Consumer Report’s Supermarket Ratings

The Lempert Report
April 04, 2014

I’ve long been disappointed with Consumer Reports presenting this survey...

Every couple of years Consumer Reports magazine issues their “supermarket rankings” based on various shoppers who in this latest survey visited supermarkets, super centers, warehouse clubs and limited assortment stores a total of 48,076 times and then rated them.

I’ve long been disappointed with Consumer Reports presenting this survey and here is why:

1. The survey was taken Jan 2012 - June 2013 a period of time when prices were relatively stable and price was less of an issue for most shoppers. As prices go up shoppers typically are willing to sacrifice other attributes to save $ (hence the poor ratings for Walmart who ranked at the bottom in this survey).

2. The 4 attributes they report are very limiting and far too general. Our NGA SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel annual survey asks shoppers to rate that is important to them, and their primary store on 31 criteria.  

3. The majority of supermarkets in the US are it's really difficult to rate and compare one chain against another as people in each region have different things that are important to them - as well as different things that are available. Example, Publix in the Southeast has much higher availability and affordability of "perishables" than does a chain in the Midwest. While Trader Joe's (one of my personal favorites) came in at number two, most shoppers and industry folks do rate their cheeses and meats high - their produce typically doesn't fair so well.

4. CR also does not reveal how many people rated each chain or if the results are weighted. So is it possible that ten people could have rated Wegmans and 200 people rated Trader Joe’s? We just don't know and without that information we just don't know if this is a fair evaluation. In the fine print of the guide to the ratings, Consumer Reports states that respondents told them of their experiences at one or two stores.

Having said all that....

No question that The top 5 are among the best supermarkets in the country...the two that are surprising to not be at the top are Hy-Vee and Whole Foods - both that do a terrific job for their shoppers. In the case of Whole Foods clearly they were marked down because of "price" but again we don't know if the people who marked them "worse" in this attribute are actually whole foods shoppers or those that typically go to Walmart for example.

While Consumer Reports does a terrific job ranking cars and appliances in their labs with their experts, this kind of report and ranking by shoppers is quite different. If they really wanted it to be valuable - they would 1] be more timely in the release - some of this data is 2 years and three months old and 2]  have the a team of the same "experts" visit the chains and rank them on more detailed criteria.