Frugal Frannie’s Back with a New Supermarket Price Check: Upper Upper West Side Edition

By Frugal Frannie

Seven dollars for a head of cauliflower? Once I saw that jaw-dropper at one of my go-to supermarkets, I knew it was time for another round of neighborhood price comparisons.

At-home food prices are rising at a 6.5% annual rate, according to the January 12th Consumer Price Index report. A little knowledge can go a long way toward keeping budgets in check. 

When we frugalistas last convened in October, I ventured to spots within a 15-minute walk from 72nd Street & Broadway. Rag commenters asked for more. [Thank you!]

Our destination this time:  UWS supermarkets above 86th Street.  

On Saturday, January 22nd, I visited seven bricks-and-mortar stores: 

I also shopped online with Fresh Direct and Stop & Shop. No purist, I’ve used both services for massive stock-ups on canned goods and other heavy items. But, make no mistake, I passionately believe in and advocate for shopping alongside our neighbors whenever possible. It rewards our senses. We form connections. And spirit-boosting laughter can ensue. 

For example, I recently overheard a Gen X cashier at Trader Joe’s ask her Gen Z colleagues about a song on the stereo: “Why is she singing about cheese sticks?” She was actually singing a car-model number. I can’t recall what the correct term was; I do remember us all cracking up about the lyrical confusion. Serendipitous human contact. We need it. 

As before, I shopped for a “market basket” of 20 common items, looking for the lowest available price, using unit pricing to help standardize. For example, frozen blueberries come in all sorts of package sizes. I took the best price per ounce and calculated a one-pound price. If an item was on sale or had a reasonable combo promotion e.g. 3 for $5 or offered a “family pack” for meat, I used that for my unit pricing calculation.  

Humble GIANT DISCLAIMER:  my methodology isn’t perfect, nor are my eyeballs, nor are some retailers when it comes to clearly posting prices. And whew, supply chain issues are real! If an item was not on the shelf, but had a price listed for it, I included it. For example, many frozen fruits and veggies were MIA when I visited Whole Foods; but the prices were clear. 

Finally, for logistical reasons, multiple wonderful markets aren’t included in this survey: H Mart, Mani Market, Barzini’s, Kosher Marketplace, Gary Null’s Uptown Whole Foods and more. I did include one “organics” supermarket, Health Nuts, whose prices should be considered within that context. 

 

Here are my findings, with lowest price in pink:  

 

 

 

 

Because several items weren’t available at Associated and Health Nuts, I excluded them from this “final checkout” tally for the total market basket: 

Over to you, wise Rag readers. What comestible quandaries are you confronting? How do you judge “great value” when picking your purveyors? What’s your top tip for saving on groceries? Let us know! 

COLUMNS, FOOD, NEWS | 59 comments | permalink
    1. Adina says:

      So helpful. Thank you.
      So Trader Joe’s is about half the price of D’Agastinos and it’s 1 block away. Why does anyone shop at D’Agastinos?

      • UWSmaven says:

        Based on what I’ve seen when walking into D’Agostino’s, I don’t think anybody actually does shop there. I NEVER see anyone there. Funny what insanely high prices and a sullen staff can do to a business…

        Thanks for this piece, you’re performing a great service!!1

        • Jay says:

          Judging by the “join our team” sign that I saw at the Columbus and 91st Street D’Agostino, Gristedes owns the company now, which would explain the massive decline.

          And that Columbus store is especially awful.

          Didn’t make a purchase.

          Something like 4 years ago, bought a bottle of water at the 46th and 10th D’Agostino store, seemed pretty good.

      • Leon says:

        Their old ad jingle about Mr D’Agostino was really catchy (I just ear wormed everyone).

      • Michal says:

        In the middle of the first terrifying covid wave, when no one knew anything and the only place we were (almost) not afraid to go was grocery shopping, we went to the Trader Joe’s on 93rd and saw that the line snaked all the way around the block and down 92nd toward Amsterdam. But D’Agostinos across Columbus was almost completely empty. It felt like a no-brainer – an emptier store with no line so you’d be in and out faster must be the safer choice. So that’s where we went.

