It’s been almost two years since our last Supermarket Sweep, and a volatile two years at that. This time we brought Ridgewood fully into the mix, pushing the total number of stores up to 33. This revealed that food prices, not just rent, are a little better across the borough line. We aren’t including Union Square stores for comparison this time, but all of you people who we see on the train with Trader Joe’s bags are welcome to take notes and post in the comments.
Average food basket prices by neighborhood
E Williamsburg (above Flushing): $10.08
N Bushwick (Flushing to Myrtle) $9.15
S Bushwick (below Myrtle) $8.60
We visited all of the stores on the 2nd and 5th of July to collect the lowest offered prices on a basket consisting of a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a carton of one dozen eggs, a pound of bananas, and a 15.5oz can of pinto or black beans. None of these products appeared to be unduly affected by 4th of July special promotions, but we did follow sale prices where offered (beans and eggs in particular are loss leader products that are in a state of near-perpetual discount in many stores). All told, the average basket price stands at $8.95, an increase from 2009′s $8.27 that illustrates the kind of inflation we’re experiencing. It’s not nearly as dramatic as the drop from the 2008 average of $9.50, but given that the commodity food price index is currently back up to its 2008 level (40% over 2009′s), it’s reassuring that retail prices haven’t yet followed.
For the third time the low price champ remains Junior’s Food Outlet on Wyckoff and Summerfield with a $6.79 basket, but at exactly a dollar up from last time, Junior’s now leads the pack by only 24 cents (compared with $1.19 in 2009 and $1.39 in 2008). Closing the gap is the new Associated location on Bushwick Avenue at Noll Street, which is still offering a slew of "grand opening specials" that are looking increasingly permanent now that it’s been open for many months. At the other end of the recent supermarket openings, Hana Natural on Wyckoff and Starr made a strong challenge to the most expensive spot with a $14.75 basket (with only a half-gallon carton of milk to boot), but still fell short of Brooklyn’s Natural. The popular organic grocery on Bogart holds a new record of $16.25.
In 2009 we reported a widening effect in prices, with the cheap getting cheaper and the high end more costly. That trend may have stalled slightly. For the stores in which data was collected in all three years, the coefficient of variation (CV; the ratio of standard deviation to the mean) rose from .21 in 2008 to .29 in 2009, indicating a widening spread of prices. Two years later, the CV is only at .27. Squeezed between high commodity prices and frugal customers, we observed that some of the cut-rate stores like Junior’s aren’t able to slash prices like they used to, while some of the higher end stores haven’t raised prices much and are stocking more Goya and Wonderbread alongside their gourmet offerings. This strategy knocked almost $3 off the basket price at Khim’s Millennium Market.
Among individual items in the basket, it was bread that really made or broke a store. The price difference between a loaf of organic Bread Alone at Brooklyn’s Natural and a bag of store-brand white bread is fairly vast, though the difference in composition is as well. Some stores with otherwise amazing offerings (like newcomer Sea Town) fell flat on providing more than a few marked-up loaves of Arnold’s, while others (like Peach Farm) didn’t make the list this year because they offered none at all. Grimaldi’s, take note: someone needs to step up.
On average, however, the price of bread has only changed two cents from two years ago, in spite of a near-doubling in the price of wheat (according to the USDA, only about 5% of retail bread price changes are due to fluctuations in wheat.) Eggs and milk have been responsible for most of the modest rise, while beans and bananas have decreased a few cents. On the whole, nothing dramatic.