc especially seems to put special “member” prices on everything, and they give away memberships to anyone who even walks by the store . . .

  2. This table exemplifies why we split our shopping between 3 grocery stores! I cherish the days that the 2lb Tillamook Sharp Cheddar loaf is buy 1 get 1 free at QFC.

    I know you can’t do a true comparison with Trader Joe’s since they don’t offer a lot of these brands, but you can knock off >50% off some of those items — tofu, OJ, black beans.

  3. I did this a couple years ago with my “most frequently bought” items and it was interesting though certainly weekly sales mess with the data and it highlights the need for shopping at multiple stores and tracking sale items. Also, interesting blog post on grocery store availability/prices in White Center here:
    We are very lucky to have so many stores on the Hill! I sometimes forget what a privilege this is.

  4. I’m a jerk about simulcasting — don’t like it because, ideally, there’s no need to repeat content on the internet. I really like this post — but please don’t cross-post in the future. And stay off my lawn!

  5. Thank you for this great post. My husband and I have often suspected that Whole Foods was frequently the best bang for our buck (despite their nickname of “Whole Paycheck”), although we still do lots of multiple store shopping, including Trader Joes and Madison Market. I also like the “minus the cheddar” total at the bottom. It’s funny how often we mentally discount the big ticket items at the end of our shopping trip: “Well, if we left off the cheese and coffee, we only spent $50”.

  6. Now, to add something substantive to the comments in addition to my whining!

    I love that you did this — it’s a cool idea. But in addition to the QFC membership card, another factor that needs to be considered is the list of items. It’s a good reminder for my household (that also has a lot of ‘ultra soy’ on its list) to turn to the stores that cater to our tastes. Now if we could just remember our cloth grocery sacks.

  7. Does multiple store shopping ever really pay off, once you account for the costs of transportation and time? Even at non-card prices QFC is a bargain because we can easily walk.

    Anyone bother to extend this to Amazon Fresh yet?

  8. Not having a car helps simplify things. Instead of walking to QFC three times a week, we walk to QFC, Madison Market, and TJs each once a week. It’s a nice time to catch up on my podcasts.

  9. Whole Foods was really the cheapest? Wow. Maybe that’s because you buy mostly organic stuff, healthy stuff, and vegetarian stuff – exactly the demographic Whole Foods caters to. I’ve never bought any of the items on your list, so I think QFC Broadway is better suited to the category I’m in. Also I buy whatever is on sale, which a fixed product price comparison like your’s doesn’t account for – it’s a useful comparison if you’re unwilling to go with alternative brands or store brands though.

  10. I did a comparison with Amazon Fresh. They didn’t have all items, and some fruit/veg items are priced per piece (per banana instead of per pound). Items that got dropped: bananas and broccoli; tofu (but lots of other choices), large size Naked OJ, mint tea, chocolate bar. I pro-rated the price of a 12-pk of 7thG TP.

    Recalculating the totals for this subset of items, I get:

    $64.23 Whole Foods
    $67.64 Amazon Fresh
    $69.23 Madison Market
    $73.53 QFC

    Arguably, Amazon is a local business and delivery is included. We love putting in an order after dinner & finding the pre-dawn delivery outside when we get up in the morning.

    (For full disclosure, there may be someone in our household who is employed by Amazon. :)

  11. I understand your general aversion to simulcasting, but that almost assumes that all your readers read the exact same sites you do. I haven’t seen this story elsewhere, and if it wasn’t simulcast, I would have missed it. I appreciate the simulcasting.

  12. I think whole foods would have been even cheaper if you used coupons and bought products from their lable 365.
    Yes whole foods has plenty of coupons!
    Also, for lunch a great deal is small soup and half sandwhich for like 4 bucks!
    People who say whole foods is whole paycheck are only people who don’t look for their deals so quit whinning!

  13. The thing is, QFC isn’t the only place that has a member discount or sale prices, so it isn’t safe to assume QFC would win in that fight. Actually, Whole Foods had the best sale prices on the big ticket items, but we excluded everyone’s discounts because we felt it would be more fair. Discounts and sales come and go, and of course a smart shopper should pay attention and follow the best deal.

  14. Yeah – we don’t buy fresh stuff from TJs so we don’t go there as often, but I felt bad leaving TJs out of this comparison. We’re considering doing the study again, but next time, we’ll compare basic products, not by brand name. Trader Joe’s can compete at that level. I think I’ll capture sale prices, because everyone complained about it!

  15. We’re picky eaters… the products we chose are the ones whose ingredients we have carefully compared and selected as the best price vs. nutrition option, so that’s why our first crack at this was a brand name comparison. If you don’t read labels, I have no idea where the cheaper products would be but I would guess QFC, since they probably don’t mark up everything the way they mark up “natural” and “organic”.