You’re overpaying for groceries, but here’s what you can do about it now

It’s not your imagination. Your grocery bills are rising.

Maybe it’s the season. The Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday is historically the busiest day of the year for grocery shoppers, as Americans drop a figurative cornucopia of cash on turkey, trimmings, pie and their beverage of choice.

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Then again, it could be the business.

The Federal Trade Commission is so concerned about competition that it recently took unprecedented steps to keep prices in check. The agency just approved a final order settling charges that the $28 billion merger of Koninklijke Ahold and Delhaize Group would likely be anticompetitive. Together, the two companies own five well-known U.S. grocery store chains, including Stop & Shop, Giant, and Martin’s. The companies are required to sell 81 stores to seven divestiture buyers.

Last year, the FTC also forced Albertsons and Safeway to sell 168 supermarkets to settle charges that their proposed $9.2 billion merger would likely be anticompetitive in 130 local markets in Arizona, California, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming.

“Consumers everywhere rely on local supermarkets for their weekly shopping needs,” said FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “Absent a remedy, this acquisition would likely lead to higher prices and lower quality for supermarket shoppers in 130 communities.”

All of which raises important questions: Are grocery bills too high? Is the business competitive enough? And what, if anything, can anyone do to make them more competitive?

9 thoughts on “You’re overpaying for groceries, but here’s what you can do about it now

  1. Please, please, please go back to a single page for each article. It is really annoying to have extra clicks to see the whole thing.

  2. Are groceries too expensive is a relative question.
    If I make $20 million a year, they’re cheap.
    If I make $300/week, they’re out of sight expensive.

  3. I’m glad the FTC is keeping large mergers chains with a lot of overlap on a short leash, but it IS true that the grocery industry generally runs on very tight net margins. (Markups over the raw cost of the goods look high, but there’s an immense amount of labor, spoilage, facilities, promotional expense, etc. involved.) There isn’t anybody minting money there. In many stores, the only departments to make much in the way of profit are Deli/Bakery, Drug/Cosmetics, along with the departments where space is leased out and vendor-serviced. (Non-fresh bakery, Snack foods, Soda, and Beer/Wine) Produce, Dairy, and Meat have high shrinkage due to spoilage, and Grocery (non-perishable foods) is not particularly high margin to begin with.

  4. Near my house are two grocery stores. One is Giant, that has a gas station on site with the lowest prices around, plus offers gas savings from buying groceries. the other doesn’t. Guess which one is significantly more crowded.

  5. After January 20, the FTC may no longer exist or, if it’s still there, blocking mergers will not be on the agenda. Consumers in the United States are about to find out what pure, unregulated capitalism looks like.

  6. If you have the means to stock up at sales, and can buy low and seasonal, groceries aren’t too bad, but for people living week to week, who can only buy that week’s food and/or like out of season produce, groceries can be very expensive. Also, groceries are expensive at mini-marts in poor parts of cities, and cheaper at places like Aldi’s way out in suburbia.

  7. Where I live (B.C. Canada), we have a choice of Safeway, Costco, Save-On-Foods, Walmart, No Frills, Superstore & other smaller markets, to purchase our groceries. A few of these stores ‘price match’, so to save money, I collect all of their flyers, make my list & go to Superstore.
    They will match all prices, have the lowest gas prices,( with loyalty card), all cashiers are open on weekends, & they have an excellent loyalty program, which provides cash for future grocery & pharmacy purchases. None of these stores is more than a 5 or 10 minute drive away, so competition is very healthy here.

  8. I shop at Whole Foods so food shopping is expensive for me, but I’m okay with it. I like the experience, and the yoga pants/ponytail moms.

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