Does Costco cost more? Costco vs. Superstore vs. Walmart showdown

In 2018 we spent $714.98 CAD or $513.26 UDS toward groceries every month. Trying to be as frugal as possible while eating healthy food, we were constantly comparing prices between different grocery stores to get the best deals.

Over a year ago I did a grocery store comparison to see whether Costco was cheaper or not. In this comparison, I was quite surprised by how expensive Safeway and Save On Foods were. On the other hand, Walmart and Superstore led the way on having low priced non-organic items. What also surprised me was that Costco had the cheapest overall price for the 14 items that I compared. In fact, according to my 14 items comparison, Walmart was 17.76% more expensive than Costco, Safeway was 33.13% more expensive than Costco, Safe On Foods was 30.54% more expensive than Costco, and Superstore was 2.58% more expensive than Costco.

When I examined deeper and compared the optimized price for all 14 items, I found that Walmart was the best place to purchase grocery items if you weren’t looking for organic food and meats. Superstore was the best place to purchase grocery items if you were looking for organic food and meats.

Since our comparison, we have purchased grocery more from Superstore as a way to be more frugal on our monthly groceries expense. We would shop at Costco for meat, fish, and cheese because of the lower prices.

More than a year after my initial comparison, how we consume food has changed quite significantly for environmental and health reasons. Nowadays, we rarely eat meat. When we do, we eat ground turkey, chicken, or fish rather than red meat. The meat/fish is then stretched out over a number of days. For example, we recently made a giant pot of curry with 3 chicken breasts. We finished the pot of curry over 4 days (effectively we only had less than 1/5 of the chicken breast each day). We also stopped drinking milk and reduced our cheese consumption. Due to our increase in fruit and vegetable consumption, we have been buying more and more organic produce.

Lately when I go shopping at Costco, I have noticed availability of more organic items. This was a big change compared to when I did my comparison in 2017. Back then, Costco had a very limited selections of organic produce.

With that in mind, I decided to do another showdown between grocery stores and see if anything has change. Rather than comparing prices between 5 grocery stores like I did before, I decided to compare prices between 3 low cost grocery stores – Costco, Superstore, and Walmart.

Does Costco cost more? Let’s find out.

A few notes on methodology

A few notes on my comparison methodology before we get into the raw data. First of all, I did not pick the most reasonable items that many would buy. Rather, I focused on food items that our household regularly purchase. Therefore, I didn’t compare items like steak, ground beef, cheese, and milk.

For price comparison, I picked prices for the largest packaging and generic brands whenever possible to provide the lowest per unit/weight/volume price possible. For example, I picked the Kirkland brand for Costco, the No Name brand for Superstore, and the Great Value brand for Walmart. When generic brands were not available, I picked the item that had the lowest per unit/weight/volume price available. Since Costco didn’t carry as many brands compared to Superstore and Walmart, this meant I couldn’t always compare the same brand for a specific item.

Another thing note is that I only compared regular price. I felt it was not a fair comparison if I were to include on weekly sale price.

Raw Data

Here is the raw data with the lowest cost for each item highlighted in green. The N/A items are highlighted in teal.

Note: We are a bit messed up here in Canada when it comes to food unit measurements. Technically we are supposed to the metric system, but prices for produce are typically displayed in dollar per pound, then gets converted to dollar per kg on the receipt (sometimes meats too). Hence for my usage of both $/lb and $/kg

Analysis

As expected, there were a number of items like broccoli crown, canned coconut milk, and organic oranges that Costco did not carry. Interestingly enough, Walmart did not carry fresh cod and snapper fillets. And Superstore carried all the items that we compared.

When it came to the cheapest prices, Costco had 9 items with the cheapest price, Superstore had 2 items with the cheapest price, and Walmart had 5 items with the cheapest price.

If we compared the 15 items that all 3 stores carried, Costco came out ahead at $75.99 for all 15 items. Walmart came in second at $89.18 or 17.36% more expensive than Costco. Superstore came in last at $94.55 or 24.43% more expensive than Costco.

If we picked the cheapest 15 items regardless of the store, the optimized total price came out to be $72.88. This meant Costco was 4.08% more expensive than the optimized price, while Walmart was 18.28% more expensive, and Superstore was 22.92% more expensive. I was very surprised by this result because I had the assumption that Walmart would come out ahead for the optimized total price comparison.

