Don't count Kroger out of the running despite a third-place price finish. If you adhere to the "you get what you pay for" philosophy, Kroger may be worth the extra pennies. High-quality store brands garner positive feedback from both consumers and experts, and a Kroger Plus Card nets discounted prices. Kroger also rewards loyalty with savings at the gas pump.
Prices at Kroger for the 37 items on our shopping list surpassed those at Walmart and cheap-price leader Aldi in our three-way review, ringing up at $93.73. After Kroger Plus Card savings were applied, the receipt total fell to $86.78, still higher than Walmart, but by less than one dollar. Our Kroger review also compared prices on 26 national brand products and found the grocery retailer again trailed Walmart, whose prices were lower by more than 20 percent overall on identical items. Kroger underpriced Walmart on only six national brand products (seven items when counting Plus Card savings).
Prices aside, Kroger deserves a spot on consumers' radar. The Kroger Plus Card program is a big draw. It affords cardholders access to substantial discounts on national, regional, and store-brand goods, as well as on gasoline for the car. For each dollar spent on groceries, loyal shoppers earn one Fuel Reward point; 100 points convert to 10 cents off each gallon of gas at Kroger and select Shell stations; 200 points earn a price cut of 20 cents a gallon; and 1,000 reward points save $1 on each gallon up to 35 gallons. Kroger also honors manufacturers' coupons and runs regular weekly sales.
Kroger stocks several store brands. The value offering is labeled Kroger Value, and the regular Kroger brand also registers on the cheaper side. Higher up the price ladder shoppers can find Kroger Private Selection, Simple Truth, and Simple Truth Organics products. Online Kroger reviews, interviews we conducted with shoppers, and responses to a Facebook poll we put up indicate that consumers are satisfied with the value and quality of Kroger's brands. Few reviewers voice any negatives about the in-house brands and say they stand proud next to national and regional names. Several shoppers are particularly impressed with the Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organics brands.
But as with most other grocery stores, Kroger is the target of some barbs, although relatively fewer than those aimed at Walmart and Aldi. Kroger reviews posted at Consumer Affairs critique the quality of the meat and assert that shelf prices sometimes ring up higher at the cash register. On the other hand, Kroger scores big with the experts: Private Label Store Brands magazine named it 2013 Retailer of the Year and applauded efforts to meet customer needs in terms of value products, variety, and convenience.
The selection of foodstuffs at Kroger is enormous. For almost every item on our shopping list we found a store brand, a value store brand, and a national brand, each at different price points and in a variety of sizes. Organic produce is clearly marked and displayed in its own section along with "natural" products. The store is very well-maintained and easy to navigate. Our local Kroger is staffed by friendly, helpful employees and it operated the most open checkout lanes during the late weekday afternoon that we shopped: six self-checkouts, four regular lanes, and two express lanes.
If quality products and shopping experience are priorities, Kroger is the best bet among the three retail groceries we reviewed. We found far fewer complaints about Kroger brands than the others, and the Kroger Plus Card and associated Fuel Rewards program, weekly sales, and coupon redemptions keep the bottom line close to that at Walmart. If you know how to play the game, it's hard to go wrong with Kroger.