PHILADELPHIA -- Supermarket prices are lower than those of drug stores and aren't much higher than those of mass merchandisers in the analgesics category, according to a survey conducted by consumer panelists.
The range of prices found throughout supermarkets nationwide for leading analgesic stockkeeping units, however, is much broader than it is for competing classes of trade.
These results were found in a survey for The Shopper Report Consumer Network, a group of 5,000 shoppers throughout the country that has followed the food industry since 1979. The organization published the study in its monthly newsletter, which is purchased by "advertisers, ad agencies, packagers, supermarkets, suppliers" and others, according to Editor Mona Doyle.
She said she was "shocked" to find that in the survey of 11 top analgesic SKUs, supermarkets had a lower average price than drug stores. The sum of the average supermarket prices for all 11 analgesic SKUs totaled $49.77, while the average drug store prices for the 11 products totaled $55.69.
Only eight of the SKUs surveyed were widely available at mass outlets, but the average prices on those eight totaled $28.49, compared with $33 at supermarkets and $35.75 at drug stores.
Products included in the survey were Aleve, Bayer Extra Strength, generic aspirin, Ecotrin, Tylenol, Anacin, Excedrin, Advil, Nuprin, Motrin IB and generic ibuprofen.
"A lot of supermarkets are getting more competitive on [HBC pricing]," Doyle said, adding, though, that other food stores still seem to charge "whatever the market will bear" for analgesics and for health and beauty care items.
This, she said, led to the large price spread found among supermarkets on the various analgesic SKUs. The spread was determined by finding the difference between the two highest and the two lowest reported prices for a given product at a particular class of trade.
The Shopper Report panelists found as much as a $5.01 price spread among supermarkets for Motrin IB. A $2.66 spread on Tylenol and a $2.46 spread on Nuprin were the second and third highest spreads found among various supermarkets.
The price spread among supermarkets was not caused by variations in region, said Doyle, because panelists found wide price spreads at supermarkets located in the same city. This type of inconsistency in supermarket HBC prices is bad for the industry's image, said Doyle, and makes it harder for price-competitive food stores to promote their image.
"This study only looked at one category, but clearly, it's easy to see that while one store can change its [HBC pricing] image, the industry image has a long way to go," said Doyle. "It's easier for a single store to make the statement that it is competitive. Many have done that and are finding it pays off.
"The image I had before the study [that average supermarket analgesic prices would be much higher than at drug stores and mass merchandisers] was a carryover [from the past]," she explained, adding that her preconceived notions about supermarket HBC prices were similar to those of many consumers. "Sure, there are some consumers who know they can do better at the supermarket. But it seems to be a real minority that knows it."
Advertising, point-of-sale promotions, a strong private-label program and strong price merchandising are ways supermarket chains can get their low-price HBC message across to shoppers, said Doyle.
Panelists reported, however, they found little or no spread on analgesics prices among mass outlets nationwide, and accordingly, these stores have few such image problems, Doyle noted.
"Consumers never expect to hear they've overpaid when they go [to a mass merchandiser]," said Doyle. "The prices there are pretty consistent across large regions."
The narrow or nonexistent price spread at mass merchants and the wide price spread among food stores leaves some shoppers "with the feeling supermarkets are getting away with something," said Doyle.
Overall, she added, panelists also found the best way to save money on analgesics was to buy private label.
Fifty panelists from The Shopper Report Consumer Network recorded the prices of over-the-counter pain relievers in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers around the country. On most items, supermarkets actually had a lower average price than at drug outlets. But food stores had a much broader price spread, which is defined by The Shopper Report as the difference between the two highest and two lowest reported prices for each given outlet.