When I looked at the prices for ground turkey, chicken breasts, and salmon fillet, I noticed that Costco offered the best deal. I wondered, what would happen if we were to take out these items? When I did that, I found the optimized price to be $21.42. Even with these 3 costly items removed, Costco was still the cheapest, at 14.44% more expensive than the optimized total price. Interestingly, Superstore overtook Walmart and came out 2nd at 31.74% more expensive while Walmart came out last at 36.31% more expensive.

Based on the three different scenarios I ran and the respective results, I concluded that Costco is the best place to purchase grocery items based on our household food consumption.

Wait… but we can’t just compare prices!

Unfortunately, it would be too simple if we just compared prices per what I did above. It’s actually more complicated because of weekly sales, store reward points, and credit card rewards.

For example, Superstore and Walmart have weekly sales, resulting in lower prices items. I’ve seen a bag of 5 avocados go for $2.50 ($0.50 per unit) at Superstore. This price is a lot cheaper than Walmart’s regular price. So taking a look at the weekly flyers from Superstore and Walmart and price compare is definitely a good idea. Not to mention both Superstore and Walmart do price matching. Similarly, some Costco items are marked down each week although the number of marked items typically aren’t as many compared to Superstore and Walmart.

Out of all 3 stores, Costco is the only store that requires annual membership. The basic annual membership is $60 plus taxes and the executive membership is $120 plus taxes. We have the execute membership, which gives a 2% reward on most items up to $1,000 each year. Furthermore, thanks to our Capital One Aspire Travel Mastercard (Effectively a $20 annual fee), we get another 2% travel reward points on all purchases from Costco. This meant if we purchased $200 in grocery items (no GST and PST), we would get $8 equivalent back in points. The points could add up pretty quickly.

Both Walmart and Superstore offer points program and you can also apply for rewards credit cards to increase your points earning.

For Walmart, Walmart Rewards Dollar MasterCard (no annual fee) allows you to earn 1.25% for every dollar purchase. For our household, the Walmart Rewards Dollar gives no benefit though. We would just use the Capital One Aspire Travel MasterCard to earn 2% on all Walmart purchases.

Superstore has a very intriguing rewards program – the PC Optimum points program. When you sign up you’ll get specialized weekly offers based on your shopping habits. These weekly offers allow you to earn extra points for buying special products at Superstore. For example, one of the weekly offers I got recently was 200 PC points for every $1 spent on apples. Since a bag of organic apple was ~$5 at Superstore, that meant we would earn 1,000 PC Optimum points if we were to purchase a bag of organic apples that specific week. This would result in a cheaper per kg price than Costco. In addition, you could apply for a PC Financial credit card to boost your PC Optimum points earning. The best credit card is the PC Financial World Elite Master Card (no annual fee), which allow you to earn 30 PC Optimum points per $1 at Superstore (i.e. 3% points earning rate). So for a bag of organic apples, we would earn 1,150 PC Optimum points for the transaction or an equivalent of $1.15. An earn rate of 23%. That is a way better earn rate than what I would be able to get at Costco.

From time to time when I can stack the personalized PC Optimum weekly offer, the weekly flyer offer, and the 3% PC Financial Mastercard earn rate, I would get crazy amount of points

This did not include the 3% earn rate from the PC Financial card!

So, price comparison gets A LOT more complicated when you take point rewards and credit card rewards into consideration.

All things considered, I believe it makes sense to continue to shop at Costco and shop at Superstore for items that are on sale and/or on the weekly offers.


Grocery shopping strategy

Since our original grocery store comparison, we have become even more price conscious. We have tried to optimize our grocery expenses as much as possible by shopping at Costco and Superstore mostly. Because we are a one-car-household and Costco and Superstore are far from our house, I am the one that usually does the bulk of our grocery shopping. Mrs. T, meanwhile, would get the smaller items from Save On Foods and other local stores.

Looking at the price comparison chart above, here’s the grocery shopping strategy we should deploy moving forward:

Do:

  1. Plan ahead. Create a meal plan each week base on what’s on sale so we can determine what we need to purchase. Then determine which stores provide the best pricing.
  2. Check the weekly offers and flyer from Superstore. Take advantage of sales and PC point offers.
  3. Purchase majority of what we need from Costco and Superstore.
  4. Buy meat and fish from Costco, dividend them up in smaller ziplock bags, and freeze them for later consumption.
  5. Visit Walmart every few months to stock up on canned coconut milk and spaghetti.
  6. If we need something on the day of, and I don’t have time to go to Costco or Superstore, it’s OK for Mrs. T to buy from Save On Foods or local grocery stores.
  7. Save the price comparison on Google Drive so we can compare prices with something on sale at a store.
  8. Consider the amount of time that takes to shop. Going to multiple stores to save $5 doesn’t make sense if we had to spend an extra 30 minutes. Time = money.

