Baja California Sur Food Price Survey - Compare to Your Hometown
We added more items to our shopping list and checked more stores than ever before. This year the supermarket price competition came out much closer.
On March 1, 2013 we took our shopping list of 37 staple food and grocery items to the major grocery chain stores in La Paz, Baja California Sur. These items were selected from our weekly shopping list, items that are staples and items selected at random from previous shopping.
We selected brands in advance that are common to most or all of the stores, in many cases these were not the least expensive choice in a similar product. But we had to be fair across the six stores surveyed somehow.
Our first Insider Baja Food Price Survey was done in March of 2011 and at that time Walmart was the new player in town and was as much as 18% higher than the lowest priced store. The supermarket market has stabilized since the rapid expansion of the chains, and the gap between high and low price markets has narrowed to 7%.
Most importantly in saving money...
We'll start you right off with the bottom line. The price spread of the major markets was not significant, even on a $100USD grocery bill you are only differing by pocket change. Hardly worth driving across town, past three other markets to do your shopping.
We shopped fixed items to compare prices. Few people really shop that way and significant savings can be had a markets that offer sales on items and planning your menu by intelligent 'buy-em-what's-on-sale' planning. This week for example Mega shoppers would do well to stock up on ground beef, while Ley shoppers dine on New York steaks. Zucaritas cereal is half the price at Ley this week than it is at Aramburo. But at Aramburo you should stock up on Pacific Light and white onions!
The key here is intelligent sale purchases. Having done marketing for food companies for many years, test products are your most likely sale items. These test products range from great new ideas to fat and sugar laden crap, the vast majority being of the later. Meal planning around the main course item of what may be on special will save you more money than picking which market to frequent.
Use your points card at Soriana and save. Know that your points also expire and your running total is usually displayed on the cashier's screen. It takes a little more time in life than I have to spare, so I just apply the points as the gal rings up the order. I've never paid attention to what is really the best application of each point. I don't have time to care that much. Had we applied any card member benefits Soriana might have narrowed the price gap even more.
Shopping history in La Paz
Things certainly have changed since I arrived in La Paz a little over a decade ago and the number of supermarkets has grown explosively. Aramburo's Market was established in the 1920's on Calle Madero after silver began to run out in El Triunfo and the Aramburo family relocated to the smaller, but growing city of La Paz. We included Aramburo's Markets for the first time in our survey. It is not surprising that this local market chain does not have the buying power of the major markets and proved to be 12% higher than the low price winner. But for a corner market and a little slice of La Paz history, it ain't all bad. The price survey applies to the two La Paz Markets. The one in down town Cabo San Lucas has separate pricing.
The Centro Commercial California or CCC local supermarket established over a century ago in the pearling business, brought the next evolution of grocery shopping with two "supermarket" locations to Baja Sur in the 80's. CCC supermarkets are now gone, bought out by the Chedrauri chain and both stores were renovated in 2011. At first, many of the same products and same familiar faces were seen. But I understand CCC was more generous than Chedrauri and some of the gringo brands and old friends can no longer be found there.
Ley's opened two supermarkets just ten years ago and were the first of the spacious American style multi-markets to open in La Paz. These markets are now looking a little worn in La Paz and should be due up for a facelift. The 5 de Mayo location is the only big store on that side of town, but it services one of the less affluent areas of La Paz to the southeast. Ley had the best selection of cheese, chirizo and packaged deli meats. An excellent presentation and selection of deli cheeses and meats as well, although roast beef remains a rare find.
Soriana locations came along about 8 years ago and this evolution brought the wine, deli and bakery sections that are so popular in northern supermarkets. Soriana also introduced the points card and is now the only supermarket continuing the practice.
Then came Walmart and the gringos flocked in for familiar brands. The Walmart's in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas are small to medium sized stores from the perspective of norther visitors. Walmart has the best selection of goods other than grocery and more regular quality on those goods.
Mega stores are the latest addition to the shopping choices in La Paz, although they have been in San Jose del Cabo for some time. In La Paz it is probably the snazziest of al the markets. An excellent wine selection, a foreign foods section to rival any in La Paz and good quality produce make it one of my personal favorites. The meats & poultry section is a large island, but I've had trouble getting service there once and a while when they are stocking.
Since I am not a loyal chain shopper, I have frequented each of these chains many times. I tend to shop the store closest to where I call home, where my path takes me for that given day, or if I need a specific item only available at one store.
