Wal-Mart Pricing Report: Round IV

Walmart Price Comparison

A Pricing Surprise In Dallas

At least one format can out-price a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

In Round IV of our continuing series, PRODUCE BUSINESS compares the pricing at Wal-Mart Supercenters with various supermarket chains in the Dallas, TX area — including Wal-Mart’s own Neighborhood Market concept.

We began this series of price comparisons about as far from Wal-Mart’s home base in Arkansas as we could get, going to Connecticut where we found out that Wal-Mart was simply obliterating the competition when it came to pricing, with results ranging from Super Stop & Shop being 23 percent more expensive than Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart Supercenter vs 5 Chains
Price Comparison — Portland, OR

October 2003 – Prices Available To The General Public
STORE NAME WAL-MART ALBERTSONS BROOKSHIRE’S KROGER
Produce Item How
Priced
Regular
Price
Regular
Price
% Over
Wal-Mart
Regular
Price
% Over
Wal-Mart
Regular
Price
% Over
Wal-Mart
Apples – Red Delicious – Large Lb $0.97 $1.49 53.61% $1.49 53.61% $1.59 63.92%
Asparagus Lb $2.94 $2.99 1.70% $2.99 1.70% $3.79 28.91%
Avocados – Medium Each $0.68 $1.39 104.41% $0.99 45.59% $1.69 148.53%
Bananas – Yellow Lb $0.35 $0.37 5.71% $0.49 40.005 $0.37 5.71%
Beans – Green Lb $1.29 $1.29 0.00% $1.49 15.50% $1.99 54.26%
Broccoli Crowns Lb $1.39 $1.59 14.39% $1.39 0.00% $1.49 7.19%
Cabbage – Green Lb $0.46 $0.45 -3.26% $0.33 -28.26% $0.50 8.70%
Cabbage – Red Lb $0.64 $0.99 54.69% $0.49 -23.44% $0.50 -21.88%
Cantaloupe – Whole Each $0.94 $2.50 165.96% $1.69 79.79% $2.00 112.77%
Cauliflower Each $2.28 $2.50 9.65% $2.00 -12.28% $2.79 22.37%
Celery Bunch $1.12 $1.39 24.11% $1.39 24.11% $1.49 33.04%
Coleslaw – 1# Bag Each $1.38 $1.00 -27.54% $1.69 22.46% $1.49 7.97%
Corn – Yellow Each $0.25 $0.33 32.00% $0.50 100.00% $0.25 0.00%
Cucumbers – Regular Each $0.50 $0.69 38.00% $0.50 0.00% $0.44 -12.00%
Garlic Lb $1.97 $1.28M -35.03% $2.69 36.55% $1.60 -18.78%
Grapefruit – Red Each $0.84 $0.99 17.86% $0.99 17.86% $0.79 -5.95%
Grapes – Green Seedless Lb $1.24 $2.49 100.81% $1.69 36.29% $1.99 60.48%
Grapes – Red Seedless Lb $1.24 $2.49 100.81% $1.99 60.48% $1.69 36.29%
Green Onions Bunch $0.57 $0.69 21.05% $0.69 21.05% $0.59 3.51%
