Win at Winco and Save even more at Costco

Buying at Costco and Winco will probably save you 25% on your grocery bill!

Comparing gala apples to gala apples and, using the same products and methodology outlined in my earlier post on which local stores sell the cheapest groceries, Winco wins hands down but Costco could be even better. (See table below fold for data.)

Carefully pricing the same items used in the earlier post, the identical products could be purchased at Winco for $54.22.  This represents a substantial price savings from its nearest competitor,  the Fortuna Safeway at $71.61.  At $17.39, that is a difference of nearly 25%.  Multiply similar savings across a typical (see earlier post) grocery bill of $175 per week and the average family would save about $40 per week from the nearest competitor!  Or $160 per month.

Costco is more difficult to quantify.  It does not sell items in the same sizes and often has a limited selection of brands to chose from.  However, as seen in the table below, there were several of the same items (though most must be purchased in larger, bulk sizes.)  But if one is able to use the bulk sizes, there is over a 10% savings between those items I am able to compare between Winco and Costco.

So, the most economical deals can be found at Costco but sizes and brands may not fit every need.  They do however have a growing selection of organic items. Winco contains most major brands and in a variety of sizes but has limited organic and natural items (though the produce section was very fresh and well stocked.)

So, for the best financial deal, buy at Costco in bulk (if you have room to  store your massive load of purchases and can  use items before they go to waste) and fill in missing items from Winco.  This will save you at least 25% over Safeway which is the next best buy.

Product Winco Costco
Milk Humboldt ½ gal.whole 1.88 none
Bread Brio Rustic Ital 16 oz 3.27 none
Cheerios 8.9 oz 2.38 1.42
Eggs Ray’s orgc val 12 brn eggs omega none none
1/2 gal Trop pulp free 3.56 2.65
Hamburger Lean ground not over 19% fat 2.58 none
iceberg lettuce 0.98 0.83
vine tomatoes 1.98 3
gala apples 0.98 none
Dreyers tangeringe fruit bars popsicles 3.28 none
Foster Farms Fryer 1.18 0.99
palmolive original dish soap 2.38 none
tp Quilted northern 12 double rolls 6.48 none
Bien Padre tortillas 12 1.72 none
newman’s own balsamic vinager 16 fld oz 2.78 none
signature coffee organic dak french 12 oz none none
Oro Wheat Double fiber muffins 3.23 none
total 54.22 Note prices are for this week and are compared to the other stores several weeks ago.  This may have some effect on the prices though probably not much.


  • Note that I still intend to shop at Ray’s in town and at the several different natural food stores. Cheapest doesn’t always fit my needs but I hope making this information available allows people to make a better choice for their family’s needs.

    I know I will be shopping differently!

  • Wow. Thanks for all the research Kym. I had no idea Winco would save that much. We do shop there from time to time and thought that it was less expensive, but this seems to confirm it.

  • can you come to sydney and do the same research for our supermarkets? you can stay on my couch and alcohol is included

  • I’ve always wanted to go to Australia! But I’m afraid to bring my husband. He already thinks your Friday corset posts are way too beautiful!

  • The age-old dilemma: I can’t finish Costco’s bulk bag of hot dog or hamburger buns before the bread goes bad, but the bulk bag is less expensive than a smaller bag at Winco. Do I buy at Costco and embrace wasting food?

    As an out-of-towner, Winco is annoying because it makes me painfully aware of just how much other grocery stores mark up their prices. How does the Safeway across the street survive? Maybe there’s some economic snobbery at play. I know people who won’t shop at Winco because of the neighborhood.

  • AJ, Freeze the buns. That’s what I do.

    I don’t know how that Safeway survives unless, oh shame, it is because people like me didn’t realize just how much cheaper (over 25%) Winco was.

  • I’ve heard that grocery stores of every stripe operate on very thin profit margins, so pricing is usually a function of expenses. Until your post here, I hadn’t heard of Winco, so looked it up on the web. Employee owned is a very good sign. I suspect their executive pay is sensible, and problems get solved more quickly. I’m making a lot of assumptions about how they define ownership, but it could be good.

    On the other hand, the higher priced food at truly local stores and farmer’s markets support insurance costs that aren’t mitigated by large-scale participation. Also, the local owners are more likely to turn any earnings right back in to the community they live in (buying their shoes at the local retailer, paying the local veterinarian for service, etc.). Distant corporate centers don’t do that, so with the Safeway-types, it’s strictly wages that stay local.