Don’t:

  1. Shop without a list.
  2. visit grocery stores too frequently. The more visits we do, the more money we spend.

Conclusion

In this 3 stores price comparison, Costco came out ahead in all 3 scenarios that I created. With the increase choices of organic food items, it makes more and more sense to buy grocery at Costco, especially considering Costco has great prices for many non-perishable items too. Therefore, if you buy quite a bit of organic food items, like us, it makes sense to shop at Costco.

Having said that, we can’t just blindly shop at Costco and ignore weekly sales and possible reward points. It makes sense to compare Costco prices with Superstore weekly sale prices and do some calculation to determine the best place to shop. Stacking up PC Optimum points can drastically reduce the total grocery price. We simply can’t ignore this powerful compound effect.

We also need to consider amount of time spent each week on shopping for grocery. Spending an extra hour to shop between stores only to save an extra dollar or two simply isn’t worth it. Perhaps something to consider in the future is utilize Superstore’s online grocery shopping to save us time while still taking advantage of the weekly sales and potential PC Optimum points.

Dear readers, where do you shop for grocery? How much are you spending per month on grocery? Have you tried online grocery shopping?

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Chris @ Mindful Explorer
    March 25, 2019 at 8:20 am

    Great break down and grocery shopping comparison Bob. We usually didn’t shop much at Superstore but because the one near us installed a high speed EV charger we now visit it. Once there we discovered just how low the prices are. We balance our bigger frequently used bulk items between there and Costco. That being said we pay a lot for our groceries for the day to day but when you live in a town of 4000 people it is the price you pay for location.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 25, 2019 at 10:41 am

      Well, that certainly makes a good incentive to shop at Superstore. 🙂 Superstore definitely has some very competitive prices compared to Costco.

      • Reply
        Hetty
        March 25, 2019 at 1:25 pm

        Every Tuesday I check out http://www.cocowest.ca to see what Costco has on sale. Makes life way easier for us as that way I decide if I “need” to go to Costco that week or not.
        I avoid Walmart, so what’s left is SS for us. ( Good to know they are lower then Walmart) They can have good sales on organic produce and I agree with the optimum card we’ve saved quiet a bit. Meat we get delivered from a farmer as that is one thing we don’t settle on. The difference of taste/flavor between hormone/ free run chicken, beef or turkey and hormone chicken, beef, turkey is to big. As soon when farmers market are out, we buy our produce their as 95% of our meals are made from scratch.

        • Reply
          Tawcan
          March 25, 2019 at 3:36 pm

          Yup we check out cocowest regularly too to see if there are any good deals. We need to look into buying meat from a farmer…but then we don’t eat meat all that often so not sure if it’s worth buying meat and keep them in the freezer for a long period of time.

          • Hetty
            March 27, 2019 at 5:28 pm

            You can choose your quantity or find a good butcher. We get 10% off if we pre order a certain amount

  • Reply
    Joe
    March 25, 2019 at 8:35 am

    I hate CostCo. It’s always too busy there and we don’t buy big packages of food.
    Safeway has good sales. Their store brand products and sales are good.
    Surprisingly, Walmart isn’t that great for us. I don’t think the price is much better than Safeway.
    We usually go to WinCo once every 2 weeks to stock up. Then, we go to Safeway and Trader Joe’s to pick up a few needed items. It works okay. I don’t think we’d save much by going to CostCo. We just don’t eat fast enough to prevent spoilage. Bulk doesn’t work for us. We spend around $550/month on groceries. GOod post!

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 25, 2019 at 10:43 am

      For us Safeway is just too expensive to buy food. Save-On-Foods is better. Yea Costco is super busy like all the freaking time. I get frustrated shopping there from time to time. I just try to limit my time in Costco. 🙂

      Trader Joe’s has pretty good prices as far as I know but we don’t have Trader Joe’s up here.

  • Reply
    Mr. Tako
    March 25, 2019 at 9:35 am

    Costco has been very focused on organic food lately and dropping a lot of more conventional food items from their inventory. We don’t buy *everything* organic, so I find myself shopping there less and less. They also have a lot of processed food, which we don’t eat a lot of.

    We definitely shop weekly sales too. There are great deals to be had if you create a habit of checking the weekly flyers. I do it every week. I bring up the grocery store websites and create a meal plan based around what’s on sale (and what we have in the freezer). It takes about 5 minutes a week and saves hundreds of dollars a month.