Honeydew – Whole Each $1.76 $1.99 13.07% $2.50 42.05% $1.99 13.07%
Jar Fruit – Del Monte Each $2.98 $3.49 17.11% $2.50 -16.11% $3.99 33.89%
Jicama Lb $1.98 $1.99 0.51% $0.99 -50.00% $0.99 -50.00%
Kiwi Each $0.33 $0.50 51.52% $0.25 -24.24% $0.25 -24.24%
Lemons – Bulk Each $0.50 $0.25 -50.00% $0.25 -50.00% $0.25 -50.00%
Lettuce – Green Leaf Each $1.18 $1.00 -15.25% $1.29 9.32% $1.49 26.27%
Lettuce – Iceberg Bulk Each $0.98 $0.97 -1.02% $0.99 1.02% $0.97 -1.02%
Lettuce – Red Leaf Each $1.18 $1.00 -15.25% $1.29 9.32% $1.49 26.27%
Lettuce – Romaine Bulk Each $1.18 $1.49 26.27% $1.29 9.32% $1.49 26.27%
Limes – Bulk Each $0.25 $0.20 -20.00% $0.10 -60.00% $0.10 -60.00%
Mushrooms – White Package 8oz $1.48 $3.49 135.81% $1.99 34.46% $1.79 20.95%
Nectarines Lb $0.76 $1.69 122.37% $1.89 148.68% $1.99 161.84%
Onions – Red Lb $0.88 $1.29 46.59% $1.29 46.59% $0.99 12.50%
Onions – Yellow Lb $0.88 $0.10 -88.64% $1.29 46.59% $0.99 12.50%
Onions – Yellow Bag 3# $2.24 $2.99 33.48% $1.00 -55.36% $2.69 20.09%
Peaches Lb $0.97 $1.69 74.23% $1.39 43.30% $0.99 2.06%
Pears – Bartlett Lb $1.32 $1.69 28.03% $0.50 -62.12% $1.29 -2.27%
Peppers – Green Bell Each $0.64 $0.50 -21.88% $0.89 39.06% $0.44 -31.25%
Peppers – Red Each $1.50 $0.99 -34.00% $1.69 12.67% $1.89 26.00%
Plums Lb $1.17 $1.99 70.09% $1.99 70.09% $0.99 -15.38%
Potatoes – Red Bulk Lb $0.88 $0.99 12.50% $0.79 -10.23% $0.99 12.50%
Potatoes – Russet Bulk Lb $0.43 $0.89 106.98% $0.89 106.98% $0.89 106.98%
Potatoes – Russet 5# Bag Each $2.96 $2.00 -32.43% $1.00 -66.22% $2.99 1.01%
Radishes Bunch $0.78 $1.99 155.13% $0.89 14.10% $1.99 155.13%
Salad – Caesar 10 oz $2.43 $3.29 35.39% $2.99 23.05% $2.50 2.68%
Salad – Garden 1# $1.50 $1.00 -33.33% $1.00 -33.33% $1.99 32.67%
Salad – Spring 5 oz $2.43 $3.29 35.99% $2.99 23.05% $2.00 -17.70%
Squash – Zucchini Lb $0.74 $1.29 74.32% $0.79 6.76% $1.59 114.86%
Strawberries 1# Pkg $2.68 $2.99 11.57% $3.00 11.94% $2.50 -6.72%
Tomatoes – Cherry on the Vine 12oz $2.50 $3.49 39.60% $2.99 19.60% $3.49 39.60%
Tomatoes Hothouse (PLU 4799) Lb $1.93 $2.49 29.02% $1.79 -7.25% $2.49 29.02%
Tomatoes On the Vine (PLU 4664) Lb $2.84 $2.49 -12.32% $1.89 -33.45% $2.69 -5.28%
Watermelon – Cut Lb $0.43 $0.49 13.95% $0.49 13.95% $0.49 13.95%
Yams Lb $0.88 $1.29 46.59% $0.99 12.50% $0.99 12.50%
MARKET BASKET $68.62 $84.19 22.68% 73.34% 6.88% $81.69 19.05%

