Albertson's gives big savings to some shoppers, big nothing to everyone else

The Albertson's supermarket chain is readying some massive price cuts on groceries. Albertson's "Big Relief Price Cut" promotion slashes prices at some 300 stores in southern California and Nevada. Last month, parent company Supervalu implemented a similar program at its Jewel-Osco stores in the Chicago area. In all, 500 stores are taking part. Yet some shoppers, it seems, are looking the gift horse in the mouth.


Supervalu says it uses a sophisticated metric to determine where to lower prices, and on which items. But why management is being so selective is beyond me. With all the publicity and national reach of media, the whole thing could backfire, rousing Albertson's shoppers in markets who've been left out of the fun to stage a revolt. Looks like some people in Boise, Idaho, in fact, are already pretty pissed off.

But the bottom line is, supermarkets have been losing market share to discounters and club stores year over year. And according to the Food Marketing Institute, consumers defected by another 4% last year -- because of price. Pricing isn't always everything, but these days, it's a pretty big priority. In a better economy, we have the luxury of choosing to buy groceries somewhere based on store atmosphere, service, or bathroom amenities. (Seriously -- some supermarkets stock free diapers in pretty baskets, to better woo upscale moms.) But right now, price rules.

Supervalu started slashing prices at its Jewel-Osco stores last month, but the Albertson's announcement is getting a lot of attention. Quoted reductions are pretty significant: prices on Ragu pasta sauce are chopped in half, and house-brand staples -- mayonnaise, toilet paper -- are down 20% to 35%.

Can Albertson's stop Wal-Mart from aggressively eating away at the supermarket business? It's going to be tough: the world's largest retailer is also the nation's biggest seller of groceries, mostly through its supercenters, discount stores, and new Neighborhood Markets. Target, too, keeps opening supercenters and expanding grocery departments within its standard discount stores.

If you live in these markets, you can expect to enjoy some big savings. As for the rest of you? Save elsewhere.

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