Hampton Roads prices are lower in 2013

Nearly every grocery chain in Hampton Roads launched a new "lower prices" campaign in the past year. And — although it may seem impossible — prices are actually lower in 2013.

In an informal study of the six major supermarkets in the area — Farm Fresh, Kroger, Walmart, Target, Food Lion and Harris Teeter — I found that current prices are lower than they were a year ago at all six grocery chains.

In July 2012, I embarked on the first Savvy Shopper study of area grocery stores. During the survey, I compared prices of more than 50 items, representing every aisle of the grocery store from produce to meats to pantry items.

Last year, I found that prices on most staple grocery items were cheapest at Walmart. Target followed with Kroger coming in third for the cheapest groceries. Food Lion, Farm Fresh and Harris Teeter were the most expensive grocery chains in the area. Shoppers at Harris Teeter would spend about $70 more than at Walmart on the basket of items I included in the survey when comparing base prices alone.

This year, I re-checked the non-sale prices of the same grocery store items, ranging from apples and Oreos to diapers and laundry detergent. Walmart still comes out as the winner of the cheapest grocery store title, with Target following in second and Kroger taking the third spot.

Food Lion, Farm Fresh and Harris Teeter also keep their respective spots, with Harris Teeter the most expensive grocery store.

This year, the basket of groceries cost $200.15 at Walmart (before tax), while the same basket of brand-name groceries cost $269.08 at Harris Teeter.

What is more compelling is the fact that prices decreased — by as much as 8 percent at Farm Fresh — at all area grocery stores.

Farm Fresh and Food Lion saw the biggest drop in prices, with Food Lion's base prices decreasing by about 5 percent. Harris Teeter and Walmart decreased in price the least, with my basket of items costing about 2 percent less this year.

Groceries at Target and Kroger decreased in price by about 3 percent.

Kroger has been a particularly interesting study. About a week after my original price comparison study in 2012, Kroger launched its new lower prices campaign in Hampton Roads. During the launch of the advertising campaign, prices at Kroger dropped by about 7 percent.

During our re-check this year, prices at Kroger are still lower than the original 2012 prices. They are a bit higher, however, than the prices during the first weeks of the "lower prices" campaign.

In other words, my basket of groceries cost $234.02 during my original price check. A week later, the cost of the same basket of groceries dropped to $216.77, lower than Target's prices. This year, the same basket of groceries cost $226.64.

"Margins at grocery stores are so low, we are always evaluating and looking at things to make sure we have the right lineup," says Carl York a spokesman for Kroger.

Apples to apples

So which store had the cheapest strawberries or ground beef or eggs?

In many cases, only pennies separated the base, non-sale prices on specific items at the area grocery stores. Bananas, for example, cost about 57 cents a pound no matter where you shop. That's the same as last year.

This year, there is less variation in price on Folger's Classic Roast, for example. The 33.9-ounce container costs between $8.88 (at Walmart and Kroger) and $9.99 no matter where you shop. In 2012, the coffee cost as much as $11.89 at Harris Teeter.

Prices on diapers stayed largely consistent, as well, with a 96-pack of Pampers Size 3 diapers costing about $25 at most area grocery stores.

Prices on Perdue, boneless, skinless chicken breast saw a wide variety in prices, increasing in cost at some local grocery chains and decreasing in price at others. Chicken breast cost $8.89 a pound at Target in 2012, for example. This year, the supermarket stocked a cheaper version, costing $4.99 a pound.