 

STORE NAME WAL-MART NEIGHBORHOOD MARKET TOM THUMB
Produce Item How
Priced
Regular
Price
Regular
Price
% Over
Wal-Mart
Regular
Price
% Over
Wal-Mart
Apples – Red Delicious – Large Lb $0.97 $0.97 0.00% $1.59 63.92%
Asparagus Lb $2.94 $2.44 -17.01% $1.99 32.31%
Avocados – Medium Each $0.68 $0.68 0.00% $1.50 120.59%
Bananas – Yellow Lb $0.35 $0.44 25.71% $0.50 42.86%
Beans – Green Lb $1.29 $1.24 -3.88% $1.69 31.01%
Broccoli Crowns Lb $1.39 $1.34 -3.60% $1.79 28.78%
Cabbage – Green Lb $0.46 $0.48 4.35% $0.50 8.70%
Cabbage – Red Lb $0.64 $0.64 0.00% $0.59 -7.81%
Cantaloupe – Whole Each $0.94 $2.00 112.77% $2.69 186.17%
Cauliflower Each $2.28 $1.97 -13.60% $3.19 39.91%
Celery Bunch $1.12 $1.14 1.79% $1.69 50.89%
Coleslaw – 1# Bag Each $1.38 $1.28 -7.25% $1.69 22.46%
Corn – Yellow Each $0.25 $0.25 0.00% $0.33 32.00%
Cucumbers – Regular Each $0.50 $0.50 0.00% $0.89 78.00%
Garlic Lb $1.97 $1.97 0.00% $1.99 1.02%
Grapefruit – Red Each $0.84 $0.84 0.00% $0.99 17.86%
Grapes – Green Seedless Lb $1.24 $1.24 0.00% $2.49 100.81%
Grapes – Red Seedless Lb $1.24 $1.67 34.68% $1.99 60.48%
Green Onions Bunch $0.57 $0.47 -17.54% $0.69 21.05%
Honeydew – Whole Each $1.76 $1.96 11.36% $2.99 69.89%
Jar Fruit – Del Monte Each $2.98 $2.98 0.00% $3.99 33.89%
Jicama Lb $1.98 $1.38 -30.30% $0.99 -50.00%
Kiwi Each $0.33 $0.33 0.00% $0.50 51.52%
Lemons – Bulk Each $0.50 $0.25 -50.00% $0.25 -50.00%
Lettuce – Green Leaf Each $1.18 $1.18 0.00% $0.99 -16.10%
Lettuce – Iceberg Bulk Each $0.98 $0.98 0.00% $1.49 52.04%
Lettuce – Red Leaf Each $1.18 $1.18 0.00% $0.99 -16.10%
Lettuce – Romaine Bulk Each $1.18 $1.18 0.00% $0.99 -16.10%
Limes – Bulk Each $0.25 $0.25 0.00% $0.33 32.00%
Mushrooms – White Package 8oz $1.48 $1.48 0.00% $1.99 34.46%
Nectarines Lb $0.76 $0.76 0.00% $2.49 227.63%
Onions – Red Lb $0.88 $0.88 0.00% $1.29 46.59%
Onions – Yellow Lb $0.88 $0.88 0.00% $0.99 12.50%
Onions – Yellow Bag 3# $2.24 $1.84 -17.86% $2.39 6.70%
Peaches Lb $0.97 $0.97 0.00% $2.49 156.70%
Pears – Bartlett Lb $1.32 $1.14 -13.64% $1.49 12.88%
Peppers – Green Bell Each $0.64 $0.64 0.00% $0.79 23.44%
Peppers – Red Each $1.50 $1.50 0.00% $1.69 12.67%
Plums Lb $1.17 $1.17 0.00% $1.99 70.09%
Potatoes – Red Bulk Lb $0.88 $0.78 -11.36% $0.99 12.50%
Potatoes – Russet Bulk Lb $0.43 $0.78 81.40% $0.79 83.72%
Potatoes – Russet 5# Bag Each $2.96 $1.94 -34.46% $2.49 -15.88%
Radishes Bunch $0.78 $0.74 -5.13% $1.49 91.03%
Salad – Caesar 10 oz $2.43 $2.43 0.00% $3.29 35.39%
Salad – Garden 1# $1.50 $1.50 0.00% $1.99 32.67%
Salad – Spring 5 oz $2.43 $2.43 0.00% $3.29 35.39%
Squash – Zucchini Lb $0.74 $0.84 13.51% $0.99 33.78%
Strawberries 1# Pkg $2.68 $2.00 -25.37% $2.50 -6.72%
Tomatoes – Cherry on the Vine 12oz $2.50 $2.84 13.60% $3.49 39.60%
Tomatoes Hothouse (PLU 4799) Lb $1.93 $2.32 20.21% $2.49 29.02%
Tomatoes On the Vine (PLU 4664) Lb $2.84 $2.84 0.00% $1.69 -40.49%
Watermelon – Cut Lb $0.43 $0.98 127.91% $9.39 -32.56%
Yams Lb $0.88 $0.88 0.00% $1.19 35.23%
MARKET BASKET $68.62 $67.79 -1.21% $86.86 26.58%

As our study moved to Salt Lake City, we found Wal-Mart getting a bit of a run for its money as Harmons Grocery was a mere 2 percent over Wal-Mart, Smith’s just 6 percent, and Albertsons being less aggressive at 12 percent over Wal-Mart.

That close price competition turned out to be a peculiarity of Salt Lake when we moved to South Florida and found that Publix came in a bit more than 30 percent over Wal-Mart, and Winn-Dixie was pricing its produce at an astonishing rate of over 51 percent higher than Wal-Mart. Casting doubts on whether it was the supercenter format that led to these price differences, even SuperTarget came in almost 22 percent higher than Wal-Mart.

The fact that the Neighborhood Market concept is even roughly equivalent to the Wal-Mart Supercenter is very significant.

In this issue, we roll into the Dallas metroplex looking for a new low-price leader. Dallas is a crucial market with a unique set of competitors. So we expanded our study to encompass six different retailers.

We included a strong regional competitor – Brookshire’s – plus representatives of the big three supermarket chains; an Albertson’s a Kroger and a Tom Thumb, owned by Safeway. In addition to the War-Mart Supercenter, we also studied pricing, for the first time, at a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.

And we have big news to report. No competitor in Connecticut, Salt Lake City or South Florida under-priced the Wal-Mart Supercenter. But, finally, here in the Dallas, we have found a competitor not prepared to look overpriced compared to the mighty Wal-Mart Supercenter concept, a competitor who is not prepared to cede the great middle class of price-conscious buyers to the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

We finally have a competitor who beat out the prices at a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

And the winner is Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market concept.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this finding. It is not that the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market concept underpriced the Wal-Mart Supercenter by 1.2 percent that is significant. Most items were identically priced at the two concepts, and the variation may be accounted for by in-store specials, manager’s markdown etc., on the day of our visit. But the fact that that the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market concept is even roughly equivalent to the Wal-Mart Supercenter is very significant.