Statistics show that most folks shop the store closest to home, regardless of price, and in most cases the time and gas more than covers the difference in prices, unless of course the most expensive store is the one closest to you.
Spring 2013 Grocery Price Survey Winners & Losers
For our Price Comparison Chart click here;
On the chart we indicate the highest (red) and lowest priced (green) store for each item. Clearly, no one store was the overall winner.
#1 – Chedrauri - Price Survey Winner - (last survey #2)
Chedrauri has always been one of the most competitive store chains and returns to the #1 price position in this this, the fourth price survey. There has been a decrease in the quantity of 'gringo' foods and not all stores carry the same items, depending on the neighborhood. We give them the best price crown, but the produce was pretty sad looking and the meat selection was limited. Wednesdays are fruits & vegetables day, for best prices and selections.
#2 – Commercial Mexicana / Mega Stores (#1 last survey) +2%
Mega stores well represent their name, with a wide selection of products, grocery and otherwise. Probably the most aggressive on in-store marketing. The fruits and vegetables were of good quality in a slightly smaller section than some other store chains. The meats and poultry sections offer good selection. The stores are always well stocked on our visits. Mega takes top honors in the supporting cafeteria role. The coffee shop/cafe had a nice menu and the coffee was right up there. Tuesdays and Thursdays bring the best deals and selections on fruits and veggie's
#3 – Soriana slightly more expensive, but if you use your card... (last survey #3) +4%
The 'anchor' store in both the La Paz and Cabo locations, and now with a new location at the "Cola de Ballena". Soriana's represented the first huge multi-store in both cities. The last store with an effective points program, you do have to know how to use the points to benefit. We did not apply any points-card purchases to our survey, if you did, Soriana might be be #1. They have a wide selection of dry goods, however I have found many of their products below my standards, particularly clothing.
It remains a reoccurring problem of finding the same brand name product on different visits.
Soriana also offers online shopping with home delivery within a specified radius of their stores. Most of La Paz is covered, here in CostaBaja we are not. The prices on some items was less than that in the stores. In some items only premium choices were available.
#4 – Walmart - More competitive - Best Meats (last survey #6) +5%
Walmart was as much as 18% higher in previous surveys but in this edition is right in the running. Without a doubt Walmart offers the highest quality meats on a regular basis. They are also regularly the highest priced on those fine meats. Produce is always of good or better quality and lettuce is available at Walmart when other places don't have it. Walmart has A&W Root Beer and many other gringo favorites. Although Walmart would not be my mention for the highest quality in the States, I think their merchandise other than food is perhaps the best quality available in La Paz.
#5 – Ley- Something continues to slip (last survey #4) +7%
Locals refer to Ley's as 'the poor people's store'. Honestly I have no idea why, except for maybe their location in the city. The stores were just as clean and well stocked but older and not quite of the superstore caliber, although they also stock dry goods. Wine selections were very limited and the focus in the alcohol section was on beer. Produce is usually very good, if not the best and seems to benefit from local buys on some items. The meat section was limited and the steaks were thin in package, but could be cut to order. Ley on 5 de Mayo had one of the best deli sections (cut meats & cheeses) All the other stores in our survey had more 'other' products. They have the fewest 'gringo brands'. The Ley on 5 de Mayo was just completing a little cafeteria.
Aramburo Markets (the Cow Store to many La Paz visitors) were the most expensive, by 12% - so what. Aramburo's is a local market with a handful of locations in Baja California Sur and certainly not a power buyer in the world of Supermarket Bingo. The store on Madero has history and is a great place to make a run for quick items, due to easy access most of the time and quick checkout. The store in central Cabo is in easy walking distance from many hotels, BnB's and homes in El Centro.
So what does it mean?
Let us presume that the price comparison is across the board on all grocery products. This is a flawed assumption of course, but on your $1000 peso bill, that is only $150 pesos or about $11USD. Over the course of a year that is about a free months worth of groceries if you switch from the highest priced store to the most affordable.
A final note: Shopping sale items makes all the difference in the world, but mostly on the big ticket items. Look for sales flyers that promote good values on meats and chicken, bags of dog food and other pricey items you buy. Saving a few cents on canned items or a kilo of frijoles doesn't add up to a hill of beans.
All prices were taken from the shelf prices on March 1, 2013. Prices are in Mexican Pesos