    The founder of Costco happens to be remarkably generous to his employees, and caps his own income voluntarily, etc.

    Now I’ve confused myself, so I’m going for another shot of locally raised/made wine. It’s good to live where we live.

  • I freeze a lot of Costco excess, but not buns for some reason. Maybe it’s psychological.

    I bet my Winco savings would be greater than the cost of running a chest freezer in my garage. There are quite a few items that cost $1+ more at Ray’s/Safeway.

    Although, in Ray’s defense, the company is responsive to e-mailed feedback and is hell-bent on keeping the check-out lines short. My experience at Safeway is that they could care less how long customers wait.

  • Fascinating, Kym – I would shop at Costco if I could ante up the initial costs, but my income is meted out over the month, so it doesn’t work well for all-at-once purchases. We used to live in Ridgewood Heights and shop at Winco regularly, but since moving to Manila years ago, hardly ever go there. Certainly after your post, I’ll make more of an effort; stopping there on the way home from Ferndale isn’t difficult.

    Of course, the concerns over “local” come into play, but if I can save money in certain places, more of my income is freed up to support local businesses in other ways. I’ll still buy produce at the Co-op/Wildberries/Farmers’ Market – although, we did purchase a share in Deepseeded’s CSA, so I’m hoping to save some money that way, too!

  • Elaine, I agree shop local farmer’s markets and grocery stores if they are available AND you can afford them. Our only locally owned grocery store in Garberville is a tiny natural foods store and I do buy some items there but they are EXPENSIVE. I tried to do a cost analysis between them and the Eureka Coop and Eureka Natural foods but am unhappy with my methodology so am planning to re-do it. What I saw though terrified me, only people with LOTS of money can afford to shop there. And the Eureka stores are still very costly. Yesterday, I was at Eureka Natural Foods and saw a small jug of Maple syrup that went for over $70! I can’t afford to spend that and I’m relatively well off. Especially when you compare to Costco’s, which if memory serves me right is less than $20.

    Farmerr’s markets and local stores often can be great buys. I want to add Hobie’s market in Scotia eventually. And see how it stacks up.

    AJ, Having frozen my human buns once or twice I can understand the psychological reluctance to subject bread buns to the same treatment! I have a freezer and it works well for us as we live way out and have to buy in bulk anyway. Be sure when you’re making the decision to add in the cost of electricity. I think for a family of four though that shops sales a freezer would save money. One caveat though. I have not been that happy with Winco’s meat in the past. I haven’t bought any recently though. Their hamburger used to be almost watery. And other selections just didn’t taste that good. Costco on the other hand, consistently has delicious meats.

    Jen, The goldstar membership is $50 per year at Costco. If you save 25% shopping there, you need to purchase $1500 in items there per year. If you spend $400 per month on groceries there you would save it back in about 4 months. But, buying in bulk can be hard on a budget. You can however shop with a friend (Me, me I volunteer) and, once a month or so, just pick up few items that you know you’ll use up. Organic butter which lasts forever just refrigerated could be bought ahead, boxes of cereal, bags of pasta etc. You would only be able to get a few but the savings would be nice. However, my experience is that once in Costco willpower disapates in the face of tempting bargains;>

  • I recently discovered Ray’s in Eureka and was amazed by how much nicer it is than Safeway and Murphy’s. The store is big and bright, it’s well-stocked and the employees are friendly. I was also surprised that the store is not as busy as is Safeway. I can’t figure it out.

    I’ve been to Winco two times. Both times I witnessed shoppers having loud cell-phone arguments (even with name calling) with people they were talking to on the phone. This happened while they shopped! I also noticed that the Brio bread is in the meat department! This means that people can pick up packages of raw meat or chicken and then feel the bread for freshness.

    I don’t shop for a family so even if it costs more, I’ll stick with Co-Op and Ray’s. Ambience and food safety count too!

  • Kym, I like the shopping-with-a-friend idea not just to pool the Costco membership cost, but to share food too. I’ve been thinking about this while our family tries to consume way too many packs of organic baby carrots before the expiration date (sure the date is probably bogus for carrots, but my fridge is only so big).

    All told, I shop 5 grocery stores… Costco & Winco for most items, Rays for produce and incidentals (my walk-to store), and the Co-op/Eureka Natural Foods for targeted items.

