Smart shopping: Grocery stores lure customers in by offering coupons and 'power buy' discounts, but the truest savings to consumers can be found in the 'cost per ounce' information readily available while shopping.
Apart from their obvious purpose in providing food and other essential items to consumers, grocery stores are also a for-profit enterprise. Most shoppers already know that the price marked on the shelf is not the price the grocer pays for the goods, but reflects an acceptable markup to make the sale of that item profitable to the store. That is the founding principle behind any retail industry, and we as consumers have come to accept that practice as standard.
Realizing that shoppers respond better when they perceive an occasional bargain, stores and suppliers began the idea of offering coupons that would temporarily reduce the price of a popular item, so that a shopper would be more likely to buy that item and perhaps some other necessary items to accompany it. But coupons take time and effort to collect, and many consumers go shopping impulsively, leaving the coupons at home. The stores reacted to this shift in consumer thinking by offering in-store discount where coupons were unnecessary. These are often promoted as 'power buys', where the store have obtained such a tremendous supply of the item at a volume discount that it can afford to offer deep price cuts to the shopper. Other stores have formed 'clubs' where 'club members', shoppers who trade personal information for a card, can save money on store brand items.
All of these methods can and do save consumers money in the long run. But the best way to determine the real savings between similar items is to check the 'price per ounce' stickers. They are the most objective measure of the actual value of any item, but are often overlooked.
Look on the shelves directly below the item in question, and look for a label that describes the item in detail. Somewhere on that label, you should see a notation that shows the 'cost per ounce'. Compare the number you see on a national brand product to the one you see on the more generic store brand or off-brands. Those numbers reflect the true cost to the consumer for the item purchased, and not merely the temporary savings of a coupon or other premium. For example, let's assume that a 20 ounce bag of Nestle's chocolate chips has a regular retail price of $2.50, but a coupon take the price down to $2.00. The price per ounce would be ten cents. A 24 ounce bag of the store brand chips may retail for $2.20. Without doing the math, you can already see that the cost per ounce of the store brand chips is around eight cents. Even though the name brand item is temporarily less than the store brand, the cost per ounce reveals that the store brand is a much better deal in the long run.
One thing that grocers count on for continued profits is consumer brand loyalty. The hope for the store manager is that a shopper will see a 'discounted' bag of Nestle's chocolate chips and buy it because they love Nestle's chocolate. A shopper looking for a bargain will notice that the store brand chips are cheaper per ounce, and the difference in taste is negligible. The store's profit margin would be higher on the 'discounted' chips, so the push is towards the national brand.
This can also work in reverse, if you take the time to consider all the options at once. Occasionally, the national brand item will be offered at such a lower price per ounce that it would be the best bargain. The store is offering the item at a deliberate loss, in hopes that sales of other ingredients will increase. Check out the cereal prices to see this in action. National brand cereals will be advertised well below the price of the most generic cereals, and the price per ounce sticker bears this out. Reach for the milk, however, and you should realize that their prices are not discounted. Again, check the price per ounce with milk, since milk itself is generic enough to overcome brand loyalty.
Overall, it will be the price per ounce information that saves you the money in the long run, so take the time to use it wisely.