Should you buy groceries at the drug store?

Consumer Reports

Drug stores are undeniably convenient. With more than 15,000 stores between them, it sometimes seems as if there’s a Walgreens or CVS on nearly every street corner in America. In fact, there are more than 43,000 chain and independent drug stores nationwide. So it’s no surprise that many are adding refrigerated and fresh foods, and a broader assortment of packaged goods, to their lineups. It’s a smart business move because most consumers purchase groceries and household supplies far more frequently than they fill a prescription or pick up a bottle of shampoo. And the more people shop, the more they spend. It’s retailing 101.

But are you paying a premium for convenience? For our recent supermarket report, "How to Be a Smarter Supermarket Shopper," we filled our basket with flour, ketchup, maple syrup, breakfast cereal, laundry detergent, milk, eggs, and the like. We bought about 25 different items, choosing the same brands or an equivalent if the identical product wasn’t available. We purchased items in the same or most economical size, and applied whatever discounts were available at the time. We compared the prices at several Walgreens to those at a conventional grocery store, Price Chopper. To show the differences clearly, we calculated product cost on a unit-price basis, that is, the cost per pint, quart, pound, 100 sheets, and so on. The table below tells the story.

Want to spend less on groceries? Try these 16 ways to save at the supermarket. And learn how to avoid getting tricked when shopping and save time at the supermarket.

Bottom line

Walgreens prices were 17 percent higher overall. Price Chopper won 17 of the 25 matchups, and in some of those instances, the gap was glaring. But the pharmacy captured some key battleground categories, including milk, bacon, cereal, peanut butter, and coffee—the incidentals shoppers might typically pick up in a pinch or while on their way home from work. If you’re relying on drugstores for more of your grocery needs, here are some tips.

  • Like supermarkets, many pharmacies feature “loss leaders,” offering a smattering of packaged goods such as coffee, snacks, and detergent, and over-the-counter health and beauty aids at or below cost to draw you into the store. During our shopping trip, extra-virgin olive oil was dirt cheap. So you need to be diligent and check store flyers and websites for the latest specials.
  • Selection is limited. At best, you’ll typically find only a couple of brands and sizes of within most categories.
  • The trend toward store brands isn’t limited to supermarkets. They’re worth a try and can save you cash. Consumer Reports readers recently gave high marks to Walgreens and Rite Aid brands of over-the-counter remedies and personal-care products for quality and selection.
  • Use your preferred-shopper card. If your drug store has a loyalty-card program, sign up. Depending on the program, members are entitled to discounts and promotions unavailable to the general public. And like supermarkets, pharmacies are increasingly reserving their best deals on food and general merchandise for their best customers.

Product

Price Chopper

Walgreens

Gold Medal flour (price per pound)

$.60

$.70

Duracell Coppertop AA batteries (per battery)

  .87

 1.00

Folger’s Classic Roast coffee (pound)

4.72

5.89

Starbuck’s French Roast coffee (pound)

14.39

9.32

Heinz ketchup (quart)

2.99

3.99

JIF Creamy peanut butter (pound)

3.20

2.79

Tide Liquid Original laundry detergent (quart)

4.26

4.90

Reynolds Wrap foil (100 square feet)

4.00

7.52

Glad Forceflex kitchen trash bags (100 bags)

10.83

25.76

Scott toilet paper (roll)

.85

1.00

Pantene Pro-V Classic shampoo (pint)

4.44

5.70

Johnson & Johnson baby powder (pound)

3.20

4.36

Huggies Snug & Dry diapers (100 diapers)

18.98

23.98

Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal (pound)

2.92

2.32

Maple Grove maple syrup (pint)

12.53

11.98

Berio extra virgin olive oil (quart)

12.64

4.69

Ocean Spray 100% juice (quart)

1.97

1.14

Lysol disinfecting wipes (100 wipes)

6.74

7.14

Log Cabin syrup (quart)

5.05

6.64

Hellmann’s mayonnaise (quart)

4.86

5.86

Advil ibuprofen (100 tablets)

7.50

12.98

Palmolive Liquid dish detergent (quart)

3.20

5.11

Oscar Mayer Bacon (pound)

7.49

6.99

Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice (quart)

1.63

2.71

Horizon organic lowfat milk (half gallon)

4.79

4.49

Total

$144.65

$168.96



More from Consumer Reports:
Dependable washing machines for $600 or less
Best and worst cars by brand
Get the best cell phone plan for your family and save up to $1000 a year

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S.

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