Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Food prices are similar throughout valley

Survey indicates only WinCo in Twin Falls is much cheaper

Express Staff Writer

Wood River Valley residents hoping to save money on grocery bills won't do so by heading south, unless they're willing to head way south—to Twin Falls.

An Idaho Mountain Express survey of 24 grocery items picked at random indicates that prices at the valley's four supermarkets—three Atkinsons' and one Albertsons—are about the same. Other than for produce, prices at Atkinsons' Valley Market in Bellevue aren't any less than those at its Ketchum store.

"We make every effort to stay consistent," store co-owner Whit Atkinson said. "We're one company. Our fixed costs are what they are. There's no need to penalize people in Ketchum."

Atkinson said some produce items are more expensive in the Ketchum store because they are higher quality than those sold in the Hailey and Bellevue stores. He said more shoppers in Ketchum are willing to pay higher prices for those items.

Shoppers can save money by buying dry items in bulk at Atkinsons' markets in Hailey and Bellevue.

Prices at the Hailey Albertsons are similar to those at Atkinsons' markets and virtually identical to those at the company's Twin Falls store.

Donna Eggers, a spokesperson for Boise-based Albertsons, said prices are consistent in the company's stores throughout the Northwest and northern Rockies. However, she said Albertsons is sometimes able to reduce prices on locally obtained items.

So Wood River Valley shoppers won't save money by driving to the Albertsons in Twin Falls. But they will save by shopping at WinCo, where prices on the 24 items selected for this survey averaged 64 percent of the most expensive price for each item at the five stores.

"Everything we do is calculated to deliver the lowest possible pricing," said Michael Read, WinCo vice president for public relations. "The stores are just basic—there's nothing fancy about them."

The Winco store in Twin Falls has an austere look—there's little decoration and many items are displayed in their cardboard shipping boxes or on pallets. Read said other ways the company keeps costs down are by:

· Not accepting credit cards. Banks charge a retailer a 2 percent fee for all purchases on credit cards.

· Building big stores with lots of storage capacity, which allows the company to ship more of an item at once.

· Requiring shoppers to bag their own groceries.

· Not advertising.

WinCo also has a substantial number of items for sale in bulk.

Eggers and Atkinsons' Ketchum store Manager Tom Pyle said shoppers can save money shopping locally by:

· Watching their supermarket's weekly ad.

· Capitalizing on the savings associated with a store's loyalty card.

· Stocking up on sale-priced items, whenever feasible.

· Using coupons—both paper coupons and those available on the Internet.

· Taking advantage of the savings associated with their supermarket's line of products.

"Our Albertsons' brands of products are between 10 and 25 percent cheaper than the equivalent national brands, with no sacrifice in quality," Eggers said.

Pyle said Mondays and Tuesdays are double-coupon days for manufacturers' coupons, which can be found in the Idaho Statesman, the Twin Falls Times-News and magazines like Redbook.

Whit Atkinson said the store contributes to the local community through its Advantage Card by donating 1 percent of sales to the Blaine County Education Foundation and to The Community School.

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