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?

Written by Tawcan
Hi I’m Bob from Vancouver Canada, I am working toward joyful life and financial independence through frugal living, dividend investing, passive income generation, life balance, and self-improvement. This blog is my way to chronicle my journey and share my stories and thoughts along the way. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter. Or sign up via Newsletter