Grocery Shopping Online vs. In-Store

Posted July 23, 2018 / Food & Drink, Personal / Information / Etc. / 6 Comments

I’ve noticed recently that there’s a big trend toward doing grocery shopping online instead of going to a store. This is typically for non-perishable items like canned food, snacks, sauces, etc. Most people still seem to get veggies, meats, and frozen stuff in-store (with a few exceptions!). I’ve been wanting to do an analysis to see what actually makes the most sense from a financial perspective. Influencers have talked about a few different websites for grocery shopping, so I wanted to compare prices between them and see what makes sense for a few of the items I buy regularly. I’m not going to analyze Amazon Pantry or Fresh because I don’t qualify for most of it in my area.

My Shopping Situation

I typically do my shopping at Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop (local to the northeast I believe?), and/or Target. My friend’s father owns a meat and seafood store that I want to be better about visiting because he has some good deals as well. We have a local farmer’s market in our town that sells ALL kinds of things but I usually treat that as a special occasion kind of place. I’d go broke if I bought everything from there! My perfect world, shopping-wise, would be to find the best place to get all of my canned food, snacks, and other non-perishable items from, then using a separate place for grabbing fresh meat and/or veggies/fruits each week. I envision myself getting things from one of the online stores if possible and then using Stop & Shop or Trader Joe’s for my other fresh and frozen items.

Grocery Options I’m Investigating

Brandless (Online)

Elevator pitch: Brandless has no brand names and everything is under $3. They sell more than just food, with other household items, personal care, and even home and office supplies. Shipping is just $5 for free members. Boxes arrive within 3-5 business days. Most items are organic.

B.More membership: You can pay $36 per year to get free shipping every time you shop. That means you essentially have to shop there 7-8+ times to have the membership pay for itself, in terms of shipping costs. They also donate 10 meals in your honor when you sign up and 2 more meals every time you shop.

Thrive Market (Online)

Elevator pitch: Thrive Market features all organic products at “wholesale prices.” You can register for free and browse the catalog and see the amount of money members save (more on that soon). The free membership is valid for 30 days. Shipping is free for orders over $49 and varies if you spend less.

Annual membership: After the first 30 days for free, you become a paid member for $60 per year. They don’t mark up prices like retailers, so the average member makes back the membership fee in two orders (according to their site, not my math). They also provide a free membership to a family in need for each paid membership.

Stop & Shop (In-Store)

Information: This is my most common local grocery store with reasonable prices. There are a few others around that are slightly more expensive, so I thought this would be the best option. I’m going to investigate their normal prices instead of sales, since it’s the best actual comparison. They have a delivery service called Peapod but I’m going to just use those prices, but pretend you’re buying in the store.

Trader Joe’s (In-Store)

Information: Trader Joe’s is another favorite of mine and I did a lot of shopping there up in Portland. They have really good prices for organic and/or healthy stuff. However, they circle some products in and out seasonally. I’m going to try to find a comparable TJ’s option to compare, since one of the websites is all organic too. There won’t be a TJ’s comparison here for some things because I don’t want to deal with going into the store to actually compare prices.

Comparison Time

I decided to pick out the most common items you or I might buy in the grocery store and compare prices. I’ll do the math out to see what’s really the cheapest and most logical in price per ounce/etc. I’m also going to attempt to compare the cheapest option from each place or match the sizes, as well as the options I would be most likely to buy in these situations. The winning prices (aka cheapest cost per ounce) will be italicized. Here we go!

Barbecue Sauce

Brandless Texas Style BBQ Sauce: 12 oz. bottle for $3 = 25 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Annie’s Organic BBQ Sauce: 12 oz. bottle for $3.49 = 29 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce: 18 oz. bottle for $2.69 = 15 cents per ounce
Trader Joe’s Organic BBQ Sauce: 19.5 oz. bottle for $2.99 = 15 cents per ounce

I will always buy Sweet Baby Ray’s at the grocery store, so I decided to keep it accurate. This is “brand name,” well-made sauce though, and it still ended up being the cheapest. However, it was a tie with the Trader Joe’s BBQ sauce too. The online options were similar in price, but if you want organic – go to TJ’s. If you have a favorite brand of BBQ sauce like I do, you’re likely to just grab it in your local store.

Ranch Dressing

Brandless Organic Peppercorn Ranch Dressing: 12 oz. bottle for $3 = 25 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Organicville Non-Dairy Ranch Dressing: 8 oz. bottle for $3.29 = 41 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing: 16 oz. bottle for $4.59 = 29 cents per ounce

Much like BBQ sauce, I’m brand loyal to ranch dressing – Hidden Valley is the only option for me! There wasn’t a logical comparison for Trader Joe’s so it’s off the list here. I compared some ranch dressings from the online stores and Brandless was the cheapest. Can you get a sale or store brand version of ranch for cheaper in the store? Yes. Hidden Valley is my kryptonite, but probably not yours. It was close to the Brandless price though!

