Kerri Simmons is a busy mom of three, and every penny counts when she shops for groceries near her Northern Kentucky home.
"We're a family of five on one income, so we try to make our dollars stretch," she said.
So she couldn't believe her eyes when she found the price of Tyson chicken breasts much higher at one grocery store, compared to another just a few miles away.
"The price of a pound of chicken was $5.99 a pound," she said. "And then I stopped at the next store, and it was $3.99 a pound. And I thought that was a huge difference for the exact same brand and exact same product."
She could understand if it were competing stores, she says, but it was the same grocery chain.
“The same day, it was a 50 percent increase in price at one store," she said.
She's not the only 9 on Your Side viewer to complain to us about finding different prices in different neighborhoods. Charlotte Wilson told us the same thing two years ago: finding grapes for $1.76 a pound at one Wal-Mart but just 92 cents a pound later that day at another Wal-Mart just a few miles away.
"I think consumers should be aware that they have such a large discrepancy in prices," she said.
So could you be paying more, simply because of where you live? And could some neighborhoods actually have higher-priced groceries than other parts of the Tri-State?
We Compare Stores and Neighborhoods
To find out, a team of WCPO.com digital staffers compared prices at 16 grocery stores, representing four different chains, all on the same day: Kroger, Meijer, Wal-Mart, and Remke Markets.
We looked at West Chester and Fairfield in the northern part of the Tri-State, Oakley and Fairfax in the central Cincinnati area, and Florence, Latonia, and Taylor Mill in Northern Kentucky. We also included Kroger's Vine Street store in Over-the-Rhine, to see if inner-city residents without cars have to pay more for their groceries.
We left out Target, as it is still not considered a full-service grocery store in most areas. We also did not include Costco or Sam’s Club due to their membership requirements and bulk sizes.
Comparing Popular Items
We chose nine popular grocery items many families buy every week:
Tyson boneless chicken breasts
Prego spaghetti sauce
Oscar Mayer bacon
DiGiorno self-rising pizza
Tropicana orange juice
A dozen large eggs
We were careful to compare exact sizes. Once the data was in, we crunched the numbers and found some surprising results.
Does Location Matter?
Florence was the most competitive area in our survey, with Wal-Mart, Meijer and Kroger all having stores very close by in the mall and Houston Road area, and Remke not far away. But would that mean lower prices due to all the competition?
In most of the other areas, the stores were not so close to each other. In West Chester, for instance, Wal-Mart is on Cincinnati-Dayton Road, while Kroger and Meijer are several miles up Interstate 75 at Tylersville Road. In Fairfield, Kroger and Meijer are in opposite parts of town. And in Oakley, there is no Wal-Mart to compete with Kroger and Meijer. The nearest Wal-Mart is on Red Bank Road in Fairfax (which we checked).
The Results Are In
We found prices to be fairly uniform from store to store in the same chain, even in areas where there was no close competition, such as Latonia and Vine streets in Over-the-Rhine. It turns out those residents are paying no more at their Kroger than people living in the newer suburbs.
Kroger had only one price discrepancy among all five Kroger stores we checked: a box of DiGiornio pizza was $5.99 in Latonia but $4.99 at the other four stores.
“We try to keep our pricing the same at all stores in a region, with the exception of grand opening sales,” Kroger spokeswoman Patty Leesemann said.
As for the $1 pizza price difference, Kroger said this was probably due to the timing of a price change on that item the day we did our test.
Wal-Mart had several more store-to-store differences, specifically with Tyson boneless chicken breasts. The chicken prices ranged from $2.26 a pound on Red Bank Road in Fairfax, to $2.68 in Florence, $3.23 in West Chester, and $3.83 in Evendale. Wal-Mart in Florence also had cheaper bananas, 38 cents a pound as opposed to 52 cents at their other stores.
Wal-Mart spokesman John Forrest Ales told us that prices should be the same from store to store in each market, but said that store managers have the discretion to lower prices to match competitors, or to clear out perishables, which may have been the case here.
Meijer’s chicken prices also were all over the map, from $4.29 in Florence to $6.29 in Fairfield. Eggs were also lower in Florence as well, at 98 cents a dozen compared with $1.98 elsewhere. As of publishing time, we had not yet received a statement from Meijer.
Finally, Remke had only one discrepancy among the four stores we checked: Tropicana was $3.99 in Taylor Mill, but $4.29 elsewhere.
The Bottom Line
The Cincinnati area’s four major grocery chains tend to have the same prices from store to store, which makes sense for advertising circular reasons.
Our consumer investigation found no discrimination against shoppers in an area with few stores, such as Latonia/Covington (Kroger only), Over-the-Rhine (Kroger only), or Fairfax (Wal-Mart only).
However, we did spot slightly lower prices in the Florence area on bananas, orange juice and chicken, which could be attributable to the hyper-competition in that area. Managers who have the authority to lower prices to match competitors may be doing just that in Florence.
But it wasn’t enough of a price difference to justify a 20-minute drive to Florence. Much more important was the price difference between chains, where several items had significant differences.
As always, don’t waste your money.