Shoppers have a lot invested in their stores, making 88 trips and spending $5,060 a year on average. In this sour economy, they're finding more good deals. The Food Marketing Institute, a trade group, says that 36 percent of grocers it surveyed are featuring more promotions and deeper sales, 10 percent have switched to an everyday-low-price policy as an alternative to weekly specials, and 10 percent have added perks to their loyalty programs, including fuel discounts and more-generous rewards. In addition, more chains planned to remodel or open new stores in 2011 than in 2010.
Our reporter learned firsthand that a smart shopper can save money by using these tactics.
Use coupons. Manufacturers flooded the market with 179 billion grocery coupons last year, and 2.3 billion were redeemed, according to Charles Brown, vice president of marketing for NCH Marketing Services, which tracks promotions. The average face value of a grocery coupon is $1.17, and more and more manufacturers require you to buy multiple items to land the discount. Coupons also tend to have a shorter life cycle than they used to (the average duration is 10.2 weeks, down from 11.2 in 2007). The source of most coupons remains inserts such as those in the Sunday newspaper, but you'll also find offers on websites operated by supermarkets and manufacturers. Fewer than 1 percent of coupons are distributed by e-mail or via mobile applications, though many of the chains in our survey let card-club members download coupons to a smart phone.
Increasingly, stores are saving their best deals for loyalty-card members. At Harris Teeter (in the South), for example, club members can double the value of some manufacturers' coupons, download coupons electronically to their cards, receive special e-mail offers, and be notified when items they regularly buy are on sale. At Fred Meyer stores (mostly in the West), members earn points toward cash rebates, and at Price Chopper (Northeast), AdvantEdge Card members earn a 10-cent-per-gallon discount on fuel for every $50 they spend.
Buy store brands. Due in part to lower product-development and promotional costs, store brands can sell for a lot less. Seventy-two percent of our survey respondents said they bought store brands, and 89 percent of those who did said that store brands are as good as or better than national brands. Year after year, our trained tasters often agree. In our survey, Costco, Trader Joe's, Wegmans, and Whole Foods earned top marks for house brands. Aldi (a nationwide chain that sells mostly store-brand items) and Giant Eagle (Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) are so confident customers will like their brands that they offer a double-money-back guarantee.
Shop from home. Big Y (Massachusetts and Connecticut), Harris Teeter, Safeway (nationwide), and Schnucks (Midwest) are among many chains at which shoppers in some locations can order groceries online or via a mobile phone for in-store pickup or delivery. At Safeway, a personal shopper will gather your order, catering to preferences for, say, firm tomatoes or thick-cut deli meats, and it will be delivered within your choice of available time frames. The charge: $3.95 to $12.95. The faster you need your order, the higher the fee. Some chains charge a flat fee per order. Grocers sometimes waive the fee for first-time customers, so it won't cost anything to give it a try. Also, chains usually back their programs with a satisfaction guarantee.