    Joe, the secret to shopping Winco is visiting during non-peak times. When it’s busy, it’s miserable.

  • I always look at the Safeway and Rays ads that come with the TriCity on Tuesday to see what they might be having on sale. Both stores had asparagus cheaper than Costco. Have noticed that Eureka Natural Foods at times has veggies cheaper than other stores. I am also a coupon shopper and Costco does not take those. Costco is not always cheaper on a lot of things so you just have to know your prices.

    I do go to Winco for certain things too. Usually if at Winco I buy cat food, bread and look at the veggies and fruit. Haven’t bought meat there as I heard it was not very good. Safeway has better meat than Rays except for hamburger. I buy the extremely low fat hamburger and Safeway doesn’t have the lowest in fat content and I think they may be watering their ground meat as it seems to have a lot of shrinkage.

    Good article on prices.

  • Joe, not shopping for a family makes a lot of difference. For ambiance, you can’t beat the Natural Food stores, in my opinion. I feel healthier just walking around in there. The Ray’s stores in Sohum are delightful places because of the friendly employees. Still, if finances are a concern, hopefully this post gives people some information that might help.

    AJ, My mom and I sometimes pool the raspberries at Costco (no, they’re not organic–if I keep writing notes at their customer spot maybe they will be soon). I think doing more of that is an excellent idea. I, too, shop a lot of grocery stores on a regular basis. I appreciate different aspects of them all.

    Shopper, I don’t use the ads as much as I could. But my mom pointed me to a great deal at Safeway a week or two ago. They had some wonderful specials (though they ran out fast so try and go early Wed. if that is an option) and they had a $10 off coupon if you buy $50 are more. I bought about $70 and so the percentage of savings was pretty good. I agree about the Winco meats. I’ve been burnt a few times although their sea food can be alright. However, Mr Fish on Broadway has the tastiest seafood, if you don’t mind the cost.

  • Thanks for doing this Kym. I’ve been doing my own research and have been spacing out my purchases at different locations. It’s a pain in the butt, however, I save a lot more money this way (it actually breaks even with the cost of gas!). Every penny counts, nowadays, and I’m finding it so much cheaper to cook everything at home. On a side note, the pineapple and strawberries tastes awesome from Costco this week!

  • This was another good bit of research, Kym. I love Costco for some things though recently I’ve begun comparing things like bags of walnuts and almonds to the bulk-bin price at Winco. Seems the Costco/Kirkland product is “premium” and is priced much higher per pound…I don’t recall exactly but think it was at least 50c/pound which is a big difference on a 3# bag you’re buying at Costco. I also found they have stopped carrying larger sized bottles/jars in favor of banding several smaller containers together (syrup and peanut butter come to mind). Since I try and buy large containers and avoid excess packaging anyway, the additional chunk of plastic used to connect them is a real slap. I can get the big peanut butter at Winco and hit Cash and Carry for an enormous bottle of pancake syrup.

    I do find the Costco prices on vitamins and (excuse me guys) girly items is much better and with a house full of ladies, that’s helpful. Buying large amounts of things you wouldn’t normally buy, however, defeat the purpose of bargain shopping. I’ve known people who buy jars of beef jerky and eat the whole thing in an afternoon.

    I hit Costco once or twice a month but do my weekly at Winco. The bulk bins are getting better all the time (as long as you don’t buy juice mix or other sweet things stored low where small sticky hands can touch…ewwww). They carry a lot of local brands and prices are better than most anywhere. I understand Joe’s irritation though I tend to enjoy people watching and shop plugged in to my iPod to cover the noise of screaming urchins. I do watch ads at Safeway and Rays for sales on whole chickens and such. I love the Co-op for the specialty stuff they carry but couldn’t afford to do my weekly shopping there.

  • Sandi, we’ve been having smoothies made with the strawberries and, for this time of year, they are delicious.

    Beachcomber, thanks for the price info. I’ve noticed the more packaging problem, too. I just bought some delicious organic fugi apples but in that awful plastic bubble container that makes me feel personally responsible for the hole in the ozone. Costco has been so responsive to carrying organic that I hope they soon start rethinking their packaging.

  • “the higher priced food at truly local stores and farmer’s markets support insurance costs that aren’t mitigated by large-scale participation…”

    The larger chain grocery stores (e.g. Safeway) tend to have union wage, health and pension expenses which drive their insurance costs higher than non-union stores. These stores don’t save money on insurance costs. More likely it’s about volume, shipping costs and producing profits for investors.

