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November 23, 2021

Supermarkets battle to attract customers

Everyone’s feeling the shock of higher grocery prices these days: you run in to buy a few basics, and 80 bucks later you leave the store wondering if there’s a hole in your pocket.

Grocery bills have actually risen about 2.3 per cent over the past year. But the worst may be over, says economist Millan Mulraine, pointing to lower import prices and a stronger dollar. 

Better still, tough talk from Loblaw, Canada's largest grocery chain, has fuelled speculation that food sellers are gearing up for an old-fashioned price war this Christmas.

But not everyone is convinced.

According to Kathleen Wong of Veritas Investment Research, Loblaw has been busy “rounding down" the prices of some items at its superstores, while boosting prices of many others. About two thirds of the 50 items reviewed were rounded up rather than down from their previous promotional price, she maintains.

The best way to win a price war, of course, is not to play in the first place. Instead, stores can compete in other areas: customer service or quality. But that doesn’t put money in your pocket.

In the meantime, try hitting the market on the right day of the week to snag the best deals, says Teri Gault, whose thegrocerygame site tries to help shoppers stretch their food dollars.

Typically, flyers that arrive in your local paper run their sales on a Friday to Thursday schedule. If you’re shopping the night before a sale expires, take the circular with you: the sale tags might already have been moved in anticipation of the next day's sales, she warns.

In fact, with a little legwork, savvy shoppers can keep their grocery bills at 2008 levels — if not lower, say the folks at SmartMoney. And here’s another price-shaving primer from the EverydayCheapskate blog.

All good advice. But for prices to really drop and stay there, companies' competitive juices have to really start flowing again.

So do you expect a high-stakes game of chicken in the shopping aisles anytime soon?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...