Another survey shows uneven supermarket prices

Depending on where shoppers buy their groceries, they could be spending about $50 more for the same cart of products, a recent investigation has shown.

Surveyors from the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio compared prices between identical products in the nation’s supermarkets. They discovered that differences from the lowest to the highest prices of the same item reached as high as 225 percent. For similar items the difference was as high as 653 percent.  They reported differences of up to 27,000 colons between total checkout receipts.

Within products of the same brand, the largest gaps in pricing were seen for toothpaste, spaghetti, shampoo, and pre-packaged hot dogs. Drastic variations were found when comparing items in the fresh produce aisles, as well as meat.

Ground beef ranged from 1,895 colons a kilo to 6,320 colons, a difference of 4,415 colons, the surveyors reported. That’s a difference of 234 percent. The variation in pork chops was 208 percent and chicken thigh prices had an 86 percent difference. The report did not say that the same quality of ground meat or other products were compared, although that usually is the case in these types of surveys.

In alignment with its consumer support branch, the Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor, the ministry also checked to see if stores were following the mandate to make available the price per unit of each product. They found that a handful of stores were not doing that and threatened them with potential fines or penalties. According to an official, the price per unit measure is an essential tag that allows buyers to better plan their grocery bill.

“It represents an informative tool for the consumer to compare brands and quality of products, which can mean significant savings for your pocketbook,” said Cynthia Zapata, the director of the Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor.

Depending on where consumers shop, the 53 products purchased in quantities for a family of 3.5 persons would cost from 94,401 to 121,487 colons, said the survey report.  That would be from $177.45 to $228.36.

All research was done between Feb. 3 and Feb. 17 at 48 separate supermarkets in San José, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Limón, Guanacaste, and Puntarenas. The reports accounted for 53 items and more than 9,000 prices. The examined groceries were basic packaged foodstuff, personal hygiene products, and fresh produce.

At seven markets, the actual prices were higher than what was listed on the shelves. This occurred for 43 products at the Supermercado San Luis in Pérez Zeledón. A representative from the ministry said that all of these errors have since been fixed.

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