    Easy-peezy and it keeps the food budget low.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 25, 2019 at 10:45 am

      It’s interesting that Costco is adding more organic food items. If we take the points/rewards into consideration, it gets quite hard to determine where to shop. I think for the most part Superstore makes sense if we can get more than 4% rewards points back. And yes, we’ve been doing weekly meal plans too based on what’s on sale.

  • Reply
    daisy
    March 25, 2019 at 10:23 am

    Interesting post. Thanks for the analysis. As a house of six people we use Costco a fair bit for things like toilet paper, and household supplies. Our produce is from a local, organic co-op. We are vegetarian so we don’t worry about meat! Local/organic produce is more expensive, but our ensures purchases are offered to small-scale, local farmers over big-box stores.

    Another thing we factor into our shopping habits is working conditions/labour practices. Costco is known for providing full-time hours at fair wages as well as benefits for their workers – so we’ll shop there for things that our household needs. . Labour practices at Walmart (in particular) have been less favourable. We will not shop at locations that limit the financial security of others, or place our gain (cheaper prices) on their backs (poorer labour conditions).

    Financial security is important to us, but we also strive to balance frugal living with ethical practices.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 25, 2019 at 10:47 am

      Costco is great and cheaper for things like toilet paper and household supplies. During summer time we tend to buy from produce from the farmers market to support local farmers. Good point on labour practices. I’ve heard lots of poor working conditions/labour practices for Walmart. I believe Superstore employees are treated better compared to Walmart employees.

  • Reply
    German
    March 25, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    Costco’s avocados are the best in the market. Even if they cost double, I only buy them there. Meats and chicken are fresh, probably the best quality too. You will find better deals on weekdays. More specials and less people compared to weekends.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 26, 2019 at 8:29 am

      Agree that Costco’s avocados are great but often we find them too big. As the avocados would ripe about the same time.

      • Reply
        German
        March 26, 2019 at 9:44 am

        Keep the green avocados in the fridge and only put a few avocados on the counter to ripe. This way they wont all ripe at the same time. Life hack 😉

        • Reply
          Tawcan
          March 26, 2019 at 9:46 am

          Haha good point, we do that already. 🙂

  • Reply
    Tatar
    March 25, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Costco: Meats, Cheese, Eggs, Milk
    Superstore: Fruits, Veggies
    Kim’s Mart: Rice, Kimchi, Ramen
    T&T: Fish, Veggies, 1.80/lb chicken drums
    Safeway: Hams, Pies, Old people
    Wholefoods: Local produce, Rich people

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 26, 2019 at 8:30 am

      Yup sounds about right.

      We don’t have Kim’s Mart or T&T nearby.

  • Reply
    GYM
    March 25, 2019 at 10:46 pm

    Interesting analysis, Bob! I am too lazy to go to Superstore (the crowds are overwhelming I find), I usually go to No Frills. Costco also is terrifying on the weekends too but I should make it a point to get groceries on weekdays. For my produce, I usually just get it from a local store, and whatever is on sale for organic produce I get- sometimes I can get organic broccoli for $1 a bunch! I don’t buy organic bananas routinely because pesticides don’t penetrate the thick skin of the banana.

    I have a post on it from a while ago: https://www.genymoney.ca/save-money-buying-organic-for-baby/

    There’s a Consumer Reports Guide that tells you what is safe to buy non-organic and what you should definitely try and buy organic.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 26, 2019 at 8:32 am

      When we used to live in Vancouver we’d go to No Frills a lot. Now we’re in the suburb, there’s no No Frills around us. Luckily Superstore is nearby.

  • Reply
    Bill Campbell
    March 26, 2019 at 5:39 am

    Maybe you don’t have these stores in your market area, but Loblaws’ “No Frills” stores are considerably cheaper than Costco here in the GT-HA region of Ontario. Superstores are considered to be in the same price range as Metros and Sobeys. The you have the No Frills, Freshco, and Food Basics level. More or less basic stores.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 26, 2019 at 8:32 am

      We don’t have No Frills nearby us. When we used to live in Vancouver proper we frequently visit No Frills.

      • Reply
        Brian Sokoloski
        March 27, 2019 at 12:44 am

        The No Frills in Langley and Surrey and Abbotsford all have good prices I like going to Real Canadian Superstore for the fresh baked buns and bread great deals here and also chichen and extra Lean hamburger and shrimp

        • Reply
          Tawcan
          March 27, 2019 at 9:20 am

          No Frills are a bit far from our house, unfortunately. It makes no sense to drive to No Frills to save a few bucks on groceries.