        Five minutes later, cut to my husband standing in the cereal aisle yelling “$7.99 for a box of Cheerios?! Are they insane?!” as a tumbleweed bounced by.

        Never made that mistake again.

    2. Jimpauper says:

      Bazzinis 90 and Broadway just charged me $10 for three peppers. Never again.

      • Don Kedick says:

        Barzini’s is terrific for many things, but fruits and veggies are not it. High prices on some, just-shy-of-overripe on others. It’s too hit or miss for me. I stick to the stuff in the aisles.

        I’ve had some excellent midnight or 2am shopping trips there, and you never know what you’ll find in the cheese section.

        • Jane says:

          Thank you for this hard work!
          I just want to include a pitch for the farmer’s markets. I can’t be sure of the prices, but at least you know that the produce is fresh, good, and locally sourced!

        • Never Milk and Meat says:

          Barzini carries a fairly wide selection of kosher breads and baked goods.

        • IvanaPewk says:

          Just shy of overripe? Barzini’s fruits and vegetables are brazen in their festering.

    3. Linda says:

      Thank you very much for your time and efforts. The results are most interesting and helpful, especially to those of us on a tight budget.

    4. MaryC says:

      Thank you for doing this.
      My choices boil down to whether I want to make one shopping trip and get the best overall price or make multiple stops.
      I find that Trader Joe’s has the lowest overall price even if every single item isn’t the cheapest. No brand names, no choices of sizes of products, but it works for me.
      Stop and Shop didn’t work for me because of the extra delivery and tip costs and they were often out of stock on many items.
      Associated Key Food etc have the lowest price when there’s a sale that week but otherwise the prices for those items might be double what you reported.

    5. Harriet F says:

      I read recently that Trader Joe’s prices are the same nationwide, no matter the higher rent or added costs of getting goods to an urban location. That’s why they are the best value for us NYers. And they have excellent stuff, outside the ” basics.” Thanks for all your careful research.

    6. Shem says:

      This is really great, thanks! And it pretty much matches my experience shopping around. Trader Joe’s it is.

    7. Westender says:

      Frugal Frannie is my new WSR hero. Fun post for bottom-line shoppers. Unless your only criterion is price, though, this comparison loses value beyond the produce aisle. House brand eggs and butter can vary wildly in quality and taste vs., say, Eggland’s Best and Land O Lakes, etc. which can be bought at many of these stores, often at different prices. (Trader Joe’s, of course, almost exclusively carries its own products, but the others do not.)

    8. Peter says:

      This is great. Thank you for compiling it!

    9. Bill S. says:

      This is wonderful information. I buy all that I can @ the fruit stands 94th & 96th B Way. Both are pretty good. I went into shock when both were closed due to cold weather and had to use WSM.

    10. Mark Moore says:

      Thanks but I bet Key Food goes up once it moves on January 31.

      • SharpeyedLooker says:

        Which Key Food is moving on 31 Jan.- on Amstdm at 86th? or 96th? And where is the new location? Your allusion to a move is the first one that i’ve yet seen. What about D’Agostino? (I’m an oldtimer from the Key on Bway north of 91st, & have been away from the nbrhd a,while. Tx for any info!)

        • Susan M says:

          Key Food on 97th and Amsterdam is moving on Monday 1/31 to 96th and Amsterdam – hopefully the new one will be larger

          • Mark Moore says:

            The new one will be larger and I bet more expensive as well. I just hope they don’t try to go too upscale like they did with the large Key Food that closed where Gyu Kaku is now. That store was a disaster with no identity and lasted only a few months.

    11. Sarah says:

      I don’t know how D’Agostino’s lives with itself. The stores aren’t even pleasant to shop in. At least with Westside you’re paying a subsidy for the 24-hour operation.

      • Cathy says:

        I don’t know how they get any customers!

        • Sarah says:

          They seem to still think it’s 2000 and the only other options are the equally grimy and overpriced Gristedes or a super-downmarket place. Normally I hate to see a local chain lose out to a national one but these guys deserved to have Whole Foods eat their lunch.

    12. GG says:

      My only comment is regarding the Meat prices.