Tortilla Chips

Brandless Organic Tortilla Chips: 9 oz. bag for $1.50 = 17 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Jackson’s Honest Organic Tortilla Chips: 5.5 oz. bag for $3.49 = 63 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop’s Santita’s Tortilla Chips: 11 oz. bag for $2.29 = 21 cents per ounce
Trader Joe’s Tortilla Chips: 32 oz. bag for $3.49 = 11 cents per ounce

I tend to buy Santita’s chips because they always feel like the cheapest option, no matter where I shop. They’re $2 or a bit more. I was intrigued to see some of these results. Trader Joe’s has a HUGE bag of chips sometimes that works out to be the cheapest option. However, the Brandless version is very similar per ounce. It’s a much smaller bag though. Up to you on this one, but I’m glad to know that I can use either.


Brandless Organic Chunky Salsa: 16 oz. jar for $3 = 19 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Organic Salsa: 16 oz. jar for $3.69 = 23 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop On the Border Salsa: 16 oz. jar for $3.59 = 22 cents per ounce
Trader Joe’s Chunky Salsa: 16 oz. jar for $1.99 = 12 cents per ounce

This is a natural next step, right? 😉 The cheapest option is easily the Trader Joe’s salsa, which is also very good. All of these are 16 ounce jars and I tried to keep up with the brand level for Stop & Shop. I usually get whatever is cheapest there but wanted to avoid store brands. Brandless is a somewhat close second though – a very viable option!

Cheese Crackers

Brandless Organic Cheese Square Crackers: 7 oz. box for $3 = 43 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Back to Nature Cheddar Crackers: 7.5 oz. box for $2.99 = 40 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Cheez-It Crackers: 12.4 oz. box for $3.99 = 32 cents per ounce

I wanted to explore some snack options because I heard Brandless is good for that kind of thing. It was hard to get similar sizes for comparisons on here, so it kind of makes sense that the larger box of brand name Cheez-Its is the least expensive option. Brandless is actually the most expensive, but the hangup is that you have to buy two boxes through Thrive Market in order to buy them.


Brandless Organic Quinoa: 12 oz bag for $3 = 25 cents per ounce
Thrive Market TruRoots Organic Quinoa: 12 oz bag for $5.99 = 50 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Nature’s Earthly Choice Organic Quinoa: 12 oz bag for $5.09 = 42 cents per ounce

I’m so excited to see this result here! I always buy quinoa to toss into salads and it’s hard to find where the best prices are. Brandless is by far the cheapest option and it’s organic as well. All of these are the same size bag, so no issues there either. I’m definitely going to buy more grains like this through Brandless.

Jam and Jelly

Brandless Organic Strawberry Fruit Spread: 16.5 oz jar for $3 = 18 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Crofters Organic Strawberry Jam: 16.5 oz jar for $4.49 = 27 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Smucker’s Strawberry Jam: 18 oz. jar for $4.59 = 26 cents per ounce

I didn’t bother with peanut butter but thought jelly and jam would be worth looking into. I know Trader Joe’s has a good cheap option but it’s not currently advertised on their website, so keep that in mind. Brandless is the cheapest here by a good margin, at least 10 cents less per ounce. I feel like 16 ounces for $3 is quite a nice deal! I looked at the name brand option at Stop & Shop but I’m sure store brand is cheaper…

Granola/Snack Bars

Brandless Dark Chocolate & Peanut Butter Bars:
3 pack of bars (4.23 oz.) for $3 = $1 per bar or 71 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Nature’s Path Chewy Chocolate Peanut Bars:
5 pack of bars (6.2 oz.) for $3.79 = 76 cents per bar or 61 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Nature Valley Dark Chocolate, Peanut, & Almond Bars:
6 pack of bars (7.44 oz. box) for $3.99 = 67 cents per bar or 53 cents per ounce
Trader Joe’s Sweet & Salty Granola Bars:
6 pack of bars (7.4 oz. box) for $2.69 = 45 cents per bar or 36 cents per ounce

This was a little harder to compare because the price per bar goes down depending on the box size. I wanted to look specifically at granola bars with chocolate and peanut butter included. The TJ’s option is very cheap and very tasty, but I don’t know if they’re always in stock. Stop & Shop is the next best option. It seems like in-store is a lot better overall.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Brandless Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 8.5 oz. bottle for $3 = 35 cents per ounce
Thrive Market California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 16.9 oz. bottle for $8.99 = 53 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Filippo Berio Extra Virgin Olive Oil: 16.9 oz. bottle for $8.49 = 50 cents per ounce

Another item I’ve been curious about, along with the quinoa, was olive oil. This is kind of a staple you don’t have to buy very often, but I’m always mad about the price. This is a weird breakdown but here goes: Brandless has a small bottle (half the size of the other two) for only $3. The others are double the size and more than double the cost. It makes sense to go small here and go Brandless for sure! (Stop & Shop has a decent store brand version I usually buy but I’m happy to get this from Brandless if I shop there.)