  • As someone who tries to spend money locally–in small businesses, I do buy in some chain stores that have great customer and employee policies–Costco and Ray’s come to mind ( Ray’s is pretty much your only option for many items in SoHum) and don’t feel like I’m betraying ideals. Costco is amazingly responsive to its customers and several clerks have told me how lucky they feel to be working there.

  • you can form your own buying club @ united natural foods If you balance saving money buying nonorganic foods against increased health care costs, I think you come out ahead with organic foods. We have no consumer protection in this country. Hopefully this will improve with our new pres.

  • Tom, buying clubs are wonderful. For some reason I can’t get around the distaste for buying from a catalog but, buying that way makes sense.

  • Don’t forget Grocery Outlet if you’re in Eureka. You have to be willing to reconcile yourself to the fact that they stock very few items on a regular basis and that awesome thing you bought last week is long gone. I get great deals there on frozen fruit, chocolate bars, granola bars, cereal and soup — all organic — on a fairly regular basis. They also have great deals on wine and shampoos and conditioners.

    You can’t directly compare them to the other stores because their stock is always changing, but I am positive they have the lowest prices (by far) on most of what they do sell.

    The place between Arcata and Eureka on Indianola (name escapes me) also has good deals if you buy bulk. They don’t stock anything organic, though.

    If I have a big list, I start at Grocery Outlet, then ENF, then Winco. If I am shopping for a small list I usually shop my local Murphys, since they have local beef, a decent seafood selection, organic and local choices in most categories and competitive (but usually not the best) prices. Also it is more fun and quicker to shop in a smaller locally owned store.

    Thanks for these shopping threads, Kym. Food for thought. 🙂

  • Kym, I am sensitive to the cost concerns of those with families and those living on low incomes. I was just sharing my personal perspective as a single man. Because I am able to shop just for myself, I am able to buy pretty much anything I want anywhere I want to shop. I know I would be unable to do that if I were shopping for four.

    I dont even know what $175 worth of groceries looks like. Does that fit into just one cart? I hate putting the groceries away when I arrive home; I can only imagine putting $175 worth of purchases away!

  • Joe, If I go to Eureka only once a month like I occasionally get to do, then it isn’t unusual to have $300 worth of groceries. I have two teenage boys, a six year old and a foodie husband. We eat lots of food and we try not to hit the grocery store but once a week cause we live out so far–we don’t usually achieve our ideal but we try–so large buys are normal for us. It fills the entire back of my car and spills into boys’ laps on really busy days like when we’re having company. Everyone helps me unload it and put the ice cream etc. away.but I usually put most of the rest away myself.

    06em, not being local to Eureka, I didn’t even think of the Murphy stores. One of my son’s best friends works in one. I should look into them also. Thanks for the pointer. I haven’t forgotten the Grocery Outlet, I’m hoping to price there soon.

    I was ignoring the store between Eureka and Arcata. The one experience I had there was unpleasant and the prices didn’t seem that good but several people I interviewed for the survival story mentioned buying in bulk there. I should probably give it another try.

  • …..and one more thing about the ambience of Ray’s. I was there this afternoon and they were playing country music. This was the first time I have heard country music in a supermarket. It sounded great!

    “If you don’t like the way I’m drivin’
    Get back on the interstate
    Otherwise sit tight and be nice
    And quit honkin’ at me that way”

  • If you do check out that Indianola bulk store, Kym, be sure to step into their huge walk-in cooler area. I’d been in that store close to a dozen times before I realized that most of their produce is in there. It’s kind of like the Cosco produce walk-in, but bigger. They cater to restaurants, so I’m thinking they must have good prices for things like cases of spinach or twenty pound bags of carrots.

    Joe, you should check out Murphy’s if you never have. The Eureka one is in Cutten.

  • Indianola store is Cash & Carry. I didn’t know that they had a cooler there. They have very large cans of stuff like chili is in a can that would feed 20 people or maybe more. Can’t shop there except if one of the organizations I am involved in is having a dinner.

  • Joe, I enjoy their country music when I’m there, too. Other than when I turn on Johnny Cash (my boys like him) I get too many complaints to enjoy it at home–and I like the boys’ music so why torture them?

    063m and Shopper, I’m going to go back again and make some comparisons at Cash & Carry. Maybe I just had a bad day there. I’ll check out the cooler.

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