  • Reply
    TLC
    March 26, 2019 at 6:36 am

    Just to note, Costco avocados are the large variety, while superstore and Walmart ones are regular sized.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 26, 2019 at 8:34 am

      That’s a good point. We have noticed that the Costco avocados are the larger variety. Having said that, since avocados tend to ripe about the same time, from time to time we can’t consume all of them before they get too ripe.

  • Reply
    Jonathan
    March 26, 2019 at 7:39 am

    You forgot about the PC insiders program. It’s a yearly 100 dollar fee but you get 20% back on organic as well as several other perks.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 26, 2019 at 8:35 am

      Right, I did forget to mention the PC insider program. It’s something I’ve looked into but not sure if it makes sense to sign up. What’s your experience with it so far?

  • Reply
    Corey Reynolds
    March 26, 2019 at 8:35 am

    Superstore wins for me because I can get everything in one trip. I can’t get everything I need at Costco, but will pick up certain items there if I happen to be driving by on my way home from work. Never go there on a weekend, its too crazy.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 26, 2019 at 8:43 am

      Convenience is definitely another reason to shop at Superstore. Even at Costco, they don’t always carry the same stuff.

  • Reply
    Laura
    March 27, 2019 at 6:20 am

    We signed up for the PC insiders program this year when we received a promotional price of $50. It works well for our family because it offers double points for all baby products (diapers & Formula) which can really add up. It also covers the cost of click and collect pick up which can be $3 to $5 in out area. For a family with working parents and young kids it is a very good deal. But as mentioned in previous comments, location and convenience is everything. We live down the street from a superstore vs a 20 to 30 min drive to a Costco!

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 27, 2019 at 9:31 am

      If both of our kids are still using diapers this might make sense. I guess you get online pickups for free right? That might be worth it for us maybe. Looks like if you sign up for the annual program you get a $99 travel credit so you don’t “lose” anything.

      If I discount the Superstore prices by 23% (20% on PC Insider, 3% on using PC Financial Card) and discount the Costco prices by 4% (2% executive + 2% credit card reward), Superstore comes out ahead on some items. However, not all items are PC Organics products.

      Having said that, I think the idea of saving time on online pickup is really appealing to sign up for the PC Insider program. It’s something to consider for us.

  • Reply
    Travelin'Dad
    March 27, 2019 at 4:22 pm

    Good tips! I’d love it if I could find a way to only spend US $500 or $600 per month on food. For us the hour-long drive to the nearest Costco or Sam’s Club is the deal-breaker. Twice over the years, we’ve gone and bought a membership (about $40 I think?) so we could purchase a buggy full of groceries and dry goods, but then we didn’t go back until after the membership had expired – making the initial purchase, for a single visit to the store, a pretty pricey option. The warehouse clubs sometimes have things we can’t find at Wal-Mart though. I’m currently the holder of one expired, and one soon-to-be-expired membership card, and as always, I’ll tell myself we aren’t going to fall for that again…but we’ll see.

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 28, 2019 at 10:40 am

      Yea you need consider how long you need to drive to get to these cheaper grocery stores vs how much money you’re going to save.

      • Reply
        Bill Campbell
        March 30, 2019 at 12:48 pm

        No Frills and the like (Freshco, Food Basics) are often stores that used to be Superstores, Metros, Sobeys etc.
        So at least in the GT-HA, many are within a 5-10 minute drive for almost anybody.

  • Reply
    Dr. Catface Meowmers
    March 28, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Finally! A grocery budget comparable to mine! I’ve been failing monthly to match Mr. Tako’s expenses. 🙂

    Great post as always!

    • Reply
      Tawcan
      March 28, 2019 at 10:41 am

      Yea I don’t know how Mr. Tako does it as his grocery expenses are super low. 🙂

  • Reply
    KC
    April 5, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Great analysis!

    We don’t have a Costco here (small city) but we do have a lot of grocery stores around here. I tend to shop mostly at Independent as I find they’re generally cheap for most of the food that I buy not to mention getting everything done in one trip. In addition, I use the PC points to get some free groceries. They also allow price matching so it’s a matter of showing them the flyer and they’ll match it. They also have sales that come up frequently so I tend to stock up on items that I normally buy.

    There is a Walmart in town but I try not to support it as I don’t support their cost cutting methods resulting in food not stocked up and poorer quality and only 3 cashiers on a Saturday resulting in waiting in line for 20mins. No thank you. It’s great though if you’re looking for party foods although I tend to go to Food Basics for that as it’s the cheapest.

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