(National-NBC) September 19, 2006 - Americans spend about $5,000 a year on groceries, but when they make the trip to the nearest supermarket, are they getting their money's worth?
Consumer Reports, in the October edition, studied 54 supermarkets to find the best and worst food stores in the nation. Senior editor Tod Marks says, "We used to actually survey our readers every four years about supermarkets, about their supermarket shopping. And we went to a three-year cycle because it was so popular."
Food quality, price, cleanliness, and service factored into the report, as well as reader responses.
Marks sees a pattern in these reports, "It happens year-end and year out when we do survey people the same problems seem to crop up over and again - congested aisles, out of stock on advertise specials, long waits at the check out and check outs that just aren't open."
Nearly two-thirds of readers regularly buy store brands as a way to save money. On average, those products are 27 percent less than brand names.
And to save time, Consumer Reports says shop on weekends, when sales typically begin, to avoid sellouts.
Also, to speed your trip, move clockwise through the store, as most markets are set up in a counter-clockwise flow.
The top five the highest-rated stores have over 80 percent satisfaction among their shoppers. Even the bottom five, lowest-rated stores still hold high marks with their consumers, at 66 percent approval.
Marks, "Even the lowest rated chain of the 54 we rated happen to please most of their costumers most of the time."
The National Grocers Association says that while the Consumer Reports ranking is a good guide, in the end, consumers will make their own decisions.
While no stores got a perfect score, satisfaction is linked to good service, fresh produce and meats, and cleanliness - not necessarily prices.
The magazine even suggests it may make sense to shop at one store for staples and another for fresh foods, just to get the best of both worlds.
Here's a look at how some local grocery stores ranked in the national survey. Publix ranked third and Harris Teeter ranked sixth, putting them both in the top 10. Aldi came in 15th, Bi-Lo 22nd, Sam's Club 31st. Piggly Wiggly ranked 35th. Kroger came in at number 39, Wal-Mart Supercenter 45, Food Lion at number 51 and Winn-Dixie at 53.