Survey uncovers where to find the lowest food prices

The economics ministry has shown once again that it pays to shop around.

This time the ministry’s consumer agency shopped around and found differences in prices of basic products as much as 90.5 percent. For example, the agency’s shoppers found that 120 grams of tuna in a metal can under the Splash brand cost 630 colons in Coopro San Vito in San Vito and 1,200 colons in Super Saint Clare in San Sebastián, according to its summary.

Some 400 grams of Coronado powdered milk cost 1,042 colons in Diboyco in Turrialba but 1,970 in Super Economico in Barranca. That’s a difference of 89 percent.

The rate of exchange is about 506 to one U.S. dollar, so 1,970 colons is about $3.89.

The surveyors also reported that they found cases where the shelf price was not the price that the cashier rang up. The survey was from Sept. 7 to 22 and involved pricing 18 specific articles at 104 stores all over the country.

The Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor of the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio does a study once every two or three months. Sometimes they are seasonal. A survey of Christmas toy prices probably will be reported next month.

The products surveyed included rice, beans, sugar, coffee, cooking oil, lard, bread, chicken, steak, detergent and toilet paper, as well as the tuna and other items. The surveyors looked for specific brands and sizes.

The stores included most of the chains as well as smaller operations. In some cases, the surveyors found that prices differed dramatically on the same item in different stores run by the same chain.

By picking the same products, the surveyors added consistency to the study, but there was one problem. Some stores offer a reduced price for those carrying a frequent buyer card. The surveyors reported the price with and without the card.

The best price for all 18 items was at Super Más in Cartago. The total was 51,655 colons or about $102.08. The next four lowest stores were Coopro San Vita, Palí in San Vito, Super Kefra in Batán and Super Guacimo. The most expensive was not in Escazú or in Los Yoses, as expats might expect. It was the Jumbo in San Antonio de Desamparados. The total there was 61,469 colons or $121.48.

The next four highest were all Megasupers. The cost without a frequent customer card closely followed Jumbo in Batán, Pérez Zeledón and Limón. Even with the card, the Megasuper in Batán was fifth highest.

Stores that were found selling rice at higher than the government established price were reported to the Comisión Nacional de Consumidor for possible action, the ministry said. That also was done with a number of stores that had one price on the shelf and another at the checkout counter, it added. Both practices are violations of the law.

Supermarket pricing is not always consistent because merchants include their rent, a reserve for shoplifting and other variables in the price.

The full report on the survey is available on the ministry’s Web site in Spanish.

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