Saturday, April 02, 2011

Cheap Groceries in the Mission

A little while back, I saw a comparison of grocery stores in Jamaica Plain. People there have been bemoaning the opening of a Whole Foods, and someone set out to show the prices at Whole Foods really aren't that bad. At the time, I thought it would be interesting to do something similar for the Mission. Today, I finally had the time.

First the results, and then the explanation....


Foods Co. is the cheapest I found. Rainbow Grocery is the most expensive.

Item Casa Guadalupe Duc Loi Safeway Foods Co. Rainbow Grocery
Vegetable Oil (48 fl. oz.) 4.49 3.99 2.99 3.48 8.76
Plastic Wrap (200 sq. ft.) 2.99 2.99 2.49 1.88 3.38
Corn Starch (per pound) 1.99 n/a 0.99 0.98 0.89
Orange Juice (Half Gallon) n/a 5.49 3.99 3.88 6.59
Soy Milk (Half Gallon) 5.18 2.79 3.29 2.50 3.59
Tofu (per pound) n/a 0.99 1.69 1.48 0.99
Rice (per pound) 0.59 0.70 0.95 0.45 1.05
Spaghetti (per pound) 1.501.29 1.10 1.06 2.09
Can of Tomatoes (28 fl. oz.) 1.49 1.99 1.99 1.38 2.19


The trick for all of these was to try to find a unit of measurement that was relatively fair. In all cases, I'm going for the cheapest item (without consideration for quality or whether it's organic). I'll describe a bit about what I was looking for in each item. Note that I'm vegan, and so are all these ingredients.
  • Vegetable Oil. Any vegetable oil at all, as long as it came in 48 fl. oz. container. Rainbow Grocery only had no 48 fl. oz. containers, so I went with 32. I also checked the bulk price. The cheapest bulk oil was 3.05 per pound. Assuming 0.92g/cm^3, this becomes 8.76 for 48 fl. oz. (which is worse than the non-bulk price). This was slightly cheaper than the 6.08 for 32 fl. oz.
  • Plastic Wrap. Any plastic wrap will do. 200 square foot rolls was available everywhere except Rainbow Grocery. It only sold a 100 square foot roll.
  • Corn Starch. One pound containers. Safeway had a special sale (not sure what their regular price is). The Rainbow Grocery price is from the bulk section. Couldn't find it at Duc Loi.
  • Orange Juice. A little luxurious here with only containers of orange juice not from concentrate. Casa Guadalupe only had fruit punch stuff, so I skipped them. Prices vary wildly. (Note: the cheapest Tropicana, if you are a brand name whore, is also at Foods Co. And by a pretty big margin.)
  • Soy Milk. Some places are getting slammed here for only offering organic soy milk, which may or may not be fair. Casa Guadalupe only sold organic quarts, so it's getting doubly slammed.
  • Tofu. One pound firm. Couldn't find it at Casa Guadalupe.
  • Rice. This one is probably not fair at all. I had problems finding a size that all stores would carry. Smaller stores only carried 5 pound bags. Some places did bulk. The bigger stores really only became cost effective at the 15 or 20 pound range. So, Foods Co. wins with a 20 pound bag. But Casa Guadalupe is a close second (in my books) because that's their bulk price.
  • Spaghetti. Specifically spaghetti. I was aiming for 2 pound bags when I could find them. Duc Loi and Rainbow Grocery only had one pound bags. Rainbow Grocery bulk prices were more expensive than the pre-packaged prices.
  • Can of Tomatoes. Any type of canned tomato (whole, diced, stewed, whatever). Casa Guadalupe didn't have them in the 28 fl. oz. size.
And the stores:
  • Casa Guadalupe. I'm not entirely sure this is Casa Guadalupe. This is the grocery at the corner of 22nd & Folsom. If you get a receipt, it shows up as Casa Guadalupe. However, there is no real identifying sign. There are other Casa Guadalupe stores on Mission (maybe a trademark dispute?).
  • Duc Loi. Mission & 18th. More of an asian grocery.
  • Safeway. Market & 14th.
  • Foods Co. Folsom & 14th.
  • Rainbow Grocery. Folsom & 13th. Lots of organic and specialty foods. You can get a 10% discount here if you're a member of San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. (This discount is not included in the prices above, but it wouldn't have made much difference to the outcomes.)


First of all, I was blown away by the bulk prices at Rainbow Grocery ... and not in a good way. I really went into this thinking that Rainbow Grocery would pick up a few wins with its bulk foods. It did get one (corn starch), but the bulk prices were sometimes expensive than the pre-packaged foods in the same store ... and far behind the prices for pre-packaged foods in other stores. I found this disappointing.

If you're a vegan trying to live on the cheap, I'd recommend buying most of your stuff at Foods Co. If Foods Co. doesn't have what you're looking for, then hop across the street to Rainbow Grocery to pick up the rest.


Blogger snobographer said...

I used to think bulk foods were cheaper too, then I had my mind blown when I got bulk canola oil from Whole Foods and it turned out I'd paid $16 for a 32oz bottle. Ccanola oil! Beans, cereals, sugar, and flour all cost about the same as or more than the packaged versions too. It would make sense if Rainbow and Whole Foods would lower the prices of their bulk foods since we're not supposed to be paying for the packaging, but 'tis not the case.

10:59 PM  

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