Where to get the biggest bang for your grocery buck in the DC area

If you’re picky about your produce but still cautious about the bottom line it might take visits to multiple D.C.-area food stores to frugally stock the pantry.

“Overall, it’s really difficult here in the Washington area to get both high quality and low prices,” said Kevin Brasler, the executive editor at Consumers’ Checkbook.

Secret shoppers went to dozens of area grocery stores to buy 154 common items and evaluate prices. Checkbook subscribers were surveyed to rate factors, such as quality of fresh produce, quality of fresh meats, customer service and more.

“On one hand, Wegmans remains by far the big fan favorite here in the Washington area, but its prices aren’t necessarily that low. They’re competitive with Giant Food and Harris Teeter, but they’re still higher than the really low-priced options that are out there,” Brasler said.

Checkbook didn’t rank grocery stores during the pandemic.

What’s new this time around?

One of the big changes to the Washington-area supermarket scene lately has been the continued expansion of Wegmans. Also, German owned companies such as Aldi, Lidl and Trader Joe’s continue to increase their footprint in the area.

Except for Target, Checkbook found the major chains have consistent pricing from location to location.

Who has the lowest prices?

Among the area’s big food store chains, Walmart and Food Lion had prices far lower than Harris Teeter, Giant and Safeway.

Rock-bottom prices can be found at Aldi and Lidl.

“Aldi and Lidl have extraordinarily low prices — I mean, they’re really, astonishingly low,” Brasler said. “They’re lower even than Costco’s prices, and you don’t have to buy in bulk to get these discounts. But the rub is that you have to buy their own store products: Aldi and Trader Joe’s and Lidl — they pretty much kind of sell their own stuff.” That means you may not find everything you need, he added.

Overall quality rankings were derived from the percent of customers who rated the store as “superior.”

While Aldi (38%) and Lidl (53%) get lower ratings for quality compared to MOM’s Organic (91%) and Trader Joe’s (77%), Brasler said some of the big chains, such as Giant (42%) and Safeway, (31%) perform similarly or even lower.

Where are prices highest?

Safeway’s prices averaged about 32% higher than Walmart, 26% higher than Food Lion, 17% higher than Target and 7% higher than Giant, Harris Teeter and Wegmans.

Brasler said a lot of shoppers are shopping at more than one place: They may go to Walmart, Lidl or Aldi “to try to save as much money as they can on the items offered by those places where quality doesn’t matter, like nonperishables, and then they may turn around and buy produce at Whole Foods or Mom’s Organic Market, or even Wegmans,” where the produce quality is high.

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can see Checkbook ratings for 30 area grocery stores and delivery services for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent, nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices for more than 40 years.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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