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Wal-Mart vs. Kroger: comparison shopping in Mount Vernon

By Katie Weber

The fridge is empty save for a few gross apples stolen from Ernst two weeks ago, and you’re starting to feel bad about borrowing your roommate’s toothpaste every night. You don’t want to pay for overpriced food at the market, and the bookstore doesn’t have your favorite toothpaste, which isn’t going to fly even if it can be charged to Mom and Dad. It’s a familiar time. The time when we all have to face the dark reality of grocery shopping.

So, where to: Wal-Mart or Kroger? Despite the fact that I was raised on the notion that Wal-Mart is an evil corporation that exploits its workers (thanks, Mom and Dad), I’ve always taken my shopping list straight to its doors, because they’ve got, well, everything. While this definitely gives Wal-Mart a step up on Kroger, which is simply a grocery store, I decided I wanted to compare them side by side. Armed with a grocery list of things that the average college student might need-toothpaste, milk, cereal, printer ink, bananas, chips and, of course, beer-I headed down Coshocton Road to do a little comparison shopping.

My first stop was Wal-Mart. When I walked in, I took note of all of the extra perks Wal-Mart has to offer. To the right, there’s a Subway, which complements the Subway directly across the parking lot. Wal-Mart has an optical department, which can be useful for those of us with sight issues, although I generally leave those appointments until Thanksgiving and Christmas time. Also, if anyone is interested in paying for photographs of themselves and friends in front of a serene blue backdrop, Wal-Mart offers a full-fledged portrait studio for your enjoyment. I couldn’t be sure, but it seemed that Wal-Mart was winning in terms of services offered.

I decided to ignore my urge to play a round of pinball in the Family Fun Center, another one of Wal-Mart’s attractions, and get to the items on my list. The toothpaste was easy enough to find, and a tube of Crest Whitening plus Scope rings in at $2.64. Next was printer ink. Unfortunately, on my way from the toiletries section to the electronics department, I passed through the Halloween set-up. For the average person, this probably isn’t a problem, but I found myself easily distracted by all of the pumpkin lights, princess costumes and trick-or-treat favors. I spent a good 15 minutes trying on children’s costumes and asking my roommate if she thought I could pull off a Grover costume designed for toddlers. This was clearly not on my list of things to do.

After stopping to look at some soft shag rugs I didn’t need and perusing the collection of $9.44 DVDs, I finally made it to printer ink. Wal-Mart has a large collection of color and black and white ink ranging from $19.00 to $35.00, depending on your needs. I checked that off my list and headed towards food, only being distracted once by my roommate’s sudden urge to buy slippers that looked like bear claws.

Wal-Mart’s grocery center is pretty impressive in light of the fact that Wal-Mart isn’t really a grocery store. It offers all of the essentials, and I was able to find everything on my list pretty easily, because the department is small. Wal-Mart brand milk is $2.97/gallon, Frosted Flakes, $2.98, Tostitos, $3.00, bananas, $0.47/lb and a case of Keystone Light, $10.99. All of the prices seemed pretty reasonable, but I had no idea whether or not Kroger could beat them. Checking off my final items, I walked out of Wal-Mart, resisting my urge to buy a sale-priced giant bouncy ball, and drove down a bit farther to Kroger.

Kroger was pretty crowded for a Sunday, which I thought boded well. I figure if it’s popular with real adults, it’s probably pretty good food. Upon walking in, the produce department immediately caught my eye. Unlike Wal-Mart, the fruit and vegetables all looked extremely fresh and clean. The selection was extensive and there was even a section labeled for organic fruits and vegetables, which is important to many people. I checked the price on bananas-$0.49/lb. Uh-oh, Wal-Mart was winning.

I made my way quickly through the aisles to find all of my listed items. Unlike Wal-Mart, Kroger held no frivolities to distract me from the task at hand, and in 15 short minutes I had the prices of everything on my list: toothpaste, $2.99, Kroger brand milk, $3.07, cereal, $3.28, Tostitos, $2.57 and Keystone, $10.99. Unfortunately, the only item that was cheaper was the bag of chips and, as I guessed, Kroger did not sell printer ink.

Still, Kroger has some things that Wal-Mart does not. Kroger offers a Kroger Plus card, which saves you tons of money on food throughout the store. It’s simple to sign up, and there are all sorts of 3/$5 deals that you can only get if you’re a Kroger Plus member. Also, the beer selection at Kroger is astonishingly better than Wal-Mart’s. Granted, I was looking for Keystone, but if you ever wanted to buy some beer that actually tasted good (no offense to the Keystone lovers out there), Kroger would be the place to go. From domestic to imported beers, Kroger beats Wal-Mart’s feeble attempt at having a beer section. Plus, Kroger has a Starbucks inside, so if you’re an addict like me, you can get your Caramel Macchiato fix while you pick up your groceries.

Overall, it’s difficult to pick a winner between Wal-Mart and Kroger, because they both offer such different things. If you need printer ink or fabric or new tires or children’s clothes, you would have to go to Wal-Mart, because Kroger doesn’t even offer those things. If you’re just going on a simple toiletry/grocery run, Kroger is your best bet. Wal-Mart’s lower prices only ended up saving me $0.34 in the end, and their large selection of other goods wasted my time. Going into Wal-Mart for one thing means you end up wanting other things you never knew you needed until you saw them-like my sudden need for plastic pumpkin straws.

Even though I have to give Wal-Mart credit for their recent attempts to “go green,” I can’t help but feel that I’m supporting the better company when I shop at Kroger. No matter your political views on the subject, when it comes to checking items off of your grocery list, the best bet is Kroger for its organic foods, better selection and lack of distractions. Oh, and did I mention that you can use a shopping cart that looks like a race car? Case closed.

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