      The quality of ground beef, even it’s all 80/20, can and will vary greatly. What you pay $2.99 for at Key Food is not the same product you would get at Whole Foods for $7.99. Not even close.

      Sometimes, as they say, you get what you pay for…other times you are just making tacos and it doesn’t really matter that much.:)

    13. Alfonse says:

      While I am sure everyone could ask “what about my market” I am surprised to not see Fairway on this list.

      Thanks for the comparisons.

    14. Cathy says:

      The weekly specials on meat are great buys at Key Food (I go to the one near 86th St.). Good quality and Frankie, the butcher, is very accommodating.
      Thank you for this wonderful survey of prices — no major surprises, but it reinforces my avoidance of certain stores which not only lack charm but charge way more than they should.

    15. nycityny says:

      Walking home from the theater yesterday I stopped inside the D’Agostino’s on 54th & 10th Ave to see if I might pick up a few items. I hadn’t been inside one in years. After seeing a few of the prices I immediately walked out empty-handed. Seeing this survey today confirms what I experienced yesterday.

    16. frugal friend says:

      Thanks, Frannie. You’re a hero.

      Can we make requests? Because I’d love to see how Fairway fits into this picture!

    17. lcnyc says:

      Whole Foods for the win. Yes, the total is more than Trader Joe’s, but I won’t set foot in Trader Joe’s. The lines are horrendous and I find the quality of a lot of their goods to be sub-par.

    18. Matt says:

      Very helpful, thank you!! Whole Foods did pretty well overall. The new Target on Columbus has some good prices as well for things they carry

      • Luther Cavendish says:

        Totally agree with comments about TJ with regard
        to product quality and lines. I’d rather pay more for higher quality and minimal/no lines. Many of its products, especially frozen items, are highly processed with high amounts of sugar and salt. Ugh.

    19. Tish says:

      Of course it takes time and keeping track of prices, but shopping at multiple stores can produce big savings now more than ever.

      West side Market has become extremely costly, even compared to Whole Foods. A can of Goya chickpeas at WF is 99 cents; at Westside it’s $1.99. A large jar of Hellman’s at Westside is $2.00 more than at D’Agostino’s and $3.00 more than at Fairway. Their Twining tea costs about 25% more than at Zabar’s! Plus their store is always grimy.

      I also agree with the comment about being discerning about certain things like meat; I’d add fish and some produce to that category. My experience is that produce at TJ’s is spotty and often rotten and too much of it is sold wrapped in cellophane so you can’t inspect it.

      Thank you FF for your great research. Our grocers need to know we’re watching them and shopping accordingly.

    20. Frugal Francis says:

      This is helpful information. Frugal Frannie, I’d love for you to check out Mani Market’s produce prices — both listed and in reality. I often stop there when I’m in a hurry and have noticed that their fruit and vegetable prices look great on the shelves, but that the cashiers consistently ring up grossly higher amounts at the register. I never say anything, but I’ve heard a few people who have, and the response is always a “you got me” sigh. I’m curious as to how the “actual” prices stack up against the big stores.

      • Huh says:

        “The cashiers consistently ring up grossly higher amounts at the register. I never say anything, but…”
        And why don’t you say something?

    21. Karen Bochan says:

      What about Gristedes???
      Robber prices!!
      Most of these prices are CRAZY!!
      Thanks for the information

    22. Ashley says:

      Thank you Frugal Franny. From a frugal but organic focused Mama, from my experience TJ is best for all pantry items, organic eggs and milk great prices and lasts long, yogurt, cheese, cereal and fun snacks and unique meal options, Frozen is great too. However, they don’t always have the same items every week. Meat and antibiotic free chicken good quality and prices. But fruits and veggies spoil quickly and bread items too. Good if you shop weekly but not for a longer timeframe. Also check expiration dates I have found expired food many times at TJ still on shelf.

      Whole Foods has higher quality produce and their 365 brand and veggies/produce generally good prices (quality has suffered a bit since Amazon purchase). Whole Foods however is amazing when you have a spoiled item. Will refund no questions asked. TJ you have to bring back item (photo won’t suffice).

      Bananas are best deal on the street. 5 for $1.

