How Strong is Your Grocery Shopping Game?

Text by Erika Schlenker, Hope College ’16

How do you survive in New York City?

You eat.

…Gottcha! The Big Apple may be exciting and distracting with all its glitz and glamour, but I hope you’d remember to feed yourself. Everybody’s gotta eat. Unfortunately, food here probably isn’t as cheap as you’re used to in the Midwest (or wherever you’re from). I’ve seen your average pack of Double Stuf Oreos go for $5.49 (I’m looking at you, Duane Reade), and that’s not even including the 8.875% sales tax. Maybe your’e not worried about the price of food, and more power to ya if your parents buy your groceries, but I need to save a dollar where I can. I took a trip to five grocery stores south of NYAP housing to compare the price of four items I needed to buy:

  • Cheerios – 12 oz
  • Almond Breeze Almondmilk – 64 oz
  • 100% Whole Wheat Bread – 1 lb – 1 lb 8 oz
  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips – 12 oz

Which store had the best prices? Let’s break it down so when it’s your time to shop for groceries, you know where to get the best deal. But first, a little about the five stores I visited:

Ideal MarketplaceIdeal Marketplace – 317 9th Ave (btwn. 28th St & 29th St)The close proximity to NYAP housing makes this place ideal, but it closes at 9 pm most days, making a trip for your late night snacks impossible. Though their deli items are a bit pricey, they have good sales and the lines are usually short. Shop here for all your basic food needs, plus other odd ends like tissues, tooth brushes, and birthday candles.
GristedesGristedes – 307 W 26th St (btwn. 8th Ave & 9th Ave)Unless you enjoy dishing out twice as much money as you’d pay anywhere else, I would only recommend this place if you need something quick. Yes, they are a short three blocks away from NYAP housing, but they will rob you of every cent you have (and send you home with expired food if you’re not careful). At least they post their weekly specials online.
Whole Foods MarketWhole Foods Market – 250 7th Ave (btwn. 24th St & 25th St)Considered expensive in any other city but New York, this market is prime for your organic and health food needs. They have a bulk food station, express checkout, and a 10 cent reimbursement for every reusable bag you bring. Plus, their salad bar and hot food stations are great for when you want to grab a pre-made meal.
Fairway MarketFairway Market – 766 Avenue of the Americas (btwn. 25th St & 26th St)“Like no other market,” they’ve got everything you need from deli meat to fresh produce; made-to-order sandwiches to fancy cheeses; and organic food to your favorite name brand items. There isn’t a lot of space to walk around, but overall there is a thrill in shopping here.
Trader Joe'sTrader Joe’s – 675 6th Ave (btwn. 21st St & 22nd St)There is no place like it. They have a wide variety of food items from classic to weird (Partially Popped Popcorn, anyone?), and every price is a deal. The catch is that most everything will be Trader Joe’s brand, and there’s only one, maybe two, options for each item. The checkout lines can be outrageously long, but they move fast. Unlike other stores, there is always an employee around to help you find something. A+ customer service, great music, and free samples.

So which store did the best, price wise, in the battle for my grocery list? Here’s the breakdown by item:

Cheerios:

  • Ideal – $5.49
  • Gristedes – $5.99 (on sale that week for $5.29)
  • Whole Foods – $5.99
  • Fairway – $4.69
  • Trader Joe’s – (Joe’s O’s 15 oz) $1.99

Almond Breeze Almondmilk:

  • Ideal – $4.89
  • Gristedes – $5.79
  • Whole Foods – $3.99
  • Fairway – $4.69
  • Trader Joe’s – (32 fl oz = $2.19, so 2 of these) $4.38

100% Whole Wheat Bread:

  • Ideal – $3.79
  • Gristedes – $3.79
  • Whole Foods – $3.99
  • Fairway – $4.29
  • Trader Joe’s – $2.99

Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips:

  • Ideal – $3.69
  • Gristedes – $4.99 (Tollhouse was $5.99)
  • Whole Foods – $2.99
  • Fairway – $3.79
  • Trader Joe’s – $1.99

If I bought all four items together at each store, the total cost per store would be:

  • Ideal – $17.86
  • Gristedes – $20.56
  • Whole Foods – $16.96
  • Fairway – $17.46
  • Trader Joe’s – $11.35

From this price comparison, one can deduce that Gristedes is the most expensive option, while Trader Joe’s is the best deal. Ideal and Fairway markets are fairly similar when it comes to the total cost, but the individual prices of their items vary. Whole Foods is reasonably priced and a great choice when you’re looking for selective quality items. Of course, this comparison was only based on a limited amount of packaged items that are unique to my needs. Your own grocery list and quality/price values should determine your overall perception of grocery store prices.

Perhaps the best way to get the most bang for your buck is to purchase items all over the grid: at supermarkets, convenience stores, farmers markets, and fruit stands. Whatever you do, explore a bit. Grocery stores in New York City can be quite beautiful and exciting places.

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