Survey of basic food items turns up some startling differences

Expats who have been complaining about the increased cost of living here may also have been shopping at the wrong stores.

The economics ministry, in another of its market surveys, showed that identical and popular items were being sold at prices that differed by 126 percent. Surveyors reported that shoppers could pay 6,315 colons ($12.82) more for a kilo of fresh fish, corvina, depending on where they made the purchase. This difference was 153.5 percent.

Similar articles, like a bottle of brand name shampoo, could cost 249 percent more depending on the store.

The Ministerio Economía, Industria y Comercio directed the survey at items that are in the basic food basket. The ministry’s Dirección de Apoya al Consumidor had low-income shoppers in mind in selecting the 53 products surveyed.

Some 36 supermarkets, chains and independents, received visits from surveyors between May 4 and 17. The stores were in San José, Cartago, Heredia and Alajuela. In all, the survey crews checked 7,211 prices.

Surveyors also found that many products were not marked the way the law requires.

Powdered skimmed milk in a 350 gram container cost 715 colons ($1.45) at Super Tres Más in Paraiso de Cartago while the same product sold for 1,619 colons ($3.29) at Perimercado and Jumbo. That was the 126.5 percent difference.

A toothbrush carrying the label Pro Plus Mayor cost 467 colons (95 U.S. cents) at Walmart and 1,040 colons ($2.11) at Mega Super, according to the survey.

Even 480 grams of Cinta Azul sausage showed a difference of 104.12 percent, according to the survey. At Perimercado the price was 850 colons ($1.73). At Super Coope in Tarrazú, the price was 1,735 colons ($3.52), the surveyors said. The corvina that sold with a difference of 153.5 percent was 4,115 colons ($8.36) at Super Coope Tarazú. Shoppers who bought it at Auto Mercado paid 10,430 colons ($21.18).

Ground beef showed a difference of 95.96 percent, and a kilo of tilapia had prices that ranged up to a difference of 99.25 percent.

Even cleaning products like liquid bleach showed highly variable prices. A 900 milliliter container of Mega Super’s house brand cost 210 colons (43 cents). The same size bottle of Conejos brand cost 576 colons ($1.17) at Muñoz y Nanne in  Currridabat.

Surveyors worked with a list of 53 products typical of an average shopper’s purchases.  They found that the items would cost 92,733 colons ($188.29) at Super Rosvil in Grecia. That was the lowest. Other stores in the same range were Maxi Palí in Higuito de Desamparados  and in Paraiso de Cartago, Super Más y Más in Desamparados and Palí in Cartago.

However Super Rosvil in Grecia also was the store that had the most differences between the marked shelf price and the price rung up by the cashier. Most were small but beans were 10.9 higher at the cashier, and canned tuna was 7.25 percent higher, according to the survey.

Surveys found 12 stores that have ignored an order to list product prices by a unit of measurement. All were independent stores.  A similar number had labels that were reported to be hard to read. And six markets had incorrectly reported the price per unit.

Only four stores were found to comply fully with a decree that said store operators had to list ingredients on prepared meats. For example, a meat that was marinated did not contain a label stating what was contained in the marinade. The surveyors also said that some meat products had been injected with water and salt as a tenderizer. This was supposed to be on the label, too, they said.

The full study is on the ministry Web site

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