      To save money and have highest quality organic food, I find a TJ and Whole Foods approach best. And when out of city stop by a stop and shop to pick up all the super unhealthy name brand snacks and normal icing and cake mixes.

      • Sarah says:

        “To save money and have highest quality organic food, I find a TJ and Whole Foods approach best.”

        This is basically what I did pre-pandemic, supplemented with greenmarket produce in season. Trying to aim for best value within reason.

    23. Kitty says:

      THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!

    24. Veronica Windley says:

      OMG! I loved this! All in all, TJ’s is the best value, which I think is right. However, I still have to visit other stores for some things. I haven’t tried online shopping yet. I don’t think I ever will. D’Agoarino’s is for picking-up Amazon packages and WW items, when I’m in the mood.

    25. Upper Best Side says:

      Trader Joe’s is a cult. I am not a fan. I don’t like their over use of packaging, their horrible store design with the same doorway for entry and exit, and their street level loading dock that crowds Columbus Avenue with their trucks (as opposed to Whole Foods’ loading dock which is underground). The one time I bought flowers there (because the price was great), they died the next day.

    26. Coucha says:

      Almost all of Health Nuts products are organic which are always priced higher than non-organic. If you are committed to buying organic, then you pay the price. Not fair to put their products in the same basket as those of other markets.

    27. uwsmom says:

      Fruit vendors on the street are the best option for fresh fruit and veg at fair prices.

    28. Irate Partisan says:

      Where are the Frugal Frannie t-shirts?

    29. Marian says:

      Given a generally lousy choice of grocery stores in the nabe, I mostly stick with Health Nuts. I know I pay more but the eggs are great, the apples have taste, and the chicken can be cut with a fork.

    30. Marcia says:

      Thank you for your extraordinary work! I adore the staff at D’Agostinos. Have known them for years. Have listened to family stories and work issues as staff are transferred from one store to another. At Gristedes the staff are generally hired half time or just under the number of hours to get health coverage or benefits . No breaks either. I won’t shop there. But there are things at D’Agidtinos I can’t get at Trader, delivery, certain sodas, paper goods or specialty foods. I go once a month on a Tuesday for senior discount 10% off and free delivery. I tip the person well. But to buy basics… never. Mani’s on the corner of 94th and Columbus matches prices with Trader and I love the people there too and it’s quicker than Trader. Try it if you’re in a hurry and just need a few things.

    31. Zperez says:

      Ms Frannie, you have my deepest thanks for your selfless service to our community specially during these challenging health and economic times. Your gift to us is that you saw a need and you acted on it. Many of us complain daily about the cost of feeding our families and “wish” there was something we could do about it, some may consider this a small act, but you took the time and provided us with this gift. I will shop prudentlu from now on. Again, thank you! 😇

    32. Brian Ferguson says:

      Could you post just the price comparisons so I can print it out?

    33. JerryV says:

      Thank you for this important community service. It would be lovely if you could include Jubilee and Fairway in the future.

    34. Barbara Garson says:

      Why do you exclude places lik Mani’s,Barzini’s. They make shopping in this neighborhood so special. I understand why you might omit real specialty places like Perfect picnics and Hudson Beef. But to my surprise, Mani’s and Barzini’s despite their specialties have comparable prices for staples.

      P.S. The Associated on 100th street has unadvertised and amazingly low priced produce specials unpredictably. My husband laughed as I open the pack and say, “these 89 cent a box are very good and run back for more. There almost always gone the next day.

    35. Cyrus says:

      Fantastic work, Fannie. This is a real service to the denizens of the WSR. And listen, I love the Associated on 100th, but I find it super random you chose to include that one in your research since it’s not more than a glorified bodega, that’s somewhat tucked away.

      Lastly, don’t sleep on Avenue A on 110th. Produce is generally better than average and is rarely lacking in most staples.

    36. ileen says:

      The only time I’ve been to the D’Ag near TJs is when TJs doesn’t stock something. The most recent was horseradish sauce/dip. For foil, tissues, other things TJ doesn’t stock, I go to the 99cent store on Amsterdam/92nd.

    37. cat says:

      thanks, frugal franny! uws gem!