A tale of two states – comparing food prices

Yes, this is a post about supermarkets.

Fresh Market is an upscale market, concentrating on fresh food (wow!), trading on the organic foods fad… it competes with Whole Foods and Trader Joes on a national level. In the Northeast, Wegmans is also a competitor. Fresh Market is the closest store to my home, thus I’m very familiar with its prices on my basic food items.

In New Jersey, Fresh Market is definitely competitive with Kings, marginally competitive with the artisan products and meat counter at Wegmans, and radically out of line in any comparison to Shoprite, Stop-n-Shop, Acme, Walmart… (Can’t compare to Trader Joe or Whole Foods; don’t have them available at a reasonable distance).

But this is just in New Jersey. Recently I spent three weeks on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, and boy howdy was that an eye-opener! One afternoon I stopped in to the Fresh Market in Wilmington NC and found that many of the prices I’d complained about in NJ were the same in NC. And in North Carolina, Fresh Market is competitive – in many cases cheaper. I find it amazing that meat-counter bacon is lower-priced than prepackaged national brands, but that was the case in almost all comparisons.

At first, I thought this was just the usual “stick it to the beach tourists” markup so common in the area from May through October. So I checked some inland stores as well. Food Lion was the only real competitor price-wise, and the prices were consistent across all five stores I checked. Lowes Food is an oxymoron; it may be food but it’s certainly not Low(e) – the prices in two stores were higher than any price I’ve encountered in NJ. Harris-Teeter (three locations) were consistently higher; Piggly-Wiggly (three stores) is lower on staples but astronomical on meats.

Note that in New Jersey almost all foods are non-taxable (candy being the big exception in my experience) whereas North Carolina has the philosophy of “tax everything!”

Astounding.

(The market basket for comparisons: pint half-and-half, eight ounce hard cheese (Cabot), sixteen ounce cottage cheese (Daisy or Breakstone), pound bacon, pound ground chuck, salad package, pound fresh-ground peanut butter, pound lima beans (frozen), pound green beans (frozen), broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts).

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