After all, competitors have claimed that the supercenter concept is inherently able to offer lower prices. The explanation has been that the very offer of food was justified as an attempt to increase the frequency of shopping by consumers. As such, low margins in food in general, and perishables, in particular, were acceptable as they attracted consumers who then made high-margin purchases in general merchandise.

In South Florida, when Super Target failed to approach the Wal-Mart Supercenter in terms of pricing, we began to suspect that corporate philosophy, more than format efficiencies, was the driver behind pricing.

The Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market concept is just a supermarket. It lacks the extensive general merchandise selection of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. Therefore, it cannot compensate for inadequate food margins with generous general merchandise margins.

How They Stack Up Against Wal-Mart Supercenter

Region Store % Over
Wal-Mart
Store % Over
Wal-Mart
Store % Over
Wal-Mart
Connecticut Super Stop & Shop 23% Shaws 34% Big Y 36%
Salt Lake City Harmons 2% Smith’s 6% Albertsons 12%
South Florida Super Target 22% Publix 31% Winn-Dixie 52%
Dallas, Texas Albertsons 23% Brookshires 7% Kroger 19%
Neighborhood Market -1.2% Tom Thumb 27%

If Wal-Mart Neighborhood Markets can earn an adequate return on capital while selling at Supercenter prices, it tells us two things: 1). Supercenters must be phenomenally profitable as they earn good profits on food and on general merchandise. There is no loss leader here. 2). Wal-Mart’s ability to price lower then everyone else must be a function of some greater efficiency.

But what could be the cause of these efficiencies? Three possibilities:

Wal-Mart could be buying cheaper: Could it be that all these demands for slotting fees and other monies cause supermarket retailers to overpay? Perhaps by insisting on up-front monies and other special payments, retailers reduce the available procurement options sufficiently to raise their average purchase price?

Wal-Mart could be saving money on logistics: They are famous for utilization of technology and have more modern distribution centers, stores, etc. than anyone else. Often the buyer who is fighting to the death for a quarter off the box may be overpaying on logistics because the source of supply is more variable. With its contracting methods and steady supply relationships, Wal-Mart may find the real savings in the logistics, not the produce.

Perhaps, though, low prices are the cause of efficiencies: In other words, it is believed that the typical Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is selling around $500,000 a week, whereas a typical supermarket sells around $360,000 a week.

If rent, electric, etc., stay roughly the same, the fact that Wal-Mart has higher sales will mean that expenses are lower as a percentage of sales, which means Wal-Mart could again lower its prices and so on – a virtuous cycle.

The implication here is that if Kroger, Albertsons or Safeway or anyone else wants to compete with Wal-Mart, the thing to do might be to preemptively lower prices. Right now competitors are focusing on lowering costs to gain efficiencies so that, the, they can lower prices. But this may be a chimera.

The pennies saved on shrewd buying are likely to be overwhelmed by the efficiencies that come from selling more.

Certainly, competitors looking to compete head on for middle-class shoppers need some strategy.

In the price comparison, we gave supermarkets every advantage. Dallas happens to be a frequent-shopper-card market, and all of the chains other than the Wal-Mart concepts offer such cards. Frequently stores offer one price to the general public and another to holders of these frequent shopper cards. To give supermarkets every advantage, the comparisons we show are Wal-Mart’s prices – which are available to everyone who walks in the door – versus the other stores’ prices available only to holders of their frequent shopper cards.

The pennies saved on shrewd buying are likely to be overwhelmed by the efficiencies that come from selling more.

Yet even given this enormous advantage, Wal-Mart cleans up. Regional competitor Brookshire’s, whose “Great People — Great Prices,” at least is in range at just a little under 7 percent above Wal-Mart. Albertson’s is more than 22 percent over Wal-Mart, and Safeway’s Tom Thumbs more than 26 percent over Wal-Mart.

In looking over the specific pricing decisions, it seems like only Brookshire’s realizes there is a battle going on for the middle-class shopper. All the stores, for example, sell Del Monte jarred fruit, which both Wal-Mart concepts price at $2.98. Brookshire’s seeing an opportunity to cast doubt in its customers’ minds as to the value proposition Wal-Mart offers, underprices Wal-Mart at only $2.50 a jar. But Albertsons, at $3.49, is more than 17 percent over Wal-Mart. And Kroger and Tom Thumb, both at $3.99, or almost 34 percent over Wal-Mart, are perfectly content to have consumers walk through their stores every day, see a perfect parity product where there can be no doubt that the quality is identical wherever you buy it, and let consumers see that they simply won’t compete with Wal-Mart on price.

For how long, with how many consumers, in how many markets, so they can get away with this, and still be perceived as merchants to the American middle class?

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