CINCINNATI - The war is on.
It was two weeks ago when Cincinnati-based Kroger made the surprise announcement that it would slash the price of more than 3,500 grocery items at its Tri-State stores.
"You're going to see a new look," Kroger Vice President Scott Hendricks said at the announcement at the Newport Marketplace Kroger. "You are going to see all the ways you can save at Kroger."
Shoppers immediately saw new signs, new shelf tags and new, lower prices on many items.
Have Shoppers Noticed a Change?
Some shoppers we spoke with outside the same Northern Kentucky Kroger store two weeks later were very impressed.
"I find they are lower on some things, and very competitive on others now," said JoAnne Mertens, of Bellevue.
But other shoppers we spoke with after a couple of shopping trips were not so sure that much had changed.
"No, not actually on a lot of things. Maybe two things that I noticed," Megan Marat, of Newport, said.
So is Kroger now much more competitive with Walmart and Meijer, which have long advertised low prices?
Let's go Krogering...
To find out, I put on a ball cap, grabbed a shopping cart and went shopping all three stores with the help of our Special Projects producer Tasha.
We shopped Kroger, Meijer and Walmart in Florence, Ky., where the three stores are all within a half mile of each other, so that prices would not be affected by regional differences.
We bought two dozen popular items at each store, including a gallon of milk, Tropicana orange juice, Oreos and Chips Ahoy cookies, Cheerios and Corn Flakes, Tide detergent and a variety of fresh produce.
Tallying the Numbers....
So who really had the lowest prices? Or are they all pretty much the same?
We noticed a few things right away: It's a real price war right now. As a result, all three stores had 1-gallon milk for $1.99.
And while Kroger has slashed some prices, such as bags of onions for 99 cents (with a big blue sign pointing it out), other prices are not so low.
We Compare Prices
We found a new Kroger blue shelf tag saying "Cheerios: Low price $3.19." That might make you buy it.
But we found the exact same 14 -ounce Cheerios box at Walmart for just $2.84, 35 cents less than Kroger.
Laundry detergent quickly became an issue, as the stores had different size jugs of Tide and Snuggle.
I struggled with Snuggle, as the three stores all had different size jugs of the product.
So we decided to convert to per-use prices upon our return, where we found Kroger still more expensive on the laundry supplies, when the items were not on sale.
Where Kroger Shines
But in Kroger's defense, it had a larger selection than either Meijer or Walmart. We found more brands and smaller sizes; a plus for singles or seniors.
And Kroger's produce prices were lower, helped by 99 cent broccoli and those 99 cent onions.
Finally, the Kroger checkout experience was heaven compared to Walmart. We found more lanes open, and had no one slowing the line down buying clothing and home goods in front of us.
And the Winner is...
So we lined up the products from all three shopping trips on a table, tabulated each price on an Excel spreadsheet and converted to price-per-use in the case of the three non-matching Snuggle and liquid Tide bottles.
The winner: Walmart, by $3. Meijer came out in the middle. Kroger ended up slightly more expensive because of its higher prices on cereal and laundry items.
But Kroger shopper Joanne Mertens told us that if you shop by the weekly circular, "I think their prices are great!"
And she's right: As we found in our undercover shopping trip, Kroger's weekly specials often win the grocery war.
As always, don't waste your money.
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