Consumer Reports magazine Senior Editor Tod Marks discussed them on The Early Show Wednesday.
Among his suggestions to help you become a more savvy shopper:
CONSIDER STORE BRANDS
O.K., that idea may not be a revelation. But, it may be a relief to hear that, in Consumer Reports tests, many store brands rank HIGHER than name brands. In other words, many store brands were found to be more flavorful, have better texture, etc., than their name-brand counterparts.
Specifically, they include:
Peaches: Trader Joe's Halves in White Grape Juice
Whole Wheat Spaghetti/Linguini: Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value Organic
Granola: Trader Joe's Just the Clusters Maple Pecan
Food Storage Bags: Great Value Wal-mart Slider
According to Marks, these "private label" brands are the fastest-growing area of supermarket sales (along with organic products). Although some people still have visions of the poor quality, bare-bones generic labels from the '70s, Marks says store brands are increasingly high-end. Stores are realizing that selling a quality private label affords them an edge over the competition: Nobody else, for instance, can sell Whole Food's 365 Everyday Value brand.
Consumers, he says, really can rest easy knowing that these store brands are as good or better than their national name brand counterparts. Even better, you can save 10 to 40 percent -- not because the product is low quality, but because retailers don't have to spend as much on national advertising campaigns, research and devlopment.
WEIGH THE COST OF CONVENIENCE
Prepared and pre-cut foods often cost more (picture a bag of shredded cheese as opposed to a block of cheese). But what's really going to cost you more is buying products that are pre-packaged as single servings.
For instance, the suggested retail price of a 12-ounce bag of Lays potato chips costs is $2.50, or 21 cents per ounce. But individjal bags of Lays potato chips sell for 99 cents, which works out to 42 center per ounce.
Or, a 14 ounce box of Frosted Flakes goes for $2.74, or 20 cents per ounce, while six individual boxes carry a pricetag of $3.23, or 38 center an ounce.
COMPARE UNIT PRICES
You must, must, must examine the unit price label, which appears on the shelf, alongside the individual package price.
When weighing one price against another, also keep in mind that buying in bulk isn't always cheaper. Federal studies have found that many common products, such as coffee, canned tuna and ketchup, are frequently costlier in larger containers.
That said, you do generally save on products that are packaged together, such as four cans of tuna sold as a unit, rather than buying four individual cans.
Marks also warns consumers to beware of shrinking package sizes. In the current economic climate, Marks says, retailers are loathe to increase prices. But food is becoming more expensive. So, retailers are charging you the same amount, for slightly smaller packages. Many containers of ice cream are now 1.75 quarts, instead of a half gallon. Yogurt is typically six ounces now, not eight. This is happening across a wide range of products and again, you just really need to look at the unit price.
Although we often assume that items prominently featured at the ends of aisles are on sale, that's frequently not true. Just because the price is featured in large letters over an attractive display doesn't mean it's a lower price than usual. As a matter of fact, Consumer Reports found end-caps can be a destination for merchandise that's about to expire. So, check those expiration dates!
End-caps are the single most powerful selling space in a supermarket, Marks says. Products placed there can see their sales rise by a-third. So, be aware that items are placed there for purely business reasons, not to make them eaiser to find or becvause they're on sale.
READ CIRCULARS CAREFULLY
Those handy-dandy advertisements passed out at grocery stores or stuffed in your Sunday newspaper aren't always friendly updates of what's on sale. Consumer Reports finds that, in many cases, manufacturers pay to have their products placed in circulars.