Pancake Mix

Brandless Gluten Free Pancake and Waffle Mix: 8 oz. box for $1.50 = 19 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Gluten Free Pancake Mix: 8 oz. box for $4.09 or 51 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Bisquick Gluten Free Pancake Mix: 16 oz. box for $5.09 = 31 cents per ounce
Trader Joe’s Pancake and Baking Mix: 32 oz. box for $1.99 = 6 cents per ounce

I accidentally turned this into a gluten free pancake mix, minus Trader Joe’s, so let’s unpack that. The Brandless option is VERY cheap for a gluten free pancake and waffle mix. It’s much cheaper than the other gluten free versions. However, TJ’s has a very tasty HUGE box of pancake mix that is only $2, which is wild. Clearly that wins from an overall “where’s the cheapest pancake mix?” question, but for GF folks – Brandless wins.

Coffee K-Cups

Brandless Dark Roast Single Serve Coffee: 6 cups for $3 = 50 cents per cup
Thrive Market Ethical Bean French Roast Pods: 12 cups for $7.79 = 62 cents per cup
Stop & Shop Green Mountain Dark Magic K-Cups: 12 cups for $8.99 = 75 cents per cup
Trader Joe’s Electric Buzz Coffee Cups: 12 cups for $5.49 = 45 cents per cup

I’m a big fan of Trader Joe’s other coffee (french roast I think?), so I’m happy to see the price is really nice here. Again, Brandless comes in second. I usually get Green Mountain in the store so I wanted to keep that one. They all have 12 cups apiece, so I just did the cost per cup, but Brandless only has 6 cups. Between 45 and 50 cents per cup is definitely a nice deal, both online and in-store.

Tomato Soup

Brandless Organic Creamy Tomato Basil Soup: 11.5 oz box for $1.50 = 13 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Pacific Organic Creamy Tomato Basil Soup: 32 oz. box for $3.49 = 11 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Nature’s Promise Organic Tomato Basil Soup: 17 oz. box for $2.39 = 14 cents per ounce

For soups, I wanted to keep things simple and go with a basic tomato basil option. This one surprised me because EVERY other Thrive Market product was more expensive. When you look at the breakdown though, it’s really not a big issue. Each soup here is between 11 and 14 cents per ounce and the sizes vary quite a bit. You can buy organic soup for nice and cheap apparently. The Stop & Shop one was on sale too and I couldn’t find the regular price, so that might be even more expensive. More on this stuff later…

Shortbread Cookies

Brandless Mini Shortbread Cookies: 4.5 oz bag for $3 = 67 cents per ounce
Thrive Market Schar Shortbread Cookies: 6.2 oz bag for $3.32 (sale) = 53 cents per ounce
Stop & Shop Walkers Shortbread Rounds: 5.3 oz box for $5.19 = 97 cents per ounce
Trader Joe’s Pinks & Whites Shortbread Cookies: 10 oz. box for $2.99 = 30 cents per ounce

Trader Joe’s with the snacking wins as usual! I wanted to include just one more snack item, so I went with some basic shortbread cookies. I was surprised to see some weird sizes and prices across the board. The TJ’s ones have frosting though, so avoid that if it’s not your thing. Either way, they are more than half the cost of everything else on here. They’re seasonal though, so your second best option would apparently be Thrive Market (or a store brand at Stop & Shop, I’m assuming).

Results and Analysis

Phew, I got a little addicted to all of that analysis so I apologize for getting carried away. I decided to look broadly at cooking liquids (dressing, oil, etc.), grains, snacks, and other basic grocery items. I ended up looking at 13 items across the 3-4 stores and the overall, very basic conclusion is as follows:

  • Trader Joe’s was the cheapest option 7 times, but was not featured for every single item here
  • Brandless was the cheapest option 4 times
  • Thrive Market was the cheapest option 1 time
  • Stop & Shop was the cheapest option 1 time
Trader Joe’s website only features sale and seasonal items, which could be why they’re skewed in their direction.

I tell people all the time that Trader Joe’s is a great option that you don’t think would be cheap, but actually can be. I’d have to really compare produce and meat prices to Stop & Shop to decide if it’s the OVERALL cheapest option (aka the “one stop shop”), but that’s another post for another day maybe. I love that there are a lot of items with great prices at this store, which is surprising compared to the local normal grocery stores. TJ’s has mostly organic and “good for you” foods at lower prices. Their snacks and sometimes sauces or condiments can have great deals.

