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11 stores, 11 items: Which grocery store has the lowest prices in Charlotte?

·4 min read

The supermarket battles in Charlotte remain fierce, with newcomers and familiar names vying to win customers during the COVID-19 pandemic amid inflationary prices.

We found a whopping $46 difference between the stores with the lowest and highest prices in our shopping carts for the same list of items.

Two expanding discount grocers — Aldi and Lidl — are battling for the lowest prices. Other traditional stores, like Florida-based Publix continue to open new stores. And Asheville-based specialty grocer Earth Fare returned with several area stores under new ownership.

The number of grocery stores in the Charlotte metro area, which includes Concord and Gastonia, has grown by more than 38% in the past five years, according to sales-tracking firm Chain Store Guide. There were 529 stores in 2014, and 730 last year.

Last year, Charlotte was named among the top four markets in the country to watch for “some serious competition” by industry publication GroceryDive.com.

Discount German grocer Lidl opened its ninth store in June in the Charlotte area with plans to open more next year. Its low-cost German competitor Aldi, with 32 area stores last year, also expanded, opening stores in Cornelius, Rock Hill and Indian Land, S.C.

And the delivery-only store, Farmstead, continues to expand services from its west Charlotte hub.

At the same time, prices for grocery staples have fluctuated a lot.

Compared to last year, banana prices dropped across the board while prices for other foods were a mixed bag. For example, milk increased 34 cents at Walmart but dropped $1.35 at Food Lion. Eggs saw similar disparities. Food Lion was 68 cents cheaper but Publix’s price went up $1.29.

We decided it’s a good time to see how grocery prices have fared amid the coronavirus pandemic and inflation.

Ketchup aisle at a Target in Charlotte. Harris Teeter and Aldi had the cheapest price for ketchup in the Charlotte Observer’s price comparison between 11 grocery stores.
Ketchup aisle at a Target in Charlotte. Harris Teeter and Aldi had the cheapest price for ketchup in the Charlotte Observer’s price comparison between 11 grocery stores.

Comparing grocery store prices

Here’s what we did. We price-checked 11 stores: Harris Teeter, Walmart, Food Lion, Publix, Target, Fresh Market, Aldi, Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe’s, Lidl and Earth Fare. We checked prices with a mix of online and going in stores. Some stores have higher online prices compared to in-store.

We price-checked 11 items (the same as in January 2020, before the pandemic) between Nov. 27 and Dec. 1, choosing the cheapest available option at each of the grocers. And we looked for the least expensive choice, regardless of whether it was an in-house or brand name.

Only regular prices were used, there were no sales or loyalty programs.

Our cart included five basic meatloaf ingredients, which the Observer had checked out for comparison last year, plus five other items.

Charlotte’s grocery prices keep rising. Here are some tips to save you money now.

We also broke down cost per ounce for optimal comparison for items like corn flakes and ketchup because size offerings varied between stores. The cost per ounce was to calculate the price of 20 ounces of ketchup and 12 ounces of corn flakes, for example.

Ketchup aisle at a Target in Charlotte. Harris Teeter and Aldi had the cheapest price for ketchup in the Charlotte Observer’s price comparison between 11 grocery stores.
Ketchup aisle at a Target in Charlotte. Harris Teeter and Aldi had the cheapest price for ketchup in the Charlotte Observer’s price comparison between 11 grocery stores.

The winners for low prices

We found Aldi offered the lowest overall price for the second year in a row.

The total cost of our 11-item bag was $17.59 at Aldi, followed by Lidl at $19.38 then Walmart at $23.19. Of traditional grocers, Food Lion, was fifth after Target, slipping past competitors Harris Teeter, Publix, Whole Foods Market and The Fresh Market.

Earth Fare was the most expensive in our comparison, with our groceries totaling $63.79, followed by Fresh Market at $48.11 and Whole Foods at $40.59. Put another way, the difference between shopping for the same category of items at Earth Fare and Aldi was $46.20.

Laurie Aker, spokeswoman for Earth Fare, said defended Earth Fare’s prices, saying it has stricter standards for quality compared to conventional grocers. For example, all Earth Fare products are free of preservatives, hormones, high fructose corn syrup and no bleached flour. “That’s something we pride ourselves on,” Aker said.

On Tuesdays, Aker said, ground beef costs $3.99 per pound. That’s among the cheapest prices we found at Harris Teeter, Aldi and Lidl.

Comparing meatloaf-only ingredients of a dozen large eggs, a gallon of skim milk, a loaf of white bread, ketchup at 20 ounces and 1 pound of 80% lean ground beef, Lidl was the cheapest at $8.15 followed by Aldi at $8.43 and Food Lion at $10.42.

On three staples, milk, eggs and bread, Food Lion beat its competitors on the milk price, while Aldi topped other stores for eggs and tied with Lidl for bread.

White bread was cheapest at Aldi and Lidl, both 50 cents, in a price comparison of Charlotte grocery stores by the Observer.
White bread was cheapest at Aldi and Lidl, both 50 cents, in a price comparison of Charlotte grocery stores by the Observer.

Big price gaps at Charlotte supermarkets

Here are some of the more significant price spreads:

Romaine hearts, three-count bag: $2.49 at Aldi to $4.99 at Fresh Market.

White bread: Aldi and Lidl, 50 cents to Earth Fare, $6.99.

Vanilla ice cream: Lidl and Walmart tied at $1.97 compared to $8.89 at Earth Fare.

1 lb. ground beef 80% lean: Lidl was $3.69 to Fresh Market, $6.99.

Our totals from the comparison

Aldi: $17.59

Lidl: $19.38

Walmart: $23.19

Target: $25.50

Food Lion: $25.67

Trader Joe’s: $28.02

Publix: $28.53

Harris Teeter: $28.75

Whole Foods: $40.59

Fresh Market: $48.11

Earth Fare: $63.79

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