Would Walmart Bring Low Grocery Prices to the Heights? Not Really

To say that people aren't thrilled with a Walmart moving into the Heights is an understatement.

Last week's town hall meeting did little to resolve feelings on either side of the issue, with River Oaks resident Michael Ainbinder -- the developer behind the plans to pave the vacant lot on Yale to make way for the big-box store -- mercilessly attacked by the crowd of Heights residents in attendance. Ainbinder admitted that he would develop the land with or without the so-called "380 agreement," which would provide public funds to assist in the "improvement" of the site. And with H-E-B having declined to build on the site -- Ainbinder claims that the grocery store chain had exclusive rights for two years -- it looks as if Walmart will almost certainly be building in the Heights, whether residents like it or not.

But would a Walmart in the Loop be so bad? After all, isn't the main attraction to the chain its low price? And with so many of us pinching pennies these days, wouldn't low grocery prices be welcomed? Without going into the logistics of exactly how Walmart gets those prices so low or the potential increase in crime, traffic or "undesirable" persons the store may or may not bring to the neighborhood, we headed out to Houston's five biggest grocery stores to compare prices on some commonly-purchased grocery store items.

Does Walmart truly have the lowest prices around? Not really.

Because we don't know exactly what kind of Walmart would be developed in the area, we visited the "standard" Walmart model that's located throughout most of Houston. It has a small grocery section, a few refrigerated cases and aisles of dry goods. We also visited a Fiesta, an H-E-B, a Randall's and a Kroger. All five stores had decidedly different demographics and were in various parts of town, chosen at random.

Here's how the prices shook out.

Mrs. Baird's 100% Whole Wheat Bread

  • Fiesta: $2.59
  • H-E-B: $1.77
  • Kroger: $2.69
  • Randall's: $2.69
  • Walmart: $1.77

Winner: A tie between H-E-B and Walmart.

One dozen Eggland's Best* eggs (large)

  • Fiesta: $2.19
  • H-E-B: $2.28
  • Kroger: $2.59
  • Randall's: $2.59
  • Walmart: $0.90

Winner: Fiesta. The 90 cent eggs offered at Walmart weren't Eggland's Best, but you can certainly purchase them if you have utter faith in buying eggs from a brand that no one has heard of, and for which absolutely no information could be found on the Internet.

*Walmart only offers one brand of eggs: Lone Star Farmers Market. The brand appears to be exclusively endemic to Walmart.

Gala apples

  • Fiesta: $1.49 / lb.
  • H-E-B: $1.28 / lb.
  • Kroger: 3 for $1.00
  • Randall's: $1.99 / lb.
  • Walmart: n/a

Winner: H-E-B. Walmart doesn't offer any fresh produce at all.

Roma tomatoes

  • Fiesta: $0.99 / lb.
  • H-E-B: $0.99 / lb.
  • Kroger: $0.99 / lb.
  • Randall's: $1.69 / lb.
  • Walmart: n/a

Winner: Three-way tie between Fiesta, H-E-B and Kroger. Again, Walmart offers no fresh produce.

Starkist canned tuna (5 oz.)

  • Fiesta: $0.50
  • H-E-B: $0.69
  • Kroger: $0.99
  • Randall's: $0.89
  • Walmart: $0.68

Winner: Fiesta. 

Oscar Mayer honey ham lunch meat (6 oz.)

  • Fiesta: $2.59
  • H-E-B: $2.59
  • Kroger: $3.69 ($2.99 with card)
  • Randall's: $3.69
  • Walmart: $2.94*

Winner: Walmart.

*Walmart only offered the lunch meat in a 16 oz. size -- 10 oz. more than the other stores -- making the price even less expensive when compared to other prices. Kraft macaroni and cheese

  • Fiesta: $0.99
  • H-E-B: $0.78
  • Kroger: $0.78
  • Randall's: $0.82
  • Walmart: $0.74

Winner: Walmart.

Campbell's chicken noodle soup

  • Fiesta: $0.50
  • H-E-B: $1.39
  • Kroger: $1.39
  • Randall's: $0.79 (5 for $3.00 with card)
  • Walmart: $0.52

Winner: Fiesta.

12 pack of Coca-Cola

  • Fiesta: $3.33
  • H-E-B: $4.37
  • Kroger: $4.99 (3 for $11 with card)
  • Randall's: $4.99 (buy 2, get 2 free with card)
  • Walmart: $4.00

Winner: Fiesta.

Borden whole milk (gallon)

  • Fiesta: $3.48
  • H-E-B: $2.58
  • Kroger: $4.89 ($4.59 with card)
  • Randall's: $4.39
  • Walmart: $2.48*

Winner: H-E-B. Again, Walmart didn't stock Borden milk -- or any other brand, for that matter. Even if you purchase the Great Value-brand milk (Walmart's store brand label), you're only saving 10 cents over H-E-B's price on Borden milk.

*Walmart only offers Great Value milk, its in-store brand. Store-brand milk was cheaper across the board, at all stores, than Borden.

Overall winner: Fiesta came in first place for the lowest prices, with H-E-B in second place and Walmart in a dismal third. Results like this -- despite being unscientific and sampled only across a small percentage of items offered at all five stores -- make us wonder how on earth Walmart still continues to dominate the Houston grocery scene, with a stunning 29 percent market share.

Can it be that people simply buy into the ubiquitous advertising that would have us believe Walmart offers the lowest prices anywhere, without doing any research of their own? Could it be that people prefer to do their grocery shopping at places where they can also purchase tires and boxer briefs, the ultimate one-stop shop? The answer continues to elude us.

What's certain is this: Whatever else Walmart brings to the Heights, fresh produce and low prices on grocery items won't be among them.

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