Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Health and Beauty Face-Off: Aldi vs. Rite Aid vs. Stop & Shop

Last week, I embarked on a little investigation into Aldi's prices for health and beauty products, in response to an article on Daily Finance showing that Aldi charged much more for these types of products than other chains. I checked the store's prices for ten health and beauty products I use on a regular basis and found that, if there was a store brand available, it was likely to be a good deal, but if there wasn't, the only option was usually a midrange brand selling for a midrange price. This made it clear that Aldi isn't nearly as great a deal for health and beauty products as it is for foodstuffs, but it didn't tell me the whole story. Were the prices of the non-Aldi brands really higher than the prices of similar items at other stores, and if so, by how much? The Daily Finance article showed, for instance that Aldi's prices in the health and beauty section were nearly twice as high as those at Stop & Shop; would the prices at my own local Stop & Shop bear out that finding?

To answer this question, I took my little shopping list of health and beauty items to two other stores. First, I checked the prices on all the items at Stop & Shop; then, since I tend to buy these sorts of items at drugstores rather than supermarkets, I checked my local Rite Aid as well. In every case, I looked for the lowest-priced brand available at the store, without considering quality or ingredients.

The results, I have to say, were quite surprising to me. Here are the numbers for all three stores, with the cheapest one in italics:

Multivitamins: Aldi, store brand, $3.79/100
     Stop & Shop, store brand, $8.49/100
     Rite Aid, store brand, $7.49/100 ($6.74 with Wellness Plus)

Toothpaste: Aldi, Crest, $2.89
     Stop & Shop, Crest, $2.19
     Rite Aid, Ultra Brite, $1.00

Deodorant: Aldi, Old Spice, $2.99
     Stop & Shop, Speed Stick, $2.49
     Rite Aid, Suave, $1.99 (on sale, $3 for 2)

Shampoo/conditioner: Aldi, Pantene, $3.69
     Stop & Shop, VO5, 99 cents
     Rite Aid, VO5, $1.27

Ibuprofen: Aldi, store brand, $1.99/100
     Stop & Shop, store brand, $6.99/100
     Rite Aid, store brand, $7.49/100 ($6.74 with Wellness Plus)

Cotton swabs: Aldi, store brand, $1.39/375
     Stop & Shop, store brand, $1.99/100
     Rite Aid, store brand, $2.49/100 ($2.24 with Wellness Plus)

Bar soap: Aldi, store brand, $2.49/3 bars
     Stop & Shop, Dove, $2.49/3 bars
     Rite Aid, Ivory, $1.99/3 bars (on sale, buy one, get one half off)

Body wash: Aldi, Dove, $5.39/24 oz.
     Stop & Shop, Great Value (ultra cheapo generic), $2/24 oz.
     Rite Aid, St. Ives, $4.99/24 oz. (on sale, buy one, get one half off)

The first thing you'll probably notice is that, whenever Aldi had a store brand available, it beat the pants off the best price at the other two stores—even if they were store brands also. That's not the surprising part. What I didn't expect to see was that, for half the items on the list, the best price at Rite Aid was higher than the best price at Stop & Shop. Rite Aid typically had a much larger selection, but even so, its bottom-priced item could only beat the supermarket's half the time. And moreover, in cases where the cheapest item at both stores was a store brand, Stop & Shop beat Rite Aid two rounds out of three. Even ibuprofen, the one thing on the list that's an actual drug, was cheaper at the supermarket than it was at the drugstore.

Moreover, in cases where both Rite Aid and Stop & Shop carried the same brand, it was usually cheaper at the Stop & Shop. Sometimes Rite Aid had an alternate brand that was cheaper, like Ivory soap, but Dove at Rite Aid was pricier than Dove at Stop & Shop. Indeed, compared to Rite Aid's, Aldi's prices for non-store-brand same items didn't actually look all that bad. Crest at Aldi is more expensive than the obscure Ultra Brite brand toothpaste, but it's cheaper than Crest at Rite Aid. 

So what I learned from this experiment is that it's probably a mistake to look to the drugstore first for my health and beauty products. Yes, if there's a specific brand I need, I'm likelier to find it at the drugstore—but if the supermarket has it, it'll probably be cheaper there. (And, of course, if Aldi has a store-brand equivalent, that's probably the cheapest of all.)

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