Brandless is easily the best option for online grocery store shopping, especially if you don’t care about brand names and like organic items.

I was so pleasantly surprised to see that Brandless had the “second most” of the cheapest options. I figured that not having a brand name associated with the items would lead  to savings, but I didn’t realize just how many items are super cheap. I would absolutely use this site to get basic necessities for snacks, sauces, etc. It seems like they have a wide array of basics that are worth $3 or less. The turnaround seems very quick, which makes it easy to order these pantry items whenever you want to make an order. More on the prices in a second…

Thrive Market was basically always the most expensive option and the overall membership costs don’t help their case.

With Brandless, you have the option to join the membership for the year and it’s really cheap. You only need to shop there 8 times in the entire YEAR in order for it to pay for itself, and you have free shipping the rest of the time. Thrive Market has a wider variety of brands (obviously) and options for food, but the prices were very expensive… especially when you consider that you can also get organic products on Brandless. The membership is not optional AND you don’t get free shipping until you spend $50. There is literally no benefit to using Thrive Market that I could see. Why join this website when the only item you save money on is soup?

Stop & Shop (representing the local grocery store option) was frequently more expensive based on the size comparison; buying in bulk and store brands from them is likely cheaper.

It became clear that because I was trying not to use store brands and wanted to keep sizes *relatively* similar for comparison’s sake, Stop & Shop was going to lose on a lot. The way to save money at your local grocery store chain is likely when you (a) buy larger sizes or in bulk and (b) buy store brands if you’re comfortable with it. I’m sure my analysis would be A LOT different if I were to use all Stop & Shop branded items and chose the bigger sizes. That’s usually just how the math works out.

Personal Plans

Well, I’m totally sold on keeping Trader Joe’s for certain items and Brandless for many others! I love the idea of being able to order my bulk grocery items from Brandless and not having to lug them around the store, into the car, and into my house. It’s excellent that they can just be delivered to my doorstep instead. The prices overall were usually comparable to TJ’s where applicable, and the cheapest option most other times. You  really can’t beat spending $3 or less on everything. I’m happy to shop at TJ’s in person whenever necessary. My biggest takeaway is to basically never use Thrive Market because I can’t see a single benefit, aside from a wider array of organic brands… but even then, TJ’s or Brandless have comparable organic options if that’s important to you. My next step is to determine some of the cheaper ways to buy meat and fresh stuff. Should I use the farmer’s market? Should I keep buying some of that stuff at Trader Joe’s? Does Stop & Shop or my friends’ meat shop make more sense for a quick trip? It seems like it’ll vary based on my weekly needs, but I’m really glad to see Brandless stacks up for some of the essentials you may shop for on a regular basis.

6 responses to “Grocery Shopping Online vs. In-Store

  1. When we lived at our condo, we shopped at Stop & Shop almost exclusively; sometimes I would supplement at Walmart or Target. I thought we were doing pretty good, but when we moved last year, Shoprite was the closest store, so we started using that, and it has been a LOT cheaper than S & S. And we’ll supplement with some stuff from Walmart, mostly cleaning supplies, paper products, stuff like that. I’ve never tried an online market, but for some reason it doesn’t appeal to me! Interesting analysis!

  2. I LOVE THIS POST because I keep telling Max we need to start doing more online grocery shopping (through Amazon) but then we never end up doing it, lol. Currently we do most of our grocery shopping at TJs and Whole Foods….so I feel like all the money we save at TJs gets quickly used up at Whole Foods (we stop by at least twice a week and buy all of our meat and most of our produce there). It’s pricey but for perishable items I find that the quality is so good, and since they were bought by Amazon, they have had some great in store deals and a lot of the things we frequently buy have dropped in price too! TJs is amazing because I generally don’t feel like I’m sacrificing quality for price- their house brand items are SO good, especially when it comes to things like snacks (chips, granola, popcorn, etc). We occasionally have to pop into Safeway or Target to find specific brands that Whole Foods and TJs don’t carry, and do a Costco run every few weeks for more home goods items we like to buy in bulk (paper towels, spices, etc).

    I remember back in the early 2000s though online grocery shopping was ALL the rage. My mom used to use this service called Web Van (not sure if it was a California thing or nation wide) and it was super convenient. The only thing I’d be wary of is we are super picky when it comes to picking out our product so it would be hard to give up that control with an online service.

    Cristina (Girl in the Pages) recently posted: Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert | ARC Review
  3. I loved ordering online from my local grocery stores while my daughter was a baby. It just made things so much easier. Now that she’s a toddler, though, I almost always go to the actual store. I’ll have to look into Trader Joes (I’m not sure if it’s available in Canada?). Great post – very imformative!

    Sam @ Sharing Inspired Kreations recently posted: Screw You Society – I had a miscarriage and I’m going to talk about it!

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